Economy and Health Care Cilicia Under French Mandate , 1918-1921

Cilicia Under French Mandate , 1918-1921

Economy and Health Care

Cilicia Under French Mandate , 1918-1921


Economy and Health Care

By the time the Ottoman government surrendered to the Allies in October 1918, the country was in ruins. Like other areas of the empire, Cilicia, whose agriculture-oriented economy had suffered greatly during the war, received foreign occupation with an empty local treasury, a staggering economy, and little or no agricultural production.  The deportation of much of its population in 1915 had resulted in the closing of businesses and had caused severe cuts in cotton and other agricultural production.

Cilician Armenia Map
Cilician Armenia – Kingdom Period 1199-1375

During their occupation of Cilicia, the French regarded the province as a financial liability, especially as the French economy was itself facing major difficulties because of the huge wartime military expenditures. The French administration had to obtain the necessary funds for Armenian repatriation, the maintenance of the Armenian Legion and the several French and Algerian units stationed in the province, and the feeding of a population of almost four hundred thousand, most of whom were unable to produce sufficient food for at least one full year. However, as one French author puts it, if properly attended to, the natural and agricultural resources of Cilicia would, in the very immediate future, enable it not only to be self sufficient, but even to pump cash into the French treasury and supply French markets with cheap products.[1]

Cilicia Under French Mandate , 1918-1921
Vilayet of Adana (Cilicia), Early 20th Century

Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Empire (1915-1922)
Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Empire (1915-1922)

The French, however, never thought of Cilicia as a profitable enterprise. Had they had the patience and the intention to plan and organize the economy in Cilicia on an equal basis with that of Syria or the Lebanon, favorable changes might have been achieved.

According to both Ottoman and European prewar statistics, Cilicia was one of the richest provinces in the empire. At a time when the Ottoman government was sinking under the pressure of its European debt, the Cilician economy, based on the exportation of its agricultural products (cotton, tobacco, and cereals) was thriving.  Many European enterprises had local branches in the province. France had the lion’s share in those businesses.[2]

With almost 2,600,000 hectares of arable land [3], Cilicia produced and exported 100,000 tons of cereals and 120,000 bales of cotton per annum.[4]  Interestingly enough, during the first year of French occupation (1919), cereal production had dropped by 50 percent compared to prewar production. Cotton production during the same year was estimated at five to six thousand bales.[5]

During 1919, lumber production, once a profitable enterprise, was reduced to a small fraction of its prewar volume. The valley of the Jihun River, once famous for its tobacco crops, was left unattended for a long period of time. In fact, tobacco production was revived only in late 1919 when the local tobacco factory resumed its operation.  Even then, production was negligible compared to prewar figures.

Cilicia accommodated some five hundred miles of railway that traversed the province of Adana. Moreover, Constantinople was accessible through the Bozanti-Yenije line. Before the war, the railway system was a profitable government owned business. Although this system was operable when the French occupied the province, shortages in personnel, poor repairs and, most importantly, lack of security rendered it unprofitable and a liability.[6]

The ports of Mersin, Alexandretta, Ayas, and Payas could not operate at full capacity because of the damage they had sustained from repeated Allied naval bombardments during the war.[7]

Basing his information on statistics published in Constantinople in 1912, Pierre Andre Redan estimates the population of Cilicia (that is, the provinces of Adana, excluding Marash and Aintab at around 400,000[8] of which 215,000 were Christians  (Armenians, Greeks, Chaldians, Assyrians, Syrians, and Maronites) and 185,000 Muslims  (Arabs, Turks, Tatars, Kurds, and Cherkez).[9] During the first six months of 1919, 120,000 Armenians repatriated to Cilicia. Their approximate distribution is shown in table 1.


  Table 1[10]

    Armenian repatriation to Cilicia, first six months of 1919)

Adana became a first station for repatriating Armenians. Refugees were brought there and waited to return to their towns and villages outside the city. Since and for security reasons the relocation process was not fully implemented, Adana was gradually filled with refugees.[11]  The French administration sheltered these people in camps and tent cities such as the Camp Passage, Camp Picot, Camp Gouraud, and the Gulbenkian Factory.

The refugees clustered in Adana posed a serious problem to the French administration. It was necessary to provide these people with food, clothing, medical care, and shelter during winter. It was not easy for Armenian refugees to make their homes in the camps and tent towns where living conditions were miserable. France had a moral obligation towards those refugees whom the British — and to some extent French authorities in Syria — had literally dumped into Adana without first making sure that the local French administration was able to absorb them.

Although the French administration tried to revive agriculture by reopening the Turkish Agricultural Bank and by creating chambers of commerce in Adana, Mersin, and other cities, [12] by the end of 1919 only half of the tillable lands were cultivated. During 1920, this ratio declined to one twentieth.[13]

Taxes presented yet another problem. Although the population had not paid any tribute for four years, the French were unable to collect back taxes, nor were they, in accordance with the terms of the armistice, allowed to raise taxes or impose new ones to generate revenues.  The Turks always managed to avoid taxes. Repatriating Armenians were exempt since they were deported from Cilicia in 1915 and, therefore, had produced nothing taxable. Moreover, repatriating Armenians needed at least a year in order to be able to raise crops and pay taxes.

Inflation rates were high in postwar Cilicia. Basic foods and everyday necessities had inflation rates ranging from 600 to 800 percent.  The price of bread rose from 2-3 Turkish piasters (T.p. hereafter. 100 T.p. = 1 Turkish pound = 10 French francs) to 14-15, that of meat from 8-10 T.p. to 40-50, that of sugar from 6-7 T.p.  to 50-55. [14] Middle and low-income families were left without homes because of the acute shortage in rented lodgings. The annual rent of a single room apartment had risen from 120-160 to 1,000 Turkish pounds.[15]

It was natural that, against such high inflation rates, wages should increase too. They did, yet only in moderate proportions.  The French administration’s efforts to control inflation were futile.  As an employer, it was normal that the French administration would not be in favor of raising wages. Yet, as the acting government of the province, it had to regulate labor and look after the welfare of the people under its control. It was because of this responsibility that the French administration had to give in to popular demands and allow a moderate increase in salaries. The regulation of labor and daily wages was implemented through an official order issued by the French administration. The Order, which adjusted wages according to age group and field of labor, was published in the local newspapers.  It stated:

Taking into consideration the raise in monthly wages let it be known to all what the chief-of-administration  [Colonel Bremond] has established as a final list of daily wages.  The authorities also announce that starting on October 10 [1919], all those who are being paid in excess of this wage list will be subject to imprisonment.[16]

The order then lists the categories of daily wages: “Boys 25-30 T.p., construction and other laborers 50-60 T.p., foremen 90-100 T.p., masons 140-150 T.p., stone cutters 160 T.p., miners 70-80 T.p., mechanics 140-160 T.p., drivers 80-90 T.p.”

The order concludes by stating: “Those wages can be increased by up to 15 percent, if working conditions require such an increase.  All such increases, however, must   first   be   approved   by   the   French administration.[17]

Laborers, who constituted the majority of the population, received the lowest wages, and, consequently, were unable to meet the basic needs of their families. They and their families had no other choice but to move and live in the tent cities.

The Davros newspaper, whose issues contain numerous articles on the acute economic problems of Cilicia, states that the French administration did not attempt to find permanent solutions to these problems. As the official organ of the Social Democrat Hnchakian Party, Davros addressed important issues such as labor regulation, the formation of labor unions, higher wages, and fewer working hours. [18]

Although Turks living in the cities of the plain were more or less faced with similar problems, most Muslims in Cilicia were peasants still living on their lands and able to earn a livelihood.  The volume of agricultural production in 1919 and 1920 tends to imply that Turks, who possessed most of the cultivable land, did not produce what was expected of them. In 1919, for example, Muslims cultivated 50 percent of the arable lands.  Although this percentage was enough to sustain the population, cereal shortages in the cities was so critical that French authorities had to import large quantities of grain. Because of Kemalist incursions, only one-twentieth of all arable lands were cultivated in 1920, even though the French administration provided the means for a good agricultural season. [19]  On November 28, 1919, for example, the French administration announced that in order to help peasants in Cilicia, the French High Commissariat in Beirut, as a gesture of friendship, was sending 2,700 tons of good quality seeds to boost cereal production and that an initial shipment of 700 tons had already reached the port of Mersin and would soon be distributed.[20]

The ports of Cilicia seem to have been a major source of uninterrupted revenue for the French administration. November 1919 figures show that the ports at Mersin and Alexandretta provided a combined customs income of almost 4,000,000 French Francs. The French administration estimated that the two ports would provide an annual income of at least 30,000,000 Francs. [21] Col. Bremond reckons that taxes and an organized railway might have provided an additional annual income of 40,000,000 Francs, thus establishing an annual spending budget of some 70,000,000 francs.  [22] French authorities in Cilicia undertook the task of improving facilities in the major ports. They invested heavily in the port at Mersin.  The rugged nature of the seashore created engineering problems for the expansion of the port. Nevertheless, many obstacles were overcome and by June 1920 work was under way to construct at least one new dock. [23]

The seriousness of the French endeavor is manifested in the amounts that were spent for the purpose of expanding the Port of Mersin. In May 1920, for example, the French administration allocated 3,729,944 Francs for operation, maintenance, salaries and construction of new facilities there. Custom revenues during the same month were estimated at 3,200,228 francs.[24]  The French invested in Cilicia’s other ports as well.  At the time new facilities were built at Mersin, expansion projects were underway at Alexandretta, Ayas, and Payas.

It is logical to assume that the French had to invest in railroads as a link between the ports and the interior of the province.  In reality, however, French investment in improving and reorganizing the existing railway system was negligible compared to their heavy investment in the ports. The reason for this was that the French administration had only the coastal strip under its control. The same, however, could not be said of the interior where the railroad was under constant attack by Kemalist elements.

It was because of the lack of security that the majority of repatriating Armenians were obliged to dwell in areas that were under the protection of the French occupation forces. Only a handful of Armenians ventured to live in villages situated north of the cities of Adana, Mersin, Tarsus, Deort-Yol, and Osmaniye.  On the other hand, most Armenian peasants dwelling in the cities were forced to work as laborers in small industries that European firms and some well-to-do Armenians had reestablished after the war. Others went into shoemaking, glass, clay production, carpentry, weaving, and blacksmithing. Armenian women joined the workforce to help their husbands in providing the needs of their families. Many were employed in small workshops specializing in cloth production, which were initiated by French, Swiss, and American missionaries and by Armenian benevolent organizations.

Armenian merchants reestablished their import-export businesses.[25]   The Orozdi Baak Armenian corporation is a good example in this regard. One of the major distributors of fabrics throughout the province before the war, this corporation reopened its doors immediately after the establishment of the French administration in Cilicia. It became one of the main suppliers of the French occupation army and employed several hundred Armenians. [26]

Many factories reopened their doors after the war. They employed hundreds of Armenians and stimulated the provincial economy. Some of the important factories in this category appear in table 2.

CorporationSpecializationNumber of Employees 
TripaniWeaving and cotton products. 400 
Simeon OgluCotton processing350
Bodur OgluCotton processing; later, production offlour (35 tons daily capacity)  60
Régie de TabacTobacco production200

                         Table 2[27

        The Armenian newspapers printed in Cilicia during 1919-1921 carry numerous advertisements by merchants and importers announcing the availability of tractors for agricultural purposes, buses for local transportation, and “transport services” (group taxis) for traveling to Syria and Lebanon. Naval vessels operating through the ports of Mersin and Alexandretta accommodated sea travel. Davros, for example, carries detailed tariff lists for land and sea travel in its issues.[28]

Sanitation and health care

            Many doctors and medical practitioners had by 1919 reopened their clinics in Adana, Mersin, Tarsus, Deort-Yol and Alexandretta. Twenty-five doctors (twenty Armenians and five Turks) served in the three major hospitals of Adana alone.[29]

Although the French administration had appointed a special committee to look after and find solutions to sanitation problems in the Armenian camps, the refugee shelters remained hazardous places that lacked basic sanitation requirements. Open sewers and pools of dirty water were dreadful features in those shanty shelters. [30]

Davros, on November 20, 1919, ran an article titled  “Adana From a Hygienic Perspective” in which the editor criticized the French administration and the Armenian National Union for not paying attention to the sanitary needs of Adana and the other cities of the plain. The article deplored the fact that street sweeping was nonexistent, marketplaces were filthy, refugee camps were hazardous places that caused havoc among the Armenian refugee population, and officials seemed content and unwilling to do anything to change the situation. [31]

No doubt the French administration’s views were different. Although it accepted the fact that health conditions were not up to its expectations, it foresaw no immediate danger.[32]  According to the reports of the French administration, Adana and the other cities had sufficient health-care facilities. The municipality of Adana, for example, had hired some sixty street sweepers, seventeen fire fighters, and five health inspectors. [33] The city had a score of pharmacies some even working night shifts.[34]

[1] Redan, La Cilicie et le Problem Ottoman, pp. V-X. See the preface to Pierre Redan’s  book written by Rene Pinon.

[2] Sahakyan, Turk Fransiakan Haraberutyunnere, pp. 61-63.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Redan, La Cilicie et le Problem Ottoman, pp. 115-116. Production figures for  1914  were, according to Yeghiayan, 150,000 bales (about 300,000  tons)  of  quality Cleveland cotton.

[5] Redan, La Cilicie et le Problem Ottoman, pp. 115-116.

[6] Bremond, “The Bremond Mission, Cilicia in 1919-1920,” The Armenian Review, vol. 29, pp. 355-356. Also see: Yeghiayan, Adanayi Hayots Patmutiun, p. 153.

[7] Yeghiaian, Adanayi Hayots Patmutiun, pp. 154-155. According to pre-war  figures, the two ports of Mersin and  Alexandretta combined had an annual:

– Export volume of………………………… 1,575,300tons.

– Import volume of………………………….   515,800 tons.

– Revenues from customs………………   1,059,500 Ottoman piasters.

[8] Redan, La Cilicie et le Problème ottoman, p. 15.

[9] Yeghiaian, Adanayi Hayots Badmutiun, pp. 148-151.

  [10] Ibid.

[11] Bremond, “The Bremond Mission, Cilicia in 1919-1920,” The Armenian Review, vol. 29, p. 348.

[12] Ibid., p. 363.

[13] Ibid., p. 355.

[14] “Hamesd  Khorhrtadzutiun  Oravartski  Khntrin  Artiv”  (A  Modest Thought Concerning The Daily Wage Issue), Davros, (Adana, October 15, 1919), p. 3.

[15] Ibid.

[16] “Bashdonagan Zeguyts” (Official  Report), Davros, (Adana, October 12, 1919), p. 2.

[17]  Ibid.

[18] “Hay Arhestagtsagan Enthanur Miutiun” (General Union of Armenian Workers), Davros, (Adana,

 January  25, 1920), p. 1; “Pnagaranneru Hartse Adanayi Mech” (The Housing Issue in  Adana),  Davros,

(Adana, November 3, 1920), pp. 1-2.

[19] Bremond, “The Bremond Mission, Cilicia in 1919-1920,” The Armenian Review, vol. 29, p. 355.

[20] “Zeguyts” (Report), Davros (Adana, November 28, 1919), p. 2.

[21] Bremond, “The Bremond Mission, Cilicia in 1919-1920,” The Armenian Review, vol. 29, p. 355.

[22] Ibid., p. 356.

[23] “Bashdonagan Zeguyts” (Official Report), Davros (Adana, June 11, 1920), p. 2.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Yeghiayan, Adanayi Hayots Badmutiun., pp. 157-158.

[26] Ibid., p. 160.

[27] Ibid., pp. 157-158.

[28] Ibid., pp. 721-722.

[29] Ibid., p. 724. During the period under discussion there were three hospitals operating in Adana. Those were: –              -The City Hospital…………………. 150 beds.

-The Red Cross Hospital…………   50 beds.

-The American Hospital…………. 100 beds.

[30] “Katsek ev Desek’” (Go and See), Davros  (Adana, December 30, 1919), p. 2.

[31] “Adanan Aroghchabahagan Desagedov” (Adana From a Sanitary Point of View), Davros (Adana, November 20, 1920), p. 1.

[32] Yeghiaian, Adanayi Hayots Badmutiun, pp. 720-721.

[33] Ibid., p. 722.

[34] Ibid., p. 724.

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