CILICIAN ARMENIANS AND THE GENOCIDE Armenian News Network / Groong February 28, 2014 By Eddie Arnavoudian PART ONE: the two-pronged assault on the Armenian nation and people I. Despite its ridiculous title, Shmavon Torosyan's `The National Liberation Movement of Cilician Armenians - 1919-1920' (371pp, 1987, Yerevan, Armenia) is significant for reminding of an oft neglected but critical dimension of the Armenian Genocide carried out by the Ottoman state and the Young Turks. It is also a vital reminder of the repugnant, revolting, treacherous character of imperial France's Armenian policy, as repugnant, revolting and treacherous as the British and the Tsarist States. Though not part of historic Armenia, Cilicia with its ancient Armenian heritage was home to a major Armenian community. Its economic elite weighed even more than its numbers, aided as it was by the region's geographic location along fertile cotton plantations and Mediterranean coastal routes. As a consequence Cilicia became a dangerous combustion point for the much wider conflict between Armenian economic elites and their emerging and often envious Turkish opponents, now buttressed by the extreme nationalist Young Turks. Proximity to Europe, an intersecting point for trade between Europe, Anatolia, the Arab world and further east, also made Cilicia an object of imperial envy and ambition, that of the French, first and foremost, but also of the British, ambition in which Armenians featured as minor and readily disposable pawns. In the settling of scores with their Armenian rivals, the cleansing of historic western Armenia would not suffice to secure the Turkish elite the supremacy it desired. Throughout the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish economic class confronted an Armenian economic network that extended from Istanbul, through to Anatolia, western Armenia and Cilicia too. There could be no Turkish triumph in the nationalist contest without the destruction of Armenian trading, agricultural and industrial fortifications across Asia Minor. Here Cilician Armenia formed a crucial battleground. Besides being disproportionately powerful, Armenian economic interest rested not just on a substantial Armenian community with, but on one with, as demonstrated in Zeitun, a formidable military-political tradition of resistance. It is in this context that one must see the 1909 Adana massacres of more 30,000 Armenians, notoriously executed during the second year of the so-called democratic Young Turk revolution with which the Armenian political movement was then in alliance. The 1909 Adana slaughter was a stage in a longer-term Turkish nationalist project to dismantle its dreaded Armenian opponent. If the 1895-96 pogroms and murder of 300,000 Armenians in western Armenia had delivered a body blow to Armenian development there, Armenian Cilicia had then escaped the worst. Adana in 1909 was thus Cilician Armenia's 1895-96, a decisive bludgeon that blasted the foundations of Cilician Armenian economic and political development, drove tens of thousands out of their lands and so softened the entire Armenian nation up for the final solution of 1915. 1915, the date of the Young Turk final solution, may indeed have been contingent, an opportunity seized in war. The Ottoman State was of course ready to seize such opportunies and able to act rapidly for it was master of the existing apparatus of repression, mass murder and genocide that had been put in place and into operation long before. Even while 1915 was the critical, major stage, the process of Genocide had begun much earlier continued for much longer. If 1895-96 was a first major preparatory blow, Adana in 1909 was the second. And beyond decisive 1915 there were yet more stages: the burning out of the substantial and wealthy Armenian community in Smyrna, the emptying of Istanbul and then the relentless Kemalist assault on the remnants of Armenian economic bastions that continued into the 1950s. In illuminating the process of Genocide Torosyan effectively dissolves claims, including those of historian Armenian Leo, that the 1915 deportations were inevitable Young Turk responses to an alleged `pro-Russian' Armenian uprising in Van. Van in fact was a legitimate revolt by its Armenian population seeking to defend itself against deportation and Genocide. The Cilician deportations had in fact begun before the Van uprising and served indeed a particular purpose. As an opening move in the murder of a nation, Cilician deportations served to remove all possible outposts and refuges that could have offered aid and assistance to the larger caravans of Armenians from western Armenia being driven into the executioners' deserts of Syria. The Cilician experience in 1909, in 1915 and in the post war era shows, and decisively so that the Young Turk programme of genocide pursued a double strategy, a two pronged ambition ranging across the entire territory of the Ottoman Empire. The absolute, non-negotiable condition for Turkish hegemony in Asia Minor was both the cleansing of historic Armenia and the destruction of Armenian economic bastions throughout the borders of what was to emerge as the new Kemalist republic. Virulent racist nationalists, the Young Turks to secure the region's territorial integrity sought to assimilate, murder or expel all other national groups, thus the uprooting and cleansing of Armenians from their historic homelands. But alone, the defeat of Armenians in Western Armenia would not have secured the Turkish elites the pre-eminence and primacy they so viciously desired. Armenian economic power positioned, as it was, even firmer in Cilicia, in Smyrna and Istanbul would remain a major threat to Turkish nationalism. And so to these areas they also directed their venom. II. Torosyan's seeking to present 1919-1920 Armenian history in Cilicia as a `national liberation movement' is preposterous. He describes not a national emancipation struggle but an instance of disastrous dependency on imperialist powers, here on the French that was even more catastrophic than Armenian dependency on Tsarist power in the Caucuses. In the post-World War One era, as European imperial powers sought to slice up the Ottoman Empire, the Armenian leadership in Cilicia became a willing and active instrument of French colonial ambitions in the region, and never anything more. Possessing insufficient armed forces of their own, for a very short period the French developed and financed an Armenian Legion of volunteer soldiers as a means of sustaining their Cilician ambitions. Deployed in some decisive battles the Armenian legion contributed to temporarily disabling the Ottoman Army in the region and so became in some respects a direct agent of French occupying forces in Cilicia. Both the Armenian Legion and the large swathe of Armenian refugees that encouraged by the French returned thereafter to Cilicia did so not at the behest of Armenian policy but of French colonial ambition. French sponsorship of Armenian resettlement in their Cilician homelands had no regards whatsoever for Armenians' immediate security or long term viability as a community. Just as soon as French forces realised the impossibility of their colonial venture they disbanded the Armenian Legion, withdrew their forces and left the Armenian civilian population to the mercy of Kemal Ataturk bent on cleansing Armenians from the whole of the territory of the collapsed Ottoman Empire. Why the French so rapidly retreated is not made altogether clear. They certainly lacked the military capacity to defeat Ataturk's forces alone. And as imperialist rivalries deepened the French leadership perhaps hoping to remain a step ahead of their British rivals, set about currying favour with Kemal's movement now clearly emerging master of Asia Minor. Whatever the determinants of French policy, Armenian dependence upon it was in every conceivable way a total disaster. To be assured of Armenian collaboration, the French besides hinting at support for Armenian autonomy in Cilicia stretched their deception to even suggest prospects of independent Armenian nationhood. But even as they did this, they left intact all the main Ottoman institutions of government and state - the local Ottoman Turkish military forces, the courts and public political authorities. Simultaneously they refused to allow the Armenian Legion to evolve into a disciplined and genuinely effective military formation. So when it came to the crunch, in the wake of French retreat from Cilicia, Armenian remnants of the Genocide and the rag-tag Armenian Legion proved no match for Kemal's arms or for French perfidy. So gullible, so sheepishly faithful to French colonialism was the Armenian leadership that it did virtually nothing to establish separate and independent relations with Turkish forces and communities. It was as if the Turkish people, who like the Armenians shared rights in a region they too had lived for centuries, simply did not exist. Armenian leaders had expected French colonial forces to tame or dispose of Turks and allow Armenians to go about their business with no regard for Turkish concerns or interests. Premised entirely on what was clearly French imperial and colonial ambition in Turkey within which it hoped to secure its own subordinate ends Armenian policy in Cilicia was disastrous. In the wake of French withdrawal Armenians were not only left utterly isolated, they were worse still now reviled even more by Turkish communities already whipped into a frenzy of hatred against Armenians. Even as they had returned to justly reclaim their own land, Armenians were charged with collaborating with the French imperialists. They were regarded and treated as part of the French colonial forces seeking the dismemberment of their homeland and therefore as legitimate targets of Kemal Ataturk's nationalist movement. Considering Armenian policy in post-war Cilicia it is difficult to adopt a categorical condemnatory stance. Armenians in post-Genocide Cilicia faced an impossible position. Uprooted, without anchor, destroyed economically, lacking any independent military forces and with no hope of any protection from any Armenian sources, they were utterly and totally vulnerable and so easy prey for French machinations. Desperate after the war, they had only two choices: remain in exile, set up life in the Arab world or return home under French auspices, at the behest of the French, as an instrument of their colonial ambitions, but at least with some hope of rebuilding their lives in their homelands. That they confronted such a situation was without doubt a result of the Young Turk Genocide. In post-World War One Cilicia, the Armenian community had no means of relying on themselves. They had little or no possibility of developing an independent survival strategy. The dye had been cast by the Genocide that had devastated any independent Armenian potential in Cilicia. So between the hammer of French imperialism and the anvil of a ferocious Turkish nationalism like feathers in a storm the Armenian leadership was easily carried away by empty pro-Armenian French declarations. Often sat in comfortable European hotels they even prattled on about a Greater Armenia that would bring together Cilicia and historic western Armenia to form an independent `greater Armenia' sponsored by the triumphant imperial powers. This of course was only to offer more grist to the mill of chauvinist Turkish nationalism that already portrayed Armenians, alongside French, British and US, as forces preparing to drive Turks from lands, not just in Cilicia but throughout an Asia Minor that they too had inhabited for generations. With Armenians appearing as imperialist assistants, their own historically legitimate demands to a return to their own expropriated lands in western Armenia, Cilicia and Asia Minor were presented as colonial land-grabbing. And in the Darwinian nationalist jungle that was created Armenians became easy prey for Turkish nationalism. Two concluding chapters on Armenian defensive battles in Marash and Hajun and the Armenian-Christian declaration of Cilician autonomy tell yet more grisly tales of French treachery and deception to which Armenians fell fatally foul. French betrayal of their one-time Armenian allies in Cilicia was categorical, utter and complete. In Marash and Hajun they actively obstructed and even sabotaged Armenian defensive operations going so far as to supply Kemal's troops with critical military intelligence. The resulting civilian slaughter is shocking. After Marsash and Hajun Armenians were forced to also retreat from Sis and Ayntab and then were broken down in Adana. The toxic mix of French imperial policy and Armenian dependence put an end to a historic Armenian presence in Cilicia, a region that had once been grounds for an Armenian monarchic state. * * * * * Torosyan's study for all its faults, that here require no rehearsal, and for all his rather naïve indignation in the face of French treachery, provides ample data to construct a full critique of French imperialism in the region after the war. To secure Armenian aid and fighting men they promised Armenians the sky. But just as soon as they saw fit, they abandoned them, dissolved the Armenian Legion and cut relations with Armenian secular leaders. Like the British and Russian states, the French too feared any independent Armenian power. They too feared independent Armenian arrangements with Turkish movements that however unstable or ephemeral, would be at French imperial expense. Rather than entertain such a prospect the French happily looked on as Cilician Armenians were murdered and burnt out of their homes yet again. French imperialism only approved of Armenians as malleable puppets or as corpses. -- Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from Manchester, England, and is Groong's commentator-in-residence on Armenian literature. His works on literary and political issues have also appeared in Harach in Paris, Nairi in Beirut and Open Letter in Los Angeles.
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