King Faisal and the Armenians

Jirair Tutunjian, Toronto,  16 May 2014

Most Armenians have heard of the Armenian Legion which, during the First World War, fought alongside the French and British armies to drive out the Ottomans from Arab Middle East. Very few Armenians know that a small group of Armenian volunteers, refugees from the Genocide, joined the Arab Revolt, under the leadership of Lawrence of Arabia. The Armenians later moved to Egypt where they formed the nucleus of a large force of Armenians attached to the Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

This interesting fact and a number of others about Armenians during the First World War can be culled from the recent “Faisal I of Iraq” by Ali A. Allawi, Iraq’s first post-Iraq War Minister of Defense (2004). Prof. Allawi, who is research professor at the National University of Singapore, writes that Dr. Ahmad Qadri, one of the lieutenants of King Faisal, led a caravan of Arabs and a dozen Armenian families to Egypt. The Armenians had “taken refuge from Turkish repression in the Druze Mountains, and whom Faisal [king of Syria] had specifically taken under his protection.”

Jirair Tutunjian, Toronto,  16 May 2014

Most Armenians have heard of the Armenian Legion which, during the First World War, fought alongside the French and British armies to drive out the Ottomans from Arab Middle East. Very few Armenians know that a small group of Armenian volunteers, refugees from the Genocide, joined the Arab Revolt, under the leadership of Lawrence of Arabia. The Armenians later moved to Egypt where they formed the nucleus of a large force of Armenians attached to the Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

This interesting fact and a number of others about Armenians during the First World War can be culled from the recent “Faisal I of Iraq” by Ali A. Allawi, Iraq’s first post-Iraq War Minister of Defense (2004). Prof. Allawi, who is research professor at the National University of Singapore, writes that Dr. Ahmad Qadri, one of the lieutenants of King Faisal, led a caravan of Arabs and a dozen Armenian families to Egypt. The Armenians had “taken refuge from Turkish repression in the Druze Mountains, and whom Faisal [king of Syria] had specifically taken under his protection.”

Elsewhere in the 634-page book (Yale University Press, 2014), Prof. Allawi says that when King Faisal was in London after the war to meet Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, he received an Armenian delegation that wished to thank him for the great support he had shown the “displaced Armenians in Syria who were driven there by the massacre of their community in Anatolia during the war.”

Another event which most Armenians probably don’t know much about is the massacre of Armenians in Aleppo soon after the French took over the country after the war. The Arab Club in Syria had organized mass demonstrations against French claims that the Syrian people willingly sought France’s protection. “In Aleppo, the demonstrations quickly turned into anti-Armenian rioting, partly fuelled by reports of the mistreatment by the Armenians of Cilicia of surrendering Arab troops of the Ottoman army.” The riot lasted for more than two hours and targeted Armenian-owned buildings and a French-sponsored orphanage. “Nearly 200 Armenians were killed or injured, some of the rioters in uniform, before British and Arab troops restored order.” When France’s Clemenceau heard of the killings, he wrongly blamed Faisal and wanted to cancel an important meeting with the new king.

The proposal for a mandated Armenia is another interesting historic detail in “Faisal I of Iraq”. During the post-war conferences, Prof. Allawi says “Lloyd George [Prime Minister of Britain] accepted the idea of a commission to cover all the former Ottoman territories that were to be placed under a mandate system, including Palestine, Mesopotamia and Armenia, and requested that the American delegation draft the terms of reference of the commission. The apparent agreement on the Inter-Allied Commission, however, was insufficient to cover up the often acrimonious discussions at the meeting. It left Wilson [President Woodrow Wilson of the United States] confused an upset." Wilson cursed everybody and said that he had done nothing but talk for forty-eight hours and was getting disgusted by the whole process.

Following the defeat of the Turkish armies, the Big Four powers and Japan decided to sever the Arab lands and Armenia from Turkey, implicitly accepting that they had an independent identity, but the powers qualified that independence by requiring that mandatory powers be appointed "to guide and counsel the new states towards genuine independence," writes Prof. Allawi and adds that the Big Powers considered the Arab lands and Armenia as “a sacred trust entrusted to civilization’’, according to the communiqué of the five countries.

When King Faisal heard of the Franco-Kemalist truce, he sent a cable to Lord George Curzon on 19 June, where he said: “I was greatly surprised to hear of armistice between French and the Turks  under Mustafa Kemal, which leaves greater part of northern Syria and Cilicia to the Turks…The concentration of French troops which have evacuated Cilicia and Syria leads one to believe that their Commander-in-Chief [General Gouraud] intends to find some excuse for starting military operations against my government and to inflict deep injuries upon it.”

Armenians recognize Gouraud as the man who led the French withdrawal from Cilicia and the final Armenian departure from that historic Armenian territory.

After the French deposed Faisal I as king of Syria, Britain made him king of Iraq. He died in 1933.

 

3 comments
  1. “The Struggle for Kirkuk”

    In "The Struggle for Kirkuk" (2007), Dr. Henry Astarjian (originally from Kirkuk) writes:

    "He [King Faisal] was keenly aware of the plight of the Armenian people and their suffering in the hands of their common oppressor, the Ottoman Turk. His father, Shereef Hussein Ibn Ali, had fought side by side the British, against the Ottoman Empire, seeking independence for his people and the Arab nation at large. At one point in his struggle the "Red Sultan," Sultan Abdul Hamid II, exiled him to Istanbul and kept him there for a long time.

    "Shereef Hussein admired Armenians who had planted a bomb to assassinate the Red Sultan…He sympathized with the Armenian cause, and considered them comrades in arms: On the eve of the Genocide and massive deportation of Armenians, he issued a directive to all Arabs asking them to help the Armenian refugees, settle them on their land, and treat them kindly, "as if they were on of our own." That signed document still hangs in the rectory of the Armenian Church in Baghdad.

    His son King Faisal I had the same kind of sentiments toward the Armenians. He trusted them unequivocally: his car mechanics, his personal chauffeur, and a battery of other technicians were all Armenians. In his memoirs, Dr. Sanderson, his personal physician and the founder of my school, the Royal College of Medicine, Baghdad, mentions that, "His majesty decided to stay overnight at the farm of an Armenian family in Fallujah and attend a banquet in his honor, rather than stay in the mayor's house, very much to the mayor's disappointment."

    Jirair Tutunjian

  2. Faisal

    Based on this illuminating survey by Jirair Tutunjian, we Armenians should erect a statue of Faisal in gratitude for his good works on behalf of our people. Thank you, Jirair.

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