One of the lesser-known stories about the experience of Armenians during World War I, the period of the most aggressive extermination attempts by the Turks, was the formation of The Armenian Legion: 1916-1920.

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One of the women I interviewed spoke of her father’s decision to join the Allied Forces in the Middle East. She said he was frustrated that the Americans were not joining the war effort. His betrothed and many other family members were trapped under the oppression and extermination efforts. She spoke of him saying he wanted to kill the Turks who were killing the Armenians.

He wasn’t alone.

According to the display in the Armenian Museum in Watertown, MA, “The Armenian Legion was formed during the darkest days of World War I, when the Allies (France, England and Russia) faced a military deadlock on the European and Middle Eastern Fronts….. At that time the Armenians were facing the devastating aftermath of the Genocide of their people at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish government.”

1200 Armenian men left their comparatively comfortable lives in America to fight and possibly die in foreign lands. Their explanation? How could they not, when their families and neighbors – if they had survived the actual genocide – were still under threat and domination by the Muslim Turks who despised the Armenians.

Many of the soldiers in photos of the Armenian Legion appear to be little more than boys. And perhaps that’s what they were. Their mothers and sisters and aunts and neighbors had disappeared—in the desert, in their village – and they had no way to know who, if any, were still alive. Most were not. But they knew they had to help stop the devastation. They had to kill Turks.

Along the way, they helped orphaned Armenian children and even adopted one boy as their mascot.


Their heroism reached its peak – literally and figuratively – in September of 1918, when they seized the hill at Arara.

It would be years in most cases, if ever, before they would learn the fates of their loved ones. Too often they just never knew.

But this story has a happy ending for at least one family. The woman I interviewed was proof. Her grandmother and mother survived the death march through the desert. When the Central Powers nations were defeated, with the help of the Armenian Legion, they were able to find their way to America and reunite with the men who had come before them. These surviving women went on to create home and family in America. The father survived the war and brought home a physical reminder of his time with the Armenian Legion–matching vases made from spent weapons, which my interviewee proudly displayed on her mantle.

Vases made from French Army Artillery Shells

Learn more about the heroic Armenian Legion at the Armenian Museum.

About Dawn Essegian Lajeunesse

I, like so many others, am a novelist struggling for recognition. My last three novels, THE EYES HAVE IT, IN HER MOTHER'S SHOES and STAR CATCHING, are available in e-book format through Amazon and other formats by request here or on my website. AUTUMN COLORS was my first novel and is still available through Amazon and B&N in multiple formats. My early writings are women's fiction, one also suitable for YA. My work-in-progress is a historical fiction about the Armenians who settled in Troy, NY in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Come visit me at my website:
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  1. I’ve always thought the struggles of the Armenian people have gone unnoticed by many people. I will have to stop by this memorial.


    • Well worth the visit. Also lots of great Armenian cuisine in Watertown:-). There are museums celebrating Armenian history and Armenians in a few places where there are large populations of Armenians – primarily Boston, NYC and southern California. Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Alex Azarian says:

    Amazing story about an aspect of military history I was unaware, despite being Armenian. I really need to visit Watertown the next time I’m up in New England.

    One small nitpick, we fought the Central Powers in WW1 and not the Axis. The Axis existed only in WW2.


    • Oops, thanks for picking up that Axis vs Central Powers error! Can you tell I’m many years past World History class? I think I’ll go back into that post and correct.
      And yes, I recommend the museum. I had learned of the existence of the Armenian Legion during one of my interviews with church elders for my book but learned so much more through the museum – an entire room devoted to this.


  3. Kevork Joulhayan says:

    Thank you 🙏😇Dawn for your effort about Armenians Legion . My
    grandfather Kevork made the Deir Zor desert and survived without food or water 💦He was only 15 . Just recently I found out that the distance about 700 miles he covered on foot 🦶 while escaping from Turks .


  4. Kevork Joulhayan says:

    I know you mean good and your intentions are good but somebody who does not know much will think it’s coming from fiction story !


    • Have no fear – it will be clear that the story is derived from actual events. Did you ever see the movie “The Promise?” That was fiction, yet it was based on actual facts and experiences of real people. Any book I complete on this topic will contain resources and an introduction about my resources, which include interviews and autobiographies written by Armenians who experienced the genocide and/or the intermittent massacres that started in the late 1800’s and continued as late as 1922.


  5. Kevork Joulhayan says:

    Here is another fact about Armenian Legion .Every soldier from that Legion was given citizenships for that country France 🇫🇷, England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿,


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