BOSTON–An exhibit honoring the Armenian Legion–which fought alongside the Allies in the Middle East during World War 1–will open at the Armenian Library and Museum of America on Sunday–September 23–and continue for several months. The opening coincides with the 83rd anniversary of the historical battle of Arara–located north of Jerusalem–during which the Armenian Legion under the command of the British General Edmund Allenby scored a significant victory over the Ottoman forces under a joint Turkish/German command.
The Armenian Legion (originally formed as the Eastern Legion–or Legion d’Orient) was established in November 1916 under the auspices of the French government–following an agreement reached a month earlier with Boghos Nubar Pasha–President of the Armenian National Delegation. According to the terms of the agreement–only Armenia’s and Syrians could become legionnaires; the commanders were to be French; and the French government would provide for the legion’s expenses.
By 1918 the Armenian Legion comprised four companies of volunteers–or about 5,000 men–from throughout the Diaspora–including a core of survivors from Musa Dagh. More than a 1000 of the volunteers came from the United States. They were to participate in wartime operations along the Syrian-Palestine front. France which had been allocated Cilician Armenia after the war according to the terms of the secret Sykes-Picot agreement–promised autonomy to the local Armenia’s.
After training for 10 months on the island of Cyprus–the Armenian Legion–as part of the Allied Expeditionary Forces–was sent to the Palestine front and received its military baptism at the battle of Arara on September 19–1918–spearheading the assault from a central position and totally destroying the Ottoman forces under the command of Mustafa Kemal Pasha(later known as Ataturk). The Allied victories resulted in the collapse of the Turkish army–allowing the British-led forces to proceed unimpeded to Aleppo. Syrian troops were now separated from the Legion–and the forces were renamed as the Armenian Legion. Turkey surrendered a few weeks later–according to the terms of Mudros Armistice of October 30–1918–and the war ended on November 11 of that year.
The Armenian Legion now became part of the French forces that occupied Cilicia–at first the points of strategic importance–and then the cities of Adana–Marash–Aintab–Hajin–and Urfa.
However in 1920 France entered into a secret agreement with Turkey–dissolving the Armenian Legion–and broke its promise of granting autonomy to the Armenia’s of Cilicia. This betrayal deprived the Cilician Armenia’s the means to defend themselves–resulting in renewed atrocities by Turkish Kemalist forces.
This exhibit–"Betrayed Dreams: The Armenian Legion and the Great War," will focus on the events from the perspective of the volunteers from America–with photographs and memorabilia saved by the families of the legionnaires–along with descriptive narratives. Ardemis Matteosian of Belmont–Mass.–daughter of legionnaire–is a guest curator for the exhibit.
The Armenian Library And Museum of America is located at 65 Main St.–in Watertown Square. Further information is available by contacting ALMA at (617) 926-2562 or on the web at www.almainc.org.