Saturday, April 28, 2012

Armenian Legion 1916 - 1920 : Legion d’Orient

 The Armenian Legion was formed in 1916 and was disbanded in 1920, a four year period in which momentous changes were taking place for the Armenians and for the world. The Armenians passed though a Genocide, through the Russian revolution, to the formation of the first Armenian Republic in 1918, to the communist take over of Armenia, and its eventual absorption into the Soviet Union. The courageous volunteers of the Armenian legion risked their lives to secure a better future for the Armenians. The noted Boghos Nubar Pasha first formulated the idea of Armenians fighting alongside Allied troops in World War I. Boghos Nubar had traveled to Europe as head of the Armenian National Delegation, where he persuaded the Allies to allow the formation of an all-volunteer Armenian unit, with the sole purpose of “liberating Cilicia from Turkish rule.” The Legion d’Orient (a neutral name that was chosen for the Armenian unit so as not to antagonize the Turks and endanger the lives of Armenian deportees in Syria) was established, under French military supervision in November 26, 1916, with the formation of its first battalion. The training of Armenian volunteers began at Port Said, Egypt. It is likely Port Said was chosen because of its proximity to the Armenian refugee camp where thousands of exiles from Musa Dagh were relocated after being rescued by the French navy in September 1915. Later the Legion training camp was moved to Cyprus, where volunteers from the United States and Europe joined the ranks. Close to 5,000 men were being trained by early 1917.

Captain Jim Chankalian, Leader U.S. Volunteer Armenian Force WWI

Captain Jim Chankalian
U.S. Army Captain Jim Chankalian was born Bedros Chankalian (Armenian: Պետրոս Չանքալյան) in Dikranagerd Western Armenia. At a young age, he emigrated to the United States with his family. He graduated from an American high school, then entered a military academy to become an officer in the U.S. Army. In 1898, he participated in the Spanish-American War. He was honored for his bravery and became a captain in the U.S. Army. The activity of the Armenian political parties had undoubtedly reverberated in the American-Armenian community from the standpoint of the national liberation movement. Moreover, the popularity of the Reformed Hunchak Party, without a doubt, had aroused Chankalian’s interest and motivated him to join that organization. Already a seasoned soldier in the U.S. Army, Chankalian also became a well-known figure in the Armenian community of New York. After resigning from his rank of captain, he was offered an important position with Powers Co. He ably performed the job he had taken, which ensured him a comfortable living. In 1915, the Reformed Hunchak Party, in cooperation with the [[Regional Committee of the Constitutional Democratic [Ramgavar] Party of the United States]], decided to send Jim Chankalian on a special mission, first to the Caucasus and then to Van. Chankalian gladly accepted the proposition, giving up his high position and comfortable station in life. Taking with him a group of experienced volunteers, who had come from Western Armenia, he reached Van at the designated time and was greeted there by the brave leader of the successful heroic self-defense, Armenag Yegarian. After consulting with Yegarian, 

Chankalian put his extensive military experience in the service of the heroic struggle of the Armenians of Van and became Yegarian’s advisor and immediate co-worker in the formation of the Yerkrapah [Defenders of the (Father) Land] Regiment. With the satisfaction of having fulfilled his obligation, Chankalian set out for the Caucasus, where he had intended to join General Antranig’s forces. In 1917, Chankalian returned to the United States, having fully performed the mission entrusted to him. But he had barely become situated, when he found out about the plan of the formation of the Armenian Legion. Owing to special arrangements made by the French government and army, it was projected that this legion should depart for the Palestinian front, to fight alongside the Allies (France, England and Russia) against the German and Turkish troops that were allied on the other side. Chankalian, who enjoyed the unreserved respect and esteem of the American-Armenian community and Armenian political parties, was appointed leader of the detachment consisting of American-Armenian volunteers, which was to join the Armenian Legion. The main dream of the Armenian soldiers was the formation of an autonomous Armenia under French mandate, at the cost of the blood to be sacrificed by them. 
Captain Jim Chankalian on camel
 The Armenian National Union formed in Egypt and the Armenian National Delegation had secured such a promise from the French authorities. The natives of Musa Dagh, who had found refuge in the seaside town of Port Said, Egypt, formed the nucleus of the Armenian, or Foreign Legion. On July 9, 1917, Chankalian, along with the volunteers under his charge, boarded a French ship headed for Marseilles. From there, he went to Port Said and joined the nucleus of the legion; all together, they departed for Cyprus, where volunteers from all parts of the world wishing to join the Foreign Legion were assembled for training.The trained detachments were divided into three companies, or battalions. By order of General Allenby, the commander of the combined troops of the Allied powers operating on the Middle Eastern front, the Armenian volunteers were transported to Palestine on September 14, 1918, where five days later they went on the attack against the German and Turkish forces in Arara. The first line of the front, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, headed by Chankalian, was occupied by the detachments comprising the American-Armenian volunteers; with a minimum loss of life, they achieved the glorious victory at Arara. World War I ended in November 1918. The Armenian volunteers were transferred from the Palestinian front to Beirut. From there, British ships took them, in groups, via Alexandretta (Iskenderun) to the mountains and plains of Cilicia. The legionnaires were greeted in Adana with Armenian tricolor flags. TheThe Turks already appeared to be disillusioned. In the overall prevailing atmosphere, it seemed an easy task to the fighters of the Armenian Legion to take all of Cilicia under their control. The execution of the plan to have an autonomous or independent Armenian Cilicia was undertaken with (Mihran) Damadian’s leadership. In order to crown such a plan as this with success, it was necessary to have a solid fighting force which could become a reality, with the assemblage of such battle-tested heroes as Chankalian, Antranig, Yegarian, (Yesayi) Yaghoubian, etc. However, the Allied powers had a different intention. They resorted to various measures, in order to prevent the entrance of Antranig, Yegarian, and the others into Cilicia. Convinced that the plan of having an Armenian state in Cilicia would remain unattainable, a disappointed Chankalian returned to the United States, but not before having recorded brilliant pages in the history of the Armenian liberation struggle and World War I. Subsequently, as one of the leading figures of the Democratic Liberal Party in America, Chankalian traveled to all the cities with large Armenian concentrations, especially those in California, in order to organize efforts to raise funds in support of the first Republic of Armenia. In order to give a greater impetus to his efforts on behalf of the homeland, Chankalian became the driving force behind the formation of the American-Armenian National Council and served as its president. He also became the first president of the Central Committee of the AGBU of America, and he devoted his time and service to the Armenian Church as well. This great patriot, endowed with exceptional military prowess, passed away in New York in 1947 at an advanced age, leaving behind him a great and unforgettable legacy of sacrifice made for his nation.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

1915 Boston Globe Armenian Massacre Headlines April - October

Between April 1915 and October 1915 the WWI Central Powers (Germany, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Bulgaria) imposed a tight news embargo regarding the forced removal and deportation of Armenians throughout Turkey. It was through the information provided by American missionaries, US Consulate officers and the American Ambassador that information was secreted to the news media of the era, including the Boston Globe

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Turkish Armenian Deportation Proclamation: June 28, 1915

Soon after the posting of the Deportation Proclamation in the village of Aghin, Alma Sakaian embarked in a caravan that was one of several instruments of death that resulted in the evacuation and elimination of Armenian communities throughout the country. Over 1.5 million Armenians met their death by massacre, murder, starvation, dehydration, torture and bestial brutality. Alma Sakaian, a young woman of 15 years of age, was among the 150 survivors of a caravan that numbered 18,000 men, women and children. She was the sole survivor of her immediate and extended family.

"From Aghin", is a screenplay co-written by my son and me. It is based on true events and historical documentation have that I researched over a span of 20 years. It is an accurate portrayal that will comply with the world standards to secure wide distribution and will honor the 100th Anniversary. I am interested to be contacted by readers and supporters that may be interested to promote distribution of the screenplay. The goal is to secure the interest of a film producer / director. Please feel free to contact me.

The 65 day forced march commenced in the regions of the Upper Euphrates valley. It traversed ancient roads along the Euphrates River, along the foot paths of the Taurus Mountains and over the uncharted sand dunes of the Syrian Desert.

From Aghin is not only Alma’s story of fortitude, acumen and survival instinct. It is woven with the determination of Samuel Sakaian, her uncle, a naturalized American citizen, who had immigrated to America with the intention to bring his family there. After the outbreak of WWI, Sakaian was determined to return to his homeland and rescue his family. Assisted by American consulate officers and missionaries, he covertly returns to Turkey to locate his family. Soon after his arrival he is informed that his entire immediate and extended are all dead, except for his niece, Alma.

Alma’s nature was to survive at any cost. Samuel’s obsession was to locate and rescue his brother’s daughter and return to America.

From Aghin is their story and is registered with the Writers Guild of America. 

Ara Sarafian is the founding director of the Gomidas Institute in London, which republishes English translations of Armenian texts related to the Armenian Genocide