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Foreign Policy Analysis
WWI Sykes–Picot Agreement: Post War Goals of Imperialist & Zionist

WWI Sykes–Picot Agreement: Post War Goals of Imperialist & Zionist


Between 1918 and 1920 Britain and France the war’s victorious powers seized
occupied and colonized the former lands of the 700-year-old
Ottoman Empire no one asked the people of the
region what they desired. British and French colonial civil
servants drew all the borders and arranged all the governments for the
countries that emerged. All the political struggles, All the parties, and All the conflicts of the region
from that time to the present have their roots in the colonial
settlement of 1920. Britain and France divided the region
between them Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt,
the states of the Persian Gulf and Istanbul went to Britain which was
the stronger power. British politicians like
Winston Churchill sought to monopolize actual and
potential oil resources and dominate the lines of communication
between the Mediterranean the Persian Gulf and India.
Churchill wanted Egypt’s Suez Canal and the corridor from
coastal Palestine through Jordan and Iraq
to the oil fields of
the gulf and Iran. Most of the oil was already under
British concessions with a company that would come to be called
British Petroleum or BP. Winston Churchill had himself purchased
controlling interest to make the British government the majority
shareholder of BP. British control of Istanbul limited Russian access to the Mediterranean
through the straits. France received the scraps left,
in compensation for the destruction of the war,
fought, on the Western Front. Syria,
including the coastal region that came to be Lebanon,
would be the French Mandate there was no oil but France had become a
military power on the northern, southern, and eastern
shores. Sections of Anatolia, today’s Turkey,
were set aside for Italy, Greece, Britain,
and France. News of the partitions met with immediate
opposition and eventual armed revolt by all the peoples of the region. The Turkish Republic emerged independent
when Mustafa Kemal rallied former Ottoman military forces
to fight against the partition. First France then Greece and Britain
decided to leave Turkey rather than fight another war the British public would not stand to
have the young men who survived the Great War again drafted to fight in
distant colonies also in 1920 revolt broke out in Iraq as
the population rose to expel the British forces from the new colony.
Winston Churchill himself engineered the Counter-insurgency
offensive using the new labor-saving technology
of air-power and poison gas. Egypt, Syria, and Palestine were also embroiled in armed revolt
which were suppressed at appalling human and financial cost. Nationalism in the
Arab world begins as a response to the intrusion of
Western colonial powers it has a different nature in each
country partly because the colonial experience was different
so in Algeria starting in the 1830s you
had one kind of colonial adventure which produces one kind of response in other countries
you have different kinds of colonial intrusion, Egypt for
example or in the countrys of the Arab East,
so-called, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon,
Jordan, Palestine were taken over after “World War 1” by the
British and French, so there’s a different process in each place so to generalize in every case these
responses were nationalist in the sense that
people wanting not to be ruled by
outside forces, but, In many cases they took a religious form,
in many cases they took a secular form in some cases they combined the two
or there was, there was, there was
a process of evolution and change. In Egypt for example there were periods in which
the national movement had a religious coloration 1890s
for example under Mustafa Kamil and
the “National Party”, it was a secular national party but it
had a certain religious balance to it and
other times the period of the left after “World War 1”
when the national movement was explicitly about the secular, with
Muslim and Christian leaders and almost no religious rhetoric to it. A lot
of discussion of Egypt as a country that went back to the Pharaohs,
back to the “pre-Islamic” past. The same is true in Algeria were you
have a resistance movement that is both led by Abdelkader which is both religious and secular. It is a
nationalist response to colonial occupation but it also
involves elements of religion same is true in the
response to the Italians in Libya where you have both religious and
secular elements and the same is true in the Sudan with
the “Mahdist” response to British colonialism where it was largely a religious movement but
it can also be seen as nationalist I guess it would be in the eastern
Arab world in countries like Lebanon Syria, Iraq, Palestine
that you had the least balance, the least weight of religious elements in the initial
reactions to European imperialism after
“World War 1” and there this national movement.
was avowedly secular and religious elements were
secondary if they if they existed at all so there were varied responses with
the religious element really only coming back where, where had, where it had disappeared really only coming back in
the latter part of the second half of the
20th century, in the seventies, nineteen seventies and eighties really was when religion began
religious movements political movements inspired by religion began to ~complete~, compete seriously with
secular nationalist movements. In the aftermath of the “First World War” Ottoman Turkey
was dismembered and that whole empire was divided up amongst the victorious Allies in a way
that was extremely cynical of course the colonial powers had earlier
divided Africa up, the interior of the whole
African continent amongst them in 1885 in a single
conference in Berlin so it was nothing new for the
West European colonial powers to suddenly, you know, get a huge new chunk
of land and divide it up amongst them the way that it worked in the eastern Mediterranean area between the
Mediterranean lets say and Iran which was an independent country, is that
the British and the French were the two powers and they simply drew lines on the map,
sometimes the lines were a little blurry, and they said,
this goes to England and this goes to France and that was it. There were two guys
who did it Mark Sykes and George Picot and that’s why the lines were
called the Sykes–Picot Agreement and what happened is interesting because these were majority Arab areas obviously the Turkish Empire had
been ruled by Muslims who were ethnic Turks these were ethnic Arabs and they were
given a number of different states but, so they had you know,
Saudi Arabia which was largely independent anyway its independence was, was ratified
if you like as part of that whole post “World War 1” period.
then you had Iraq was you know, the borders were
delineated and it became Iraq Syria was delineated and became Syria Palestine and Jordan, Lebanon of course was carved out in a special
way to please the French and those lines didn’t correspond to
previous national boundaries there had been no national boundaries So what happened was that you had
state administrations that were built there by the
colonial powers in each of those emerging nations. The British got Iraq and Jordan
and Palestine. The French got Syria and Lebanon and they were given kind of control over these countries by the League of Nations which gave them
something called a mandate because of course this was after
President Wilson’s 14 points, one of which was, That all nations
have the right to self-determination but, you know, in their patronizing
paternalistic way the governments in London and Paris
decided that the Arab people were not ready for independence or
self-governance and so they, therefore they had to be
kinda of, you know, nannied along by the British and French
colonial powers of course oil interests were key especially for the British they
needed to be able to extract oil and to be able to protect their sea
lines of communication with the Empire in India so if you look at the way
the boundaries were drawn for example there is one little portion
that goes up from Jordan Northwest no, Northeast toward Iraq that exactly follows the pipeline that
the British had built from Iraq that took the oil from there west-ward to the Mediterranean and
in fact if you drive along that portion of
Jordan you pass through several little towns kinda of small places in the desert
you’re driving essentially along the top of the the oil
pipeline and the towns are called H1 and H2 and H3 because those were the pumping
stations that the towns grew up around I mean it’s very blatant
how it was all done just for the oil interest and of course, you know,
then you had the Suez Canal and all that. The sea lines of communication with the
Empire in India Where was America?
America was a victorious power too, but at the time not a particularly
imperialistic one American Imperial designs were focused
on Latin America & the Pacific. Meanwhile Britain and France
enjoyed more or less free rein to reshape the Middle East to
suit their respective goals and policies and adding more countries to their
extensive empires. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was
concerned that European nationalism and imperial competition had contributed
to the outbreak of the World War and he determined to dull the edges of
the Imperial scramble for the Middle East. Wilson dispatched
the King–Crane Commission to discern the wishes and desires of the people of
the Middle East it was named after its two principal
members Henry King and Charles Crane. The Commission
traveled to Anatolia, Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon in 1919
speaking with hundreds of people from elites to the most humble. They
concluded that the people of the region desired independence. British and French
colonial governments were the two least favored options.
In 1920 America was seen as
a benign and non-imperialistic
power by the people of the region but when Wilson was incapacitated by a
stroke colonial lobbies in London and Paris
divided the region and British and French military forces
occupied the cities, towns, and villages. Now the mandates
were supposed to be temporary you know until these nations
were so-called ready for self-governance and in the course of the Second World War
the French obviously had problems because you had
Petain-ism that worked with the Nazis in Germany and so the British supported to some degree the movement
of the Syrians and the, and the Lebanese for
independence from France in those days until of course De-Gaulle
came back and and was you know a big buddy of the
British and the French and the western allies in
the Second World War but what had happened in that whole
period you had a sort of birth of some kind of identification of people with being
Syrian or with being Lebanese or with being Jordanian but it was it
was very fragile and infant in the pre-Second World War period because you know people still thought of themselves
primarily as as Muslims primarily as Arabs there was you know a lot of pan-Islamic and pan-Arab feeling in
those days or else they would feel identification
with, you know, the local Big Town it might be Nablus, it might be a Aleppo,
it might be Damascus they didn’t necessarily think of themselves
as you know, a citizen of Syria or a citizen of Iraq or whatever. The partition of this region that that is that is sketched out in the Sykes–Picot Agreement in
1915 and 1916 is the basis for the ~governments~ the states and nations and
governments of countries like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and
Israel, Palestine all of these states were carved out of a group of provinces
that were part of the Ottoman Empire by European powers that were acting entirely
in their own self-interest on the basis of rivalry between them
Britain and France and and that
created frontiers that reflected in almost no cases the actual wishes of the people
involved so you have these long straight lines running across the desert
between what is today Saudi Arabia and what is today Jordan or
between Saudi Arabia and Iraq or between Syria and Jordan or whatever and they’re just, you know,
hundreds and hundreds
of miles of straight lines What’s on one side.
What’s on the other side. That didn’t concern Sykes and Picot
and the other British and French diplomats and
strategist who drew up these lines. So the first thing is that these are in
some measure artificial states. There may of been a
state of Lebanon or Iraq that might have developed in a different way
but as they are, as they are today in terms of the frontiers that were
established by these partitions and later deals between the European powers,
they are artificial States. The second impact of this was, so the
creation of states is the first, the second impact of this was to create a sense of grievance among
peoples who probably would’ve organized their political life somewhat differently
had they been given a chance to do that and so Sykes–Picot and the partitions
imposed by the European powers as a result of those agreements
have been since the 1920s since they were pretty much carried
out a source of deep anger and and a sense of grievance that that you know, has diminished over time
because these nation states have taken on a reality of their own. They are all now real nation-states but there is still a sense of grievance that, you know,
what might of been a more cohesive whole might or might not of
but the imagination of people is it might of Was divided up by these imperialist
map makers. Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, believed that
the only way to solve the problems of the Jews
was to create a Jewish homeland after several options were considered it
was decided that the location could only be Palestine the biblical land of Israel few of the Zionists consider the fact that Arabs
were already living there as the first Jewish settlers began to
arrive the Arabs of Palestine gradually awoke to the fact that the Zionists were
aiming to settle the country. Various Zionist Congresses said
what, what European newspapers reported
Zionist leaders as saying and it was very clear what they intended
to do, they intended to replace an Arab population with a Jewish population and turn an Arab country into a Jewish
country in the long term as soon as they could do that in the
interim they said other things to the Arabs, they said other things to others
but there’s unmediated transmission from
the German of what was being said in Europe in
the pre-WW1 period through the Arabic press,
to people who could read,
so that was a political level. There was a clear consciousness
that this was a political movement
intended to replace the indigenous population with a foreign European
settler population. People who would be coming to
recreate or create a Jewish state in Palestine on the basis of this national
movement that had developed among Eastern European Jews. At another
level there was resistance to the process of dispossession of the
peasantry because what the Zionist movement was trying to do
was not to come in like a classical movement and exploit the native population they were coming in to
replace the native population not in other words to take over the land
and take the surplus that would be created
by peasant Arab cultivators but rather to
replace these cultivators with Jewish cultivators as a result there was a
kind of friction from an early stage with people
who are dispossessed from the very few colonies
that were established there were only a few dozen
by “World War 1” but there was, a clear, a history of
tension around these first settler colonies, between the
population the indigenous native population which
in many cases had land rights that were being ignored as modern
private, private property relations were established by the Ottoman state. Cultivators who had indefinite and, and
permanent right of “Usufruct” under the old system were being told, you don’t own the land, the
owner has sold it, get off. So there was a great deal of unrest as a
result of this and this increases through the twenties and
thirties and it fuels various Palestinian revolts, and and riots, and uprisings against the
British coming in “World War 2” and against
the Zionist movement and this is the beginning of
Palestinian reaction to Zionism which has nothing
to do with anti-semitism or even really political anti-Zionism
as one Palestinian wrote, I mean this is a perfectly fine movement
but the problem is you’re doing it here
the problem is you wanna take
as your country, our country. This reaction was not just a reaction
of peasants to being dispossessed it was also a reaction of people who are increasingly conscious of the actual
aims of the Zionist movement which were to replace the Arabs with Jews and replace an Arab
society with a Jewish society. In Palestine the revolt continued into
the late 1930s until the British government resolved to
abandon it’s troublesome commitment to
Zionism and finally the mandate over Palestine itself. Independence only came to the region when
the colonial powers exhausted and bankrupt by the cost of
another European World War were forced to leave the region in the 1940s.
Also by the 1940s armed opposition to foreign intervention
and colonialism had been fully established. The desire
for true independence and opposition to intervention,
colonialism, and imperialism remain potent among the people of the
region till today. Next time we will explore how the search
for independence, justice, and dignity animated politics in
the nineteen fifties and sixties.

7 comments on “WWI Sykes–Picot Agreement: Post War Goals of Imperialist & Zionist

  1. Interesting – any sources for learning what S and P would say about all this.  Did they really make these border decisions so arbitrarily?

  2. Neither irrational socially-malignant pseudo-cultist of the parasitic-oligarchy nor their tumorous institutional devices have any place in the 21st. century…

  3. in simple terms france Britain imperial russia thought they shuffle things about and do what they want meaning faiths people etc and not be accountable. how they thought this was a good idea… my country USA govt just had to get involved after .

  4. They were asked. Promises were made to Faisal and Abdullah. The King- Crane Commission ascertained sentiment. They were all ignored.

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