Lt. John Shishmanian (center) leaving Cilicia after his release from arrest and confinement in Alexandretta. Initially not allowed to take his personal belongings, here pictured with suitcase, “old revolutionary” on left, his orderly on right (John Amar Shishmanian Papers, Envelope B, Hoover Institution Archives)

Special Section on Treaty of Sèvres and Cilicia: ‘The French Record in Cilicia’


(Christian Science Monitor, reprinted in The New Armenia, vol. XIII March-April no. 2, Boston, Mass. pp. 22-24; and later Boyajian’s Haygagan Lekeon in Armenian)

Evidence accumulates that when a true history of the Near East during the last five years comes to the printed page, there will be revealed to the world a record of inefficiency, expedience, cupidity and promise-breaking by those from whom the Christian peoples of that part of the world had every right to expect fair dealing and salvation from the Turk, which will astound the world’s sense of justice and righteousness.

The historian who seeks proof of the injustice inflicted upon those Christians may find some of it in the experience of Lieutenant John Shishmanian, native of Kentucky, USA, of Scotch and Armenian ancestry; American ambulance driver in France preceding entrance of the United States into the war; wounded at Verdun; second lieutenant in the French Army; instructor of Armenian troops on the island of Cyprus; commanding officer of Cilician Armenian Volunteers, organized to defend the Christians in the City of Adana, Cilicia; while still wearing the uniform of a French officer, and without specific excuse, except the political expediency of the Treaty of Sevres, “railroaded” out of Cilicia by his own superior French officers, and only set free when an inquiry by the Secretary of the State of the United States had apparently convinced the French of the urgent advisability of denying that he had ever been so much as arrested.

Lieutenant Shishmanian told the story in detail to a representative of the Christian Science Monitor. He made it clear that he did not mean to criticize adversely the French officers in Cilicia as being responsible for the policy under which the Turks and Kurds have been favored and the Armenians, Chaldeans, Assyrians and Greeks oppressed. Responsibility for this, he held, rests with higher officials in Paris, whom he described as attempting to manage things in the Near East for the selfish purposes of some individual Frenchmen, and without a proper understanding of the people upon whom great wrongs are being inflicted.

“I was born in Kentucky,” said Lieutenant Shishmanian, “and years ago had experience with the Kentucky militia in feud troubles. Before we entered the war I went to France as a member of the American ambulance field service. Some time after that, in order to see active service, I enlisted in the French Army and rose to the rank of second lieutenant. After serving at Verdun, I was ordered, with about a score of other French officers, in January 1918, to go to Cyprus and drill Armenian troops into an Armenian legion.

“This drilling was done in Cyprus to conceal the organization of the Armenian legion from the Turks. There were about 5,000 men, 1,600 from America, and they saw service in Palestine and Syria, and later occupied Cilicia for the French.

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“The legion was organized because France was short of troops and had to have Armenians to help keep the Turks engaged on the Palestine front; and also because France was afraid that without sufficient troops there she would lose her prestige in the Near East; and because of her desire, after the Sykes-Picot treaty, to have good reason to say a strong word in her own behalf, after the war, in connection with the Near East.

“Remember that more than 200,000 Armenians were brought back from exile, under the British and French regime, and were encouraged to rebuild their homes in Cilicia That was just after the armistice, and that was how Sis, Hadjin, Urfa, Marash, Adana and other places were repopulated. During the year and a half when the Cyprus Legion (sic), almost alone, occupied Cilicia, these people were perfectly happy and safe.

“Now, as soon as the British had evacuated Cilicia, the trouble began. The French have shown a stupid, inefficient and vacillating policy in everything they have done in Cilicia. But they had so few men in comparison with the number the British had that they were terrified. Because of this they kept concentrating the people in the towns, and this prompted the Turks, when they saw that we would not attack, to guerrilla warfare.

“Take the case of Marash. The 6,000 French troops evacuated that city after the Turks had flown the white flag. Let me emphasize that: the French evacuated after, not before, the Turks had signaled for truce.

“The situation today is the result of the same policy. All the Armenians have been disarmed, in the sense that none is allowed to go on the streets armed, and he is not supposed to have arms even to defend himself from attack.

“Now the Cyprus Legion (sic) was due to be demobilized last June. The demobilization order came. My service expired June 5. I asked permission to go home. The French Colonel in Adana told me that 20,000 Kemalists were coming against the city. The only communication with Europe lay through Mersina, and the Turks, he said, might destroy that railroad any day.

Topics: Cilicia, Urfa

“In Adana at that time there were almost 100,000 people. The inhabitants of Sis, Aintab, Urfa, and other places, back to which they had been brought by the British and French, had now been forced to seek refuge in Adana: the place was much overcrowded and the people were on the verge of starvation. There were attacks by the Kemalists almost daily.

“The Colonel said that he was organizing a big column to go to Mersina and drive the Kemalists off the railroad along the way. He asked me to organize Armenian volunteers to defend the city during the column’s absence and made me their commanding officer.

“There were 1,000 volunteers and we defended the city for three months. This force was completely armed, equipped, clothed and fed by the Armenians themselves, who made great sacrifices for this purpose. When the colonel asked me to raise the volunteers, he provided me with no arms or equipment. I was told to go out and hustle for them. I did, any way I could. The people cut down their own scanty food to clothe and feed us and we found our arms. Our 1,600 defended the city against the daily and nightly attacks of some 15,000 or 20,000 Kemalists for three months.

“On the night before the French left Adana, during the first week in July, the Colonel asked the Armenians to furnish 2,000 more volunteers before dawn. The request was made at 9 o’clock. The volunteers had to be found, assembled, armed, equipped, officered. The Armenian notables said this was impossible, the time was too short. The Colonel said it must be done.

“That night the Armenians hustled around and did their very best, but by dawn, only 85 new volunteers had been found. Now I understand that General Gouraud has recently reported that although Armenians keep declaring that they can furnish men for an army in Cilicia, when he called for 2,000 for the relief of Tarsus, they furnished only 18! But he should also tell of the preposterously unreasonable shortness of time imposed upon them, and that when given more time later, they did the job and did it efficiently.”

“And here is what the job was, what the colonel wanted those extra men for. He wanted them to go down into the wheat plain south of Adana, clear it of Turks so that the wheat could flow into the city and, something quite important to him, to open up and keep open the automobile road to the seaport of Karatash, for an avenue of escape for his staff and anyone else who wanted to come along, in case the big column toward Mersina was defeated.

“It should be stated that this area could have been occupied and cleared of the brigands or Kemalists long before this time and a continuous supply of wheat assured the city. But for reasons best known to the French, this was not done until after they had prevailed upon the Near East Relief to supply flour six months longer.

“After the column came back, Armenian laborers, including boys and girls who went out to the vineyards and vegetable gardens just outside Adana, began to be kidnapped and killed by the Turks. Soon this was done right in the streets of the city. Many children were killed. The parents came to me. I went to the Colonel one day and told him my office was full of weeping women. He said nothing could be done. Later I gave him names of 138 cases, with witnesses and all, and still no action. The result was that on July 10, the whole Christian population got out of hand, to put it mildly. The Armenians, Chaldeans, Assyrians and Greeks simply ran wild, and by midnight nearly all the Turks, except a few hundred around the French governor’s residence, had fled to Konia.

“After that the French officers decided that the Turks must come back. They told me that the Armenians were ruffians, they massacred the Turks, and the French must control them. The French general told me I must disarm the Armenians. I responded that it would be impossible for me to execute that order. Then he ordered me to give him a list of those with arms and collect the arms into depots. I told him it was impossible to get such a list. Apparently the French did not want to try to do this work themselves. After that, French officers would walk into houses and, if they found arms, the men in the house would be arrested and hung. Six or seven Armenians were hanged in that way. And it was such a hanging that eventually led to my release.”

“There were no French white troops in Adana to speak of. They will not go out to Asia Minor. The French forces are mostly Senegalese Negroes and Algerians. The former fight well and are loyal, but the latter are Muhammedans and desert in great numbers to the Turks, always managing to take arms and ammunition with them, even machine guns, which is rather remarkable.”

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