A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Two More Attempts at Demythologizing the "Sykes-Picot" Conventional Wisdom

Over the past year or so, the rise of ISIS or ISIL or IS or Da‘ish or whoever they are has led to a lot of talking head and op-ed opinionating about "redrawing the Sykes-Picot boundaries" and such. As I have patiently pointed out on more than one occasion, the famous carving up of the Ottoman Empire by Messrs Sykes and Picot bears only a very rough kinship to the borders that emerged after the war. For instance Sykes and Picot gave Mosul to the French sphere, so ISIS taking over Mosul didn't "reverse" Sykes-Picot, it implemented it. As I noted in that earlier post, Sykes-Picot fell apart even before the peace:
During the Paris peace talks, on Sunday, December 1, 1918 during a meeting at the French Embassy in London, by David Lloyd George's own account, Georges Clemenceau asked him what he wanted, and Lloyd George immediately replied, "Mosul." Clemenceau then said "You shall have it. Anything else?" To which Lloyd George responded "Palestine from Dan to Beersheba," (or in another version, "Jerusalem.") (Much of Palestine was supposed to be under international control under Sykes-Picot.) Clemenceau, who wanted British support for French claims in the Rhineland, quickly agreed.
The rise of the Turkish Republic undermined the hopes of Italy and Greece  for carving out their shares, and the Treaty of Lausanne and the results of the San Remo Conference had far more than the Sykes-Picot agreement to do with the modern borders, which continued to change at least as late as the 1939 transfer of the Hatay to Turkey.

So I'm pleased to see two recent additions to the choir:

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