CILICIAN ARMENIANS AND THE GENOCIDE Armenian News Network / Groong August 27, 2014 By Eddie Arnavoudian PART TWO: Turkish nationalism, Kemal Ataturk and the Armenian question R K Sahakyan's `Turkish-French Relations and Cilicia - 1919-1921' (328pp, 1970, Yerevan) enables a clearer and more detailed grasp of the character of French-Armenian and French-Turkish relations in post-war Cilicia. As he charts French relations with the rising and eventually triumphant Turkish movement headed by Kemal Ataturk, Sahakyan also, and perhaps most valuably, documents its essentially anti-democratic, reactionary and chauvinist nature. He shows Kemal Ataturk to be but an extension, in republican guise, of the Young Turk nationalist project to salvage an internally disintegrating Ottoman Empire by means of Genocide, forced assimilation, war, ethnic-cleansing and national oppression. I. In view of their early precarious and uncertain positions in the post-war Ottoman Empire and the Middle East, both vis-`-vis their imperialist rivals and their Turkish opponents, the French positioned themselves with careful calculation. Preparing to secure colonial privileges they simultaneously played both their Armenian and Turkish cards while awaiting further developments to decide which camp to eventually settle set up tent in. To secure an Armenian bastion for colonial dominance in Cilicia, the French recruited an Armenian Legion of volunteer soldiers and in addition encouraged and financed the return to their Cilician homelands of up to 120,000 Armenians, even offering them some limited facilities to recover lost land, property and wealth. But wielding the Turkish card, as a balance and alternative, they left in place the Young Turk dominated administrative and legal apparatus and showed absolutely no inclination to disarm virulently anti-Armenian Turkish nationalist forces. Thus they cynically put into the ring two opposing forces and readied themselves for action in the event of a decisive advance by one or the other or any qualitative change in regional developments. The rise of Kemal Ataturk's nationalist movement, his emergence as a rallying point for Turkish nationalists opposed to the European dismemberment of the defeated Sultanate leadership of the Ottoman Empire proved such a qualitative regional transformation. Ataturk's military successes, especially against depleted French arms prompted a French rapprochement, all the more so in view of the continued subservience of old Ottoman Royal court to their British rivals and indeed because of an alarming growth of pro-British sentiment among Armenians. With Armenians threatening to fall into British arms, any manifestation of Armenian power in Cilicia could only be detrimental to the French. So they cast their Armenian cards into the Turkish fire. There then followed the brutal imperial abandonment of a one-time ally: a point-blank refusal to protect Armenians from Turkish slaughter, a stubborn immobility as beleaguered Armenian communities were once again forced from their homes, secret, sudden retreats that left unarmed civilians defenceless before advancing and marauding Kemalist battalions. As a result, in Marash thousands of Armenians were murdered. Almost all of Hajun's 6000 Armenian population was slaughtered. Subsequent French retreats from Ourfa, Aintab, Zeitun and elsewhere were followed by the forced departure of all Armenians who had with French assurances returned to their Cilician homes. Whilst they largely escaped slaughter, their fate testifies to the systematic ethnic cleansing carried out by Kemal's forces. Armenian fortunes were sealed and destroyed after the 1920 Franco-Turkish cease-fire, the 1921 Franco-Turkish Ankara Accords and the European recognition of Ataturk who had vanquished in addition both Greek and Armenian forces to his west and his east. Thereafter it took Kemalist forces just another 2 years of systematic national repression to drive all but a tiny group of Armenians from what had been for centuries Armenian Cilicia II. Sahakyan reminds us that French imperialism had major stakes in the Ottoman Empire, with economic, social and cultural interests that spanned the entire region of Asia Minor. It was this that had dictated steady French support for the territorial integrity of the Ottoman State. It was this same policy that guided it in the immediate post-war of fierce inter-imperialist rivalries over the Middle East and Asia Minor. Here British proposals for the division of the Empire threatened to snatch from France significant chunks of profit and advantage. Given French military inferiority in the Middle East and the commanding power of the British armed forces, they at first had little option but to string along with British proposals. But they still manoeuvred for the post of top dog in what remained of the Ottoman estate, and it was in an early move to secure an independent foothold in post-war Turkey that they allocated their Armenian allies a role as pawns in the imperialist chess game. For imperial France action was urgent. Their British rivals had already begun seizing the best portions of Ottoman controlled territory, including Mosul oil. So to grab for itself what it could, France advanced on Cilicia using Armenian survivors of the Genocide to secure an early hold. Ataturk's increasingly successful resistance to the European carve up of Asia Minor prompted the French to change tack, and sacrificing the Armenian pawn, turn tables on the British by securing an alliance with the increasingly confident and strident Ataturk. French calculation was that such an alliance with what was expected to be a pliant Ataturk offered them at least a slim chance of emerging dominant in a unitary Asia Minor state, and this at the expense of the British and the US. So with each successful step taken by Kemal's forces as they battled European imperial powers and their allies in Asia Minor, French policy took its own step in his direction. A rapprochement with the rising star of Turkish nationalism offered of course no guarantees. But at least it promised the French prospects more promising than that of remaining in tow to the British or relying upon ineffective Armenian forces. Their supposed Armenian allies became their first victims. III. Sahakyan draws welcome attention to the actual social and political nature and character of Kemal Ataturk's nationalist movement. Ataturk's resistance to the European plan to carve-up the Ottoman Empire had nothing democratic, progressive or anti-imperialist about it. Even as this movement waged war against France and Europe, it was no democratic anti-imperialist war; it was not representative of an oppressed people, let alone of the Turkish or Kurdish common people, fighting for national liberation. Ataturk acted rather in the interests of a colonial, imperial nationalist Turkish capitalist- landlord class intent on seizing all the commanding economic, social and political positions in what remained of the Ottoman Empire in Asia Minor. Kemal Ataturk's movement set out not to democratise the old Ottoman Empire but to ruthlessly eliminate all non-Turkish rivals. Sahakyan thesis is well supported with extensive extracts from declarations and resolutions issued at all the major conferences that Kemal Ataturk organised during the course of his campaign against the European imperial powers and against his Greeks and Armenian opponents. Sahakyan of course draws particular attention to Ataturk's absolute and categorical rejection of all Armenian rights to social, political or national life, not just in Cilicia, but in the very lands that constituted historical Armenia and that had been inhabited by more than two million Armenians before the 1915 Genocide. Demonstrating the continuity between Kemal Ataturk and the Young Turks, even though penned in the Soviet era, this volume is a forceful polemic against the standard Soviet era depiction of the Kemal Ataturk's movement as a revolutionary, anti-imperialist nationalist force. This portrayal of post-war Turkish colonial and chauvinist nationalism as an anti-imperialist liberation force, evidently false, was clearly tailored to suit the early USSR's attempts to forge a defensive alliance with Turkey then in conflict with the same European powers sponsoring war against the new Soviet Republic. While a European carve-up of Asia Minor was certainly planned, it was not a carve-up of the Turkish nation but of the Ottoman Empire that even in the post-1915 era remained home to diverse nationalities. Ataturk's was not resistance to the carve-up of Turkey but a war to secure Turkish colonial hegemony over the remaining fragments of the Ottoman Empire. Yet given the particular form of the proposed division of Asia Minor, the early imperialist proposals to establish Greek and Armenian nation-states on territories with huge non-Armenian populations, Turks had reason to fear for their future in lands that they too had lived on for centuries. Kemal successfully exploited these fears to rally Turks from all classes behind his own Turkish landlord-capitalist ambitions. IV. Before the 1915 Genocide the position of Cilician Armenians, a community of some 300,000, even had they been the largest of minorities, showed up sharply the deadly possibilities inherent in the form of nationalist politics that swept through the Ottoman Empire, or rather the infinitely more preferable democratic, inter-national reform that was alas never to be. For Cilician Armenians an independent Armenian nation state was not an option, as indeed it was not even in the whole of historic Armenia, either for Armenians or any other of the peoples inhabiting these lands. That path was blocked by history and demography. And if such an exclusive nation state did come about, in any part of Asia Minor, it would inevitably harbour explosive contradictions - up to and even more than 50% of its population would be hostile, dedicated to its overthrow and destruction...more blood, more turmoil, more destruction. The history of 19th/20th century Armenian Cilicia is significant in many ways, and one in particular underlines the danger that separatist nationalism harboured for all peoples of Asia Minor. The multinational demographic structure of the Ottoman Empire's Asia Minor territories precluded the emergence of discrete, ethnically founded, nationally homogenous nation-states. It did not however preclude singular national development. The demographic structure of the Empire at least until the final triumph of Kemal Ataturk's national movement dictated certain defining parameters for cross-national, social and economic development and progress. These however were crushed by an intolerant and chauvinist Turkish nationalism. The bloody and viciously brutal unravelling of the Ottoman Empire, the Genocide and ethnic cleansing, was in a decisive aspect pre-determined by the failure of democratic social reform and revolution and the emergence in consequence of exclusive nationalist movements within a nationally diverse, demographically multitudinous Asia Minor. Once assuming a discrete, exclusive character and nationalist direction, the political and socio-economic clashes within the Empire could only take one form - that of the law of the jungle, the survival of the strongest. And by virtue of its dominance in the Ottoman State apparatus, the strongest and best-positioned nationalism was that the Turkish elite, the one nationalist force, it needs to be noted devoid of all progressive qualities. The historical odds weighed heavily against non-Turkish nationalist movements in Asia Minor. None had any serious foothold in the apparatus of state. Defined exclusively in economic and cultural terms, emerging always within the shadow of a ready-to-pounce Turkish nationalism embedded within the Ottoman state, Armenian and other non-Turkish national movements were, in addition, easy prey for imperialists manipulation with promises of forcing reform on an Ottoman Empire they themselves aspired to control. As Armenians and others bent to European policy, the reactionary Turkish propaganda machine seized the opportunity to rally the Turkish common people in a war against Armenians depicting them as agents of imperialism. Against such a united, almost monolithic Turkish nationalist movement non-Turkish peoples had little chance of survival. How the Armenian national movement developed and unfolded in decades after Kemal Ataturk's victory and what defines and structures it today in the age of a resurgent Turkish imperial ambition calls for urgent consideration. -- 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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