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The Sykes-Picot Myth

Reader comment on item: The "Shocking Document" that Shaped the Middle East Turns 100

Submitted by Gideon Remez (Israel), May 9, 2016 at 11:21

It has become very fashionable to blame "the Sykes-Picot borders" for all the ills of the Middle East, but this has very little basis is fact. The map they drew is nothing like the borders that actually emerged -- e.g., Mosul and northern Iraq were earmarked as under French "influence."

It was actually the Sykes-Picot-Sazonov agreement, the latter being the foreign minister of Tsarist Russia -- which was supposed to get a large swath of Turkey, and -- more importantly for us -- a role in running, with the other two powers, an "international zone" in most of Palestine (the "brown zone" in the article's map). But the Bolsheviks scuttled the secret colonialist understanding by publishing it shortly after the October 1917 revolution -- a move they no doubt came to regret, as they attempted repeatedly to regain what the agreement promised to Russia .

By then, as you point out correctly, it was dead letter anyway, as exemplified by the Balfour Declaration, which was issued within a week of the revolution. There was indeed a subsequent carve-up of the region among the western powers, a process that had begun well before WWI, but this was completed in a series of pacts and conferences as "mandates" under the aegis of the League of Nations -- which was not even a glint in anyone's eye at the time of the Syles-Picot agreement. By then, poor Sykes had died of the Spanish flu (after reputedly helping the Zionist cause at the peace conference). He and Picot are getting a largely bum rap.


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Daniel Pipes replies:

Good point about the Russian role, which is generally ignored.

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