In the Middle Ages, the Cilician Kingdom of Armenia (Lesser Armenia) occupied much of the area north of the eastern end of the Mediteranean, with its capital at Kozan, then called Sis.

Its existence was a byproduct of the expansion of the Selçuk Turks who, in the 11th century, poured across Central Asia and into what is now Armenia, forcing its population to flee south, especially after they seized Ani, near Kars, in 1064. Led by Prince Reuben, a scion of the Bagratid family who had governed Ani, they made their base in Sis in 1080 and proceeded to prosper on the proceeds of trade even as their compatriots back in the Armenian highlands floundered.

Cilician Armenia modeled itself closely on the West, and adopted Western traditions of feudalism with knights and barons lording it over the serfs. The rulers spoke French or Latin and dressed in Western-style clothes. They also allowed the Crusaders to use their territory for rest and recuperation on their way to and from the Holy Land (Palestine). Not surprisingly their castles often look very similar to those built by the Crusaders, most magnificently exemplified by Krak des Chevaliers in modern Syria.

The Cilician Kingdom of Armenia survived for almost 300 years, during which time it became known for monasteries that were responsible for some of the most magnificent illuminated manuscripts ever produced. Despite this it was continually attacked by the Mamluks based in Egypt and Syria. Even worse was the threat from the Mongols who completely destroyed Baghdad in 1258.

Fearing a similar fate for Sis, King Hethoum I (1226-70) sent his brother all the way to Karakorum in Mongolia where he persuaded the Great Khan to accept Hethoum as a vassal. Mission accomplished, the king saw his efforts amply rewarded when the Mongols rerouted part of one of the silk routes to the port at Ayaş which fell within the boundaries of his state.

But of course nothing could stand in the way of history, and eventually the Ramazanoğlu Turks forced the Armenians out on behalf of their Mamluk overlords. Despite the last king Leo IV’s urgent pleas for Western aid, none was forthcoming. He died in exile in Paris in 1393.

Sis fell to the Ottomans in 1516 during the reign of Sultan Selim I, but unlike other towns in the vicinity it was unable to capitalize on the ensuing period of peace.

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