The papers of Sir Mark Sykes, 1879-1919

with special reference to the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Middle East
Sykes, Mark
Date published: 
February 2009
Electronic resource

Born in 1879, an only son, Sir Mark Sykes succeeded his father in 1913 as 6th Baronet with large estates in Sledmere, East Yorkshire. By then he had already distinguished himself in military affairs, and as an amateur diplomat, a writer, linguist, politician and keen traveller, particularly in the Middle East. As MP for the Central Hull constituency from 1911, Sir Mark built up a considerable reputation in the House, 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 the H1N1 strain of avian influenza whilst attending the Paris Peace Conference and died. The papers left by Sir Mark together comprise over 4,000 items, now held in the Brynmor Jones Library at the University of Hull, and cover all aspects of his relatively brief, but nevertheless distinguished career.
The present publication focuses on Sykes' experience in military intelligence and diplomacy in the Middle East both before and during the First World War. Indeed, on account of his part in the Sykes-Picot Agreement of May 9th, 1916, which laid down the basis for the subsequent carving up of the predominantly Arab countries of the region between British and French mandates following the anticipated collapse of the Ottoman Empire, it is no exaggeration to say that his influence continues to this day.
Including all of the documents in the series relating to his early and later travels in the Levant and Mesopotamia and from the negotiations surrounding the final secret Anglo-French deal, as well as other related documents selected from this important fonds, this collection is of particular interest to research into the roots and role of European colonial powers in the emergence of nation-states from the Arab Revolts of the immediate post-War period, and also includes materials on the early 20th century massacres of the Armenians.
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 to 'the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people' in 1948. What Sir Mark's thinking might have been on that outcome can be found in his surviving writings of the Jews and in support of Zionism, which are also included in this collection.
The following series from the fonds are included in their entirety:
* DDSY2/4 (1888-1919): Foreign affairs and travel;
* DDSY2/11 (1914-1918): Papers relating to the
Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Zionist movement
and the British policy in Islamic countries; and,
* DDSY2/12 (1915-1917): Papers of Sir Mark
Sykes formerly on display at Sledmere House.
In addition, a selection appears of miscellaneous related documents, for example: account books for travel expenses in the Middle East; notes for Sir Mark's history of the Turkish Empire, 'The Caliphs' last heritage', and on various of his literary works such as 'The Khalif' and a fragment entitled 'The Jew'.