Remembering the Last Hero of Arara
This is the translation of the eulogy by Alex Kalaydjian at the
funeral of the Battle of Arara hero Hampartsoum Nazrian who died in
Jerusalem in 1984. The Armenian version was published in "Õ. Ôµ. Õ?."
Armenian quarterly, Number 1 to 4, 1984)'Editor.
Former Legionnaire Hampartsoum Nazrian was born in Hajn in 1889. The
youngest child, he lost his father when he was only six-years-old. In
1896'when he was seven--he witnessed the hanging of his older brother
Haygazoun during the Hamidian massacres of the mid-1890s. Other than
his innate nature, perhaps the slaying of his brother is the event
which made him resolve to avenge the injustice.
When he was a young boy difficult financial and political
circumstances forced him to seek a career rather than attend school.
Growing up, he became more immersed in political-revolutionary
pursuits, and as a young man joined the Social Democrat Hnchagian
Party. In adolescence and later as a member of the Hnchagian Party, he
became a secret messenger and revolutionary worker from Armenian
centres in Cilicia to various regions of the Arab world. As a result,
he established strong friendships with Arab political activists and
As is well known, immediately prior to the WWI, the Arab world had
risen against the Ottoman regime and demanded independence. In 1916
the Allies had made many promises to the Arab leaders so that the
latter would rise against Ottoman Turkey. Among the more famous of the
Arab rebel leaders was Sharif Hussein (the great-grandfather of King
Hussein of Jordan) and his son Prince Faisal, the future king of Iraq.
Because of his advanced age, Sharif Hussein had appointed Prince
Faisal as leader of the Arab revolutionary-military movement.
Just prior to the start of the war, Prince Faisal, having known of Mr.
Nazrian's reputation and his loyalty, invited Mr. Nazrian to join his
bodyguards, along with six other Armenians. Nazrian accepted the
invitation and for the next three years, along with his six comrades,
participated in the Arab liberation struggle, from Mecca-Medina to
In 1917, when they heard of the French government's plan to form an
Armenian Legion, alongside its Foreign Legion, Nazrian and his armed
companions were among the first to volunteer. Prince Faisal, who by
then had achieved his goal [driving the Ottoman Turks from Arab lands]
allowed his Armenian bodyguards to resign and join the struggle on
behalf of the Armenian people.
By coincidence, the Armenian Legion was ordered to concentrate and
hold positions across from the Arara hills (northern Palestine), where
a Turkish-German united army had established a most important defile.
>From their positions, for eight months, they had managed to halt the
advance of the Allied forces to the south and the east. The head of
the Allied forces was General Allenby while French Commander Jolie had
assumed immediate charge of the Armenian brigade. The months of
inactivity had made the Armenian fighters impatient for action.
Finally, a special delegation, including Nazrian, following long and
arduous negotiations, persuaded a reluctant Jolie to allow them to
attack the enemy positions, according to a plan designed by the
The Armenians, made up of around 200 fighters, went on the attack on
Sept. 10 of 1918. Nazrian and 40 others rushed the enemy's military
headquarters and surprised its leadership and fighters. The foe, whose
soldiers numbered six to eight times the number of Armenians,
surrendered to a handful of Armenian fighters. Twenty-one Armenians
legionnaires lost their lives in the battle that day. The victory
opened the way to the Allies to advance south, east, towards Jerusalem
and Port Said.
Upon the declaration of Armistice, General Allenby proudly talked of
the bravery of the Armenian fighters. At the end of the war, the
Armenian Legion, including Nazrian, moved to Cilicia upon the promises
of the Allies according to which the Armenians would be granted
Nazrian and his friends continued their volunteer work in Adana's
Yenni Mahalle neighborhood until 1921 when the deportations and the
massacres of Armenians resumed. Together with his mother, older sister
and niece Nazrian hit the road to the Arabian desert'the road which he
had traveled during more hopeful and optimistic circumstances.
Months later the Nazrians settled in Jerusalem. The former warrior
married in the Holy City and had six children. A few years after
settling in Jerusalem, while roaming through the villages around the
city, he discovered that Arara wasn't too far. After some difficulty,
but with the support and blessing of Patriarch Yeghishe Turian,
Nazrian succeeded in exhuming the 21 Armenian warriors and
transferring their bones from the obscure Arara village to the Saint
Savior National Cemetery, just outside the Armenian Quarter in
Years later he would tell that the happiest day in his life was the
day he helped bring his comrades' relics to Jerusalem and to witness
their burial with prayer, Holy Mass, and incense of Armenian clergy.
>From that day on for the next 59 years the Genocide Day was the
holiest day of the calendar for Nazrian. Every year, on April 24, he
led the national procession, medals on his chest, with a laurel and
group photograph of his comrades in his hands. He maintained the
tradition until he was 95--the last year of his life.
In 1933 the French ambassador, in the name of the French government,
pinned the Croix de Guerre medal on the chest of Nazrian. The ceremony
was attended by religious and government leaders.
In his eulogy of Nazrian Alex Kalaydjian said: ` You are one of the
last ones, who through beautiful coincidence, come to rest next to
your martyred comrades-in-arm, who on a beautiful day, fell on foreign
soil, giving their lives for freedom, justice, and human rights, which
were exiled from this region for centuries.
`This is how Arara'soaked with Armenian blood--speaks to us,' added
Kalaydjian: `I am a symbol of the vigor of the 20th century Armenian,
his bravery, self-sacrifice, selflessness, martyrdom and patriotism.
There were before me and there will be after me other mountains and
hills, fields and valleys, not to mourn for the tribulations of the
Armenians, but to sing for their unexcelled bravery and heroism. I am
a stranger to you and will remain stranger to you. My slopes are
painted with the blood of many other nations, but I was called to life
only when you blessed me with your blood: with pure Armenian blood.
You made me eternal and immortal. On my slopes, with their death, 21
heroes left an inheritance'to maintain the pure Armenian soul, to
nurse over traditional Armenian sanctities and to protect with my life
everything that belong to the Armenian as a right'character, vigor,
manhood, religion, language and fatherland. This is the Arara soul,
which doesn't recognize defeat, and which is immortal.'
For 68 years Hampartsoum Nazrian lived in Jerusalem as an ideal
Armenian, always holding high his nation's integrity, the success of
his fatherland, and the unity of the Armenian Nation. That's how he
lived. And just an hour before his death, Nazrian asked me to extend
that same message to you.
`May God rest your tired bones and may the earth be light on you.'
Remembering the Last Hero of Arara, Hampartsoum Nazrian
Posted 26 January 2015 - 11:13 AM
Remembering the Last Hero of Arara
- onjig likes this
Posted 19 October 2018 - 10:08 AM
One Armenian woman was discovered on a train by soldiers, but refused to be separated from her companions. She was removed from the carriage and ‘married to the legionnaire who had rescued her’
Governments at war make dangerous promises. And the First World War was a time of promises and lies. The promises came first: in 1916, the British told the Arabs they could have independence; in 1917, they told the Jews they could have a homeland; and the French told the survivors of the 1915 Armenian genocide that they could return to liberate their homelands in eastern Turkey.
Then came the betrayals.
Superpowers like legions, the Roman variety, preferably when they are composed of foreigners. So the British created an Arab Legion to fight against the Ottoman Turks for independence and a Jewish Legion to fight against the Ottoman Turks for Palestine. And the French created an Armenian Legion – an offshoot of the French Foreign Legion, needless to say – to fight against the Ottoman Turks for Cilicia.
The Arabs lost Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, the Jews did not get all of Palestine, and the soldiers of the Armenian Legion – having helped to liberate Palestine – were abandoned amid the ashes of their own burnt cities.
Among the indigenous peoples of the Middle East, they were the most traduced of all, since they recovered not a square inch of their land. To be a loser doesn’t get you much purchase in the history books. To be a loser twice over turns you into a curio. Thus the story of the Armenian Legion has until now been largely untold and unremembered.
And Armenian Legionnaires: Sacrifice and Betrayal in World War I, Susan Paul Pattie’s first and original account of the fury, heartbreak and suffering of its soldiers – women as well as men in that most misogynistic of 20th century wars – is not for the faint-hearted. There are Armenian troops, armed and in uniform, desperately searching the Constantinople-bound Turkish refugee trains for Armenian girls who had been raped and kidnapped by the Ottomans who had butchered their families. “Too late,” young women told their would-be rescuers. They preferred to stay with their new Turkish husbands, or at least refused to be separated from their half-Armenian and half-Turkish children.
One Armenian woman, travelling by rail with a Turkish family, was discovered by soldiers of the Armenian Legion, her chest “adorned with gold”, and refused to be separated from her companions. She was taken from the carriage at the next station and “married to the legionnaire who had rescued her”. Sarkis Najarian “saw a rich Turkish family travelling [on the train between Adana and Mersin] with a pretty girl whom he thought must be Armenian”. He managed to separate her from the family and sent her to an orphanage. There had been many forced conversions of Armenian women although we rarely hear the women’s account of these “rescues”.
Najarian’s own sister Yeghsabet, when he discovered her, was already engaged and refused to leave her fiance, fearing for her life and offering Najarian money to go away. When he found her later, “she was married to a rich [Arab] Bedouin, tattooed – and happy”. There is a photograph of a young and beautiful Yeghsabet in a veil. “I have Armenian blood,” she would later tell her brother, “but I was raised a Muslim. When I hear the call to prayer, I have to do my prayers until the end of my life.”
Many of the men in the original legion had been signed up by the French in Egypt where they had settled with their families after a French warship rescued them in 1915 from the famous 40-day siege by the Turks at Musa Dagh. Others came from Europe, even from America, men who spoke French and American English as well as Armenian, anxious to fight for their still nonexistent nation after the horror and humiliation of the Turkish genocide of a million-and-a-half of their own Armenian people. By July 1918, the French had registered 58 Armenian officers, 4,360 soldiers – including 288 French Armenians – and two artillery gun crews with 37mm artillery. But while Susan Pattie, a scholar of Armenian history at University College, clearly sympathises with her heroes, there is an ugly undertow of revenge in their desire to fight for the Allies.
Fighting in Palestine at the 1918 Battle of Megiddo – the original Armageddon, which the Armenians call Arara – they received an official commendation for gallantry from General Edmund Allenby. But Hovannes Garabedian was to recall how he and his Armenian comrades found the Turkish trenches filled with their dead and dying enemies. “The ones who were not totally dead proved to be the most unfortunate,” he said. “The memory of yesterday’s genocide ... was so fresh in our minds, the thirst for revenge was so profound in the hearts of the Armenian legionnaires, the wounded Turks found no mercy. They were finished in their trenches.”
Again and again, in Pattie’s story, there are references to this most pitiful, comprehensible and terrible of emotions among a persecuted people: the need for vengeance and reprisals.
As the Armenian soldiers advanced with French and British troops back into the Cilician/Armenian fields and mountains from which they and their families had been driven by the Turkish genociders three years earlier, there was violence and murder. And with the rise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s nationalist uprising against the Allies, the French found their Armenian Legion an embarrassment rather than a trusted auxiliary. Surviving Armenian families who had trekked back in hope to their cremated homes in Marash found themselves dispossessed of their lands again, massacred once more in their thousands, joining retreating Armenian soldiers in the French withdrawal, many dying, frozen and starving, in their second exodus from Turkish Armenia in five years.
Hovannes Garabedian wrote of how, in hospital, he heard with joy the news of the Allied powers’ recognition of an “Independent Republic of Armenia” and then, three days later, learned that the Turks were again slaughtering and deporting the Armenians of Marash. “Suddenly, the days of excitement and happiness were replaced by long days and years of sorrow and mourning.” The victorious western powers wanted no more of their colonising war in Cilicia – not far away, the British were at the same time facing an Arab uprising in Iraq – and, in some cases, French officers virtually abandoned their Armenian legionnaires who were officially still part of the French army. They were to do the same to their faithful “Harkis” in Algeria just over four decades later.
The Armenians, in their pride and revenge, could not, perhaps, be expected to understand how soon their road to Golgotha would have to be retrodden. Did they not recognise their grim future when the Armenians were refused participation at the Versailles peace conference in 1919? Should they not have been included as joint Allied victors over the German-Austro-Hungarian-Ottoman alliance in the First World War? Attacked by bandits, demobilised Turkish soldiers, hunger and thirst, the retreating soldiers of “liberation” found themselves asking another question of all those who suffer refugeedom. How come some Armenian families had remained in their villages during the genocide? What deals had they struck with their Turkish oppressors? Why were Armenian girl refugees found with Bedouin tattoos on their faces, marks which were surgically removed by their “rescuers”.
Shame, like defeat, was a feeling rarely uttered but much felt. There are, remarkably, documentary photographs of the Adana battle, of men digging trenches and Armenian soldiers slogging across the hillsides of Marash. With the subtlety of all great powers, the Allies spoke not of betrayal. They called it “the Marash Affair”.
The rump nation Armenia which emerged to the east – quickly engorged by the Soviets and today a brave but often corrupt state – was of little interest to the men of the disbanded Armenian legion. The survivors returned to refugee families in Lebanon – at least one became a Beirut policeman – or to homes in France or in America where they often flourished and sometimes met for picnics, holding old flags and remembering false promises from powerful nations and creating little Armenias in their countries of exile. Lieutenant John Shishmanian even received a personal post-war letter from General Allenby.
“I am sorry, if the gallant conduct of the Armenians was not sufficiently recognised,” the great man – now high commissioner in Egypt – wrote from Cairo just after Christmas in 1919. “I know they fought nobly, and I am proud to have had them under my command.” The Battle of Arara – Megiddo or Armageddon to us – left its 23 Armenian dead in the desert, their bones later gathered and transshipped to the Armenian St James church in Jerusalem. The ashes of Viscount Allenby of Megiddo and Felixstowe were buried in Westminster Abbey.
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