ALMA Armenian Legionnaire Traveling Exhibit Begins Nationwide Tour

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WHITINSVILLE, Mass. — “Légion Arménienne: The Armenian Legion and Its Heroism in the Middle East” is a traveling exhibit developed and prepared by the Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA) in honor of the Legionnaires and their devotion to their nation and to the cause of liberty during World War I. The exhibit explores the formation, training, military action and postwar activities of this all-volunteer force through photographs and narratives.

ALMA is premiering the exhibit at Northbridge Town Hall, 7 Main St., Whitinsville, starting August 31. The exhibit will run through September 22. It is open to the public Monday 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and Friday 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

On Monday, September 14, ALMA will host a free public reception at Northbridge Town Hall from 5 to 7 p.m. in celebration of the exhibit embarking on its first nationwide tour. Following its premier in Whitinsville, “Légion Arménienne” will travel to the West Coast in October.

The story of the Armenian Legion reflects the community’s attempts to come to grips with the destruction and devastation following the Armenian Genocide. It also represents the successful efforts of Armenians from different social, economic and political backgrounds to work together for a common cause. The Legion encompassed a group of remarkable individuals — some officers, others of no special rank or distinction — who volunteered throughout the diaspora, overcoming tremendous difficulties in order to serve their people and nation courageously, often at great personal sacrifice. Their lives are well worth remembering.

One of these individuals, Hagop Arevian, provides an example of the dedication exhibited by the Legionnaires under extraordinary circumstances. Born in 1894 in a small village near Sebastia (Turkey), he experienced the tragedy and dislocation that have affected so many Armenians. His family miraculously survived the

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massacres ordered by Sultan Abdul Hamid in 1894-1896, and moved to the capital of Constantinople (Istanbul), where Hagop’s father, Nazareth, obtained work as a port supervisor. However Nazareth was soon arrested and imprisoned by Ottoman officials on charges of illegal political activism. Despite repeated appeals to the authorities, even to the Sultan himself, Nazareth remained in prison and ultimately died there.

Hagop received his education in Mekhitarist schools in the capital, and in 1914 he went to Alexandria, Egypt, to join his older brother. With the outbreak of World War I, he resolved to fight for the Allies and he went to Marseilles, France, to volunteer for the French Foreign Legion.

After training in Algeria, he joined the French Army in France. On leave in Paris, he met Boghos Nubar Pasha and learned of the plans to form the Armenian Legion to fight with the French/British forces in the Middle East; as part of the plan the Armenians were promised autonomy in the regions of Cilicia, southern Turkey, which had been allocated to France, according to World War I secret agreements between the Allies (France, England and Russia).

Arevian, now a corporal first class, returned to the battlefield in France and was seriously wounded at Vitry-le-Francois. Receiving the Croix de Guerre, he was detached from the Foreign Legion in 1917 and assigned to the Armenian Legion, which was then training in Cyprus.

After helping to train the Armenian volunteers in Cyprus, Arevian joined the Legion as it marched to Palestine to join in the campaign being waged by British General Edmund Allenby. As a member of the Fifth Battalion, Arevian participated in the Legion’s victory at the Battle of Arara (near Rafat, Palestine) against a combined Turkish/German Army commanded by Mustapha Kemal (later Ataturk). The victory marked the collapse of the Turkish/German forces and culminated in the end of the war in November 1918.

Marching north with Allenby’s forces, Arevian joined other Legionnaires in rescuing Armenian women and children who had survived the death marches of the Genocide. The Armenian Legion was now assigned as the advanced guard to occupy Cilicia. Lt. Col. Louis Romieu, commander of the Legion, granted Arevian’s request for his section to have the honor of being the first to land in Cilicia, at the port of Mersin. Arevian was subsequently stationed in Adana, the center of the French occupation in Cilicia, where he served for the following two years.

By 1920, the political landscape had shifted drastically. France turned Cilicia over to the Turkish nationalists, thus abandoning thousands of Armenians who had returned to their homes under the promise of French occupation and protection. France quietly disbanded the Armenian Legion, and Arevian (now a citizen of France) returned to Egypt, where he married and established a family and a successful business. He died in Paris in 1965.

In recognition of the importance of remembering the Legionnaires and their devotion to their nation and to the cause of liberty, the Armenian Library and Museum of America prepared a major exhibit in 2001. The exhibit was curated by Ardemis Matteosian in close collaboration with ALMA Board Members Dr. Barbara J. Merguerian and Arakel Almasian. The enthusiastic response to the exhibit revealed a tremendous interest in this overlooked and in many ways unwritten story.

In response to requests to bring the exhibit to other locations in the United States and as part of its goal of a broader community outreach, ALMA commissioned this traveling exhibit, incorporating the community spirit of the original into an informative historic, literary and artistic presentation.

The traveling exhibit was made possible by a grant from the K. George and Carolann S. Najarian Foundation, with additional support provided by the Armenian-American Veterans of Milford, Mass., Inc.

For scheduling information or to learn about the exhibit, contact ALMA at 65 Main St., Watertown, MA 02472, visit www.almainc.org or e-mail Gamavor@almainc.org.