Escaping Cilicia

5. Mersina from the sea, close up

This is the eastern Mediterranean port of Mersin, seen in about 1898—the photo’s from the Library of Congress, and they’re a bit unclear about the date, as you’ll see if you click it for the source.

In the aftermath of the first world war, the region of the Ottoman empire that the port serves was occupied by French forces, who hoped to include it in the territories they were administering under a League of Nations mandate. For over two years after 1919 they occupied the zone, which they termed Cilicia (like most places it has a number of different historic names). They also turned it into a destination for Armenian genocide survivors in Syria: some were from there originally, others were sent there in the hope that they’d be able to proceed back to their homes elsewhere in Anatolia. But sustaining the occupation in the face of military opposition from the Turkish nationalist movement and increasing unrest among the mostly Muslim civilian population proved beyond French capabilities, and in 1921 they came to an agreement with Ankara to end the war and withdraw. This raised the question, which the French foreign ministry tried its hardest to ignore until very late in the day, of what to do with the 60,000 or so Armenians who were resident in Cilicia.

I wrote a blog post about this on the Saving Humans blog earlier in the term, and I’m giving a seminar on it this Thursday, 21 Nov, as part of the Eastern Mediterranean seminar series at the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman, and Modern Greek Studies. Details of time and venue are here. If you’d like to find out more about what happened, do come along!

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