Dividing Up The Middle East – The Sykes-Picot Agreement I THE GREAT WAR Week 92
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Dividing Up The Middle East – The Sykes-Picot Agreement I THE GREAT WAR Week 92

November 25, 2019

This week 100 years ago was the week of the
Easter Uprising in Ireland, a pivotal point in Irish history, but that’s not my “hook”
today. Instead we made a whole special episode about it so I can look at it a little deeper.
But something else happened this week 100 years ago that still has major repercussions
today; 100 years ago the Allies were planning how to divide up the Middle East after the
war. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week the spring floods had come and the
scattered action on the Eastern Front was mostly in small boats since the rivers had
burst their banks and the roads were non-existent. Flooding on the Tigris had also helped prevent
the British relief force from reaching the British army under siege at Kut, and in Anatolia
the Russians had taken Trabzon from the Turks, while sending nearly 20,000 men to fight on
the Western Front, where the Battle of Verdun was now two months old. I want to look at some naval stuff for a minute
first this week. Last year, Sir John Jellicoe, Commander of
the British Grand Fleet, was worried that small German naval successes, U-Boat warfare,
and the need to send part of the fleet to secondary theaters of the war was slowly eroding
British naval superiority. Near the end of the year the ratio of British to German dreadnoughts
had sunk to 17-15, down from 20-13 months before, and that of battlecruisers was only
5-4. But by now the balance had swung back toward Britain’s favor. The end of Gallipoli,
the addition of the Italian fleet to the Mediterranean operations, and the destruction of German
raiding cruisers had now made clear that the Grand Fleet had superiority. I read in John
Keegan’s “the First World War” that this month it had 31 Dreadnoughts and 10 battle
cruisers while the German High Seas Fleet had only 18 Dreadnoughts and 5 battle cruisers.
The British also had a big advantage in light cruisers and destroyers. So it made sense to adopt a passive policy
by which the navy would justify its existence simply by causing the German navy to protect
its harbors, but German naval pride didn’t allow Germany the passive option, and in Germany
the navy was junior to the army and not senior like it was in Britain, and this was a time
of great German blood letting in the army. The German navy needed to gain the esteem
of the German people and Admiral Reinhard Scheer made clear that the navy needed action,
and he had been sending the fleet out looking for it, and this week he got it. On April 25th, the day after German naval
forces bombarded Lowestoft and Yarmouth, came a battle between zeppelins, battle cruisers,
and submarines on the German side, and destroyers, land batteries, airplanes, and seaplanes on
the British side. The airplanes and seaplanes had flown up to attack the zeppelins that
were heading west and flying high. The zeppelins turned out to sea and the planes followed,
bringing them within range of the naval guns. Four U-boats appeared and began firing at
the planes, one of the airplanes was actually destroyed by fire from a zeppelin and two
seaplanes were damaged by fire from the subs. That sounds pretty mundane, but the timing
of this, coming on the heels of the Irish Easter Uprising, caused a lot of concern and
also big anti-German anger in civilian Britain, but showed that, as long as the Grand Fleet
at Scapa Flow blocked off the exit from the North Sea, German operations would be hit-and-run
against targets close enough to run from to home before the big ships of the British could
head south and intervene. And intervening is something the Allies were
quite good at. The Sykes-Picot agreement, named after Englishman
Sir Mark Sykes and Frenchman Georges Picot, was signed April 26, 1916, although some sources
say May 9th and May 16th. This was a secret agreement between Britain and France, with
Russian approval, which divided the Middle East between them. France would control Lebanon,
with a capital at Beirut, there would be a sovereign Arab state in Syria, based around
Damascus, which would still be under French protection. Britain would be in charge of
the Port of Haifa and the city of Acre, controlling the bay that would make a Mediterranean terminal
for Mesopotamian oil. Palestine would be under protection of Britain, France, and Russia
combined. France would get Southeastern Turkey and Northern Iraq, Britain would also get
southern Iraq, and Russia Istanbul and the Armenian regions of Anatolia. The map was
divided pretty much with straight lines 100 years later this agreement still defines
many of the conflicts of the region. It defined the borders of Syria and Iraq, certainly helped
precipitate the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and was a big turning point
in Western-Arab relations since it, in advance, negated all the promises Britain would make
to Arabs for an Arab homeland in Greater Syria. ISIS has even claimed that one of their goals
is to reverse the effects of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which would be made public in 1917
to the great consternation of the Arab world. All that had to happen for it to go into effect
was to defeat the Ottoman Empire. Thing is, the Ottoman Empire was far from
being defeated, as they were showing in Mesopotamia. On April 27th- three British officers, including
Captain T.E. Lawrence, soon known as Lawrence of Arabia, offered the Ottomans two million
pounds in gold to allow the besieged British and Indian troops at Kut to go free and rejoin
their comrades. The Turkish commander replied, “Your gallant troops will be our most sincere
and precious guests.” Russian troops were driving west from Persia, from the Paitak
Pass, trying to reach Kut, but were still 150k from Baghdad, and by the 28th Kut was
finally out of food. And looking just a bit to the west, we see
some developments at the Suez Canal. Last month, General Sir Archibald Murray had
taken command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, the EEF, which had been put together
from some of the leftovers from Gallipoli, which had finally ended as the New Year was
getting rolling. By this summer, the EEF would number four infantry divisions, a cavalry
force, and the Imperial Camel Corps, a Corps that would number one British battalion, one
New Zealand, and two Australian. Now, it was over a year since the Turks had
tried to attack the Suez Canal, but Murray thought an active defense was his best bet
anyhow, so he planned an advance to the coastal town of El Arish from where his men could
disrupt any Turkish movement through the Sinai Desert. The main issue was, as you may guess,
water supplies, so this month Murray had secured the oasis region between Qatiya and Bir el
Abd and had sent small forces out to destroy the Turkish water supply points that they
had used in early 1915, which would limit any future Turkish desert operations. Finally learning something from their mistakes
in Mesopotamia last year, the British wanted to have a secure communication line back to
the Nile Delta, but how do you create a transport infrastructure in such desert territory? Well,
there was actually a simple solution, wire roads. Yep, wire roads. Ordinary wire netting
was simply unrolled to make a “road” that prevented soldiers from sinking into the sands
when they marched. Clever. But the railway was the only way for a larger force to travel
and it went out to Romani, like 40 kilometers from the Suez Canal. Thing is, a large force
would need a large amount of water, so a 12 inch pipeline was laid and water was pumped
forward, and there were storage tanks from where camels could carry water to forward
positions. Too little water at Suez and too much water
in Europe. Rains prevented any big action at Verdun in the West and the Eastern Front
was still flooded. Though on April 28th, German artillery began
a bombardment of the area near the village of Stavarotche. Back on March 20th, the Germans
had lost a series of important trenches there and a strong attack was now launched to regain
that ground, and they captured not only the territory in question but went on to take
a series of Russian trenches. Losses were high on both sides, but became higher for
the Russians when they made a night counterattack in the face of machine guns. I don’t know
the numbers killed or wounded, but the Germans took 56 officers and 5,600 men prisoner, as
well as 28 machine guns and five big artillery pieces. And that was the week, a quiet and wet Europe,
desperation in Mesopotamia, and action off the English Coast. National borders in much of the world are
often natural boundaries or have developed over the centuries between ethnic groups and
different peoples or tribes, but the partitioning of the Middle East ignored this and was completely
fabricated from thin air in straight lines. These boundaries and the failure of the Allies
to keep their promises of liberation have, in large part, led to 100 years of conflict,
violence, and death in the whole region. That’s beyond the scope of this channel, though,
but it serves as a huge example of the fact that the horrors of a war are never restricted
to the boundaries of that war, and have far-reaching consequences that can affect the lives and
deaths of millions of people decades, or even centuries after that war is over. War is hell. As I said earlier, the Irish Easter Uprising
also shook things up on the British Isles this week. It is an extremely important event
not only for the Irish but with a lot of ramifications for the rest of the world. So, we made a whole
special episode about it and you can check that out right here. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Karl
Whillier. Help us out on Patreon to make our show even better with new formats and more
animations. Don’t forget to subscribe. See you next

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  1. Dear Indie & team, I am a great fan of your holistic coverage of WW1. Keep going!!
    I am from India and would be delighted of a special regarding Indian contributions to WW1!! U have already mentioned about Indian contributions and wars they were invloved in like Neauve-Chapelle, Kut, Gallipolli, etc, but I feel India deserves a Special episode( That INDIA will consist of today's Republic of India+Pakistan+Bangladesh).
    Also, would just like to mention that today's symbol of Indian Republic & Selflessness of our armed forces ie:- India Gate was a memorial to soldiers who died in WW1. It was built in their memory.

    Thank you.

  2. really good stuff, i like the fact that you include the Russian war aims, which are usually forgotten

  3. hi,
    thanks for the Great show!

    Is the Berlin-Bagdad railway worth a speshel?
    imho a quite underexposed story..


  4. hey indi can you tell us the role of pancho villas roll in ww1 and how the raid in columbus New Mexico affected the us involvement in ww1

  5. What was the motivation of the allies to split up this part of the world among them and not leave it to the Arabs?

  6. All of the wars in the middle east would of been avoided if the colonies didn't demand independence.

  7. Didn't realize that France and GB were OK with handing Constantinople over to Russia, especially since they put so much effort into making sure that it didn't happen in the previous century. Obviously they were allies in this war but I wonder if there was a lot of opposition to the idea?

  8. There were too many different groups, vying for control over the same area, ready and preparing for the withdrawal of the Ottoman Empire. Sykes-Picot or not, there was always going to be conflict as a result of this power vacuum.

    Specifically blaming sykes-picot for the conflict is extremely naive.

    Too many groups with power, vying for control over the same area, there will be conflict.

  9. Will the Great War do a Bio on Mehmed V Reshad the Ottoman Emperor during most of WW1? Love the Great War!!!

  10. what about doing a bio on the Last Emperor of the Ottoman Empire Emperor Mehmed VI 1861-1926 (Empire 1918-1922) this would help show why the Turks lost the first world war and the Turkish War of Independence. this lead to Modern Turkey under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

    Love the Great War!!!

  11. Hi Indie have just finished reading Four-Fifty Miles to Freedom by M.A.B Johnston and K.D Yearsly  about their escape from a Turkish P.O.W camp, I downloaded it from Librivox.org they have quite a few books relating to WW1 and all free to download keep up the good work……….M

  12. Dear indy

    A Zeppelin did not shoot down a British aircraft. The British lost one seaplane during this operation which was shot at by German ships and crashed while landing according to the book "The Sky Their battlefield"

  13. WOW, Sir Archibald Murray, 1860-1945, died on the last year of WWll! So he lived to see in its entirety the war caused by his country's and its allies' Versailles screw up! He must have been heartbroken.

  14. …..and the chickens are coming home to roost! Europeans, see your beloved civilization torn to pieces by the very people whose lives you screwed up when you decided to draw lines and make countries. ENJOY!

  15. The problems Iraq faces today is not due to the borders 100 years ago. Seriously look at our recent history before 2003, never did a Sunni kill a Shia or a Shia kill a Sunni for their religious beliefs. Do you care if you neighbor is a Catholic and you are an Orthodox? It was the same in Iraq. I have 6 uncles, and 3 of them are married to Shias (they are Sunnis). These sectarian tensions were newly brought in 2003 by the Americans. It was done so the resistance will be weakened and unfortunately it worked, as both sides began fighting each other rather than the Americans. Another factor was foreign influence. Iran was influencing Shias and Saudi was influencing Sunnis, and both countries were trying to gain control of Iraq.

  16. No one suffer like kurdish people on that sykes picot agreement, 50 millions people no country sad

  17. I didn't hear one thing about Kurds and Kurds are the primary victims of Sykes-picot. Kurds existed 7000 years before Muslims.

  18. I actually would like to know more about the consequences of that agreement. Sadly it is out of this channel's scope 🙁 maybe a mini-episode? 😀

  19. Not only Sykes-Picot messed up the world for decades to come by drawing lines on the map.
    Two further examples of artificial entities created after WW1, and would have far-reaching effects are Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.

  20. The road to Hell is paved with the grand schemes of interventionists financed by International Central Bankers…

  21. I dont think that sykes-picot has anything to with the religious wars that are happening in the middle east, take Iraq under Saddam Hussein rule for exemple, although he was a tyrannical leader and fought against Iran the first shiite country in the world, the majority of the shiite community in Iraq rooted for him and fought in the Iraqi army against the Iranian troops, not for the sake of religion but for patriotism. Its also same with almost all the Islamic calipahtes in middle ages, there always were huge secterian and religous differencies in the muslim community but they still lived in peace and respected each other (their is some exceptions), the religious wars that are happening are mostly due to the extremist ideologies that are rising and that takes root from the wahabi and salafi ideologies and also from some zealous shiite sects, so dividing the middle east into different countries depending on the ideologic differencies wont solve anything there still will be wars with some communities that finds the others not pious enough.

  22. https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/05/13/sykes-picot-isnt-whats-wrong-with-the-modern-middle-east-100-years/

  23. I find it funny how everyone is blaming britain for promising palestine to two parties at the same time while ignoring the people who already lived there, real palestinians

  24. Sykes-Picot did not "define the borders of Syria and Iraq." In the very map shown in the video, the division of the Middle East under this agreement looks nothinglike how it does today. The modern borders of the Middle East were more or less hashed out under the British and French Mandate system put together at the San Remo Conference, a whole 4 years later.

    TL:DR- Yes Sykes-Picot divided the Middle East. No it's not how it is today. That was San Remo.

  25. Can't forget about Islam just being Islam too. I'm no bigot, but as a religious studies scholar and historian, Islamic peoples have an entirely different value system from the west for the most part. #notall…butmostly

  26. Sir, first of all you make this video in my birthday , second I am an arab and thank you for making this video I can considere it as my birthday gift.
    But I hope that you would do a video about the long term effect of this secret agreement.

  27. Indy ,as an Aussie, I would love you to do an episode or two on the role of the Camel Corps and Australian Light Horse in the liberation of Beersheba, Jerusalem Damascus .. etc

  28. I didn't see the part in 1923 where Turkey demanded Turkish Kurdistan and other autonomous ethnic area's agreed in 1920 back in 1923 or they would seek claim over Cyprus and Dodecanese, effectively blackmailing the allies for that territory and Russia was cool with that, because more conflict is bad, ignoring France and Britain's demands of 1920 for autonomous regions for the Kurds and other groups on the border.

  29. While I cannot question Neidell's tremendous knowledge of the first world war, this whole "the mess of the muslim world is Europe's fault"-line of thinking is quite untrue. Sure, the borders drawn up were hopeless based on modern ideals of democracy and self-governing of nations and peoples. But the islamic world understands power and submission, nothing else. Giving the various muslim tribes and peoples governance over their area of demographic majority is simply legitimizing over a millenia of massacres, deportations, systematic rapes, and soul-crushing oppression of non-muslims. Sure, this doesn't apply to the same degree everywhere, especially once one reaches further into Arabia. What they should have done is given the Arabs what they promised – An arab state, encompassing today's Saudi-Arabia, parts of Iraq, Syria and Jordan. And given political control to the peoples who had suffered and endured the muslim yoke for so long: The egyptian copts, the jews, the christians of the Levant and most of all justice for the million slaughtered Armenians by a full restoration of an Armenia encompassing their historical homelands from Russian Armenia to Cilicia – Not to mention assisting their allies in Greece in driving the turks out of their stolen homes.

    Why was the Middle-East reawakened in its religious frenzy after the war? Because now, they were the subjected peoples to a foreign religion, the very thought of which being an affront to the "master race" of islam.

  30. It's a myth that the Mandate boundaries in Arabia ignored ethnic distinctions. If anything, they thought too much of ethnic distinctions. Iraq has always had a distinct dialect and culture from those in the Levant. Lebanon was created solely to separate Maronite Christians from their Muslim neighbours. Palestine was created solely for the Jewish homeland. The only arbitrary border is the one between Jordan and Syria: the most peaceful border in the region since the Great War.

  31. Holy hell! I seriously can't believe the European apologist on here actually trying to sugar coat and justify European colonization of Africa and the 'Middle East'!

  32. Whats the deal with Arabia on the map? Was it its own country, unclaimed or was just a bunch of desert nomads and war chiefs?

  33. A lot of the Middle Eastern leaders are afraid of the Jesuits.
    They just do what they're told, even if it means destruction of their own country.
    They don't want to end up like Lincoln and Kennedy.

  34. That's really crazy to know White mans lies then are still bitting them in the ass today. It's real sad for not only the white man as they've fooled themselves but for those who live so badly in the Middle East.

  35. So in other words, as with Africa, Europe indulged in a great carve up of the Middle East whether or not the people there were happy with the idea. Typical.

    Great show. Thank you!

  36. I guess the line of thought was something along the lines of: "One piece of desert looks just like another piece of desert, just divide it however it seems nice on the map. As long as we get the oil, doesn't matter who holds this piece of sand or that other mound over there. What can ever go wrong?"

  37. thanks a lot for this video. Its really helping me complete my essay on the role of the agreement in Middle East Problems today

  38. Most historians of Iraq and the Levant do not give credence to the argument that Sykes-Picot lines created artificial, and thus somehow doomed, states in the region:




  39. Crappy borders also caused the deaths of millions in India when the British pulled out in 1947. British India was turned into two states, India which was for the Hindus and Pakistan (including was is now Bangladesh) for the Muslims. Unfortunately, the borders were drawn using out of date census data so millions and millions of people were ended up in the wrong country. After this there was a mass panic as Hindus and Muslims fled to their respective countries which led to violence in which over a million died. It's hard to believe how careless ignorant mistakes by a couple of politicians could lead to something like that.

  40. What kind of insanity is the war
    Conflict from the pacific to the Great Britain, paving the road to fascism, soviet communism and radical islamism, ethnic cleansing (and leading to more of it) and meanwhile they build a pipeline in the desert and use camels for transport
    Oh and millions of dead men and the total waste of human potential
    I can't wrap my head around this and it's hard for me to convince how this war could possibly get worse or how WW2 is going to be even more devastating
    Why do we do this?

  41. 5:07 woah woah woah, stop. STOP. . . what is that thing? The creature standing next to the arab leader. Is . . . is that a man? is that somebody's dad in a dress? What is going on? Is the arab leader married to a Trans person? I am so very, very confused Indy. You must explain . . . EXPLAIN SIR!

  42. Think about what would happen if there was no Sikes-Picot
    – Arabs would get their secular Pan-Arab state
    – King Faisal's agreement with Chaim Weizmann would have been honored and implemented, allowing for a Jewish state to exist with secure and reasonable borders in Palestine as well as better development across the Arab kingdom
    – Kurds would become independent
    – the Saudis and Wahabism would never rise to power, meaning far less Islamic terrorism and fundamentalism
    – Iran and Arabia would both be secular powers in the Middle East.

  43. You reap what you saw. No wonder the middle east is shambles today. There was another world war between the first and today. Europe should not deny the responsibilities created hundred years ago.

  44. Fabricating national borders without keeping in mind the ethnic groups living in each region and planting the seed for future conflicts… sounds like the Balkans.

  45. Sykes-Picot hasn't even caused 1 million deaths since 1916, never mind "millions". The Arab-Israeli death toll over the past century is around 120,000. And Israel's borders were fought for, not imposed. The death toll in the Lebanese civil war 1970s to 1990s is about 150,000. It is harder to gauge how many have died through internal repression in Syria and Iraq, although the Syrian Cili War toll now stands at 350-500,000.

    Contrast with the non-Sykes-Picot Iran-Iraq War which killed about 1.5 million.

    And while Sykes and Picto may have drawn those original lines, they did not hold guns to the heads of the subsequent rulers of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, all of whom could have restructured their countries on ethnic/tribal/sectarian lines to suit.

  46. i like this video i need to watch it many more than once to understand it well i`m not very good in English still learning (I am an Arab and thank you For This Video )

  47. The Europeans can't draw a bloody border, it has been seen time and again. Even if you look past each and every modern day zones of conflict, it was made because they never considered the natural geographic and cultural border, instead just drew a line. Consider the borders they made for themselves in Europe, after Charlemagne's death, same symptoms. Same results, same actions repeated by those in conflict because of the shit borders drawn then, and same cycle continues.

  48. The borders of the middle east and much of Africa and South Asia were deliberately drawn to facilitate instability, thus making the regions easier to control by an Imperial power.

  49. That's gotta be hard to live down… "shot down by a zeppelin"… It's like "hey, you got a ZEPPELIN on your six!!! Bank right, I'll get him!!!" ratt-a-tat-tat… "Sorry boys, I'm going down…"

    Later! OL J R 🙂

  50. sykes-picot signed "with russian approval"??? sazonov practically wrote it, it should be called sykes-picot-sazonov!

  51. And imagine… The Sykes-Picot Agreement was actually a secret until it was revealed by the Bolsheviks. So the promises of liberty to Arabs was a big lie. France and the British wanted the region for themselves. The agreement was actually "A Modern Crusade", taking back "the Holy Lands"…

  52. Finally someone's actually thinking of logistics, I've had enough of Generals who hadn't realized that their troops need to eat.

  53. Planes hit by Zeppelins and Subs…then there's Destroyers, Cruisers…is this Sci-Fi or Steam-Punk?

    And then, the Empire that could control nearly half the world had trouble w/ a little potato island. The Potato people say "oi, England, fk off!" and England says "nay, we shan't fk off, for we desire your…uhh…potatoes and drunks and…why do we want this dreary, barren place again?" As a Yankee of non-Irish descent, this seemingly eternal fight has never made sense.

  54. If Arab nations dislike the borders they were handed, what is stopping them from drawing new ones?

    And if Arab nations truly hate the deal foisted on them by Europeans, why don't they renounce their "liberation", and petition to rejoin the Turkish empire?

  55. british and french to arabs: we will give u a unified state
    also the britishs and french after dividing the middleast: Sykes, thats the wrong number

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