At the onset of World War One, the late Ottoman Empire, led by the Young Turks, enacted brutal persecution amongst its relearning non-Muslim population in Eastern Thrace, Asia Minor, and some parts of the Levant.

Armenians were a prime target of the wrath of the Ottoman state as growing propaganda and discourse over their ties to Imperial Russia became mainstream in the empire. Persecutions would heighten in 1915, leading to the Armenian Genocide.

Some Armenians who fought against the Ottomans fought independently, others fought with Russia, and one prominent group fought with the French, also known as the Armenian Legion.

World War One, Armenian Genocide, and Formation

During the Armenian Genocide, Armenians in the Ottoman Empire would gradually fight back against Turkish soldiers who were given shoot-to-kill orders. A bold defense at Musa Dagh would take place with the French navy rescuing besieged Armenian civilians.

Some of the fighting-aged Armenian male survivors of Musa Dagh would volunteer for the Armenian Legion, which was proposed by Boghos Nubar, supported by Britain, and armed, trained, and funded by France. The Legion was officially erected in Cairo, which was very symbolic as Boghos’ father, Nubar Pasha, was an Armenian governor of Egypt.

Picture from the Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan, dated 1915, which shows soldiers surveying the skulls of victims in an Armenian village via AFP

Battles Partaken

In 1918, the French Armenian Legion participated in the critical Battle of Arara. In then-Ottoman Palestine, the Legion supplemented British and French forces, using the rigid terrain of the coastal hills to gain a vantage point over the Turkish 7th army.

General Edmund Allenby, famous for his bravery as a commander in WWI and also known for his historic entrance into Jerusalem, would praise the Armenian Legion. Allenby stated his pride in having several Armenian battalions under his command, and their gallantry played an instrumental role in Arara.