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The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians


Image credit: Damon Albarn onstage at The Roundhouse London, 2010, with members of The Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music © Mark Allan

WW1 Heritage

The Sykes-Picot Agreement

In 2016, the territory along the borders between Syria and Iraq is the scene of civil war, the heart of a fight against so-called Islamic State and a refugee crisis that has displaced millions. Those borders were first drawn up in the midst of the First World War, one hundred years before.

In the midst of the First World War, Syria was part of the vast Ottoman Empire. Anticipating the defeat of this great empire—which had sided with the Germans—representatives of Britain and France met in secret to discuss how they might manage the breakup of its territory.

Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot believed that the best solution was to split the Middle East into two “spheres of influence” controlled by Britain and France. Signed in May 1916, the Sykes-Picot Agreement set out that Syria and Lebanon would exist after the war under French influence, while the British would maintain control over Iraq and Transjordan.

When news of the settlement was leaked in 1917 by the new Bolshevik government in Russia, Arab nationalists considered it a betrayal. They argued that it contradicted a promise that Britain had made of future independence for the region in exchange for Arabs’ support in the fight against the Ottoman Empire. Instead, the Sykes-Picot agreement allowed Britain and France control over the administrations within their “spheres of influence.”

After the war, the modified terms of the agreement were ratified by the League of Nations in 1922. It continues to shape the history of the Middle East to this day.


Middle East still rocking from First World War pacts made 100 years ago,’ The Guardian

Text of the Sykes-Picot Agreement’, WWI Document Archive

Isis announces Islamic caliphate in area straddling Iraq and Syria,’ The Guardian

An Unlikely King: Hossein in War and Peace,’ The Nation

This day in history: Britain and France conclude Sykes-Picot Agreement

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