Sykes-Picot Agreement – UPSC GS1

What was Sykes-Picot Agreement?
One hundred years ago Britain and France signed a secret agreement carving out “spheres of influence” that ultimately created the modern Western Asia after WWI. Agreement was mainly concerned with dividing Ottoman Empires territories among England and France and preserving their own colonial interests.
Why in news now?
  • West Asia lies in tatters.
  • Parts of the border between Iraq and Syria have been virtually erased by the Islamic State.
  • Syria itself is divided among multiple groups.
  • Iraq’s government has no control over at least a fourth of its territory.
  • Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region, has demanded freedom from Baghdad.
  • The Syrian Kurdistan region is being run by the Kurds themselves for the first time in several decades.
  • The regional map is fractured in many more ways.
Can current crisis be linked to Sykes-Picot Agreement?
  • Part of the blame lies with a century-old agreement between Britain and France that is viewed as the source of the modern map of West Asia.
  • When the British and French signed the Sykes-Picot pact a century ago — on May 16, 1916 — to divide the huge land mass of the Ottoman Empire between themselves, their primary concern was to retain their colonial interests.
  • In the process, the map prepared by diplomats Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot ignored local identities, leaving several ethnic and social contradictions unaddressed.
  • Out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, the British ultimately obtained mandates over Palestine and Iraq; the French got what is now Syria. Areas experiencing some of the hardest-fought battles now, like Mosul, were attached to the Kingdom of Iraq.
  • Even when actual boundaries were identified after the First World War, the focus was on colonial and regional interests, not on the political preferences of the people.
  • Against this background, it may not be a coincidence that over the years the most powerful political ideologies that emerged from the region directly or indirectly challenged the Sykes-Picot system.
  • Both Nasserism and Baathism sought to transcend the territorial nationalist boundaries.
  • Egypt and Syria even went ahead to declare a United Arab Republic, an experiment that collapsed after the 1961 coup in Damascus.
  • And now, even Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the IS, calls for an end to the “Sykes-Picot conspiracy”.