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I plan to collect historical documents and articles by various authors in this blog, usually without comments. Opinions expressed within the articles belong to the authors and do not always coincide with those of mine.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The withdrawal of the French and Armenians from Cilicia

As the Turkish nationalist forces replaced the French there was in fact no organized persecution, no general Turkish retaliation, as reported by the American naval detachment patrolling in the area, which was closely monitoring the situation:

"The destroyer stationed at Mersina reports that the Turks have that area well in hand and that the lives of Christians are in no danger.…The destroyers dispatched to Batoum and Novorossisk report that they were cordially received...."

The waves of mistrust were in any case far too deep, however, for these assurances to have any significant effect. Even if some Armenians believed the promises, they hated the Turks so much that they did not want to live under Turkish rule even if they were protected. The panic therefore continued, stimulated more by fear than fact, as reported by the Chief of the American Mediterranean fleet cruising in the area at the time, Admiral Niblack:

"The withdrawal of the French from Cilicia, in accordance with the Franco-Turkish pact recently signed at Angora, has resulted in a partial evacuation of Christians from Cilicia. Many of the Christians had been closely affiliated with the French even to the extent of bearing arms against the Turks, and they therefore feared some terrible form of punishment from the Turks. In connection with this disturbance, and for the protection of American interests, Read Admiral Bristol has maintained a destroyer at Mersina. His advice to American and other Christian populations in Cilicia appears to have been to remain where they were until the Turks gave some causes to justify their evacuation. He seems to have sized up the situation very accurately, as nothing of consequence has occurred. The evacuation seems to have been based on fear rather than fact."
As the French evacuation began by road via the ports of Mersin and Iskenderun starting on 4 November, the flight to Syria accelerated, consisting mostly of Armenians ... About 30,000 Armenians, Greeks and other Christians left the Adana district in November and December. Most went by ships that came to pick them up at Mersin and by trains that went to Aleppo. By the end of December, French troops remained only in Mersin along with approximately 10,000 refugees and at Dörtyol, where 7,000 refugees still were gathered. All were evacuated from these two cities as well as from Kilis (7 December), Adana (20 December), Osmaniye (24 December), Antep (25 December), Tarsus (27 December), Mersin (3 January 1922), Dörtyol (4 January), and Adana (4 January), thus completing the evacuation in little less than three months from the time the Treaty of Ankara was signed. According to French sources, between 1 November 1921 and 4 January 1922, approximately 54,000 Christians left Cilicia, of whom 31,000 settled in French-mandated Syria and Lebanon, and the remainder scattered to British protection in Palestine and Egypt and throughout the Mediterranean area.  By the end of 1923, the total number of Armenians who had left Cilicia are said to have numbered some 175,000, almost all those who had lived there before the war together with those who had emigrated from central Anatolia during 1919 and 1920. On his return to Paris in late January 1922, General Gouraud reported to a special session held at the Sorbonne that 

"...overall the evacuation of Cilicia took place in perfect order, without violence, and without a single person being killed or even wounded"

(Sorbonne Conference held in Paris on 26 January 1922. Quoted in Gourad, op. cit., p. 112.)

Turkish forces and government officials entered the evacuated cities and towns amidst joyful popular demonstrations celebrating their liberation from the oppressive French occupation, not only in Cilicia, but throughout the entire country. One of their first acts was to declare invalid all property transfers which had been forced on local Turks and Jews by the French occupation authorities who had turned hundreds of houses and arms thus surrendered over to Armenians and Frenchmen at prices far below their market values.

Thus were the immediate effects of the French and Armenian occupation of south-eastern Anatolia alleviated, though for Turkish and Jewish families who had lost everything, this was small consolation indeed. It would take years of insistence by M. Kemal that the people of the new Turkish Republic that emerged from the war should avoid continued hatreds resulting from past atrocities inflicted on them and their ancestors and seek friendship with all the people of the world, including those who had attacked them so viciously during and after World War I, that the Turks attempted to live in friendship with the other peoples of the area, though in many cases the Christian nationalists in particular, nurtured as they were by hatred and religious bigotry, left the Turks puzzled, unable to understand why their overtures of friendship had been briskly rejected while at the same time France as well as Greece have made no effort to pay to Turkey the billions of dollars they owe it for the terrible material and moral damage that their occupation troops inflicted on the country, uncalled-for damage, far beyond any sort of authorization they had been given by the Mondros Armistice Agreement or the Paris Peace Conference.

Source: Professor Stanford J. Shaw, THE ARMENIAN LEGION AND ITS DESTRUCTION OF THE ARMENIAN COMMUNITY OF CILICIA (an elaboration and extension of various sections regarding the Armenian Legion in his study, From Empire to Republic: The Turkish War of National Liberation, 1918-1923, 5 vols., Ankara, Türk Tarih Kurumu, 2000).

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