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Updated June 2012

T. E. Lawrence to the Editor of The Times

Published 11 September 1919

[8 September 1919]


Your Syrian Correspondent has just referred to British promises to the French and the Arabs. When on Prince Feisal's staff I had access to the documents in question, and as possibly the only informed free-lance European, I may help to clear them up. They are four in number.

DOCUMENT I. The British promise to King Hussein, dated October 24th, 1915. It undertakes, conditional on an Arab revolt, to recognize the 'independence of the Arabs' south of latitude 37deg., except in the provinces of Baghdad and Basra, where British interests require special measures of administrative control, and except where Great Britain is not 'free to act without detriment to the interests of France'.

(N.B. Hussein asked for no personal position, and for no particular government or governments.)

DOCUMENT II. The Sykes-Picot Agreement made between England and France in May, 1916. It divides the Arabic provinces of Turkey into five zones, roughly - (a) Palestine from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, to be 'international'; (b) Haifa and Mesopotamia from near Tekrit to the Gulf, to be 'British'; (c) the Syrian coast, from Tyre to Alexandretta, Cilicia, and most of Southern Armenia, from Sivas to Diarbekir, to be 'French'; (d) the interior (mainly the provinces of Aleppo, Damascus, Urfa, Deir, and Mosul) to be 'independent Arab' under two shades of influence:-

(i.) Between the lines Akaba-Kuweit and Haifa-Tekrit, the French to seek no 'political influence', and the British to have economic and political priority, and the right to supply 'such advisers as the Arabs desire'.
(ii.) Between the line Haifa-Tekrit and the southern edge of French Armenia or Kurdistan, Great Britain to seek no 'political influence', and the French to have economic and political priority and the right to supply 'such advisers as the Arabs desire'.

(N.B. The geography of the Agreement is the geography of the White Knight, and it makes a similar irruption into economics when it lays down that the Baghdad Railway may not be finished till a Euphrates Railway has been built!)

DOCUMENT III. The British statement to the seven Syrians of Cairo dated June 11, 1917. This assures them that pre-war Arab States, and Arab areas freed by military action of their inhabitants during the war, shall remain entirely independent.

(N.B. This assurance was unqualified, and might have conflicted with Document I. or Document II., but was regulated locally by arrangement between Allenby and Feisal, by which the Arab Army operated almost entirely in the area given to the Arabs in Document II.)

DOCUMENT IV. The Anglo-French Declaration of November 9, 1918. In this Great Britain and France agree to encourage native governments in Syria and Mesopotamia, and without imposition to assure the normal working of such governments as the peoples shall themselves have adopted.

(N.B. This was interpreted in the Orient as changing the 'direct' British and French areas 'b' and 'c' of Document II. to spheres of influence.)

(The author of Document I. was Sir Henry McMahon. Documents II. and III. were by Sir Mark Sykes. Lord Robert Cecil authorized IV. They were all produced under stress of military urgency to induce the Arabs to fight on our side.)

I can see no inconsistencies or incompatibilities in these four documents, and I know nobody who does.

It may then be asked what all the fuss between the British, the French, and the Arabs is about. It is mainly because the agreement of 1916 (Document II) is unworkable, and in particular no longer suits the British and French Governments.

As, however, it is in a sense the 'charter' of the Arabs, giving them Damascus, Homs, Hama, Aleppo, and Mosul for their own, with such advisers as they themselves judge they need, the necessary revision of this agreement is a delicate matter, and can hardly be done satisfactorily by England and France, without giving weight and expression also to the opinion of the third interest - the Arabs - which it created.

T. E. Lawrence

Source: DG 281-2
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 23 January 2006

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