Sykes-Picot | Hasankale | 17 Jan 1916

Sykes-Picot Agreement

I’ll take “Things which are extremely relevant to geopolitics in 2016”, please. Today the British and French foreign ministries have just finished the rough draft of what they think should be done with the Middle East after the end of the war. The Ottoman Empire is creaking badly, an early-modern empire struggling to survive in the face of an industrial Europe based on mono-ethnic nation-states. (See also: Empire, Austro-Hungarian.) We’ll examine its details more precisely once the diplomats Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot have finished up all the boring details and cleared everything with Russia.

But, in short, this is a good old-fashioned “to the victor go the spoils” job. The Quay d’Orsay has been heavily investing in certain provinces of the Ottoman Empire; they will become a French colony as “Syria”. Likewise the British Empire in three others (do you think it might be where they know there to be oil?), so they will become a British colony as “Iraq”. So too will most of Palestine; there’s some froo-froo about an “international regime”, but everyone knows what it means. Russia gets a large chunk of territory around Constantinople so it can keep the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus open to Russian shipping.

Of the rest, there are currently large areas of the Middle East which at the moment might as well have “Sort this out later – Ed” scribbled in them. (Certain promises have been made by Sir Henry McMahon to the Sharif of Mecca based on this general concept which inevitably will be causing trouble later.) There’s also going to be a large slice taken out of eastern Anatolia (some of it might even become an independent Armenia), which is going to be turned into a nice big buffer state of some sort between the Russian Empire and whatever dismembered rump of Ottoman Anatolia is left behind.

Erzurum Offensive

The Ottoman Eighth Army’s rearguard makes a valiant stand today at Hasankale, and succeeds in obstructing those Siberian Cossacks we met earlier. They’ve finally managed to get into the battle, but sadly for the Russians it’s a job of direct pursuit; stiff resistance holds their cavalry up all day. Nevertheless, this first phase of the offensive, while not entirely disastrous, has still put a major dent in the defences of eastern Anatolia. Between dead, wounded, sick, and deserted, the “Third Army” now has less than 40,000 men straggling back towards Erzurum.

Meanwhile, General Yudenich has just unexpectedly been given a couple of aircraft to play with. They’re up in the air now, taking a look at the extensive defences of the Erzurum Fortress. More later, once they land.

Robert Palmer

In Mesopotamia, the relief column (and Robert Palmer) is being entirely frustrated by the rain. I’m writing this while humming “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, and I do hope you are too.

Rained on and off all day. Grey, cold and windy. Ordered to cross river as soon as bridge is ready. Bridge reported ready 6 pm so we struck camp. We took only what blankets we could carry. When we reached the bridge, we found it not finished, and squatted till 8.15. Then the bridge was finished and immediately broke. So we had to come back to camp and bivouac. Luckily the officers tents were recoverable, but not the men’s.

If your bridge washes away, never mind…

Bernard Adams

Meanwhile, Bernard Adams, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, is going off on leave.

Oliver and I started off in the darkness with our four followers. As we left the village it was just beginning to lighten a little, and we met the drums just turning out, cold and sleepy. As we sprang down the hill, leaving Montague behind us, faintly through the dawn we heard reveille rousing our unfortunate comrades to another Monday morning! Then came the long, long journey that nobody minds really, though every one grumbles at it.

There were men of old time who fell on their native earth and kissed it, on returning after exile. We did not kiss the boards of Southampton pier-head, but we understood the spirit that inspired that action as we steamed quietly along over a gray and violet sea.

We disembarked. But what dull people to meet us! Officials and watermen who have seen hundreds of leave-boats arrive, every day in fact! The last people to be able to respond to your feelings. Still, what does it matter! There is the train, and an English First! Someone started to run for one, and in a moment we were all running!

But you have met us on leave…

He’ll be back soon, never fear.

Flora Sandes

Corporal Flora Sandes continues to put the finer flourishes on her transformation into a soldier by misbehaving very slightly.

I got myself into sad disgrace one day by going away from the camp without leave. An officer from another battalion was going to lunch at another camp some miles away, and he invited me to ride over with him. We started very early in the morning, and, as I could not find the Commander of my company to ask leave, I just went. We stayed there, not only for lunch, but for supper and all the evening as well, and I would not like to say what time it was when we got back.

The next morning my company Commander pointed out to me one of the soldiers up on the hillside doing four hours’ punishment drill, standing up there with his rifle, accoutrements and heavy pack in the hot sun, and I was told that on this occasion I should be let off with a reprimand (although I had been three months in the Army and ought to know better by this time), but if I did not see the error of my ways I should find myself doing something similar to that next time.

I got my revenge, however, a few days later, when he fell sick, and I returned to my original vocation of nurse. He was a very docile patient for a week, though after that he suddenly thought it was time to reassert his authority, so got up one day when my back was turned, and ate everything I had not allowed him to eat while in bed.

They continue waiting their turn to be taken to Crete.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Erzurum Offensive

Further Reading

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The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. (If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

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