On September 19, 1918, a small but brave group of Armenian soldiers made history by defeating a much larger and stronger enemy force at the Battle of Arara, in northern Palestine. This battle was part of the final offensive of the Allies in the Middle East during World War I, which resulted in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the liberation of the region from Turkish rule. The Armenian soldiers, who fought under the banner of the Legion Armenienne (LA), a volunteer unit of the French Army, displayed remarkable courage, skill, and loyalty, and earned the respect and admiration of their allies and foes alike. However, their heroic deeds have been largely overlooked and forgotten by the world, and even by their own nation. This article aims to shed some light on the Battle of Arara and its significance for Armenian history and identity.
The Formation of the Legion Armenienne
The LA was formed in 1916, as a result of the efforts of the Armenian National Delegation, a political body that represented the interests of the Armenian people in the international arena. The delegation, led by the prominent Armenian leader Boghos Nubar Pasha, sought to secure the support and protection of the Allied Powers, especially France and Britain, for the Armenian cause. The Armenian cause was the demand for justice and recognition for the Armenian Genocide, the systematic extermination of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman government between 1915 and 1918. The delegation also hoped to achieve the establishment of an independent Armenian state in the historic Armenian lands, which were under Turkish occupation.
One of the ways that the delegation tried to gain the favor and trust of the Allies was by offering to raise an Armenian army that would fight alongside them against the Central Powers, especially Turkey and Germany. The Allies agreed to this proposal, and authorized the formation of the LA, a regiment of 4,500 Armenian volunteers, mostly survivors of the genocide, who were recruited from various countries, such as Egypt, Syria, France, and the United States. The LA was trained and equipped by the French military, and placed under the command of General Edmund Allenby, the British commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF), which was the main Allied force in the Middle East.
The Battle of Arara
The LA was initially deployed in the Sinai Peninsula, where it participated in several minor skirmishes and reconnaissance missions. However, its main role was to serve as a reserve force for the EEF, and to guard the vital Suez Canal, which was the lifeline of the British Empire. The LA did not see any major action until September 1918, when Allenby launched his final offensive against the Ottoman forces in Palestine and Syria, known as the Battle of Megiddo.
The Battle of Megiddo was a decisive and brilliant victory for the Allies, as they managed to break through the Turkish lines, capture several strategic positions, and inflict heavy casualties on the enemy. The LA played a crucial part in this offensive, as it was assigned to capture the village of Arara, which was located on a hill that overlooked the Jordan Valley. Arara was defended by a combined force of 4,000 Turkish and German soldiers, who had fortified the hill with trenches, machine guns, and artillery. The LA, which had only 1,200 men, faced a formidable challenge, as it had to attack the hill from the front, under constant fire from the enemy.
The LA launched its assault on the morning of September 19, 1918, after a brief artillery barrage. The Armenian soldiers advanced bravely and steadily, despite the heavy resistance and the difficult terrain. They reached the enemy trenches, and engaged in fierce hand-to-hand combat with the Turkish and German soldiers. The LA fought with remarkable courage and determination, and managed to overcome the enemy defenses, and capture the hill. The LA also captured several prisoners, weapons, and flags, and secured the position for the Allied advance. The LA suffered 300 casualties, including 88 killed and 212 wounded, while the enemy suffered 1,000 casualties, including 400 killed and 600 captured.
The Battle of Arara was a remarkable feat of arms for the LA, as it demonstrated its military prowess, discipline, and loyalty. The LA earned the praise and admiration of its allies, especially Allenby, who personally congratulated the Armenian soldiers and officers, and awarded them with medals and honors. The LA also earned the respect and fear of its enemies, who recognized the LA as a formidable and worthy opponent. The Battle of Arara was also a significant event for the Armenian people, as it showed their resilience, patriotism, and sacrifice, in the face of the genocide and oppression. The Battle of Arara was a symbol of the Armenian spirit and identity, and a source of pride and inspiration for generations to come.
The Legacy of the Legion Armenienne
The LA continued to fight alongside the Allies until the end of the war, and participated in several battles and operations in Palestine and Syria. The LA also played a humanitarian role, as it helped to rescue and protect thousands of Armenian refugees and survivors of the genocide, who had fled to the Middle East from Turkey. The LA also helped to establish and maintain several Armenian schools, orphanages, and hospitals, in cooperation with the Armenian Relief Society and other organizations.
However, the LA did not achieve its ultimate goal, which was the establishment of an independent Armenian state in the historic Armenian lands. The Treaty of Sevres, which was signed in 1920, and which ended the war between the Allies and Turkey, recognized the right of the Armenian people to self-determination, and promised to create an Armenian state under the protection of the League of Nations. However, this treaty was never implemented, as it was rejected by the Turkish nationalists, who launched a war of resistance against the Allies and the Armenians. The Turkish nationalists, led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, managed to defeat the Armenian forces, and recapture most of the Armenian lands. The Treaty of Lausanne, which was signed in 1923, and which replaced the Treaty of Sevres, annulled the provisions for the Armenian state, and recognized the sovereignty of Turkey over the Armenian lands. The LA was disbanded in 1920, and its members were dispersed to various countries, such as France, Lebanon, Syria, and Armenia.
The LA was a remarkable and heroic chapter of Armenian history, which deserves to be remembered and honored by the world, and especially by the Armenian people. The LA was a testament to the courage, skill, and loyalty of the Armenian soldiers, who fought for their nation and their cause, against overwhelming odds and enemies. The LA was also a symbol of the Armenian spirit and identity, which survived and thrived, despite the genocide and oppression. The LA was a source of pride and inspiration for generations of Armenians, who continued to struggle and strive for justice and recognition for the Armenian Genocide, and for the independence and security of the Armenian state. The LA was a legacy of the Armenian people, which should never be forgotten.