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Current time:0:00Total duration:12:52

Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration

Video transcript

as we'll see in this video and in others the roots of a lot of the current a lot of the current disagreements in the Middle East and a lot of the conflict in the Middle East can actually be traced back to World War one and I realize this is an incredibly touchy subject that there are people who have very strong feelings on either side of it and my goal here is to really give give my best my best attempt at what really happened but I encourage you to to doubt any of this and look it up yourself and come frankly to to your own conclusions so let's rewind back to October of 1915 or 1915 in particular the British were already at war with the Ottomans this is a reminder of some of what happened in 1915 the Gallipoli campaign by the end of 1915 it was pretty clear that this was a disaster for the Allies the Ottomans were able to fend off the Allies they were in retreat the the British were able to fend off the Ottomans when they tried to attack the Suez Canal in 1915 so this is the background you could imagine that the British are are are eager to get any other allies that can in their battle against the Ottoman against the Ottomans and in particular they're eager to get the help of the Arabs who have been under the rule of the Ottomans for hundreds of years and so that's the backdrop where you have this correspondence between the High Commissioner in Egypt the British High Commissioner Sir Henry McMahon and the Sharif of Mecca Hussein bin Ali who had his own aspirations to essentially be the king of an independent Arab state and they kept going back and forth from mid 1915 to early 1916 talking about what the state could be obviously the British want his support if once that wants him to lead a revolt against the against the Ottomans and he's already articulated kind of the boundaries for four-state that he would like to see and so that gives us a context for this correspondence in October of 1915 this is from Sir Henry McMahon to Hussein it is with great pleasure that I communicate to you on their behalf the British government's behalf the following statement which I am confident you will receive with satisfaction the two districts of marsinah and Alexandria and portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus Homs Hama and Aleppo can not be said to be purely Arab and should be excluded from the limits demanded so this is referring to the limits that Hussein bin Ali had demanded in previous correspondence with the above modification so just that region right over there this right over here is marsinah Alexandretta this is Hama Homs Damascus so really what he's referring to is this region the west west of those of those cities right over here so he's saying look this is you can't really consider this to be purely Arab I'm going to exclude this out of the boundaries of this potential independent Arab state with the above modification and without prejudiced or existing treaties with Arab Chiefs we accept those limits we accept those limits as for those regions lying within those frontiers where in Great Britain is free to act without detriment to the interest of our ally France so as long as I'm not getting in trouble with France I'm empowered in the name of the government of Great Britain to give the following assurances and make the following ish and make the following reply to your letter subject to the above modification so taking this part out Great Britain is prepared to recognize and support the independence of the Arabs in all the regions within the limits demanded by the sharif of mecca so essentially included all all of this region without and actually much beyond what I'm showing here kind of present-day Syria Jordan Iraq parts of present-day Saudi Arabia so all of that is essentially the British are saying yeah we're going to allow you to to have that an independent state their Great Britain will guarantee the holy places against all external aggression and will recognize their inviolability I am convinced that this declaration will assure you beyond all possible doubt beyond all possible doubt of the sympathy of Great Britain towards the aspirations of her friends the Arabs and will result in a firm and lasting alliance the mediate results of which will be the expulsion of the Turks from the Arab countries and the freeing of the Arab peoples from the Turkish yoke which for so many years has pressed heavily upon them so this actually does help to convince the Arabs to rise up against against the Turks against the Ottoman Empire they play a significant role in the Palestine campaign they rise up in June of 19:16 now the video that I did on the Palestine campaign I got several comments of people being cynical about about Britain's intentions and it does look like the British the were indeed cynical TE Lawrence famous for Lawrence of Arabia who is often depicted as kind of this this mystical fellow this guy who had this kinship with the Arabs his actual correspondence with the British government actually do show that he he did have a kind of a he was doing I guess in the words of George W Bush a little bit of strategic he had a more cynical view of this relationship with the Arabs this is some correspondence that he wrote in early 1916 so right at the same time that all of this was going on so this is he's referring to a possible Arab revolt or Hussein's activity activity Hussein's activity seems beneficial to us because it matches with our immediate aims the breakup of the Islamic bloc and the defeat and disruption of the Ottoman Empire assuming he didn't really talk about this this has been one of the or the British didn't talk about that when they were talking to Hussein if we can arrange that this political change shall be a violent one we will have abolished the threat of Islam by dividing it against itself and it's very hard there will then be a khalifa kind of a seed of Islam in Turkey and a Khalifa and Arabia in theological warfare so this is TE Lawrence I got this from the golden warrior the life and legend of Lawrence of Arabia so even this somewhat portrayed as a heroic figure was was doing things in very kind of strategic strategic terms now to make things worse for the Arabs while the British were trying to convince them to revolt they were also in secret negotiations with the French on how they would divide the Middle East if they were to if they were able to beat the Ottomans and at this point in the war the British were already making some progress in Mesopotamia but they really hadn't really started on the Palestine campaign right here so this was all conjecture but the British representative was Sykes the French representative was picot this was done with the consent of the Russians you didn't have a revolution in Russia as of now and so in early 1916 in May this kind of agreement was concluded a secret agreement you have the Sykes sykes-picot picault agreement it's secret let me write that it is a secret agreement between Britain between Britain and France and essentially they're carving up the entire Middle East between them this blue area right here this would be occupied by the French part of eastern Turkey or modern-day eastern Turkey would be given to the Russians the British would would be able to occupy would occupy southern Mesopotamia essentially insuring kind of protection of of the oil that is coming out of Persia oil is becoming more and more of a relevant factor and kind of global power and then you have these two protectorates right over here which in theory could be independent or an independent Arab state or two independent Arab states under the protection under the let me put that in quotes because Protectorate is always not as nice as it sounds under the protection of the French or the British which means that you're an independent state but we will protect you in case anyone wants to invade the reality of protectorates is that it usually involves the people doing the protect during the people who are doing the protecting have all of the the real power and all of the real influence and the sykes-picot agreement also gave this little carve out to Britain so they would have access to the Mediterranean and Palestine or the Roman Kingdom of Judea this is carved out as kind of a as a separate a separate international property something that would be administered by by multiple states and I guess the argument would be is this is where the holy lands are multiple religions have some of their holiest sites within here and so they carved it out like this and once again this is all in secret they obviously don't want the Arabs to find out because they're about to convince the Arabs to join in a revolt against the Ottomans now to make things and once again this was all in secret up to this point in 1916 when it was all agreed on and then you forward to nineteen 1917 where we have the famous Balfour Declaration so this right over here is the Balfour Balfour Declaration and it was essentially a letter from from the Foreign Secretary of the UK Balfour to Lord Rothschild who was a very Leo the leading British citizen a lead member of the Jewish community and in it he writes dear Lord Rothschild I have much pleasure in conveying to you on behalf of His Majesty's Government the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to and approved by the Cabinet His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment and Palestine of a national home of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this objective it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation signed signed Arthur Balfour and here he's not explicitly saying and they're being very careful here he's not saying we're supporting a state for the Jewish people but he's saying he's supporting the return a national home for the Jewish people but at the same time he's saying that it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-jewish communities in Palestine needless to say you could imagine that this kind of is is making the the Arabs fairly uncomfortable on one side it seems based on some of the McMahon Hussein correspondences that were you know especially in 1915 that that they were being promised a kind of an independent Arab state which included much of this territory but at the same time in the Balfour Declaration the British were promising to a kind of a Jewish Diaspora that they could have a homeland there and it might one day who knows it might one day turn into some type of a state and to make the Arabs even more uncomfortable this was in November 2nd 1917 by the end of November you have to remember that 1917 you first had a revolution in Russia the Tsar is overthrown in February and in March of 1917 in October the Bolsheviks take over they they want to get out of the war they don't like all these secret deals not clear that they would even get what they what they were entitled to in these secret deals and so they actually release all the entire text of the sykes-picot agreement they released this on the same month you have the Arabs and the Ottomans who and the Ottomans were very happy to see this because it kind of would would undermined the Arabs kind of belief and maybe supporting the Allies but in one month you have the Arabs finding out about the Val 4 declaration which was a public declaration and then later that month because of the Russian release of it the the formerly secret sykes-picot agreement so it makes them very or at least a little bit more suspicious and so you can imagine this this the the the British Empire trying to have it both ways to kind of have support from the Jewish Diaspora while at the same time have support from the Arabs in the revolt against the Ottomans would lead to very significant conflicts over the decades to come regardless of which side of the issue you fall on a lot of the seed is happening right around now right around World War one and this is has been admitted by the British government this is right here this is this was the then secretary or Foreign Secretary Jack Straw UK foreign secretary in 2002 this is a statement he made to the New Statesman magazine in 2002 a lot of the problems we are having to deal with now I have to deal with now he's a foreign secretary our consequence of our colonial past consequence of our colonial past the Balfour Declaration and the contradictory assurances and the contradictory assurances which were being given to Palestinians in private at the same time as they were being given to the Israelis again an interesting history for us but not an honorable one and this is really just the beginning as we'll see in future videos as we go to the interwar period the British kind of go back and forth on on this issue over over and over again but needless to say it's led to a very messy situation in the modern Middle East