THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
the Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC)
The Battle of Arara, on September 19, 1918, was the most remarkable performance of the Armenian Legion. Initially named Légion d’Orient (Eastern Legion), the Armenian Legion was formed in November 1916 as the result of an agreement between Boghos Nubar Pasha, president of the Armenian National Delegation, and the French government. It would be a foreign legion unit within the French army, originally formed by Armenians and Syrians of Ottoman nationality, under the command of French officers.
The aim of creating the Legion was to allow Armenians to contribute to the liberation of Cilicia and to help them realize their national aspirations towards the creation of a state in that region, under Ottoman domination. The Legion was to fight only Turks and only in Cilicia.
Six battalions were formed, each containing 800 volunteers. Most soldiers were recruited from the survivors of the self-defense of Musa Dagh in 1915, living in refugee camps in Port Saaid, Egypt. Others were volunteers who came from France, the United States, and even South America.
The Legion was first deployed in Palestine, to help the French and British armies against the Ottoman and German alliance. The Palestinian front was crumbling upon the advance of the British expeditionary forces. The Armenian volunteers had a decisive role in the Battle of Arara, which was part of the Battle of Megiddo. British general Edmund Allenby commended Armenian forces in his official dispatch to the Allied High Command, "On the right flank, on the coastal hills, the units of the Armenian Legion d’Orient fought with great valor. Despite the difficulty of the terrain and the strength of the enemy defensive lines, at an early hour, they took the hill of Dir el Kassis.” Allenby remarked, "I am proud to have had an Armenian contingent under my command. They have fought very brilliantly and have played a great part in the victory.”
The Allied victory over the Ottoman-German troops opened the doors for the occupation of Palestine and Syria. After the campaign was ended, the Armenian Legion was deployed in Cilicia. They were active around the cities of Adana and Mersin involved in skirmishes with local civilians and unorganized Turkish militia, as well as protecting the surviving members of the local Armenian population which was returning from the deportation of 1915.
In May 1920, Armenians declared an independent state in Cilicia. However, this state was short lived as France disbanded the Armenian Legion and recognized Turkey’s sovereignty over the region in 1920. The advancement of the forces of Mustafa Kemal provoked new massacres of the Armenian population and the evacuation of Cilicia by the survivors in 1920-1921.
A monument for the Armenian troops killed during the battle of Arara was moved from its original location on the battlefield to Mount Zion in October 1925.