The Agreement

In 1916, the British and French made this secret agreement in order to decide on who would take control of the Arab territories of the Ottoman Empire once the First World War was over. The agreement was named after the negotiators Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Georges Picot.

Among the details of the agreement was that France would take direct control of Lebanon and indirect control of Syria, while Britain would control Iraq and the Persian Gulf. Meanwhile, Palestine would be under international control. Imperial Russia also agreed to the deal, taking Turkish Armenia in return, while Italy agreed to take some Turkish territory.

Eventually, in 1920, the San Remo Conference made such ideas a reality through official decree from the League of Nations. Britain was given rule of both Iraq and Palestine, while French troops arrived in Lebanon and Syria to seize control.

The significance of the Sykes-Picot Agreement is that it shows the clear intentions that the Allies had of taking control of the Middle-Eastern region, despite the fact that they had vowed to support Arab independence in previous years. Moreover, Palestine’s future was changed significantly as a result.

Allied Plans for Turkey 1915-1917

Allied Plans for Turkey 1915-1917

A plan for the Middle East 1915

A plan for the Middle East 1915

Sources: Jan Karl Tanenbaum, ‘Sykes-Picot Agreement’, in European Powers in the First World War: An Encyclopedia, edited by Spencer Tucker (Routledge, 1999).

Palestine

Many Muslim soldiers served in Palestine and Sinai, particularly in 1917, when the Indian Army, in numbers, joined the British assault on the large Turkish forces.

Much of this took place in light of the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, which initially placed Palestine under international control, before eventually, it was given to Britain to control. Before the negotiations of the Agreement had taken place, Palestine was a topic of debate among politicians at the British Cabinet. Discussions were led by Herbert Samuel, who suggested that Jews would be able to move to Palestine if it was under British rule. Samuel 1915, he distributed a memorandum to politicians entitled The Future of Palestine, in which he wrote: ‘I am assured that the solution of the problem of Palestine which would be much the most welcome to the leaders and supporters of the Zionist movement throughout the world would be the annexation of the country to the British Empire’. This idea would have an influence on negotiations of the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

Copy of the Balfour Declaration (British Library Add. 41178, f.3.)

Copy of the Balfour Declaration (British Library Add. 41178, f.3.)

In 1920, Samuel would become Britain’s High Commissioner to Palestine, but not before the Balfour Declaration of 1917, written by the Foreign Minister. Interestingly, the only Jewish member of the Cabinet, Edwin Montagu, rejected the Declaration as his experience as Secretary of State for India made him think that it would alienate the Indian Muslims. Nonetheless, it was approved by the Cabinet. It states to the Jewish community of Britain that: ‘His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object’.

Sources:

NA 37/123/43;

BL, Add. 41178, f.3.

Aftermath in India

Given India’s huge role in the war effort, Britain had promised India more self-governance and significant monetary compensation for its part in the war. But the promises were never really met. The intended aftermaths (such as the Montagu-Chelmsford Reform of 1919) did not materialise, with the British Viceroy in India retaining power, as well as the India Office in London.

In 1919, when two Indian nationalists who opposed the continued dependence of India were arrested, protests kicked off in Jallianwala Bagh, Punjab, despite the existence of a curfew. Under the command of Reginald Edward Harry Dyer, the protesters were shot. Official figures suggest that 379 Indians were killed and 1,200 wounded, but it is thought that the death toll may have been over 1,000. The event would become known as the Amritsar Massacre, and was a key moment in the increased distrust of Britain by India.