Armenian Legionnaires leaving Hayfa for Beirut. Ph. Onnig Sinanian.
Armenian Diaspora Memory and Innovation collection.
The nucleus of the Armenian Legion or Eastern Legion (1917-1920) was composed of former Musa Dagh resistants.
The Eastern Legion was organized by the Armenians following the demand of the French government.
An agreement was signed between the Armenian National Delegation, represented by its president Mr Boghos Nubar, and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, represented by Mr Georges Picot, at the French embassy of London in the presence of Sir Mark Sykes.
A French mission went to Cairo, Egypt in november 1916 to make contacts with local Armenian organizations. Its goal was to establish an “Eastern Legion” of several battalions whose mission would be :
1/ to contribute to the liberation of Kilikia (Giligia or Cilicia) and the establishment of a Cilician Armenia under French Mandate.
2/ The Armenian volunteers would only fight in Kilikia (Giligia or Cilicia) against the Turkish forces.
3/ The Armenian Legion would be the core of the future Armenian army.
However, the organization of the chain of command within the military wasn’t specified in the agreement.
This lack of guarantees aggravated the already difficult situation of the Armenian Legion and its 5000 Armenian soldiers in Kilikia (Giligia or Cilicia) who had to protect the Armenian civilians. The major part of the chain of command (except four Armenian officers) were French officers. Some of the French officers were bribed by Turkish people and had sympathies for the Turkish nationalist cause.
In spite of the heroic fight of the Armenian Legion soldiers, they were constantly betrayed by the French military who eventually abandonned Kilikia (Giligia or Cilicia) without notice, leading to the murder of countless Armenian civilians. The French military command later disarmed the Armenian Legionnaires and dismantled the Armenian Legion.