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News > Middle East Armenians (General) > Cilicia and the Armenian Legion in World War I

Next year will mark the 90th anniversary an of event largely forgotten today, the victory of the volunteer Armenian Legion over a combined Turkish / German force at the Battle of Arara, in Palestine, on September 19, 1918.
To commemorate that Armenian victory, as well as to recall the momentous story of the Armenian Legion during and immediately following World War I, the Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA) has prepared a traveling exhibit documenting, with photographs and narratives, the formation, training, military action, and postwar activities of this all-volunteer force.
The story of the Armenian Legion during World War I reflects the community's attempts to come to grips with the destruction and devastation following the Armenian Genocide. It also represents the successful efforts of Armenians from different social, economic and political backgrounds to work together for a common cause. The Legion encompassed a group of remarkable individuals - some officers, others of no special rank or distinction - who volunteered throughout the diaspora, overcoming tremendous difficulties in order to serve their people and nation courageously, often at great personal sacrifice. Their lives are well worth remembering.
In recognition of the importance of remembering the Legionnaires and their devotion to their nation and to the cause of liberty, the Armenian Library and Museum of America has prepared a traveling exhibit, "Forgotten Heroes: The Armenian Legion in World War I."
About ALMA
Founded in 1971, ALMA's mission is to present and preserve the culture, history, art and contributions of the Armenian people to Americans and Armenians alike. Since its inception, ALMA's collection has grown to over 18,000 books and 20,000 artifacts, making it perhaps the largest and most diverse holding of Armenian cultural artifacts outside of Armenia. As a repository for heirlooms, the collection now represents a major resource not only for Armenian studies research, but as well as for preservation and illustration of the Armenian heritage. In 1988, ALMA acquired a 30,000 square foot facility in Watertown, MA - one of North America's oldest and most active Armenian communities. The facility includes exhibition galleries, Library, administrative offices, function hall, climate-controlled vaults and conservation lab.
ALMA is the only independent Armenian Museum in the Diaspora funded solely through contributions of individual supporters. An active Board of Trustees and volunteer base augments the museum's staff. Museum's active schedule of changing exhibits includes the use of the library primarily by researchers and interested general public seeking research materials on Armenians. In addition, the museum sponsors lecture and presentation program on related topics.
The Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA)
65 Main Street, Watertown, MA 02742
Tel: (617) 926-2562 ext. 4
Fax: (617) 926-0175
E-mail: Christie@almainc.org        
Website: http://www.almainc.org/
Contact: Christie Hardiman, Public Relations & Outreach Coordinator  
September 24, 2007

One of these individuals, Hagop Arevian, provides an example of the dedication exhibited by the Legionnaires under extraordinary circumstances. Born in 1894 in a small village near Sebastia (Turkey), he experienced the tragedy and dislocation that have affected so many Armenians. His family miraculously survived the massacres ordered by Sultan Abdul Hamid in 1894-1896, and moved to the capital of Constantinople (Istanbul), where Hagop's father, Nazareth, obtained work as a port supervisor. However Nazareth was soon arrested and imprisoned by Ottoman officials on charges of illegal political activism. Despite repeated appeals to the authorities, even to the Sultan himself, Nazareth remained in prison and ultimately died there.
Hagop received his education in Mekhitarist schools in the capital, and in 1914 he went to Alexandria, Egypt, to join his older brother. With the outbreak of World War I, he resolved to fight for the Allies and he went to Marseilles, France, to volunteer for the French Foreign Legion. After training in Algeria, he joined the French Army in France. On leave in Paris, he met Boghos Nubar Pasha and learned of the plans to form the Armenian Legion to fight with the French/British forces in the Middle East; as part of the plan the Armenians were promised autonomy in the regions of Cilicia, southern Turkey, which had been allocated to France, according to World War I secret agreements between the Allies (France, England, and Russia).
Arevian, now a corporal first class, returned to the battlefield in France and was seriously wounded at Vitry-le-Francois. Receiving the valued Croix de Guerre, he was detached from the Foreign Legion in 1917 and assigned to the Armenian Legion, which was then training in Cyprus. He left France aboard the ship "Caledonia," which was subsequently shipwrecked near Port Said, Egypt, and saved by a Japanese counter-torpedo boat.
After helping to train the Armenian volunteers in Cyprus, Arevian joined the Legion as it marched to Palestine to join in the campaign being waged by British General Edmund Allenby. As a member of the Fifth Battalion, Arevian participated in the Legion's victory at the Battle of Arara (near Rafat, Palestine) against a combined Turkish/German Army commanded by Mustapha Kemal (later Ataturk). The victory marked the collapse of the Turkish/German forces and culminated in the end of the war in November 1918.
Marching north with General Allenby's forces, Arevian joined other Legionnaires in rescuing Armenian women and children who had survived the death marches of the Genocide. The Armenian Legion was now assigned to occupy Cilicia. Lt. Col. Louis Romieu, commander of the Legion, granted Arevian's request for his section to have the honor of being the first to land in Cilicia, at the port of Mersin, but did not allow Arevian to carry with him the flag of the Armenian Republic; instead Arevian was ordered to take the French tricolor. Arevian was subsequently stationed in Adana, the center of the French occupation in Cilicia., where he served for the following two years.
By 1920 the political landscape had shifted drastically. France turned Cilicia over to the Turkish nationalists, thus abandoning thousands of Armenian who had returned to their homes under the promise of French occupation and protection. France quietly disbanded the Armenian Legion, and Arevian (now a citizen of France) returned to Egypt, where he married and established a family and a successful business.
In 1939, Arevian became an early supporter of the French resistance against Nazi Germany and became one of the first members of the General De Gaulle's Free French Forces. From 1940 to 1945 he organized a hospice for soldiers of the resistance, a museum of the war, and created a circle of benefactors and volunteers to assist the French military. In recognition of these services, he was awarded the French Medal of Resistance in 1946, and over the next decade concentrated on his business in Egypt.
In 1956, however, his life was disrupted once again as he and his wife were expelled from Egypt, given only 48 hours to pack and leave the country. He moved to Paris, where he became an Officer of the Legion of Honor and was given the privilege of rekindling the flame at the Monument of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc of Triumph in 1959. He died in Paris in 1965.

Posted on Saturday, September 29, 2007 (8044 reads), comments: 3
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Posted by Stepan Piligian on Sunday, March 01, 2009

My grandfather, Stepan Piligian, was a solider in the Armenian Legion. Like many of his comrades, he was sent to this country by his father just prior to the Genocide. He came to Indian Orchard, Massachusetts from a village in Sepastia. After the Legion made its way to Cilicia, he was stationed in Adana; where he met and fell in love with a young Adanatzi woman, Turfanda Yergatian. After the political landscape changed, they made their way to the U.S. via Marseilles and Settled in Indian Orchard where they helped to build the local Armenian community.

The courage of these men and their contributions as a fighting unit to the allied victory are incredible. The intersection of personal history and world events is a remarkable experience that they all carried long before their contributions to building the Armenian-American community began. Indeed these were special people, who gave the Armenian community hope during a time when there was precious little to find. I applaud ALMA for bringing this significant part of our history to today's generations. May God bless their memory.

Posted by papken hartunian on Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dear Azad-Hye,

I need to have a copy of French Armenian Agreement signed October 1916.

Can you provide help?


Papken Hartunian, JD.

Azad-Hye: We will provide you with copy of the said agreement if we come across it. Meanwhile, we hope those who are able to provide any clue to write directly to your email.

Posted by Paula Parnagian on Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My grandmother, Gardar Vartanoush Azarian Parnagian, was first cousins with Hagop and grew up with him and his family in Istanbul. She spoke of him often and was proud of him, but I had no idea of his rich history and incredible story.

No doubt they lost touch through the years, one more story of diasporan dislocation and loss. I am deeply moved by this reconnection.

Thank you. I am very grateful for your efforts and work.

Paula Parnagian

Revere, MA 


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