Britain and France Carve Up The Middle East
One Problem: Ottoman Turks Winning the War
Special to The Great War Project.
(1-4 May) The British may have been defeated at Kut in Mesopotamia on the last day of April a century ago, but they are not defeated in the Middle East. At least that’s the way they see it.
Just three days before the British surrender in Kut — after a Turkish siege of 145 days — British and French diplomats, negotiating for months in Paris, sign a secret pact partitioning the Middle East after the war.
The document, known as the Sykes-Picot agreement, is the work of Sir Mark Sykes from Britain and Georges Picot of France. They hold private talks for months, negotiating the postwar partition of the Middle East.
“The diplomats,” writes historian Martin Gilbert, “were dividing up Asia Minor [much of the Middle East] in a secret agreement with France. In the Levant [present day Lebanon] France would control the Lebanese coast, with its capital at Beirut.”
The agreement creates “an Arab sovereign state in Syria,” reports Gilbert, “based in Damascus, that would be under French protection.”
Britain would be sovereign over the port city of Haifa [now in northern Israel] and the crusader city of Acre [also in northern Israel], thus controlling the bay that would serve as the Mediterranean terminus for oil pipelines coming from Mesopotamia.
“Palestine,” reports Gilbert, “would be under the triple protection of Britain, France, and Russia.”
And finally, Gilbert observes, an Arab state under British protection would stretch from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.
Of course this all depends on the Ottomans’ losing the war. Just now though, they are celebrating the great victory against the British at Kut…
…on the Tigris River a hundred miles south of Baghdad.
“More than 9,000 troops surrendered to the Turks on April 29th,” a century ago, according to Gilbert.
Nonetheless, in Britain the surrender at Kut comes as a great shock. “More men had surrendered to the despised Turk at Kut,” Gilbert writes, “than had surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown,” (a great victory for the Americans during their revolutionary war).