PKK voided the Sykes Picot Agreement a quarter of a century ago

Sykes-Picot Agreement is 100 years old. The agreement was signed between Britain-France and Tsarist Russia in secret.

Sykes-Picot Agreement is 100 years old. The agreement was signed between Britain-France and Tsarist Russia in secret.

The agreement signed in World War I circumstances foresaw in essence how the three “imperialist states” would share the Middle East after the war. With the 1917 Socialist revolution in Tsarist Russia that changed the course of history, the Sykes-Picot Agreement started serving British and French interests. The October Revolution was in essence an objection against war and imperialist allocation.

With this agreement, Kurdistan was divided once more as in the Qasr-ı Shirin Treaty of 1639. Villages, towns, families and clans were divided on the Bashur-Rojava-Bakurî Kurdistan border. Barbed wire fences were put up on the borders. This colonial border was turned into minefields of hundreds of square kilometers.


The Sykes-Picot Agreement was signed in 1916, but was legalised by the treaty signed in Switzerland’s Lausanne in 1923. Lausanne, in complete accordance with the spirit of Sykes-Picot, allocated Iraq and Bashurê (Southern) Kurdistan to the British, Syria and Rojava (Western) Kurdistan to the French, and Bakurê (Northern) Kurdistan, the largest part in sense of geography and population, to the newly founded Turkish state.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement aimed to shape “a new Middle East” on the ruins of the failed Ottoman colonialism. But this agreement and the process that followed didn’t bring freedom for the peoples of the region. On the contrary, the genocide targeting Armenian and Assyrian peoples that started before the agreement became permanent and extended over time. The “victorious” powers of World War I like Britain and France left Kurdistan’s fate to the “sub-colonial” states under their own mandate and did nothing to solve the problems created by the agreement.

On the contrary, they turned a blind eye to the Turkish, Arab and Iranian states by turning Kurdistan into a laboratory for genocide and supported them in political, economic and military areas. The architects of Sykes-Picot, Britain and France, continued protecting colonial regimes after World War II as well.

Even the fall of the Kurdistan Republic that emerged in Eastern Kurdistan in the last year of the war and was immensely democratic and libertarian, and the execution of their leaders by the Iranian regime did not resonate in the consciences of these imperialist powers. The Kurds’ quest for freedom in every era was eliminated by these very powers with their support for the colonialist regimes of Ankara, Baghdad, Damascus and Tehran. Britain even initiated double and triple pacts that targeted the Kurds.

With NATO, the wrongdoings of the Turkish state were never even reported on in the cold war years. Kemalists in Turkey, the Shah regime in Iran and the Baath racism in Iraq continued their Kurdish genocide under the wings of these powers. The poison gas raining down on Halabja was produced in the chemical factories of these states. Even the great tragedy on March 1991 of the tens of thousands of deaths following the uprising that started in Rania didn’t touch the consciences of these powers. Because the main goal for them was to increase their sphere of influence and control the energy sources. This is how the Kurds learned through experience of the last century that states have no conscience or morals.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement continued its “non-problematic” existence for three quarters of a century. Objections against it either remained local or were suppressed with blood by the colonial regimes. The first quarter-century saw Kurdish blood run rivers in Bakur. Approximately 10 thousand Kurds were killed in suppressing the insurgence led by Sheikh Said. The 1930 Zilan and 1937-38 Dersim genocides came after this. In Bashur, the opportunity for “freedom” that came with the Agreement of March 11, 1971 was eliminated with the 1975 Algeria Agreement hosted by the powers that signed Sykes-Picot.


The most revolutionary uprising that voided the Sykes-Picot started a quarter-century ago. The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) led the armed uprising that effectively voided the borders dividing Kurdistan. The process that started with the Eruh and Şemdinli actions on August 15, 1984 and named Revival Surge later in the historic progression reached such a point that it voided the barbed wire, the minefields and the treaties that divided Kurdistan. And not just physically. It also created the common spiritual form and united behaviour in the Kurds’ struggle to freely determine their own future.

Despite the tragedies following the 1991 Rania uprising, the Saddam Hussein regime losing the initiative over Southern Kurdistan and the ultimate demise of the regime in 2003, the emancipation of Rojava Kurdistan following the 2012 Syrian civil war were some other historic developments that voided the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

It can be said, without exaggeration, that the PKK, present in every corner of Kurdistan and creating a spiritual form and united behaviour, has played a key role in burying the Sykes-Picot Agreement in history. It still plays.

The Skyes-Picot Agreement was never legitimate or acceptable in the eyes of the Kurds. Despite the agreement being voided, the unity of Kurdistan’s lands is not yet accomplished. Everybody has a right to dream for the unity of the Kurds and Kurdistan. As the saying goes, “dreaming is half the work”. But, the essence of it is how this will be accomplished. A legal legitimacy needs to be achieved in the national and international arenas for the de facto situation.


These two processes are intertwined and they have already gone underway.

Before all, every part of Kurdistan divided by the Sykes-Picot must regain its freedom. The method of this is not essential. Autonomy, federation or independent state are only tools that realize freedom in different ways. The method to be chosen will be determined by the circumstances and power balances of the specific part of Kurdistan and regional and global circumstances.

The second process parallel to this is the democratization of the states claiming authority over Kurdistan. The nationalist approach often belittles this issue of democratization, choosing the cheap way by saying “Why do we care if Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria are democratized?” No sane person considering the geographical, geopolitical circumstances of Kurdistan can say this issue doesn’t concern us.

The characters of the regimes in these countries are of great interest to the Kurds and Kurdistan. As we can not rip Kurdistan out of the region and carry it into the oceans, we need to be realistic. The intention here is the correct understanding of democratization. A “democratization” that does not recognize the freedom of the Kurds and the sovereignty of Kurdistan is not being discussed here. Any “democratization” that doesn’t involve these two factors is void, no matter what it is called.

This is why the end of civil wars in Iraq and Syria and the disbanding of tyrannical regimes in Turkey and Iran, the forming of democratic regimes based on pluralism and respecting the Kurds and other peoples’ right for self-determination in these four countries will have a significant importance in ridding the divided Kurdistan of the divisions. Even the fall of other racist regimes in the region will serve this purpose.

The freed parts of Kurdistan will achieve all political, including defensive, military, economic, cultural and of course humanitarian unity among themselves, without an immediate threat and based on their own power.

It was proven in the defense of first Bashurê Kurdistan (especially Shengal) in August 2014, then Kobanê in September 15 against ISIS. A great solidarity and unity emerged in all parts of Kurdistan despite everything. The issue lies within deepening this in all areas and digging the roots deeper and permanent.


It is hard to say all Kurdish powers share this goal. For instance, nobody can say that PDK closing the Semelka border gate, vitally important for Rojava Kurdistan, serves the interests of Kurds and Kurdistan. No one person can be found to defend this attitude. This might be harsh, but behaviour like this means nothing but serving the powers that want to revive the failed Sykes-Picot Agreement.

The often discussed building the Kurdish unity and uniting Kurdistan can not be achieved through discourse. This needs to be put into practice with every step. Tales of valor, powerful slogans and emotional discourse will work only so far. And beyond that...

Like every aspect of life, “unity” is also non-abstract concept. It is a very concrete fact that has a definitive reflection in life. As in the opening or closing of Semelka. Thus, on the centennial of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the shame of Semelka must be eliminated. Otherwise, all words will be meaningless.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement belonged to the previous century and got its first defeat in the last quarter of that century. Today it is laden with holes. The regional regressive regimes, particularly the Turkish state, are in an attempt to revive it. We need to assert that this is a futile attempt.

But we also need to keep our feet planted firmly in the ground and deepen the historic gains emerging for the true unity of Kurds and Kurdistan.