Sykes-Picot: An Agreement That Should Have Never Been (Part 1)

Sykes-Picot Agreement map

Sykes-Picot Agreement map

By Hiwa Nezhadian:

Part I

Between November 1915 and March 1916 a secret agreement was agreed upon by British colonel Mark Sykes, and French diplomat Francois Georges Picot with the assent of the Russian Empire on the division of the Middle East after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and it was signed in May 1916.  The notorious agreement had nothing to do with the demography of the land, nor cultural, religious, national or linguistic identities, but it had a lot to do with the dividers’ interests, mainly the Brits and the French.  Here is how it happened:

In the early 1910s the Brits conducted numerous geological surveys under the guise of archeological excavations and determined the abundance of oil in the today’s Arab South and Kurdish North of Iraq.  The oil findings were kept secret from the French and the Russians.  So the British insisted on the control of those areas which later became Iraq.  France was to take control of Lebanon and Syria.  Russia was supposed to take control of Istanbul, the Turkish Straits and Armenia.

The Russian government was a minor party to Sykes–Picot and, following the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks published the agreement on 23 November 1917 in Izvestia and Pravda and in November 26 it appeared in the British Guardian.

The agreement was legalized at the Treaty of Sèvres in August 1920 with some changes. Among these changes it set aside part of Turkey as Kurdish and Armenian states. However, this decision was protested aggressively by the Turks, who afterwards relocated thousands of Turkish families into Kurdish-majority parts of Turkey.

The Treaty of Sèves was superseded by the Treaty of Lausanne and was signed into law in 1923.  The Allies sided with the new nationalist Turkish state and therefore the proposal for the creation of a Kurdish state was totally ignored.  As a result, Kurdistan was divided between new states of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and some 25% of the land already in Iran.  Following is a brief summary of the disastrous result of the Sykes-Picot agreement for the Kurds in each divided part in the last one hundred years:

Northern Kurdistan (Turkey):

In order to quell Kurdish demands, in May 1919 the Sultan’s most trusted servant, Mustefa Kamal Ataturk, was sent to Anatolia to repress the Kurdish soviets which were organizing themselves in northern Kurdistan inspired by Kurdistan Social Democratic Party.  But Mustefa’s aim was to find a way to put his plan for the liberation of Turkey from the Europeans into practice.  He arrived in Kurdish territory and presented himself as the savior of Kurdistan, the defender of Muslim land for the Kurds and the Turks; using Islamic rhetoric, he presented himself as the champion of a Califa imprisoned by the Christians.

After the fall of the empire, in which Kurdish forces were most instrumental, Ataturk immediately turned around against them and closed down all Kurdish cultural, political and commercial institutions.  Hundreds of leaders were executed, imprisoned or fled the country, Kurdish language was banned in education, in courts, public offices and even on the streets.

Between 1925 and 1936 more than 900,000 Kurds were annihilated: this is known as the first Kurdish genocide.  In Van 100 intellectuals were sewn into sacks and thrown into the lake.  The minister of justice Mahmut Esat Bozhurt said:

“We live in a country called Turkey, the freest country in the world.  As your deputy I feel I can express my real convictions without reserve:  I believe that the Turks must be the only lord, the only master of this country, those who are not of pure Turkish stock can have only one right in this country, the right to be servants and slaves”.

This mentality hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years in Turkey.  In The New York Magazine May 29, 2016 in an article entitled “Turkey’s Hidden War”, a man staring at the pile of bricks and stones of a destroyed mosque in Nusaybin, a 3,000 years old Kurdish city, stammered: “What is the accusation against us?  That we are Kurds, and we refuse to be slaves.  They are telling us, ‘If you refuse to be slaves, we will kill you’”.

Poverty and unemployment in the Kurdish region has always been more than double the national average.  Since the resumption of Kurdish struggle in the 1980s, around 45,000 Kurds have lost their lives.  Erdogan’s regime has no plan to reach a peace agreement and as a matter of fact in order to combat the Kurdish liberation movement in the Middle East, he feeds terrorist groups like DAESH (ISIS), Al Qaeda and Jebhat Alnusra.  Kurds are locked in a decades-old civil war against the Turkish government.  In the past year many cities have been leveled with the ground, thousands killed, many imprisoned and over half a million have been displaced.

…continues in Part II and Part III.

Hiwa Nezhadian, Kurdish American Education Society

There are no comments yet. Be the first and leave a response!

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?

Trackback URL