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The Sykes-Picot Agreement May 1916

Signed by the respective parties on the 9th and 16th of May 1916, the “Exchange of Letters between France and Great Britain respecting the Recognition and Protection of an Arab State in Syria”, also known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement, is seen as a symbol of the arrogance and short-sightedness of European colonial practices. So much so that when, on 18th June 2014 ISIS fighters straddled the border between Iraq and Syria, a border which the Agreement created, they proclaimed their military advance on twitter with the hashtag #SykesPicotOver. On the occasion of its centenary the readings that follow include material from various OUP online sites that has been made freely available to help readers to gain a fuller understanding of the origins, background, and impact of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. 

 

Key Players

Biographical sketches of three of the protagonists can be found in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:
 
Sir Mark Sykes, traveller and politician, and co-author of the Sykes-Picot Agreement 
Feisal Ibn Hussein, King of Iraq
Abdullah Ibn Hussein, brother of Feisal and Emir of Transjordan
 
 

Historical and Legal Context

The background to the Ottoman Empire’s involvement in World War I and its dismemberment are addressed in this chapter from Western Imperialism in the Middle East 1914-1958 by D.K. Fieldhouse. 
 
Secret Treaties, such as Sykes-Pictot, prompted Woodrow Wilson’s call for ‘[o]pen covenants of peace, openly arrived at’ to be a feature of a post-War landscape. This article is taken from the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law.
 
Sykes-Picot’s place in British and French imperial policy is set out in the chapter “Of Covenants and Carve Ups” from Susan Pedersen’s The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire.

 

Repercussions of Sykes-Picot

This chapter from the Oxford Handbook of Nationalism looks at the ways in which the division of the Ottoman territories into separate European-dominated entities also divided loyalties between pan-Arabism and state patriotism.
 
From the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, legal aspects of the history of Arab-Israel conflicts, and their origins in the diplomacy surrounding the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
 
From Oxford Constitutional Law, an Introduction to the Constitution of Syria demonstrating the impact of the Agreement on Syria’s subsequent constitutional development.
 
Ethnographic accounts of how generations of Iraqis view Britain through the lens of Sykes-Picot appear in the second half of this chapter “History and power, from above and below” from Post-Colonialism: A Very Short Introduction.
 
An important counter-argument suggests that the radicalizing power of the “overturn Sykes-Picot” narrative is overplayed: “Narratives and Counternarratives: Somali-Canadians on Recruitment as Foreign Fighters to Al-Shabaab” from The British Journal of Criminology.
 
 

Texts of the Agreement

 
 

 

Further Reading

Introduction and suggested reading list provided by the article European Imperialism from the Islamic Studies module of Oxford Bibliographies Online.
 
From the OUPblog, this article by Umut Özsu on Sykes-Picot: the treaty that carved up the Middle East.