Cilicia, Kilikya, Կիլիկյան, – Assyrian, Armenian, Turkish

Cilicia; Geography

The Anatolian peninsula (today’s Turkey) is mostly composed of dry highland plateaus and mountain ranges, with the occasional river gorge, and on the Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts, patches of moist, fertile plain. Naturally, those patches are among the most valuable of lands. None are larger, more fertile, or more valuable than the area where the northeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea meets Anatolia and the Levant – Cilicia.

Hemmed in by the Taurus Mountains on the north and west, and the Amonos Mountains on the east, warm Mediterranean breezes rise, cool, and dump rain, creating several rivers, then deltas with rich, ever-expanding soil.

Wikipedia says: “The Cilicia plain has some of the most fertile soil in the world in which 3 harvests can be taken each year. The region has the second richest flora in the world and it is the producer of all agricultural products of Turkey except hazelnut and tobacco. Cilicia leads Turkey in soy, peanuts and corn harvest and is a major producer of fruits and vegetables. Half of Turkey’s citrus export is from Cilicia.

Cilicia is the second largest honey producer in Turkey after the MuğlaAydın region.[53]Samandağ, Yumurtalık, Karataş and Bozyazı are some of the towns in the region where fishing is the major source of income. Gray mullet, red mullet, sea bass, lagos, calamari and gilt-head bream are some of the most popular fish in the region. There are aquaculture farms in Akyatan, Akyağan, Yumurtalık lakes and at Seyhan Reservoir. While not as common as other forms of agriculture, dairy and livestock are also produced throughout the region.

How does one pronounce CILICIA? As usual, the Greeks were the first to write about the area. They said the founder was a god named Cilix, spelled Κίλιξ, pronounced Kilix. For those of a geneological bent, he was brother of Cadmus, Phoenix and Europa. Anyway, Cilix/Κίλιξ,’s land was named after him, Kilixia, and when the Romans took over from the Greeks they used the same name for the place, only they didn’t have a ‘k’ in their alphabet, so they substituted their hard ‘c’ – Cilicia (kilikia). Around 500-700 AD, Romans started softening their ‘c’s, so kilikia became silisia. That’s the way Latin-derived English-speakers say it. However the Turks still refer to the area by pronouncing it the Greek way (using Turkish spelling) Kilikya.

Roman Anatolia provinces, ca 98-117 AD

Cilicia; Ancient History

Unfortunately the Greeks were latecomers to the region, so their name is far from the first or the last for the fertile patch, just the one that stuck among Western scholars. Before the Greeks there were the Phoenicians; seafaring traders based in what is now Lebanon; before that the Assyrians, Hittites, etc. all the way back to stone-age peoples about 10,000 years ago. That’s the archeological record; humans were likely there long before that.

Assyria, ca. 800 BC
Hittites, ca 1300 BC. Not to be confused with biblical Hittites

Cilician cities, however, had names before the Greeks arrived, and some of those names are still the same. The largest city in Cilicia is Adana (pop 1.8 million) and another, famous in the bible as the hometown of the apostle Paul, is Tarsus (pop 250,000)

Cilicia; Armenians, Islam,

Tigranes the Great’s Armenian Empire: Countries, composing parts of the Empire

Around 80 BC, Cilicia was briefly under the control of Armenia’s greatest king, Tigranes, who spectacularly expanded his holdings, only to succumb 14 years later to the might of the Roman Empire under Pompey.

By the mid-300’s AD, Anatolia including Armenia, and the Levant were all officially Christian, Roman/Byzantine lands. Armenia at that time was a fairly powerful kingdom, sometimes independent, whose independence and borders fluctuated according to the strength of its neighbours – especially Persia and the Romans/Byzantines. Once hostile enemies, then conquered subjects of the Byzantine and Persian Empires, Armenians infiltrated the corridors of power, eventually becoming advisors, generals and Emperors.

Anatolia & Levant, ca 300 AD

Then around 600, in out-of-the-way Arabia, [a conglomeration of polytheistic tribes], an orphan turned minor merchant prone to meditation, began receiving revelations from the angel Gabriel. It was several years before Muhammed’s revelations attracted a following, several more before that following began achieving political and military power, but by 640, Islam was exploding out of Arabia, soon to conquer much of the known world. Cilicia fell to Arab invasions in the seventh century and was entirely incorporated into the Rashidun Caliphate. However, the Caliphate failed to gain a permanent foothold in Anatolia, as Cilicia was reconquered in the year 965 by Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas

Armenians were caught between the rock of Islam and the hard place of Greek Byzantines, who were Christians at least, but hardly brothers. Armenians had been settling in Syria and Cilicia since before Tigranes. As Islam began expanding into Anatolia, Byzantine rulers began encouraging Armenian refugees to resettle further south into Syria and Cilicia to escape the bondage of Islam, and to insulate the Byzantines from further Islamic expansion. At the same time Byzantine rulers were suspicious of Armenian intentions if given too much power. In 1045 the last Armenian king, Gagik II, was invited to Constantinople to sign a peace treaty, but when he arrived he was imprisoned and later assassinated.

Wikipedia says [In 1080] “To escape death or servitude at the hands of those who had assassinated his relative, Gagik II, King of Ani, an Armenian named Roupen with some of his countrymen went into the gorges of the Taurus Mountains and then into Tarsus of Cilicia.

Here the Byzantine governor gave them shelter in the late 11th century. Two great dynastic families, the Rubenids and the Hethumids, ruled what became in 1199, with the coronation of Levon I, the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia and through skillful diplomacy and military alliances (explained below) maintained their political autonomy until 1375.[67] The kingdom’s political independence relied on a vast network of castles which controlled the mountain passes and the strategic harbours.[68] Almost all of the civilian settlements were located directly below or near these fortifications.” The loss of control and destruction of traditional Armenian homelands was so complete, that “The Catholicosate [Patriarch, Pope, DB] of the Armenian Apostolic Church followed its people in taking refuge outside the Armenian highlands, which had turned into a battleground of Byzantine and Seljuk contenders. Its seat was first transferred to Sebasteia in 1058 in Cappadocia, where had existed a significant Armenian population. Later, it moved to various locations in Cilicia.”

Ruben creates Barony of Cilicia – 1080-1137
Armenian Cilicia 1199-1375

Cilicia and Edessa; Crusaders

Anatolia and the Levant were engulfed in a mighty struggle between a declining Eastern Roman empire [Christian Byzantium] and a surging Islamic one [which was itself engaged in a struggle between Shi’a Muslims, based in Egypt, and Seljuk Turkic Sunni Muslims, based in Baghdad].

Meanwhile Western Europe was emerging from the chaos of barbarian invasions and the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, and slowly evolving into semi-civilized little kingdoms, constantly at war with each other – essentially family feuds manned by the family’s lower castes of soldiers and serf-peasants.

The mediator of these feuds was the Church of Rome, which believed that with just a little more power it could assert moral authority over these amoral squabblers. The Church had gradually been adapting its doctrines, allowing certain practices of barbaric cultures to continue in return for those cultures accepting the general tenets and authority of Christianity.

At the same time, Western Christian bishops were in communication with Eastern Christian Patriarchs, who had similar problems with the accommodation of pagan beliefs, but with one major difference. In the East the secular ruler was also the head of the religion, which meant it could more easily enforce its doctrines. Over time Eastern and Western Christianity began drifting apart over differences in theology and the relative importance of various creeds and practices within the church service. It didn’t help that as the West began recovering from barbarian attacks, it also began competing with Byzantium for trade and territory. By 1054, the Church of Rome felt strong enough to insist that the Patriarch of Constantinople recognize the pope’s claim to be the head of all of the churches. When the Patriarch refused, the representatives of both churches excommunicated each other, formally splitting the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity into two religious entities; an act informally known as the Great Schism.

Nevertheless, both branches of Christianity professed to worship the same God, and had many mutual interests – one of which was the recovery of the Holy Land from Muslim conquerors. The Holy Land was more than a name on a map. To the average illiterate peasant in Europe, the Church was only a step removed from their previous religions which contained myriad minor deities, each with their own magic powers. Gods morphed into saints; magic trees, rocks, brooks morphed into relics of martyrs, and places of pilgrimage. Peasants and kings alike believed that by visiting sacred places and touching sacred objects they could receive the magical powers emanating from the spirits residing there. Relics could heal the sick, pilgrimages could atone for sins and assure a place in Heaven.

Religious tourism was already an established custom among ancient Greeks and Romans, it merely continued in the Christian era. I was amazed to learn of Medieval European businesses specializing in package tours to the Holy Land – for those who could afford it. Most pilgrims couldn’t and traveled on foot, sometimes walking 3000 miles.

When Muslims first conquered Jerusalem in the 7th century, they generally respected the religious intentions of Christian pilgrims, so long as the pilgrims respected the political authority of the rulers. Later, as strife between Muslims increased, Christians became victims of crossfire, and supporting the wrong side. A turning point was when Seljuk Turks massacred a group of 12,000 German pilgrims on Good Friday in 1065. When news of the massacre reached Europe, it fueled cries of “something must be done!”.

In 1071 the Seljuks defeated a large Byzantine army in central Anatolia, putting its capitol Constantinople (now Istanbul) within striking distance. In 1085 the Seljuks captured Antioch (now in Syria), another Christian holy site. Fortuitously, the Byzantine Emperor appealed to the Roman Pope for help just when the West was ready to respond. The Pope realized that assuming control of the popular outcry plus responding to the Emperor’s appeal was an opportunity to divert warring lords’ energies into something more useful, while simultaneously asserting moral authority. It took until 1097 for various European (mostly French-speaking) nobles to gather their forces, meet in Constantinople, and head across Anatolia to meet the Seljuks.

After defeating them in a couple of battles, the crusaders headed for their first big prize, Antioch in Syria, stopping along the way in Cilicia.

Wikipedia: “The Armenians in Cilicia gained powerful allies among the Frankish Crusaders, whose leader, Godfrey de Bouillon, was considered a savior for the Armenians. Constantine saw the Crusaders’ arrival as a one-time opportunity to consolidate his rule of Cilicia by eliminating the remaining Byzantine strongholds in the region.[16] With the Crusaders’ help, they secured Cilicia from the Byzantines and Turks, both by direct military actions in Cilicia and by establishing Crusader states in Antioch, Edessa, and Tripoli.[17] The Armenians also helped the Crusaders; as described by Pope Gregory XIII in his Ecclesia Romana:

Among the good deeds which the Armenian people has done towards the church and the Christian world, it should especially be stressed that, in those times when the Christian princes and the warriors went to retake the Holy Land, no people or nation, with the same enthusiasm, joy and faith came to their aid as the Armenians did, who supplied the Crusaders with horses, provision and guidance. The Armenians assisted these warriors with their utter courage and loyalty during the Holy wars.”

To show their appreciation to their Armenian allies, the Crusaders honored Constantine with the titles of Comes and Baron. The friendly relationship between the Armenians and Crusaders was cemented with intermarriages frequently occurring between them. For instance, Joscelin I, Count of Edessa married the daughter of Constantine, and Baldwin, brother of Godfrey, married Constantine’s niece, daughter of his brother T’oros.[16] The Armenians and Crusaders were part allies, part rivals for the two centuries to come.

When the Crusaders reached Cilicia, a Count Baldwin ingratiated himself with the newly-established Armenians, encouraging him to leave with a small force to establish the “County of Edessa, the first Crusader state. In the late Byzantine period, Edessa had become the centre of intellectual life within the Syriac Orthodox Church. [not the same as Assyrians, DB]. As such it also became the centre for the translation of Ancient Greek philosophy into Syriac, which provided a stepping stone for the subsequent translations into Arabic. When the Crusades arrived, it was still important enough to tempt a side-expedition after the Siege of Antioch.Wikipedia.

Cilicia did not play a large role in the Crusades, but served as a buffer between Seljuk forces, a safe passage by land to crusaders, and a source of supplies by land and sea. Equally important the [largely] French-speaking crusaders introduced Western thought and customs to Anatolia and the Levant, while learning ancient Greek thought from the Armenians and Syriacs. French counts married Armenian princesses to solidify their claims to rule Edessa, and when the Crusaders left the Levant two centuries later, many Armenians went to France with them.

Cilicia/Adana; Mamluk, Ottoman Rule

Over time, Armenian fragmentation and Mamluk (click strength led to the loss of Cicilian autonomy. In 1375, Mamluks gained control of the remaining parts of Cilicia, thus ending three centuries of Armenian rule. In 1516 the Ottoman Turks took over from the Mamluks, renaming the area the Adana Eyalet, after the region’s major [and ancient] city.

In 1861, the US Civil War disrupted the flow of cotton to Europe, stimulating its production in Adana Eyalet, renamed Adana Vilayet in 1869. Cotton fueled a boom in Adana, created a thriving regional economy, and served as a magnet to attract Armenians fleeing the 1894-96 massacres by Abdul Hamid further north. When Abdul Hamid was removed by the Young Turk revolution of 1908, Armenians became emboldened, dreaming of an autonomous Cilicia. This sparked a countercoup among Turks, resulting in a massacre of 25,000 Armenians in Adana Vilayet, and the ‘deportation’ of 70,000 more to Syria.

Adana Vilayet, 1892

The French Briefly Return.

In 1918, WWII ended with the complete defeat of the Ottomans. The Western Powers proceeded to carve up the Empire. Cilicia, along with Syria, was to become a French ‘protectorate’, and separate nations were proposed for the Kurds and Armenians. 170,000 Armenian survivors of the Massacres were to be repatriated to Cilicia, but the Turks had other ideas. The Western Powers had not reckoned on the inherent patriotism of the Turks for their homeland, and were not prepared for armed resistance to their land being carved up by infidels. French forces were soon driven out of Cilicia, and in 1921 Cilicia was formally annexed to the new Republic of Turkey. The region now consists of the provinces of Mersin, Adana, Osmaniye, and Hatay Beginning with the 1922 population exchanges between Turkey, Greece and other Balkan countries, Greek and Armenian land in Cilicia was confiscated and given to Turks who had been thrown out of Europe. Within 10 years the population of Cilicia became solely Muslim-Turkish.

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: