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Mihran Damadian

 Cilicia Under French Mandate , 1918-1921

Independence, Mihran, Damadian, Ataturk, Cemal, Massacre

Armenian Aspirations, Turkish Intrigues, and French Double Standards

Click to Read other sections of this report

[INTRODUCTION and THE FRENCH ADMINISTRATION]
[THE ARMENIAN LEGION]
[ECONOMY AND HEALTH CARE]
[SOCIAL AND POLITICAL LIFE]
[THE THORNY ROAD TO INDEPENDENCE and CONCLUSION]

 

Reproduction in full or in part is prohibited

 

Author: Garabet K. Moumdjian - E-mail

THE THORNY ROAD TO INDEPENDENCE

Armenian, French, and even Turkish sources regard Mihran Damadian, the representative of the Paris-based Delegation of Integral Armenia in Cilicia, as a central figure in Cilician politics between 1919 and 1921.  He was dispatched to Cilicia with the dual task of organizing the Armenian community and representing it before the French administration. Damadian arrived in Adana in June 1919. He was a man with extensive political experience and subtle understanding of Armenian matters. Sources agree that he was a perfect choice for the position.

Mihran Damadian

The fifty-five years old Armenian functionary had a long record of achievements as a schoolteacher, revolutionary, and a Hnchakian Party leader. He was involved in revolutionary activities in Sasun (1894) and Constantinople during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II and had to flee to Europe to escape imprisonment.  He remained in Europe for several years during which he audited university courses and acquired a speaking knowledge of French, English, and Italian. Upon his return, he devoted himself to teaching and also held administrative positions as inspector of education in Cilicia--where he had been a teacher in Adana from 1882 to 1884--and the eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire.[1]

Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia 1199-1375

Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia

Vilayet of Adana (Cilicia), Early 20th Century

Ciilician Armenia 20th century

Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Empire (1915-1922)

map Armenian genocide 1915-1922

Boghos Nubar Pasha, one of the two heads of the Delegation of Integral Armenia, wrote to Damadian urging him to accept the position as the representative of the Delegation in Cilicia. Damadian--who had joined the ranks pf the Ramgavar Party after 1908 and had attained a leading position within it--received Nubar Pasha's letter in Alexandria, Egypt, in mid-1918, after having returned from a long tour of duty in Europe and the United states where he had addressed the Armenian communities and had managed to allocate sums needed for transporting Armenian volunteers from the United States and Europe to Egypt, the projected headquarters of the Legion d'Orient. [2]

The first problem that Damadian had to face upon his arrival in Adana was that of the anguished Armenian legionaries who were at a nadir: Some were being discharged by the French against their will, while many others wanted to be discharged willingly because of  "irrational French treatment." Damadian brought the matter to the attention of the French authorities and tried to defend the legionary’s viewpoint by stressing the arbitrariness and the prejudice of some of the French officers.[3] His calls went unheard, however, as the French continued to discharge Armenian soldiers. Damadian witnessed the dismantling of the Armenian battalions many of whose members he had personally encouraged and recruited. He mentions this in his memoirs--his diary to be more precise--about how discouraging it was to stand by and to watch helplessly while the French administration reduced Armenian forces to a fraction of their original size. [4]

Armenian Soldiers of French Army in Cilicia

French Armenian Legion

Armenian Volunteers

 

As the representative of an Armenian delegation with no tangible political power or financial resources, Damadian was assigned the difficult task of creating unity within a community that was divided along religious, political, social, and even compatriotic lines.   It was even more difficult to be entrusted with the chores of representing this fragmented community and to defend its rights before the French administration.

French administrators and military commanders such as Colonel Bremond and General Dufieux praise Damadian for his tact, patience, endurance and readiness to cooperate with French authorities in what was beneficial for Armenians in general. It was because of his motivation to secure peace and tranquility in Cilicia that Damadian agreed to meet with several Turkish notables when asked to do so by Col. Bremond. The French administration considered these meetings important and regarded them as a first step towards an Armeno-Turkish dialogue that would, in turn, decrease ethnic tensions and normalize the situation.

On the subject of the envisaged Armeno-Turkish dialogue, Damadian writes that he had several meetings with Turkish notables whose names he fails to mention. “ . . . But aside from a mutual understanding on a personal level,” he concludes, “ . . .a general agreement or a total political solution for Armenian-Turkish relations is not yet feasible," since  “ . . .both parties remain attached to their unique political platforms with respect to the future of Cilicia". [5]

In a letter addressed to Damadian, Colonel Bremond urged him not to give up hope and to continue his efforts to find a middle ground with the Turks so that the vali, Jelal Bey, would not be able to win them over to the Kemalist cause. In the same letter, Bremond also underlined the importance of an Armeno-Turkish agreement in Cilicia, since it would:

1.      Damage Kemal’s popularity among Turks,

2.      Cut an important source of income for Kemal, and

3.      Oblige Kemalist forces to abandon their dreams concerning Cilicia.[6] 

            The importance with which the French followed the issue of an Armeno-Turkish agreement is once again underlined in the same letter, when Bremond asks Damadian not to halt the negotiations and to be present at a meeting to be held in the headquarters of the French administration on April 17, 1920, after which “ . . .a declaration concerning an Armeno-Turkish agreement will be made public by the chief-of-administration.” [7]

Damadian's role in Cilicia was somewhat eclipsed after the independence act of August 5, 1920. He remained in Cilicia for almost a year after the French administration severed all official ties with him. [8]  His activities, however, were centered on the Armenian community. He was instrumental in organizing the defense of Adana when the city witnessed severe food shortages in 1921 because of the tight grip of Kemalist forces advancing south of the Mersin-Osmaniye railway line.

Perhaps the most important document, which demonstrates Damadian’s organizational abilities, is the extensive report he submitted to the Delegation of Integral Armenia in 1919 concerning the defense of Cilicia against a very probable Kemalist incursion.[9]  The report proposed dividing Cilicia into five defense zones: Adana, Mersin-Tarsus, Deort-Yol, Baghche-Hasan Beyli, and Hadjin-Zeitun-Sis. [10]  In his report Damadian gave preference to military organization and underlined the importance of the formation of Armenian military units that should act as the nuclei of an envisioned Armenian army. Damadian’s notion of superb military organization meant that special attention should be given to the establishment of:

1.      General and regional commands; 

2.      Military committees to look after the Armenian legionaries;

3.      A committee for supplies and means of transportation; 

4.      A committee for sanitary and health needs; 

5.      A committee for public relations; 

6.      A committee for post and communications; 

7.      A general treasury; 

8.      A military court. [11]

Obviously, Damadian's report stresses the importance of having a fully equipped occupation army in Cilicia. In his view this could have been achieved only through the concerted efforts of the French administration and the Armenian community. However, since the French sabotaged Franco-Armenian cooperation by discharging the already existing Armenian battalions, hopes of bringing Damadian's defense project to fruition or of creating an Armenian army of ten thousand men -- which was, in Damadian’s view, possible even through local means--were futile.[12]  Damadian failure must be attributed to the chaotic state of affairs in Cilicia and the marked change in French policy towards Armenians. [13]

The Armenian National Union

During 1919-21, a new national institution, the Armenian National Union, was growing out of the unique circumstances of Armenian life in Cilicia. After their repatriation, Armenians formed this body to bring a sense of cohesion to their community. Although Armenian national unions were formed in Egypt, Europe, and the United States during the war, their task was limited to collecting contributions for Armenian deportees. [14]  In the case of Cilicia, the newly established National Union was entrusted with the task of organizing and governing of the Armenian community. That the National Union was a de facto Armenian government is clearly demonstrated in the bylaws of the union which state that:

Cilicia, as an occupied territory, has no defined governmental system; therefore, until a new decision is reached, the Armenian National Unions will act as national-civil administrations that will govern the Armenian communities in Cilicia.[15]

During the first months of Armenian repatriation to Cilicia, national unions were formed in all the cities where Armenian communities existed. The city chapters were in turn connected to a central executive body that resided in the provincial capital Adana. The chapter unions were formed from representatives of the three Armenian denominations and the four Armenian political parties.[16]  According to the bylaws of the central body, the Catholicos  (the head of the Armenian church) and the representative of the Delegation of Integral Armenia (Damadian) were to be voting members as well. [17]

Damadian, who was instrumental in the formulation of the bylaws, managed to create a body that was to be the centre around which all Armenian activities in Cilicia would function. The central body in Adana and its chapters in Mersin, Tarsus, Deort-Yol, Osmaniye, and elsewhere served in the capacity of central and local governments.  They looked after the religious, educational, social, cultural, economic, and sanitary affairs of the Armenian communities. Contributions made by Armenian benevolent organizations abroad were deposited in the central treasury in Adana from where sums were allocated to projects in Adana and elsewhere.[18] The French administration accepted the fact that the National Union was acting as a government to regulate Armenian life in Cilicia. On several occasions, Damadian served as liaison between the Union and the French administration.

The central body residing in Adana operated through a system of committees. Aside from the Committee on Education, there were committees for financial resources, cultural activities, and social-religious affairs. [19]

The Committee for Financial resources, for example, created a subcommittee and entrusted it with the task of fining and documenting Armenian properties that were taken over by the Turks after the deportations. It was this subcommittee that accepted, prepared, and brought cases of property repossession before the French Arbitrating Court.

Another subcommittee that the Financial Resources Committee initiated was that of rent control and the maintenance of national-communal properties. This subcommittee worked to regulate and tabulate rents and to enforce its own decisions.[20]  As to the maintenance of communal properties, the subcommittee kept an updated list of such properties and, through the Financial Resources Committee, allocated sums for repairs and reconstruction. In 1920, for example, the subcommittee insured fifteen communal properties  (schools, churches, and others) with French and Italian companies. For that purpose, it spent no less than two million French francs.[21]

The Committee on Social-Religious Affairs regulated and organized the business of the Armenian Prelacy, the churches under its jurisdiction, and the church properties that were entrusted to the Prelacy.  The subcommittee on charity provided food and shelter to widows and orphans living in the camps and tent cities.[22]   The activities of this subcommittee were centered on the refugee camps in Adana where almost all Armenian refugees resided.

Although the French administration initially cooperated with the Armenian National Union and through it allocated sums for the needy and, furthermore, allowed it to collect taxes on its behalf, this cooperation did not last for long. By assuming governmental obligations that were in the jurisdiction of the French administration, the Armenian National Union was--from the perspective of the French administration-- intruding on others’ rights. Apparently, the French administration was in no position to tolerate the existence of a government operating within a government. On its part, the Armenian National Union justified its position as filling the administrative gap that the feeble French administration could not.

As was the case with the representative of the Delegation of Integral Armenia, relations between the French administration and the Armenian National Union worsened immediately after the declaration of Cilicia’s independence on August 5, 1920. During the rest of 1920 and throughout 1921 internal problems incapacitated the Armenian National Union. Collective resignations, inter-party intrigues, and ineffective, short-lived central bodies became common. The Union was almost nonexistent during the last months of Armenian presence in Cilicia.

The year 1920 was a crucial one for Armenians in Cilicia. The beginning of that year saw the retreat of the French from Marash and the subsequent death of thousands of Armenians. In March, the Armenian stronghold of Hadjin was put under siege by Kemalist forces.  It was to withstand Turkish incursions for eight months only to be occupied and its Armenian inhabitants either killed or exiled.[23]

The May 28 truce resulted in the handing over of Anitab to the Kemalists, the retreat of the French occupation forces south of the Mersin-Osmaniye railway line, and the subsequent evacuation of thousands of Armenians from Sis and its environs. Yet, amazingly, Armenians were still entertained with the idea of an autonomous Cilicia under a French mandate.

The French, on their part, doubted Armenian activities. This doubt originated, to a great extent, from the activities of the Paris-based Delegation of Integral Armenia, which, in its negotiations with the Allies, had on several occasions implied about French or a possible American mandate over Cilicia. The French, who were at the time entertaining the idea of incorporating Cilicia within their Syrian mandate, had enough reasons to doubt such Armenian activities.  French doubts were furthered when the King-Crane and Harbord Commissions visited Cilicia and hopes for an American mandate surfaced once more within the Armenian community.[24]

The Peace Negotiations in Paris

By mid-1920, the Peace Conference in Paris had apparently completed its deliberations. The signing of the much awaited peace treaty was very near. It was under these conditions and having in mind the fear of a possible French neglect for Armenian ambitions towards the creation of an autonomous Cilicia that the August 5, 1920 act of the declaration of Cilicia's independence was undertaken. The fact that this act was staged just five days before the signing of the Peace Treaty at Sevres  (10 August, 1920) is yet another indication of the desperate situation of Armenians and other Christian peoples in Cilicia.

Christians in Cilicia in general and Armenians in particular were unaware of how negotiations were progressing in Paris.  It was in an effort to clarify their position vis-à-vis the future of Cilicia that the representatives of the Christian communities in Cilicia cabled a petition to the Peace Conference on May 21, 1920. [25]  The petition stressed that:

1.      Geographically, Cilicia belongs neither to Anatolia nor to Syria;[26] 

2.      Christians in Cilicia constitute the majority of the population; 

3.      Turks are a minority within the Muslim population of the province.[27]

On the basis of these points, the representatives of the Christian communities urged the Allied powers to use their common sense and, for the sake of Cilicia's 250,000 Christians,[28] not to hand the province over to the Turks, since it was illogical to offer the Turkish minority the privilege of ruling over a Christian majority.[29]

In an effort to show the strategic importance of Cilicia, the petitioners underlined the fact that:

. . . no peace can be achieved in the Near East, and Pan-Islamism can not be contained, unless Turkish and Arab lands are separated by a Christian Cilicia, as the Republic of Armenia is destined to serve as a buffer between the two centers of Pan-Islamism, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. [30]

The fear of a possible return to Turkish rule was not exaggerated.  It was in the beginning of May 1920 that Reshad Effendy, the representative of the Ottoman government at the Peace Conference, urged Turks in Cilicia to be calm and not to engage in acts of hostility against the French occupiers, since their departure from Cilicia was only a matter of time.[31] The Turkish vali in Adana approached the Turkish population with similar requests. If anything, Reshad’s message was a bad omen for Christians in Cilicia. Moreover, it seems that at the time there was a certain amount of misunderstanding among the French officials concerning the state of affairs in Cilicia and the possible return of the province to Turkish rule.  Several French officials in Beirut, for example, seemed to be dissatisfied with the way their government or the Allies in general were dealing with issues relating to Cilicia. Some sources admit that Damadian orchestrated the act of the declaration of Cilicia's independence on receiving information from a certain Dr. Malezian who was in the employment of the French High Commissioner in Beirut. Bremond states that Malezian had written to Damadian about the real course negotiations in Paris were taking.  He also informed the representative of the Delegation of Integral Armenia that some high-ranking French officers whose identities remain unknown-- had advised him “It was about time that Armenians make a move in Cilicia." [32]  It seems also that Colonel Bremond had, on several occasions, encouraged Damadian that the time was right for Armenians to make their “move.”[33] This “much-advised” Armenian “move” was staged on August 5, 1920.  On August 4, the representatives of the Christian denominations in Cilicia issued a proclamation declaring Cilicia independent under a French mandate.

Two Acts of Independence

Actually, there were not one but two acts of declaration of Cilicia’s independence. The first act was staged by Minas Veradzin, a member of the Central Committee of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the editor of Giligia, the party's organ. On August 2, 1920, Veradzin single handedly declared the area between the Sihun and the Jihun Rivers independent under a French mandate. The declaration of the independence of the “Rupenian Republic”  (Rupen being the prince who had founded the medieval Armenian principality of Cilicia]) read as follows: 

Today, August 2, 1920, in the presence of our forces [?], I declare the area between the Sihun and Jihun Rivers and stretching until the sea an autonomous republic under French protection. Those are historical moments...We are engaged in battle with enemy forces. Even if Europe would not heed to our call, we will continue to fight the Kemalists with all our force.[34]

Veradzin's declaration complicated matters. It did not, however, stop Armenians from undertaking a more comprehensive move three days later. The French administration sent its forces to Veradzin’s  “independent republic” and brought the area under its control.[35] Upon the request of the French administration Veradzin was ousted from the Armenian National Union. The French authorities immediately exiled him.[36]

The Armenian National Union had discussed the idea of an act of independence during a series of meetings held between June and July 1920. These discussions led to the formation of a second body, the Supreme National Council, which was entrusted with the task of preparing a plan of action if such a venture was to be undertaken.  Yet not all Armenian factions were in favor of such an act.  Many argued that it would surely create friction between Armenians and the French at a time when French friendship was much needed.  The Armenian Constitutional Democratic (Ramgavar) Party, for example, during a meeting of its functionaries held on July 31, 1920, passed a resolution in which it considered declaring independence a “premature” act that is “condemned to failure.” [37]   The party also stressed that “if the French authorities oppose such an act, the project of the formation of an Armenian military force to aid Hadjin would be seriously jeopardized.”[38]

During a meeting of the Supreme National Council, Veradzin proposed a plan to reoccupy Sis, which the Kemalists had already brought under their control. Veradzin's plan called for the retaking of the city and declaring Cilicia’s independence from there. This was important since by declaring independence in an area other than that which was still under French control would, to a great extent, minimize French antagonism to the concept of Cilicia's independence. [39]

Nevertheless, on August 4, 1920, the representatives of the Christian communities met and issued the statement in which they declared Cilicia independent and under French mandate.[40] The meeting also entrusted Damadian with the task of handing the statement over to the French authorities. In the evening of the same day, Damadian gave an unexpected visit to Colonel Bremond who promised to cable the contents of the statement to Beirut. Bremond also told Damadian that he would have an answer ready for him by next day.[41]

It is not clear whether Bremond's not keeping his word or the excitement within the Armenian National Union and the Supreme National Council led to the events of August 5, 1920. Accompanied by the members of his newly formed cabinet, Damadian occupied the Konak (government building) only to be forced out several hours later by French soldiers acting on orders from the chief-of-administration, Col. Bremond. [42]

Thus ended the short-lived declaration of Cilicia’s independence and the “coup d'etat” that was to secure its implementation. Five days later, on August 10, the Peace Treaty was signed at Sevres. Armenian ambitions for the creation of an autonomous entity in Cilicia were shattered.

The two acts of Cilicia's independence have been the source of much criticism even among Armenians.  Amazingly, French sources seem to neglect the issue and consider it unimportant while Turkish sources never even bother to mention it. The critics of the declarations of independence stress that Damadian and the leaders of the Armenian National Union should have realized the shortcomings of such a futile venture. Moreover, the critics argue that Damadian should have known that Armenians were not properly equipped to impose their political will. Even if they possessed such political power, it was very probable that the French would have stopped them anyway.

Defending the act of August 5, 1920, and the subsequent  “takeover” of government Damadian wrote:

Every act, political or other, which fails, is doomed to be criticized, since only achievements that are successful have a chance to be praised . . Yet, when it was evident that the course of events was by no means favorable for Armenians, I was convinced   that something had to be done, even if that something was to be out of desperation.  Moreover, this something was to be accomplished through available local means before the ratification of the peace treaty that surely was to render us incompetent . . . I must reiterate that I never feel sorry in that I participated in the events of August 5 [1920] . . . It must be stated, however, that we were weak, because we did everything out of love and admiration for France and the French people . . . This was the only reason why we did what we did without publicizing it. On that day [5 August, 1920], on the days before that and even today  [Damadian wrote this part of his memoirs just before leaving Cilicia in July, 1921] we were the real masters of Adana. It was not hard for us to galvanize public support for the act and thus bring say five thousand people to the streets . . . on the contrary, it was we who advised Armenians to keep their calm and to show respect for the French authorities. [43]

The idea of a greater Armenia (perhaps the amalgamation of the Armenian Republic in the Caucasus with an autonomous Cilicia) which the Paris-based Delegation of Integral Armenia advocated and which was bitterly attacked by the French government and the media-- in fact, the term “l'Empire Arménienne » was frequently used as part of the sarcastic campaign of the French media of the day--was not, as it seems, the focus of the Armenian leadership of Cilicia when the act of independence was staged in the beginning of August 1920. Moreover, the leaders of the Armenian Republic were not receptive to such an idea which, in their opinion, had virtually no chances of materializing. This issue had caused friction between Boghos Nubar Pasha and Avedis Aharonian, the heads of the two Armenian delegations in Paris, which coalesced to form the Delegation of Integral Armenia. In an article titled "Some Thoughts About The Recent Events of Cilicia” Veradzin writes:

Outside Cilicia, the dominant idea [among Armenians] is that we want to unite this land [Cilicia] to [the Republic of] Armenia], and that all our political and military moves entertain this aim.  Yet if the truth were said, such an idea had never crossed our minds. Therefore, Armenians in the Diaspora are wrong if they have that impression about us.[44]

There were no hidden reasons behind the two acts of independence.  They seem to have been the result of desperation and fear of a gloomy future for Armenian presence in Cilicia. Moreover, the acts of independence were not directed against the French authorities. Yet the French administration acted as if they were by exiling Veradzin and severing all ties with Damadian and the Armenian National Union. [45]

The staging of the two acts also caused changes within the French administration in Cilicia. The Chief-of-Administration, Col. Bremond, was replaced by General Haslere who, upon his arrival in Adana, declared that:

France had occupied Cilicia motivated only by its own interests. Those who were sent here with that objective in mind [the reference is for Colonel Bremond] had failed to accomplish their task or their primary duty of keeping the peace. [46]

The French administration severed all ties with the Armenian National Union and all social and political organizations. After August 5, 1920, it dealt only with the Armenian Church and entrusted it with the task of regulating relations with the French authorities. This procedure continued uninterrupted until the evacuation of Armenians from Cilicia in late 1921 and early 1922. [47]

The last year of Armenian presence in Cilicia was one full of political and social problems. The Treaty of Sevres crushed all hopes of creating an Armenian entity in Cilicia.  On the political scene, a Franco-Turkish rapprochement and a subsequent agreement to evacuate Cilicia seemed possible indeed. For months during 1921, Adana was under siege. Conditions worsened even further when the Turkish population of the city left to join the Kemalist forces north of the railway line. The French retreat of May 1920 had brought an influx of new Armenian refugees to Adana. Thus, of the almost one hundred thousand Armenians gathered in Adana the majority were refugees who had abandoned their towns and cities and crowded the provincial capital much to the dismay of the local population. [48] Newspapers urged the people to have patience and if possible to extend help to newcomers. [49]

The siege condition, coupled with acute shortages in supplies, gave way to a strong wave of en masse Armenian emigration.  Although the French authorities and the Armenian leadership encouraged Armenians to stay, thousands crowded the port cities of Mersin and Alexandretta waiting for ships to carry them abroad. [50] The emigration problem compelled the Armenian leadership and the media to organize a counter campaign by disclosing the “difficulties and the desperation that emigrating Armenians were subject to in such places as Marseilles." [51]

It was under such desperate conditions that the remaining Armenians continued to defend Adana and its environs.  Yet the Franco-Turkish agreement of October 1921 (the Ankara agreement) came as a coup de grace. Although the French authorities assured Armenians that their communal presence in Cilicia was secured by the terms of the agreement with Kemal, no Armenian was willing to take any chances.[52]

CONCLUSION

On October 20, 1921, the French envoy to Ankara, Franklin Bouillon signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation with Mustafa Kemal. By signing the Ankara Accord, France and the Kemalists agreed to halt all military operations against each other and to end the state of war between them. According to the provisions of articles 3 and 8 of the agreement, the French forces were to evacuate all of Cilicia and retreat south of the Payas-Meydan Ekbes-Kilis line.[53]  Thus, only the sanjak (county) of Alexandretta was to remain under French control. The rest of Cilicia was consequently traded for economic privileges and new trade possibilities that France needed in order to balance the British gains in the Levant. In any case, it was the Kemalist movement that gained from this agreement. By signing it, the French formally acknowledged the legitimacy of Kemalist Turkey and facilitated the diplomatic overtures that Kemal and his associates desired in order to approach the Allied powers.

From this perspective, the Ankara Agreement was a prelude to the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) by which the fledgling Turkish Republic of Kemal gained recognition from the rest of the Allied powers thereby emerging as a strong country out of the dregs of the Ottoman Empire.  By signing the Ankara Agreement, France totally neglected the aspirations of thousands of Armenians who had repatriated to Cilicia in 1919-20. By doing so, France not only forgot its previous promises of establishing an autonomous Cilicia, but also literally jettisoned Armenian interests. It was impossible for Armenians to remain in Cilicia, even though in its agreement with Kemal, France had “dictated” an article that was supposed to guarantee the rights of Armenians and other Christians in Cilicia.

When thinking about this Cilician experience, the question that asserts itself is why was it that the French finally chose to hand the province over after defending it for three years and sacrificing a great deal in terms of human resources? It is not easy to find a simple answer to such a complex question. Many factors and events spanning the three years of French occupation in Cilicia had their effect on the decision rendered.

The French administration in Cilicia neither understood the roots of the ethnic tensions between Armenians and Turks, nor the reasons behind Christian dismay of Turkish rule. In their efforts to calm the situation, the French often took measures that offended and alienated both parties thus creating an atmosphere of doubt and suspicion towards the occupiers.  In the long run, this policy damaged the initial popularity of the French.

Another crucial mistake that the French committed in the Levant was that they were almost always competing against the British who, in their opinion, worked hard to diminish French gains during the postwar years. Although allegations of British intrigues were not baseless, one should not forget that the victory in the Levant was accomplished mainly through British arms.

The limited number of French forces in the Levant was perhaps the most important factor behind the shortcomings of French policies there. Most of the active French units were stationed in Syria, since France regarded it as its most important possession in the area. Therefore, the very small number of soldiers that France could deploy in Cilicia was not enough to handle the difficult task of defending an area of fifty thousand square kilometers on the boundaries of which a martial enemy driven by nationalistic zeal was consolidating its power.

The French tried to solve this military handicap through diplomatic means, but in the end that worked against them.  Not having sufficient forces to assume the role of an occupier, it seems that French politicians concentrated their efforts on establishing   friendly relations with the Turkish population of Cilicia. This mood was most probably motivated by Paris, where the official media was advocating friendship and conciliation with the Turks. It was impossible for the bankrupt French treasury to pay for a costly war campaign in Turkey.

This somewhat defeatist French attitude was behind the visit of the French High Commissioner in the Levant, Georges Picot, to Ankara in 1919. Although the French administration in Cilicia had some bitter words for Picot in the aftermath of the visit, the damage was done and the Kemalists understood that a major French offensive was not in the cards. This consequently dwindled French prestige and its ability to exert an unequivocal will on Cilicians.[54]

On the other hand, the inadequate policies that the French administration tried to implement in Cilicia were reasons enough to render it incompetent in maintaining its control over the province.  In the case of Syria, as soon as the French took over the administration, trustworthy people replaced all Ottoman officials. The same did not take place in Cilicia. Much to the dismay of Armenians and even some French administrators, the old Ottoman government machinery was kept intact. During 1919-21, Cilicia had two Ottoman governors one of which, Nazim Bey, was a fervent Ittihadist, while the other, Jelal Bey, was an ardent Kemalist.  They facilitated the spread of Kemalist propaganda and encouraged the formation of secret Kemalist cells. They did this under the very eyes of the French administration, which practically did nothing to stop their work. Moreover, the French occupation forces were unable to disarm the Turkish bands or even the population when such an order was issued.

Apparently, such mistakes ruined the morale of Armenian and even French soldiers deployed in Cilicia. The Armenian battalions were dismantled and their soldiers discharged. There were insufficient weapons, supplies, communication instruments, and transportation means. The French soldiers and their commanders had more than once acted with gallantry and shown courage in fighting against the Kemalists. This was best witnessed in Aintab where a fistful of soldiers boldly defended the city against Kemalist incursions. Yet all that was lost because of a weak administration that had to act upon the initiatives of the High Commissioner in Beirut.

From the Armenian point of view, these aspects of French policy were hints that France had already forgotten its previous engagements and was pulling out from its commitment to invest in Cilicia and its future. Yet, Armenians never tried hard enough to put a dent in French policy. Aside from the initial repatriation process no further attempts were made to extend and reorganize the repatriation effort once the French stopped financing it.

If Adana had received substantial aid and Armenian capital from abroad was invested there, the province would have been capable of accommodating many more thousands of Armenians. If such a policy was implemented, Armenians would have had a definite majority and, thus, chances of creating an Armenian entity in Cilicia would have been greater.

On the local scene, Armenian communal life in Cilicia had its problems too. Inter-party rivalries, the indifference of some Armenians toward the future of Cilicia, miserable refugee conditions, and economic difficulties weakened the community and the prospects of an autonomous Cilicia.

Compounded, all these mistakes led to the inevitable conclusion of closing the curtain over a three year Armenian experience in Cilicia. The last of the Armenians came out from there with the retreating French forces. Some built their homes in the sanjak  (county) of Alexandretta only to move to Syria or Lebanon when it was handed over to Turkey in the late 1930's.[55] Others settled in Syria, Lebanon, and as far away as Europe and the United States.


 

[1] Damadian, Im Husheres, p. 8. See part I of Damadian's memoirs for information about his early revolutionary activities, his teaching positions, and membership in Armenian revolutionary/political parties first as a Hnchakist, then Reformist Hnchakist, and finally as a Sahmanatragan Ramgavar (Constitutional Populist).

[2] Ibid., pp. 112-120.

[3] Ibid., p. 147.

[4] Bedros Depoian, Mihran Damadian, 1863-1945 (Beirut: Zartonk Press, 1964), p.186.

[5] Mikayel Natanian, "Kilikian Husher, Badmagan  Kani Me Pasdatughter," (Cilician  Memoirs, Some  Historical Documents), Hasg, No. 18 (October 1949), p. 293.

       [6] Ibid., pp.293-294.

[7] Ibid., p. 295; Depoian, Mihran Damadian, pp. 192-194. It seems that Damadian was enthusiastic   about an Armeno-Turkish agreement. He negotiated with Turkish notables under the political platform   “Cilicia to Cilicians” be they Armenians, Turks or others. Damadian knew that such an agreement would benefit Cilician Armenians.  For that reason he welcomed Col. Bremond's suggestion to meet and to negotiate with Turkish notables.

[8] Depoian, Mihran Damadian,  p. 185. Damadian  remained  in  Cilicia  until July 18, 1921.

[9] Ibid., p. 196.

[10] Ibid., p. 197.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., p. 198.

[13] Ibid., p. 168.

[14] Mikayel Natanian, “Kilikian Husher, Varchagan Marminneru Gazmagerbchakan Ganonakirnere,” (Cilician Memoirs, The Organizational Bylaws Of The Governing Bodies), Hasg, No. 19: 299 (July-August 1950), 208-209.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., p. 210.

[17] Ibid., p. 211. Damadian presided over the meetings.

[18] Ibid., p. 212.

[19] Sahakyan, Turk Fransiakan Haraberutyunnere,  p. 235; Yeghiayan, Adanayi Hayots Badmutiun, pp. 690, 693.

[20] Yeghiayan, Adanayi Hayots Badmutiun, p. 691.

[21] Ibid., p. 692.

[22] Ibid., pp. 695-696.

[23] Torossyan, Kilikiayi Hayeri Azgayin-Azatagrakan Sharzhumnere, p. 177-212. In presenting the eight-month long siege and the subsequent takeover of Hadjin by the Kemalist forces Torossian relies on the memoirs of H. Terzian, published in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1956. Terzian was one of the leaders of the self-defense of Hadjin and an eyewitness to the events he relates. According to him only several hundred inhabitants out of a population totaling 6,000 to 8,000 were able to flee after the Kemalist takeover. Terzian blames Damadian for Armenian losses in Hadjin. According to Torossian Terzian is motivated by inter-party rivalry, since he was a member of the ARF.   

[24]  Zeidner, The Tricolor Over the Taurus: The French in Cilicia and Vicinity, 1918-1922, pp. 254, 279. The issue of an American mandate for Cilicia alone, or in a format whereby it is incorporated within a greater Armenian state was worrying French authorities since April 1919. Moreover, French contention to place Cilicia within their Syrian mandate was the highlight of French military thought in Beirut and Adana. However, high-ranking French military personnel in Constantinople were against the idea. They favored Picot’s idea of returning Cilicia to Turkey in exchange for future economic privileges. It was in this perspective that the issue of the Armenian Legion became a thorny one, since Kemal had communicated his hostility toward the idea of an Armenian army under French supervision.

[25] For the complete text of the petition see: Depoian, Mihran Damadian,  pp. 188-192.

[26] This is yet another indication of the validity of the proposal of annexing Cilicia to France’s Syrian mandate.

[27] Ibid., p. 189.

[28] Ibid., p. 191.

[29] Ibid., p. 189.

[30] Ibid., pp. 190-191. Depoian  maintains  that  this  statement  is exaggerated, since the two ideologies (i.e. Pan-Turkist and Pan-Islamist) are not comparable. For a more detailed analysis on the difference between the two ideologies see also: Jacob M. Landau, Pan-Turkism in Turkey: A Study in Irredentism (London: C. Hurst & Company, 1981), pp. 8, 14, 17-19.

[31] Torossyan, Kilikiayi Hayeri Azgayin-Azatagrakan Sharzhumnere, p. 235.

[32] Ener, Cukurova'nin Isgali, p. 91; Yeghiayan,  Adanayi Hayots Badmutiun, p. 467.

[33] Yeghiayan, Adanayi Hayots Badmutiun, p. 492. See also: Depoian, Mihran Damadian, p. 213.

[34] Sahakyan, Turk Fransiakan Haraberutyunnere, pp. 225-226.

[35] Torossyan, Kilikiayi Hayeri Azgayin-Azatagrakan Sharzhumnere, p. 244.

[36] Damadian, Im Husheres, p. 175. Damadian was even asked by French authorities to issue a statement criticizing Veradzin's act. Veradzin settled in Boston and for a time was the editor of  the ARF organ, Hayrenik.

[37] Torossyan, Kilikiayi Hayeri Azgayin-Azatagrakan Sharzhumnere, pp. 242.

[38] Ibid..

[39] Ibid., p. 243.

[40] Ibid., pp. 209-213.

[41] Sahakian, Turk Fransiakan Haraberutyunnere, pp. 224-225.

[42] Yeghiayan,  Adanayi Hayots Badmutiun , p. 493; Sahakian, Turk Fransiakan Haraberutyunnere, p. 225. The cabinet was formed as follows:-

     - Mihran Damadian, Prime Minister.

     - Vahram ZhamGochian, Minister of War & Gendarmerie (Hnchakist).

     - Garabed Nalbandian, Minister of Agriculture (Hnchakist).

     - Antranig Genjian, Minister of Economy (Hnchakist).

     - Dr. Mnatsaganian, Minister of Foreign Affairs (Dashnakist).

     - Dr. Bezirjian, Minister of Interior Affairs (Ramgavar).

     - Lient Jeane, Minister of Education (Assyrian).

[43] Damadian, Im Husheres, pp. 171-181.

[44] Torossyan, Kilikiayi Hayeri Azgayin-Azatagrakan Sharzhumnere, pp. 238-239.

[45] Bremond, “The Bremond Mission, Cilicia in 1919-1920,” The Armenian Review, vol. 30, p. 61.

[46] Depoian, Mihran Damadian, p. 198.

[47] Torossian, Kilikiayi Hayeri Azgayin-Azatagrakan Sharzhumnere, p. 253.

[48] "Dkegh Yerevuytner" (Ugly Occurrences), Davros  (Adana, November 13, 1920), pp. 1-2.

[49] Ibid., p. 2.

[50] "Mi Kaghtek" (Do Not Emigrate), Davros (Adana, October 3, 1920), p. 2.

[51] "Kaghtaganneru  Hosanke" (The  Stream of Emigrants), Davros (Adana, October 3, 1920), p. 2.

[52] The exception being some Armenian Catholic families who remained behind, alongside Syrian Orthodox and Maronite families, in Mersin and Adana only to be driven out in 1924-25. See: Vahe Tachjian, “Le sort de minorities de Cilicie et de ses environs sous le regime kémaliste dans les années 1920,” Revue d’Histoire Arménienne Contemporaine, tom III, numéro special, 1999, pp. 351-375.

[53] Sahakyan, Turk Fransiakan Haraberutyunnere, p. 235.

[54] Zeidner, The Tricolor Over the Taurus: The French in Cilicia and Vicinity, 1918-1922, p. 284. According to Zeidner Ali Fu’ad (Cebesoy) was present during at least one of the meetings between Picot and Kemal in Sivas. It was during this meeting that Picot told Kemal that Armenian forces were temporary in Cilicia and were to be withdrawn. Moreover, Picot confided in Kemal that George Clemenceau was not to win the elections in France and that Aristide Briand will replace him and cause French policy to come to a rapprochement with Turkey.

[55] The sanjak of Alexandretta is a point of contention between Turkey and Syria even today.

 

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