Who were Sykes and Picot?


If you look for the beginnings of the turmoil in the Middle East and the reason for the incredible upheaval of the past 10 years or so, you have to go back to the First World War. With the war raging in France and Germany, there was scant attention paid to the Middle East and the Caliphate.

The Ottoman Empire had in essence, replaced the Holy Roman Empire as rulers of a great swath of the Middle East. They had declared neutrality in this European dust up and the Sultan in Istanbul hoped to keep it that way. But a couple of German war ships sailed up the Bosporous and were followed by English gunboats. The Sultan gave the Germans sanctuary, the British took offense to that and decided now was a good time to invade Turkey. Actually, it was the other end of the Caliphate they really cared about—because that’s where the oil was.

So, in late 1914 England went to war with the Ottoman Empire. In 1915, with the war barely underway and the focus on Germany, France and England, two people sat down in an office with a table full of maps. They were Mark Sykes of the British Foreign Office, a so-called “expert” on the Middle East because he, a British nobleman, had traveled there extensively and Francois Picot, a French diplomat—with the same travel agency credentials.

These two “experts”—both Christian and of “noble” birth, pulled out a bunch of maps and began to divvy up the Middle East between France and England. Paying no attention whatsoever to clan or tribe or religion or history, they took their pens and gave all that inhabited land away to two European nations who cared not one whit nor twiddle about who lived there. They wanted control of the oil that lay beneath the sands.

They drew borders of convenience, creating countries for their nations’ convenience and colonial ambitions. There was one country they left alone. It was Persia, now Iran. At one point they actually gave the city of Mosul to Persia, but when they were told that there were probably vast oil reserves in that area, they quickly adjusted the map and put it in the new nation of Iraq.

If you are old enough to have seen “Lawrence of Arabia” or seen it on television, or read about Lawrence, you know that he led all the Arab tribes to defeat the Turks. He gathered the tribes with the promise that they would have all of Arabia if the Turks were defeated. France and England of course, had no intention of giving them the land. The one mistake that Sykes and Picot made was in giving the Arab leader Feisal a vast area of southern desert that became Saudi Arabia. They didn’t know that much of the oil they sought was under that sand.

The U.S. of course, was cut out of all this because President Woodrow Wilson did not want America in the war. Until he did – and then the maps had already been drawn. So, the French and the British had divvied up the land. Now with the help finally of the Americans, they could win that pesky war and start drilling.

So, having created this “new world” of the Middle East, what do you do to keep those clans, those tribes, those Sunnis and Shia together? Well, you appoint military dictators, or call them in some instances Kings, pay them well, equip and train their armies and start drilling.

And, from 1919 until 2010, that’s how it was. That is how big oil began to rule the world economy, why millions of people of the Middle East suffered from brutal dictatorships and France, England and yes, the United States all took part in the spoils.

Then there were the Jews. The Jews, facing centuries of Anti-Semitism and seeing that the Brits were going to make a new map of the Middle East, made their move to include their ancient homeland, ruled by foreigners since we were tossed out by the Romans. Palestine, that tiny plot of sand in the middle of all this turmoil, had no oil, was not even one of these new nations that Sykes-Picot had drawn.

But it was the ancient and holy land of Israel to which the Jews wanted to return. Baron Rothschild in England, contacted Foreign Minister Balfour and he wrote back the famous Balfour Declaration, saying that the British Empire “would look with favor on a home for the Jewish People in Palestine.”

Well, in the whacking up of the Middle East (in which the U.S. had no part), England got that sandy part of the pie so it was up to them to make the Balfour/Rothschild dream come true. We know the rest of the story.


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