A 1914 Russian poster in which the upper inscription reads “agreement”. The uncertain Britannia (right) and Marianne (left) look to the determined Mother Russia (centre) to lead them in the coming war. (Caption credit: Wikipedia)
The Zykes-Picot Agreement
- the Triple Entente
- the Turkish War of Independence
- the partition of the Ottoman Empire
We are going back to the Zykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, a secret partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. It had an enormous impact on the 20th century and beyond. The Agreement was negotiated by Mark Zykes (England) and François Georges-Picot (France) and was signed by Edward Grey, for Britain, and Paul Cambon, for France.
In 1914, Britain had declared war on the Ottoman Empire and expected a victory, which meant that the Ottoman Empire would, in all likelihood, be partitioned. Britain and France had spheres of influence in the Ottoman Empire. So did Imperial Russia, which explains why the Zykes-Picot Agreement is also called the Triple Entente. Imperial Russia was to get Istanbul (still named Constantinople since the birth, in 325 CE, of Christianity as an institution), the Turkish Straits and Armenia. The image above, shows a Russian poster, with the word agreement or concord written at the top. The figures represents France, Russia and England. However, by 1918, Imperial Russia had fallen to the Bolsheviks (1917) and the Czar and his family had been executed on 17 July 1918. By then, the Russian Civil War had erupted (November 1917-October 1922), opposing the Red Army and the White Army. The Zykes-Picot Agreement nevertheless remains a triple entente because Russia had assented to the Agreement.
Given that the Allied powers (France, England, the United States and other allies) won World War I, the Ottoman Empire was partitioned. By and large, its partitioning was consistent with the terms of the Zykes-Picot Agreement, but the negotiations were carried out by the newly founded League of Nations, established on 21 October 1919. A first attempt resulted in the disputed Treaty of Sèvres (10 August 1920). The treaty was renegotiated at Lausanne, Switzerland, resulting in the Treaty of Lausanne (24 July 1923). The Treaty of Lausanne partitioned the fallen Ottoman Empire and also recognized the independence of Turkey and its borders. The Turkish War of Independence was fought between 19 May 1919 and 24 July 1923, the day the Treaty of Lausanne was signed. The last Sultan, Mehmed VI, went into exile on 17 November 1922, but the Ottoman Caliphate was not abolished until 3 March 1924. The last Caliph, Abdülmecid II left for Paris, where he died in 1944. The Ottoman Empire had lasted 700 years, a very long time.
As for the manner in which the Ottoman Empire was partitioned, allow me to quote an earlier post:
Britain would rule Palestine as a Mandatory Palestine, from 1923 until 1948, as well as a Mandatory Iraq (Mesopotamia) from 1920 until 1932. France would rule a mandatory Syria and Lebanon, referred to as the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon (1923 −1946), as well as Alexandretta (İskenderun, now in Turkey).
Treaty of Versailles, Emir Faisal and Lawrence of Arabia (r.)
Emir Faisal’s delegation at Versailles, during the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Left to right: Rustum Haidar, Nuri as-Said, Prince Faisal, Captain Pisani (behind Faisal), T. E. Lawrence, unknown person, Captain Tahsin Kadry. (Caption and photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Balfour Declaration of 1917
The Balfour Declaration of 1917 seems to contradict promises made to Arab leaders. There was no mention of a homeland for the Jewish people in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. In fact, the Balfour Declaration negated the UK’s “promises to Arabs” through T. E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia. Britain had promised a “national Arab homeland” in return for the support of Emir Faisal in opposing the Ottoman Empire. Under Emir (his title) Faisal, Arabs did revolt against the Ottoman Empire (see the Damascus Protocol, the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence, and the Arab Revolt, Wikipedia).
Yet, on 2 November 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour had sent a letter to Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild which we are familiar with and which was looked upon as a promise. It read:
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, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. (See Balfour Declaration, Wikipedia.)
If read closely and completely, this letter is somewhat confusing. As of “it being clearly understood,” it introduces conditions: “[N]othing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine[.]” After World War II, Britain opposed the partitioning of Palestine. At that point, the country promoting the creation of Israel was not Britain. It was the United States, at least briefly. US President Harry S Truman had befriended a Zionist. When the State of Israel was created, President Truman was the first leader to recognize the new state, despite protests on the part of Palestinians. The Holocaust had claimed the life of 6 million Jews. It was horrific. By comparison, the Palestinian Exodus of 1948 did not make many victims, but for the people of Palestine, losing their home was tragic.
Eliahu Elath presenting ark to President Truman
Despite growing conflict between Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews and despite the Department of State’s endorsement of a trusteeship, Truman ultimately decided to recognize the state Israel.
However, I am now reading that Harry Truman, “initially opposed the creation of a Jewish state.”
As president, Truman initially opposed the creation of a Jewish state. Instead, he tried to promote an Arab-Jewish federation or binational state. He finally gave up in 1947 and endorsed the partition of Palestine into separate states, but he continued to express regret in private that he had not achieved his original objective, which he blamed most often on the “unwarranted interference” of American Zionists. After he had recognized the new state, he pressed the Israeli government to negotiate with the Arabs over borders and refugees; and expressed his disgust with “the manner in which the Jews are handling the refugee problem.” (in “Was Harry Truman a Zionist?” The New Republic)
The above could be revisionism, but both sides lost opportunities for peaceful coexistence. (See Palestine-Israel Journal, Sources and Resources.)
In 1917, Chaim Weizmann‘s own rebuttal to Arthur Balfour: “but we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh” obscured reality. Israel had not “had” Jerusalem for two thousand years. In fact, the diaspora had begun several hundred years before the birth of Christ. Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew who lived in occupied Palestine. However, Dr Weizmann’s rebuttal was a powerful metaphor and it evoked an equally powerful mythos as in mythology). The Jews were the chosen people and had a Promised Land. Britannica’s entry reads as follows:
Although the term refers to the physical dispersal of Jews throughout the world, it also carries religious, philosophical, political, and eschatological connotations, inasmuch as the Jews perceive a special relationship between the land of Israel and themselves. Interpretations of this relationship range from the messianic hope of traditional Judaism for the eventual “ingathering of the exiles” to the view of Reform Judaism that the dispersal of the Jews was providentially arranged by God to foster pure monotheism throughout the world.
In the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, the Jewish people needed a “promised land” and despite ambivalence regarding the creation of the State of Israel, it does appear that US President Harry Truman won the day. The Jewish population of Europe had been slaughtered, which preyed on every mind.
However, I am now reading that, following Brexit, British Jews have been applying for German citizenship and applicants will be successful. They have a right of return.
There are, however, separate rules for Jewish and political refugees from Hitler’s Reich. Under the principle of “restored citizenship”, German Basic Law ( Grundgesetz) stipulates that “former German citizens who between January 30, 1933 and May 8, 1945 were deprived of their citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds, and their descendants, shall, on application, have their citizenship restored”.
In fact, there is a small Jewish community in Germany. Among survivors of the Holocaust, some returned to their German homes. After denazification, it was a safe option, safer than moving to Israel. No sooner was Israel created than war erupted. (See Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Wikipedia.)
I am ending this post. The above shows, albeit incompletely, that Europeans demonstrated eurocentrism when drafting the Zykes-Picot Agreement, the term still used in reference to the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. The Zykes-Picot Agreement led to the creation of protectorates. As for the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the letter sent by Arthur Balfour to Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, dated 2 November 1917, expresses strong but conditional support for the creation of a national homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine. The quotation must be read in its entirety. According to the Palestine-Israel Journal,
In reality the proposed Jewish state was to be a bi-national one, simply because the Arab Palestinians constitute approximately half the population and owned much more land than the Jews. (See Palestine-Israel Journal.)
I have included a photograph of Chaim Weizmann and Emir Faisal in 1918. It could be that peace would reign in the Middle East had negotiations taken place between the parties concerned at the time the Balfour Declaration was signed. The central motivation in partitioning the Ottoman Empire seems to have been the protection of European spheres of influence in the Middle East.
The Zykes-Picot Agreement still resonates. The Israeli-Palestine conflict is an issue in the current crisis in the Middle East.
Nations must sit around a table, as equals, and their objective has to be peace, not the protection of spheres of influence. It cannot be a repay of the Treaty of Versailles which was a punitive conclusion to hostilities that would generate further hostilities. It was another example of the eurocentrism characterizing the Zykes-Picot Agreement.
Let there be peace!
Apologies for the long absence due to health issues: anemia.
Love to everyone ♥
- More Orientalism by Gérôme (17 August 1916)
- Orientalisme: Mostly Gérôme (15 August 1916)
- The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 (11 August 1916)
- The Remains of the Past (9 August 2016)
- The Algerian War: the Aftermath (25 July 2016)
- France in North Africa (21 July 2016)
- Algeria: second-class citizens (20 July 2016)
- The Last Crusades: the Ottoman Empire (12 February 2015)
Sources and Resources
- The Zykes-Picot Agreement (online)
- Palestine-Israel Journal
- https://www.theguardian.com/world/isis (24 August 2016)
 “Zionism”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 23 Aug. 2016
 “Mr. Balfour, supposing I was to offer you Paris instead of London, would you take it?” He sat up, looked at me, and answered: “But Dr. Weizmann, we have London.” “That is true,” I said, “but we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh.” He … said two things which I remember vividly. The first was: “Are there many Jews who think like you?” I answered: “I believe I speak the mind of millions of Jews whom you will never see and who cannot speak for themselves.”… To this he said: “If that is so you will one day be a force.”
Weizmann, Trial and Error, p.111, as quoted in W. Lacquer, The History of Zionism, 2003, ISBN 978-1-86064-932-5. p.188 (See Balfour Declaration of 1917)
 “Diaspora”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 21 Aug. 2016
© Micheline Walker
24 April 2016