A hundred years ago, France let go of the Armenians – .

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A hundred years ago, France let go of the Armenians – .


It was a hundred years ago – France and Kemalist Turkey signed an agreement which sealed the abandonment of Cilicia and with it of the Armenian population who had placed their hopes in the “eldest daughter of the Church”.
On this occasion, it was necessary to return to this dark page in our history and to be able to draw lessons from it.

Just a hundred years ago, France negotiated and signed an agreement ending the Franco-Turkish war with the Grand Assembly of Turkey, an unrecognized authority, in the hands of Kemalist forces.

With this agreement, France is the first power in the Entente to recognize the government led by Mustafa Kemal.

Deeply weakened by the outcome of the First World War, France no longer had the human and financial resources for its ambition. She wanted only to rebuild herself and find peace.

The French want their soldiers back at the end of the Great War in 1918, but blood still flowed in the Near and Middle East, where national insurgency and revolutionary struggles prolonged the war.

In the East, France has mobilized on several fronts: in Syria and Turkey. He therefore encountered difficulties in the area of ​​his mandate, both against Kemal in Cilicia and against Faisal.

He proclaims himself king of Syria and rejects the French mandate by engaging in new clashes.

Kemal launches a Turkish national reaction against the ambitions of the European powers and against the signing of the Treaty of Sèvres.

He also organized a national reconquest and gathered arms and soldiers, calling for a Turkey for the Turks – thus the Kemalist nationalist movement was born.

The French troops (composed of Armenian legionaries and Algerian soldiers sensitive to Turkish propaganda) and Kemalists clash in Cilicia and the Turks quickly take the advantage.

The Franco-Kemalist was becoming more and more expensive and Paris did not have the means to engage in a sustained struggle against both the Turks and the Syrians, and therefore preferred to deal with Kemal.

In 1920, an armistice was signed between France and the Kemalists, but they did not respect it and that rather amplified the clashes.

France, weakened by the war, envisages with fear a resumption of military operations in Cilicia, which had already caused numerous losses in finances and human lives, and thus chooses to pursue a policy of conciliation.

In 1921, France then decided to conduct direct talks with the Kemalists.

We understand the argument of the unfavorable balance of power, France comes out of the First World War bloodless, it did not have the means to confront two guerrilla forces both in Syria and in Cilicia.

But wasn’t it a way for Paris to harm its British partner (and rival) to get closer to the Kemalists?

The French and the British may be allies, but they did not take the same position vis-à-vis the Kemalist nationalist movement.

If London underestimated its importance, Paris hastened to sign an armistice.

In the spring of 1920, the British were ready to resume war against the Turks, but public opinion opposed it. And the French opposed it.

The Greeks alone embark on a two-year war with tragic consequences that we all know.

Divergent interests fueled dissension among the Allies which benefited the Kemalists.

One can easily think that if the Franco-British agreement had been real, it would have supported Greece.

But France chose to encourage Kemalist pride by complying with its demands and even became the free supplier of arms and material to Ankara against its Greek ally!

London sees this Franco-Turkish agreement as a stab in the back because it was a separate peace.

Indeed, by virtue of the pact signed by the Allies in 1915, they were prohibited from concluding peace agreements without consulting each other.

For his part, the French president of the council Aristide Briand focused on domestic policy but also on the reparations to be obtained from Germany.

France has been tough and uncompromising with Germany by imposing on it the “peace dictated” by the Treaty of Versailles, as well as heavy reparations, but it knelt before Kemalist Turkey, even when the balance of power was favorable.

Aristide Briand sends Franklin Bouillon, former journalist, former deputy and former minister, to congratulate Kemal on his victory against the Greeks, who are nevertheless allies of France.

France feared political instability in Turkey, seeing it as a risk to its material interests and its privileged position and could build a relationship of trust with Kemal by playing with Franklin Bouillon, the emissary sent by Aristide Briand.

Franklin Bouillon arrived in Ankara with a case of cognac to get along with Kemal, which fascinates him. He is also described as a Turkophile.

The distinction between winners and losers in the Great War does not exist for the members of this delegation, and they deal with Kemal on an equal footing. These negotiations are conducted in a very opaque manner.

The Turks were aware of the enthusiasm they aroused, which is why they themselves proposed to Aristide Briand to send Franklin Bouillon, knowing that the latter is already on their side.

By accepting all Turkish demands without obtaining the fulfillment of French demands, Franklin Bouillon placed France in a position of weakness and deference, especially since the Kemalist leader was on the rise.

France has therefore clearly not pursued a winning policy against the Turkish nationalist movement.

The country that won World War I, and said it had the most powerful army in the world at the time, did not protect its mandate, nor the people who lived there, in particular the Armenians who suffered from the genocide.

Without consulting its British ally, France signed a more advantageous bilateral agreement

Finally, France legitimized an unrecognized government even as it waged a nationalist war against French positions.

French indulgence was seen as a policy of abdication and weakness that served its true interests.

Thereby, these Angora accords were the dress rehearsal of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which was the diplomatic death warrant on the Armenian question.

The Angora Agreement and then the Lausanne Treaty illustrated a policy of renunciation – that of France in 1921 than that of the Allies in 1923.

The scope of this agreement, however little known, is decisive: it confers legitimacy on a revolutionary government that is not recognized internationally. To note that it is on this government that modern Turkey rests.

Paris’ efforts to win the sympathy of the new Turkish power will not prove to be successful. France did not gain anything from the exchange, quite the contrary!

The few vague promises of economic benefits contained in the Angora accord have never been kept.

The privileged economic partnership with French companies promised by the Turks has not fully materialized.

On the other hand, the Turks are victorious: they obtain the departure of the French troops from Cilicia and the end of the war.

The prisoners were immediately released and also amnestied.

France has renounced the disarmament of populations and gangs, as well as the constitution of a Turkish police assisted by French officers. France is also humiliated by the chauvinistic and vengeful attitude of the Turks who attack its interests (schools, hospitals, French private property) throughout Turkish territory.

The failure of the Angora agreement for France manifested itself barely a year after it was signed.

Not content with not honoring the terms of its agreement with France, Turkey has created difficulties for it in the Syrian mandate.

In Damascus, the Turks tried to exacerbate public opinion with propaganda, encouraging the Syrians to revolt.

Franklin Bouillon did not obtain any guarantee of protection for the minorities that France had encouraged to take refuge in Cilicia after the Armenian genocide.

For the soldiers in place, who denounced this departure, it was the abandonment of “comrades in arms”, of these Armenian volunteers who had formed the Eastern Legion.

France and the Allies, however, pledged in May 1915 to punish the perpetrators of the genocide.

In 1920 and 1921, they once again had the mandate to protect Christian minorities, and yet these surviving populations found themselves in the hands of their former executioners.

It is again the exodus or death that awaits them.

The author wants to acknowledge the impact of the following book on his artice: “Aurore Bruna, L’accord d’Angora de 1921, theater of Franco-Kemalist relations and the destiny of Cilicia, Cerf, 2018.”

Tigrane Yegavian is a Franco-Armenian journalist. He is a State of the Armenian network citizen and expert of his think tank on foreign affairs.

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