The Middle East, its division into countries and the creation of Israel, 1879-1919

The Papers of Sir Mark Sykes; an Introduction

Biographical Note

Sir Mark Sykes is principally remembered on account of his part in the Sykes-Picot Agreement of May 9th, 1916, which laid down the basis for the carving up of the predominantly Arab region of Mesopotamia and the Levant between British and French mandates following the anticipated collapse of the Ottoman Empire. And it is no exaggeration to say that his influence continues to this day.

Born in 1879, an only son, Sykes succeeded his father, Sir Tatton, as 6th Baronet in 1913, inheriting large estates in Sledmere, near Driffield in the East Riding of Yorkshire. By then he had already distinguished himself in military affairs, and as a keen amateur diplomat, a writer, cartoonist, linguist, politician and traveller, particularly in the Middle East. Elected as a Conservative member of parliament for the Central Hull constituency in 1911, Sykes built up a considerable reputation in the House of Commons, due in large part to his Middle Eastern expertise. Indeed, many of his contemporaries saw in him the potential to rise to the highest levels of political office. However, in February 1919, at the age of only 39, he succumbed to influenza whilst attending the Paris Peace Conference. The death of Sykes, who had shared his mother's lasting commitment to the Roman Catholic faith, was commemorated not only in England but also by a requiem mass as far away as Jerusalem.

Provenance & Arrangement of the Papers

The papers left by Sykes now form part of the archives and special collections at the University of Hull's Brynmor Jones Library. They cover all aspects of his relatively brief, but nevertheless distinguished career. The bulk (DDSY(2)/1-10) was deposited by Sir Richard Sykes in 1975, with the final two series, DDSY(2)/11-12, deposited on 14 April 1976 and in April 1980 respectively. Taken as a whole, the fonds comprises over 4,000 items, arranged as follows:

DDSY(2)/1 Correspondence, 1882-1926
DDSY(2)/2 Diaries, 1903-1917
DDSY(2)/3 Finance, 1907-1919
DDSY(2)/4 Foreign affairs and travel, 1888-1919
DDSY(2)/5 Military affairs, 1897-1917
DDSY(2)/6 Projects, 1900-1918
DDSY(2)/7 Political affairs, 1901-1918
DDSY(2)/8 Speeches, 1907-1918
DDSY(2)/9 Miscellaneous, 1700-1919
DDSY(2)/10 Material used by Shane Leslie, 1903-1922
DDSY(2)/11 Papers regarding the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Zionist movement, and British policy in Islamic countries, 1914-1918
DDSY(2)/12 Papers formerly on display at Sledmere House, 1915-1917

Scope & Significance

The present publication focuses on Sykes' experience in military intelligence and diplomacy in the Middle East both before and during the First World War, providing researchers with an insight into the roots and role of European colonial powers in the emergence of nationstates from the Arab Revolts of the late and immediate post-WW1 period. Reproduced in their entirety from the above-listed series therefore are DDSY(2)/4, DDSY(2)/11, and DDSY(2)/12, including all of the surviving documents relating to his early and later travels in the Levant and Mesopotamia and from the negotiations surrounding the final secret Anglo-French treaty. Integral to this collection are a large number of printed and sketched maps of western Asia (e.g. DDSY(2)/4/67-80, DDSY(2)/4/204-216), many annotated or shaded, showing the progress of talks towards the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Completing the publication is a group of supplementary materials comprising any remaining individual documents relating to the region selected from DDSY(2)/2, DDSY(2)/3, DDSY(2)/5, DDSY(2)/6, DDSY(2)/8, DDSY(2)/9 and DDSY(2)/10.

Under the terms of the bilateral accord, the intention had been to establish an international administration in Palestine. However, almost immediately, the plan began to fall apart to the extent that, by the 1st quarter of 1917, Sykes was already giving consideration to handing the administration of the Palestine Mandate to the USA (DDSY(2)/12/5). As well as allowing the subsequent division of the region into the modern states of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, the Sykes-Picot Agreement has also been seen as a harbinger of the Balfour Declaration, which in turn led ultimately in 1948 to "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."

Sykes' correspondence with the then head of the Zionist Organisation, Chaim Weizmann (DDSY(2)/4/203g), who later became Israel's first president, and his notes for speeches delivered at Jewish demonstrations in London (DDSY(2)/11/121) and Manchester (DDSY(2)/12/11) prove his sympathy to the Zionist cause as argued around the time of WW1. However, it appears he did not necessarily envisage the creation of a separate Jewish state as the logical conclusion of Balfour's words. Rather his preference, expressed in November 1917, was the forging of a grand Arab-Jewish-Armenian coalition (DDSY11/73-74). But by the end of that same year, despite a few later positive signs to the contrary (e.g. DDSY(2)/11/98), any hopes of such co-operation had been dashed by the realisation that Arab national aspirations and Zionism were irreconcilable (DDSY(2)/11/83).

While Sykes negotiated the terms of the Sykes-Picot Agreement in Paris, his contemporary, T.E. Lawrence, was engaged in the Arab Revolt of 1916-1918. Occasional references to Lawrence and the Arab Legion appear in this collection (e.g. DDSY(2)/4/106, DDSY(2)/4/160, DDSY(2)/11/57, DDSY(2)/11/67, DDSY(2)/11/69, DDSY(2)/11/72), including a memorandum dated 22 July 1917, in which Sykes wrote of Lawrence's actions, "splendid. I want him knighted." Despite such evidence of bonhomie between the two men, they did not necessarily see eye-to-eye on Britain's policy in the region. This may explain the tone of two short letters in Lawrence's hand, dated 23rd May and 2nd June 1922 (DDSY(2)/10/3) and addressed to Shane Leslie, author of the biography, Mark Sykes : his life and letters. In the first, Lawrence informed the biographer that, were he to contribute a short note for the biography, "there would be a tartness in it? I'd come up against the English habit of saying only nice things about men just dead: and as I liked Sir M.S. it would create a wrong impression." The second letter is far more terse, with Lawrence still offering to pen a portrait of Sykes alone but, perhaps surprisingly, "only if you [Leslie] need it, because I don't like writing."

The documents relating to foreign affairs and travel are also of interest because of the light they shed on the condition of ethnic minorities such as the Kurds (e.g. DDSY(2)/4/149 & DDSY(2)/11/12) and the Armenians under the Ottomans (e.g. DDSY(2)/4/96 & DDSY(2)/4/190-197), including Sykes' accounts of the Armenian massacres of 1915.

Supplementary Materials

Among the supplementary materials selected from elsewhere in the collection is a selection of miscellaneous supporting documents. Examples include a couple of diaries (DDSY(2)/2), one detailing the distances and times taken by Sykes on his journey to the Middle East between April and June of 1917, as well as accounts (DDSY(2)/3) relating to expenses incurred both in the Middle East and during his visits to Paris between 1916 and 1919.

Also published are those documents relating to Sykes' literary works which help uncover his attitude to the peoples of the Middle East. Most important in this category are the notes for, and proofs and reviews of, The Caliph's last heritage (DDSY(2)/6/2), Sykes' influential history of the Turkish Empire, first published in 1915. Then there is the manuscript of a short play entitled The Khalif (DDSY(2)/6/13), followed by a short literary fragment entitled simply The Jew (DDSY(2)/6/28).

Alongside an article by Sykes denouncing the imposition of Western educational models in Muslim lands (DDSY(2)/6/7) there are his ideas for establishing colleges in England to train young Indians (DDSY(2)/4/157 & DDSY(2)/11/66), and booklets from the Central Turkey College (DDSY(2)/9/60-63), with which he was associated.

Finally, in addition to the two letters from T.E. Lawrence mentioned above, further documents appear from among those used by Sykes' biographer, Shane Leslie (DDSY(2)/10/3), together with some of the letters of condolence sent to Lady Sykes (DDSY(2)/10/2) by, among others, Emir Ali bin Hussein, crown prince of the kingdom of the Hijaz, and also the Zionist Organisation's London Bureau.

Remainder of the Fonds

Other materials in the fonds but not published in this edition of Sir Mark Sykes' papers include the boxes of personal correspondence and letters relating to the running of the family's Sledmere estate (DDSY(2)/1), the bulk of his military papers (DDSY(2)/5), many of which refer to his role in the recruitment, training and inspection of soldiers in various regular and territorial army regiments. The files relating to Sykes' political activity (DDSY(2)/7), in the Conservative and Unionist Association for the Central Hull constituency and as its MP but also on broader subjects, for example this issue of Home Rule for Ireland (DDSY(2)/7/21-31), are likewise omitted, along with all but one of Sykes' miscellaneous speeches (DDSY(2)/8). Further details on these unpublished papers are available from the Hull University Archives.

Originally composed 2006.

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Text of the Sykes-Picot Agreement

Texte de l'accord Sykes-Picot

It is accordingly understood between the French and British governments:

Il demeure donc entendu que:

1. That France and Great Britain are prepared to recognise and protect an independent Arab state or a confederation of Arab states (A) and (B) marked on the annexed map, under the suzerainty of an Arab chief. That in area (A) France, and in area (B) Great Britain, shall have priority of right of enterprise and local loans. That in area (A) France, and in area (B) Great Britain, shall alone supply advisers or foreign functionaries at the request of the Arab state or confederation of Arab states.

1. La France et la Grande-Bretagne sont disposées à reconnaitre et à proteger un Etat arabe indépendant ou une confédération d'Etats arabes dans les zones (A) et (B), indiquées sur la carte ci-jointe, sous la suzeraineté d'un chef arabe. Dans la zone (A) la France, et dans la zone (B) la Grande-Bretagne, auront un droit de priorité sur ses entreprises et les emprunts locaux. Dans la zone (A) la France, et dans la zone (B) à la Grande-Bretagne, seront seules à fournir des conseillers ou des fonctionnaires étrangers à la demande de l'Etat arabe ou de la confédération d'Etats arabes.

2. That in the blue area France, and in the red area Great Britain, shall be allowed to establish such direct or indirect administration or control as they desire and as they may think fit to arrange with the Arab state or confederation of Arab states.

2. Dans la zone bleue la France, et dans la zone rouge la Grande-Bretagne, seront autorisées à établir telle administration directe ou indirecte ou tel contrôle qu'elles désirent et qu'elle jugeront convenable d'établir après entente avec l'Etat ou la confédération d'Etats arabes.

3. That in the brown area there shall be established an international administration, the form of which is to be decided upon after consultation with Russia, and subsequently in consultation with the other allies, and the representatives of the sheriff of Mecca.

3. Dans la zone jaune sera établie une administration internationale, dont la forme devra être decidée après consultation avec la Russie, et ensuite d'accord avec les autres Alliés et les représentants du Chérif de La Mecque.

4. That Great Britain be accorded (1) the ports of Haifa and Acre, (2) guarantee of a given supply of water from the Tigris and Euphrates in area (A) for area (B). His majesty's government, on their part, undertake that they will at no time enter into negotiations for the cession of Cyprus to any third power without the previous consent of the French government.

4. Il sera accordé à la Grande-Bretagne : (1) les ports de Caïfa et d'Acre ; (2) la garantie d'une quantité définie d'eau du Tigre et de l'Euphrate dans la zone (A) pour la zone (B). Le Gouvernement de Sa Majesté, de son cote, s'engage à n'entreprendre à aucun moment des négociations en vue de la cession de Chypre à une tierce Puissance sans le consentement préalable du Gouvernement français.

5. That Alexandretta shall be a free port as regards the trade of the British empire, and that there shall be no discrimination in port charges or facilities as regards British shipping and British goods; that there shall be freedom of transit for British goods through Alexandretta and by railway through the blue area, or (B) area, or area (A); and there shall be no discrimination, direct or indirect, against British goods on any railway or against British goods or ships at any port serving the areas mentioned.

5. Alexandrette sera un port franc en ce qui concerne le commerce de l'Empire britannique, et il ne sera pas établi de différence de traitement dans les droits de ports, ni d'avantages particuliers refusés à la marine ou aux marchandises anglaises ; il y aura libre transit pour les marchandises anglaises par Alexandrette et par chemin de fer à travers la zone bleue, que ces marchandises soient destinées à la zone rouge, la zone (B), la zone (A), ou en proviennent; et aucune difference de traitement ne sera établie directement ou indirectement au dépens des marchandises anglaises sur quelque chemin de fer que ce soit comme au dépens de marchandises ou de navires anglais dans tout port desservant les zones mentionnées.

That Haifa shall be a free port as regards the trade of France, her dominions and protectorates, and there shall be no discrimination in port charges or facilities as regards French shipping and French goods. There shall be freedom of transit for French goods through Haifa and by the British railway through the brown area, whether those goods are intended for or originate in the blue area, area (A), or area (B), and there shall be no discrimination, direct or indirect, against French goods on any railway, or against French goods or ships at any port serving the areas mentioned.

Caïfa sera un port franc en ce qui concerne le commerce de la France, de ses colonies et de ses protectorate, et il n'y aura ni difference de traitement ni avantage dans les droits de port qui puisse être refusé à la marine et aux marchandises françaises. II y aura libre transit pour les marchandises françaises par Caïfa et par le chemin de fer anglais à travers la zone jaune, que ces marchandises soient en provenance on à destination de la zone bleue, de la zone (A) on de la zone (B); et, il n'y aura aucune difference de traitement directe ou indirecte au dépens des marchandises françaises sur quelque chemin de fer que ce soit comme au dépens des marchandises ou des navires français dans quelque port que ce soit desservant les zones mentionnées.

6. That in area (A) the Baghdad railway shall not be extended southwards beyond Mosul, and in area (B) northwards beyond Samarra, until a railway connecting Baghdad and Aleppo via the Euphrates valley has been completed, and then only with the concurrence of the two governments.

6. Dans la zone (A), le Chemin de Fer de Bagdad ne sera pas prolongé vers le sud au delà de Mossoul, et dans la zone (B) vers le nord au delà de Samarra, jusqu'à ce qu'un chemin de fer reliant Bagdad à Alep dans la vallée de l'Euphrate ait été terminé, et cela seulement avec le concours des deux Gouvernements.

7. That Great Britain has the right to build, administer, and be sole owner of a railway connecting Haifa with area (B), and shall have a perpetual right to transport troops along such a line at all times. It is to be understood by both governments that this railway is to facilitate the connection of Baghdad with Haifa by rail, and it is further understood that, if the engineering difficulties and expense entailed by keeping this connecting line in the brown area only make the project unfeasible, that the French government shall be prepared to consider that the line in question may also traverse the polygon Banias-Keis Marib-Salkhad-Tell Otsda-Mesmie before reaching area (B).

7. La Grande-Bretagne aura le droit de construire, d'administrer et d'etre seule propriétaire d'un chemin de fer reliant Caïfa avec la zone (B), et elle aura, en outre, mi droit perpétuel de transporter ses troupes, en tout temps, le long de cette ligne. Il doit être entendu par les deux Gouvernenients que ce chemin de fer doit faciliter la jonction de Bagdad et de Caïfa, et il est, de plus, entendu que, si les difficultés techniques et les dépenses encourues pour l'entretien de cette ligne de jonction dans la zone jaune en rendent l'exécution impraticable, le Gouvernement français sera disposé à envisager que ladite ligne puisse traverser le polygone Barries-Keis Maril-Silbrad-Tel Hotsda-Mesuire avant d'atteindre la zone (B).

8. For a period of 20 years the existing Turkish customs tariff shall remain in force throughout the whole of the blue and red areas, as well as in areas (A) and (B), and no increase in the rates of duty or conversions from ad valorem to specific rates shall be made except by agreement between the two powers.

8. Pour une periode de vingt ans les tarifs douaniers turcs resteront en vigueur dans toute l'étendue des zones bleue et rouge aussi bien que dans les zones (A) et (B), et aucune augmentation dans les taux des droits ou changement des droits ad valorem en droits spécifiques ne pourra être faite si ce n'est avec le consentement des deux Puissances.

There shall be no interior customs barriers between any of the above-mentioned areas. The customs duties leviable on goods destined for the interior shall be collected at the port of entry and handed over to the administration of the area of destination.

Il n'y aura pas de douanes intérieures entre aucune des zones ci-dessus mentionnées. Les droits de douanes prélevables sur les marchandises destinées à l'intérieur seront exigés aux ports d'entrée et transmis à l'administration de la zone destinataire.

9. It shall be agreed that the French government will at no time enter into any negotiations for the cession of their rights and will not cede such rights in the blue area to any third power, except the Arab state or confederation of Arab states, without the previous agreement of His Majesty's government, who, on their part, will give a similar undertaking to the French government regarding the red area.

9. Il sera entendu que le Gouvernement français n'entreprendra, à aucun moment, aucune négociation pour la cession de ses droits, et ne cédera les droits qu'il possédera dans la zone bleue à aucune autre tierce Puissance, si ce n'est l'Etat ou la confédération d'Etats arabes, sans l'agrément préalable du Gouvernement de Sa Majesté, qui, de son côté, donnera une assurance semblable au Gouvernement français en ce qui concerne la zone rouge.

10. The British and French governments, as the protectors of the Arab state, shall agree that they will not themselves acquire and will not consent to a third power acquiring territorial possessions in the Arabian Peninsula, nor consent to a third power installing a naval base either on the east coast, or on the islands, of the Red Sea. This, however, shall not prevent such adjustment of the Aden frontier as may be necessary in consequence of recent Turkish aggression.

10. Les Gouvernements anglais et français, en tant que protecteurs de l'Etat arabe, se mettront d'accord pour ne pas acquérir, et ne consentiront pas qu'une tierce Puissance acquière, de possessions territoriales dans la péninsule arabique ou construise une base navale dans les îles sur la côte est de la mer Rouge. Ceci, toutefois, n'empêchera pas telle rectification de la frontiere d'Aden qui pourra être jugée nécessaire, par suite de la récente agression des Turcs.

11. The negotiations with the Arabs as to the boundaries of the Arab states shall be continued through the same channel as heretofore on behalf of the two powers.

11. Les négociations avec les Arabes pour les frontières de l'Etat ou de la confédération d'Etats arabes continueront par les mêmes voies que précédemment aux noms des deux Puissances.

12. It is agreed that measures to control the importation of arms into the Arab territories will be considered by the two governments.

12. Il est entendu, en outre, que des mesures de contrôle pour l'importation des armes sur le territoire arabe seront envisagées par les deux Gouvernements.

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Acknowledgement of Copyrights:

The publisher acknowledges with thanks the permission granted by the Hull University Archives to reproduce in this guide entries from their listing of the Papers of Sir Mark Sykes (DDSY(2)).

The publisher also acknowledges with thanks the permission granted by Sir Tatton Sykes to reproduce on microfilm and in digital format documents from Sir Mark Sykes' papers. In accordance with UK copyright legislation, attempts have been made to identify and contact the owners of other copyrights in the material published within this archive. In the case of the owners of surviving copyrights whom it has proved impossible to contact, Microform Academic Publishers earnestly request that they write to the Editor at the address below.

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To cite this resource:

The papers of Sir Mark Sykes, 1879-1919 : an introduction to the online edition (2006), https://boa.microform.digital/collections/13/view. Last updated: 20 April 2009.

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