On May 16th, 1916, a British and a French diplomat signed an agreement that would get back on the Middle Eastern agenda a century later. Mark Sykes was the British diplomat and François George-Picot, the French. Officially known as the “Asia Minor Agreement”, the agreement has since then been referred to as Sykes-Picot.
What was the content of that agreement? Even though First World War was still going on, the French and British had already settled the issue of how to divvy up the Middle East. The British would take a big portion of Iraq, Jordan and Palestine, the French would occupy Northern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, all of Turkey’s southeast and İstanbul, the straits and Eastern Anatolia, an Armenian region, would be left to Russia.
Two developments ruined that plan. First, workers came to power in Russia, Bolsheviks, with their hatred of everything about the capitalist rule, including its dirty diplomacy ran behind closed doors. So, along with all other secret deals, they exposed the Sykes-Picot agreement as well. Following this, a liberation front in Turkey was established, Turks and Kurds defeated the imperialists who wanted to plunder the region.
However, these two developments were not enough to completely annihilate the plan. To a larger extent, Arab region was divided along the “spheres of influence” laid out in the Sykes-Picot agreement. The core of the agreement, the idea that “Middle East should be under the domination of imperialist forces” continued to this day.
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A century later, last September, when videos of ISIS militants claiming to have done away with the border between Iraq and Syria amid cries of victory “We have abolished Sykes-Picot”, Western “experts on the East” have all started with their analysis: The agreement had not been able to establish a stable rule in the Middle East, the borders were artificial, there was need of a new order in the Middle East. Around the same days, U.S., just as it had done in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past, announced its plans to attack the region after establishing an international coalition.
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Let’s go back in history again. A British and a French diplomat, while they were making plans on how the region should be shared, one of the British agents let loose in the Arab region, Lawrence of Arabia, allied with Arab sheikhs and kings, was busy organizing the “freedom struggle” against Ottoman rule.
In the 1962 film “Lawrence of Arabia” by David Lean, there is a very significant scene. Lawrence is in a room with an Arab Prince, a British officer and a British diplomat. Faisal, the Arab Prince, hints that he is aware of the secret Sykes-Picot agreement. The British officer denies that such an agreement exists. Lawrence on the other hand, is apparently not aware of such an agreement. When the Prince leaves the room, the British diplomat takes on the task of telling Lawrence about the agreement. He starts by asking Lawrence if he really has not heard of the agreement. Lawrence responds “I didn’t know but I was suspicious of it.” The diplomat goes on to explain the details of the agreement while Lawrence quietly listens to him. When the diplomat is finished, Lawrence says “While even the thieves have a notion of honor, the politicians don’t.” The diplomat gives Lawrence a historic response: “You may not have known, but you certainly had suspicions. If we’ve told lies you’ve told half-lies. And a man who tells lies, like me, merely hides the truth. But a man who tells half-lies has forgotten where he put it.”
Lawrence of Arabia’s promise of “freedom” for the Arab peoples was a half-lie. Or, half-truth. If the demand for freedom was part of the truth spoken, the imperialist plans were the other part of the truth, the part Lawrence forgot where he put. The result was a century long imperialist domination.
We are now facing the violence of not only ISIS in Kobanê but also other imperialist fostered groups across the whole of Syria.
Yes, there is an enormous humanitarian tragedy. That is the truth, but only a half-truth…
Yigit Gunay is Editor-in-chief of the Turkish daily news site soL.