“This extraordinarily well-conceived book enriches scholarship on French Armenians and Jews by exploring how genocide shaped communal life and the processes by which national and ethnic identities converged in twentieth-century France.”—Leslie P. Moch, author of Moving Europeans: Migration in Western Europe since 1650
Jews and Armenians, both vixtims of genocide, and their communities in post WW2 France.
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In the Aftermath of GenocideArmenians and Jews in Twentieth-Century France
By Maud S. Mandel
Duke University PressCopyright © 2003 Duke University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOrphans of the Nation: Armenian Refugees in France
Writing in the late 1930s, Aram Turabian, an Ottoman-born Armenian who migrated to France in the 1890s and fought as an officer in the French army, thanked local authorities for opening the nation's doors to Armenian refugees in the aftermath of World War I. Assuring his readers that in their gratitude Armenians would "respect and submit willingly to the laws of this noble country," he asked only "that our French friends do not confuse us with all the other foreigners. Our situation is special, we have neither consulate nor ambassador to defend us, we do not even have a national homeland ... where we could seek refuge if necessary; all our trust is placed in French Justice and we respectfully request that the competent authorities of this country take our grievances into serious consideration."
Although Turabian viewed the Armenian plight as "special," the situation he described in fact clearly illustrated the problem that most refugees posed to post-World War I European governments intent on consolidating along national lines. The war had led to the disintegration of the large multiethnic Romanov, Hapsburg, andOttoman Empires. The small national states that replaced them and the violent conflict that accompanied their births produced large populations of stateless refugees. Having been stripped of citizenship and national allegiance, these new refugees posed particular problems for the international community. Unlike earlier generations of political exiles who had sought refuge in central and western Europe, these newcomers arrived in unprecedented numbers, straining the international community's abilities to care for them. In 1926, for example, approximately 9.5 million refugees were said to be wandering Europe. Moreover, twentieth-century European refugees often remained in exile for extraordinary lengths of time without being able to "regularize" their status, at times even passing this refugee status on to a second generation. Perhaps most important, however, the exiles of the post-World War I era and after were a unique addition to the European landscape because of the particular nature of their homelessness, "which removed them so dramatically and so uniquely from civil society." The consolidation of the modern nation-state in the war's aftermath increasingly solidified the relationship between the citizen and the state. Presuming that citizens followed through on all national obligations, the state provided for their basic protection and welfare. International treaties provided some protection to those who migrated from one nation to another, but refugees, by virtue of having lost their citizenship, were not beneficiaries of such arrangements; they found themselves "deprived of legal protection, mutual support, the access to employment, and the measure of freedom of movement which happier mortals take as a matter of course." Although diplomats in Paris attempted to make some provisions for refugees in postwar peace treaties and the League of Nations created a High Commission for Refugees, "these efforts were like using bedroom sheets to block a hurricane."
Rendered stateless by the Ottoman genocidal attack against them, Armenian refugees who made their way to France were thus part of a larger problem facing European nations in the aftermath of World War I. If Armenians like Turabian saw their postgenocide plight as exceptional, French authorities were blind to the distinction. On a per capita basis, France ranked highest among western European nations to open its doors to World War I refugees. Eager to rebuild Its war-devastated economy, the French government recruited foreign labor of all kinds. Immigration numbers had been steadily increasing since the mid-nineteenth century, especially from countries such as Belgium, Italy, and Poland, and liberal immigration policies accompanying the labor shortages of World War I transformed France into the leading "immigrant nation" in Europe. Newcomers from central and eastern Europe fleeing the First World War's political and economic upheaval as well as those from former French colonies not only increased the number of foreigners in France but changed the makeup of the population as well. Then, after 1924, when the United States began tightening its own immigration policies, the numbers coming to France increased further. By 1931 a full 11 percent of France's workforce was made up of foreigners, and for all but three years in the 1920s, between 150,000 and 200,000 foreigners arrived annually.
For government officials interested in increasing the labor pool, distinctions between immigrants and refugees were irrelevant. As a result, when large numbers of Russian émigrés began to flee the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik regime, France admitted nearly 120,000, basically opening the door to any who were willing to work as industrial or day laborers. In the early 1920s approximately 65,000 Armenians (nearly 30 percent of all Armenian refugees in Europe and the Near East), driven from their homes first by the Young Turks in the genocide of 1915 and then by Kemal Ataturk's forces a few years later, sought shelter in France. These new populations, however, presented the French government with complex socioadministrative problems for which they had no ready solutions. Whereas most foreign immigrants settling in France at this time maintained an obvious national-political (and thus administrative) link to their country of origin, the apatride, or stateless person, fell "under no particular state's jurisdiction." These "orphans of the nation," as one sympathetic journalist referred to them, had no passports or visas to facilitate their movements, no consulates to represent them, nor any treaties to protect them. Nor could they return to the lands from which they had come.
As a result, the apatrides threw into question previous understandings of immigrant participation in the polity, defying previous immigration categorizations and befuddling administrators seeking to integrate them into the country's broader economic structure. As we will see, for French officials Russian apatrides posed less of a conundrum than Armenians because the League of Nations' High Commission for Refugees created an internationally recognized juridical category for them in 1922; it took until 1924, however, for this privilege to be extended to Armenians. Thus, in the initial years of their settlement in France, Armenians, lacking all international documentation, "often were unable to establish of what country they were citizens-who they were in a juridical sense." For French authorities working within a national paradigm, Armenians-stripped of any national status by the World War I genocide-proved a challenge.
Although this lack of an internationally recognized "identity" was solved in 1924, the Armenians' anomalous position in the state had important consequences. In particular, some officials, wary of the vague loyalties of this ancient diaspora population with no identifiable national allegiance, actively sought to enact policies that would encourage their transformation into citizens. As such, Armenian integration into French society is part of a larger story. Indeed, if, as recent historiographical discussions have suggested, France's state-centered and assimilationist model of civic self-definition and governance shaped the incorporation of ethnic and religious minorities into the state, the eventual incorporation of Armenian genocide survivors followed a similar pattern, providing us with a clear example of conscious and directed attempts to extinguish foreign distinctiveness through the implementation of state policy. As this trend suggests, French authorities, even those aware of the genocidal attack against Ottoman Armenians, saw no reason to implement policies to preserve "Armenianness." If anything, local authorities distrusted the refugees' "transnational" identity and sought to remove any sign of ethnic distinctiveness as rapidly as possible.
It is important to note, however, that such integrationist approaches to incorporating the foreign "other" were not uniformly implemented by French officials, particularly in the 1930s, when new waves of mostly Jewish and Spanish refugees began testing the boundaries of France's tradition of political asylum. The growing antagonism directed at these most recent arrivals was not particularly aimed at those who had come in the 1920s. If anything, public sentiment was sympathetic to these first waves of apatrides and even positively distinguished them from the refugees fleeing fascism in the 1930s. Nevertheless, the new anti-refugee atmosphere of the 1930s reminded Armenians of the precariousness of their stateless status. Wary and insecure amid the growing hostility, the new refugees felt compelled, as Turabian would in 1938, to justify their inclusion into their surrounding society. Thus for them, having been rendered stateless meant more than being uprooted from the land that had once been theirs; it also shaped how they integrated into their new society.
Exile and Dispersion: The Development of an Armenian Refugee Problem
To understand the relationship between Armenian refugees and the French state, one must first consider the role of Western governments in the Armenian exile and dispersion during and after the genocide. The Armenian refugee problem arose both as a result of the brutal massacres of World War I and from the geopolitical settlements of the postwar years. One of numerous second-class Christian minorities in the multinational and multireligious Ottoman Empire, the Armenians had consistently been subjected to official discrimination throughout the centuries of living under Ottoman rule. Nevertheless, they were able to live in relative peace and even prospered as the Empire grew. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, as the Empire began to collapse under growing economic and administrative problems, intolerance and exploitation of the non-Muslim minorities began to increase. In response, Armenian communal leaders petitioned the sultan for protection from increasing taxation, administrative corruption, and sporadic violence. When promised reforms proved inadequate, Armenians began turning westward in the hopes that European powers to whom the Ottoman Empire was indebted would be able to enforce reforms to benefit local Christian minorities. Indeed, beginning with the Treaty of San Stefano following the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78 and rearticulated in the Treaty of Berlin, the Ottoman sultanate did agree to enact reforms for Armenian peasants and artisans living in the Empire's eastern provinces. Widespread massacres in 1894-99, however, as well as those at Adana in 1909, indicated that the government had no intention of carrying out such reforms, and the Armenian plight worsened. In response, Armenian intellectuals continued to turn to western European powers, now legally bound through the treaty to ensure that the sultan carried out the much-needed reforms. Despite the promises, however, such aid was never forthcoming.
The success of the Young Turk revolution in 1908 initially gave Armenians renewed hope that their situation would improve, as the new leadership initially seemed interested in working to resolve the problem of minority relations in the Ottoman Empire. Within a few years, however, under the strain of increasing economic and political problems, the liberal and egalitarian government was transformed into one of extreme chauvinism determined to bring an end to the Armenian Question. In 1915, the Young Turks used the cover of war to initiate a genocide against the Empire's Armenian population, first by accusing local Armenian populations of aiding the Russian army's advance, then by eliminating the intellectual elite in Constantinople, and finally by deporting and slaughtering entire Armenian communities from the eastern provinces. Of those who managed to escape, many moved to the Russian Caucasus; others made their way to the Lebanese and Syrian provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Although Western relief workers attempted to help survivors, by the end of World War I, starvation and disease were prevalent throughout the refugee populations wherever they were located.
Like Armenians from the Ottoman Empire, those living in the Caucasus under Russian dominion also experienced great upheaval during World War I. Both the refugees who settled there as well as the natives of the region were caught up in the Russian Revolution of 1917, and independence for the small Armenian Republic was thrust on its reluctant leadership shortly thereafter. After the new Soviet government signed the Brest-Litovsk Treaty in March 1918, ending Russian involvement in the war and, in exchange, handing over large areas of Transcaucasia to Turkey, Armenia-and Transcaucasia more generally-became vulnerable to Ottoman advances. After a minor attempt to coordinate a Transcaucasian federation, Georgia negotiated its own treaty with Germany and declared independence; the Azerbaijani Tartars rapidly followed suit. Armenian leaders had little choice but to declare independence for the tiny region of eastern Armenia that had not been conquered by the Turks.
The end of the war brought some optimism to Armenian leaders attempting to build a state and solve the refugee problem. With the defeat and collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the Allied victory, Armenian leaders hoped that Western powers would meet their previous obligations, protect Armenians from further harm, and even support their struggle for national independence. Indeed, every Allied power was initially pledged to support a separate autonomous or independent existence for the Armenians in their historic lands. In addition, the small republic in the Caucasus gradually expanded as the Turkish army withdrew from the area. In this atmosphere, many war refugees began returning to their ancestral lands. French forces, in particular, repatriated tens of thousands of Armenian refugees from Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt to the southeastern region of the former Ottoman Empire known as Cilicia, now under French control, and Armenians in Transcaucasia also began returning to the lands they had fled.
Armenian optimism, however, quickly dissipated. To be sure, throughout 1919 and 1920, the Western powers remained publicly committed to establishing a united Armenian state, which would combine the Russian and Turkish Armenian provinces under the mandatory leadership of the United States. If, however, all the Allies theoretically supported the idea of a free Armenia, none would commit sufficient financial resources to repatriate hundreds of thousands of refugees to the new state or to defend it properly. The United States, under its own domestic pressure and isolationism, ultimately refused the mandate, and Great Britain and France, despite the entreaties of Armenian delegates to the Paris Peace Conference, turned their energies to the Ottoman Empire's former Arab provinces, which were of far greater strategic value to them and where they fought over territorial control. Indeed, rivalries among the Allies in the Near East caused long delays in drafting a peace settlement. In addition, the formation of a Turkish nationalist movement under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal aimed at preserving the territorial integrity of the region began to gain momentum at the end of 1919. The occupation of the Cilician region of the former Ottoman Empire, for example, into which tens of thousands of Armenian refugees had streamed, proved unacceptable to Kemal and his nationalist forces, and throughout 1919 and 1920, he began attacking French-controlled areas. The isolated and weakly defended French forces often fled, providing little cover for Armenian repatriates who were, once again, deported or massacred by Turkish nationalist forces.
Excerpted from In the Aftermath of Genocide by Maud S. Mandel Copyright © 2003 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Maud S. Mandel is Dorot Assistant Professor of Judaic Studies and Assistant Professor of History at Brown University.
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