Armenian News Network / Groong

The Critical Corner - 02/28/2014


Armenian News Network / Groong
February 28, 2014

By Eddie Arnavoudian

PART ONE: the two-pronged assault on the Armenian nation and people


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

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.


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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