French Armenian Legion

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Armenian Legion
Armenian legion.png
Active 1916-1920
Country France France
Size 4,124 (1916-1918)[1]
10,150 (1920-1921)[2]
Nickname "La Légion d'Orient"
Engagements Battle of Arara (Sinai and Palestine Campaign), Battle of Marash, Franco-Turkish War
Ceremonial chief Boghos Nubar

The Armenian Legion (French: Légion arménienne), established with the French-Armenian Agreement of 1916, was a foreign legion unit within French Army. The Armenian legion was established under the goals of the Armenian national liberation movement and was an armed unit besides the Armenian volunteer units and Armenian militia during World War I which fought against the Ottoman Empire. The initial name of the legion was "La Légion d'Orient" (The Eastern Legion).[3] It was renamed as "La Légion Arménienne" (The Armenian Legion) on February 1, 1919. The soldiers in this legion were referred to informally among the Armenians as Gamavor (Volunteer).


Early in the war, Armenians living in France joined to the French Foreign Legion

The Armenians living in France joined to the French Foreign Legion at the beginning of the war. This was before the establishment of the French Armenian Legion.


Negotiations of Boghos Nubar with French political and military authorities culminated in the formation of the French Armenian Legion.

The Legion was established officially in Cairo, Egypt in November 1916, with the accord of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and an Armenian delegation. Several Armenian organizations pledged contributions to form several battalions under the planned Armenian Legion.

The parties agreed to the following:

  • The aim of creating the Legion was to allow Armenians' contribution to the liberation of Cilicia region in the Ottoman Empire and to help them to realize their national aspirations of creating a state in that region.
  • The Legion was to fight only Turks and only in Cilicia.
  • The Legion was to become the core of a planned future Armenian Army.

Initial Plans[edit]

Signed in Paris by General Pierre Roques, Minister of War, and General Marie-Jean-Lucien Lacaze, Minister of Navy, the official decision regarding the establishment of the Armenian Legion was signed on 15 November 1916 in Paris.

According to this initial decision,

  • The Eastern Legion was to be stationed in Cyprus
  • Armenians and Syrians of Ottoman nationality would be volunteer conscripts
  • The Legion would be commanded by French officers
  • The conscripts would have an equivalent status compared to French soldiers and would be under responsibility of French War Ministry
  • Infantry commander Romieu would be supervising the establishment of the Legion
  • The Legion was to be deployed in Cilicia, now known as Çukurova, on the southeastern coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey)[5]
  • 10,000 Francs were to be allocated from the war budget of French Navy in Syria to use in establishment of camps
  • The volunteers were to be organized by local Armenian committees and sent to Bordeaux and Marseille. The committees were to be reimbursed by French government for travel expenses.

Order of Battle, 1916 - 1918[edit]

Soldier from the 5th Light Horse Regiment at the Armenian Camp in Port Said
See also: Battle of Arara

The number of volunteers was an equivalent of 6 battalions, each containing 800 volunteers, and another 6 battalions was planned to be formed. Armenian committees were organizing the conscription process to recruit these soldiers in France and United States.

Ninety-five percent Armenian in composition, the Legion included Ottoman Armenian refugees, former prisoners of war, and permanent residents of Egypt, America, and Europe. The majority of the soldiers were said to be recruits from the Armenian-American community or embittered survivors of the battle of Musa Dagh who were living in refugee camps in Port Said, Egypt, at the time.

After the initial training in Cyprus, the Armenian Legion was first deployed in Palestine, to help French and British armies against Ottoman and German armies.

Under the command of General Edmund Allenby, the Legion, fighting in Palestine, Syria, and finally Cilicia, won the plaudits of Clemenceau’s government and its Entente allies."[6]

Order of Battle, 1920 - 1921[edit]

Following this campaign, they were deployed in Anatolia (Asia Minor) according to the initial decisions. They were active around the cities of Adana and Mersin involved in skirmishes with local civilians and unorganized Turkish militia.[7]

In May 1919, the 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.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hamelin to Defense, document 53/G-11 of 12 January 1919, A.VA
  2. ^ Ahmet Hulki Saral: Türk İstiklal Harbi Güney Cephesi IV, Ankara 1996, page 47
  3. ^
  4. ^ Armenia and the War: An Armenian's Point of View with an Appeal to Britain ... - Page 80 by Avetoon Pesak Hacobian
  5. ^ La Legion D'Orient_(Suite)
  6. ^ Richard G. Hovannisian, Armenia on the Road to Independence,' 1967
  7. ^
  8. ^ The Armenian Weekly Online: August/September 2001
  9. ^ Armenian Homeland