Sykes-Picot (1916) and revelation of the Secret Treaties (1917) – Introduction

Britain and France concluded a secret agreement in May 1916 known as the Sykes-Picot agreement, after the British and French representatives who negotiated it. The agreement related to the Arab territory in the Ottoman Empire which Britain and France aimed to dismember after World War One and divide the vast territory ruled by the Turks between them, as shown in the map. Russia was made privy to this secret treaty partly because it was as one of the Entente powers, but also because it had an interest in Jerusalem as a ‘protector’ of Orthodox Christians. A copy of the secret Sykes-Picot treaty was shared by France and Britain with Russia’s Foreign Office. When the Bolsheviks took power in Russia in November 1917, Trotsky, as Commissar for Foreign Affairs, discovered the Sykes-Picot treaty in Tsarist files. Realising the potential impact of disclosure, he published a summary of the Sykes-Picot text in the government newspaper Izvestiya on November 22, 1917. The disclosures created a sensation both inside and outside the corridors of power.