By Edmond Y. Azadian
Armenian culture has been favorably impacted by French culture, especially in the West. Armenians have recognized that fact
and have been appreciative of the influence, which dates back many centuries.
There is an inherent affinity between the two nations, as far as culture is concerned. But when it comes to politics, that special relationship disappears. Armenians have incorrectly assumed that the cultural affinity is a substitute for political support or cooperation, and they have been disappointed bitterly time and again.
The Armenian-French relations go back to the Middle Ages when French conquerors invaded the Middle East with the Crusaders to wrench the Holy Land away from Muslims and claim it in the name of Christianity. The Armenian principalities in Cilicia became accessories to those European imperialistic invasions, ultimately to their own detriment; when the Crusades failed or faded, the Armenians were left to their own devices, unable to defend their kingdom.
Indeed, when the Egyptian Mamluk rulers overran Cilicia in 1315 and kidnapped its King Leo VI, ending a 300-year-old kingdom, neither the Crusaders nor the French came to defend their Armenian allies. Granted, France belatedly obliged to pay a ransom to the Mamluks to buy the king’s freedom, hosting him in France until his death, mainly because they considered King Leo VI Lousignan to be of French lineage.
The most blatant betrayal was in the 20th century, again in Cilicia. The Allies — especially the French — during World War I
recruited some 5,000 Armenian volunteers as part of the Eastern Legion, to fight the most crucial battles of Arara, in Palestine,
promising home rule in Cilicia to the Armenians under a French protectorate. But when the Ottoman army collapsed and Cilicia
was liberated, the Armenian volunteers were disarmed and the French government brokered a deal with the emerging Kemalist
movement behind the back of the Cilician Armenians who had returned to their homes after the deportations of 1915. The French
abandoned Cilicia and its population — literally in the middle of the night in November 1921 — and retreated in a cowardly manner.