Sykes-Picot Agreement

Sir Mark Sykes


Sykes-Picot Agreement

The Sykes-Picot agreement was a secret contract made between Britain and France in 1916, preparing for the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire in the wake of the First World War.

Named after its chief negotiators, Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot, the agreement represented an initial plan for the division of largely Arab and Kurdish territories of the Ottoman Empire, which now encompass Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The principal terms of the agreement were reaffirmed by the 1920 San Remo conference between the two countries, forming an outline of regional borders that has remained largely unchanged to this day.

The agreement conflicted with promises for a national Arab homeland made to Arab leaders through Colonel T.E. Lawrence, in exchange for their siding with British forces against the Ottoman Empire. As a result, this agreement has been seen by some historians as a turning point in Western-Arab relations in the early 20th Century.

More recently, Sykes-Picot has been used as a byword by jihadi groups in the region for European colonialism, and ISIS claims that one of the goals of its insurgency is to reverse its effects, in particular the 'line in the sand' representing the Iraqi-Syrian border which divided the French and British protectorates after the First World War. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in his July 2014 sermon at the Great Mosque in Mosul vowed that "this blessed advance will not stop until we hit the last nail in the coffin of the Sykes-Picot conspiracy", tying in to the group's narrative of reestablishing a Caliphate without fixed borders.

Milo Comerford, Centre on Religion and Geopolitics