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patch worn by the Armenian Legion
|Active||4 July 1942 – 8 June 1944|
|Size||11,600 – 33,000|
|Ceremonial chief||Drastamat Kanayan|
The Armenian Legion, also known as the 812th Armenian Battalion (German: Armenische Legion; Armenian: Հայկական լեգիոն Haykakan legion) was a military unit in the German Army during World War II, composed largely of Soviet Armenian prisoners of war. It was commanded by Drastamat Kanayan. The Armenian and Georgian battalions were mainly stationed in the Netherlands as a result of Adolf Hitler's distrust for them, and due further to low morale and poor training, many of them deserted, defected or revolted.
The Armenian legion, like the other distrusted Turkic and Caucasian forces formed by the Germans, has been described by one military historian as "poorly armed, trained, and motivated," and was "unreliable and next to useless."
The short-lived First Republic of Armenia established in 1918 in the Southern Caucasus by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (The Dashnaks) was conquered by the Russian Bolsheviks in 1920, and ceased to exist. The First Republic of Armenia had fought the Turkish–Armenian War and lost, subsequently signing the unrecognized Treaty of Alexandropol. This treaty was not valid because the Armenian state had ceased to exist, and the newly appointed Soviets had recognized the former boundaries of the Armenian state. However, some of the Western Armenian territories gained by the Dashnaks were given to the newly created Republic of Turkey by Vladimir Lenin during the Treaty of Moscow and by Stalin during the Treaty of Kars.
During World War II, some Berlin-based representatives of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF, Dashnaks), though repudiated by the official party organs, made an agreement with the Nazis in 1942 to support the Germans against the Soviet Union. The majority of the soldiers in the legion were former Soviet Red Army prisoners of war, who had opted to fight for German forces rather than face the genocidal conditions of the Nazi POW camps.
On December 30, 1941 they formed a battalion of 8,000-strong known as the "812th Armenian Battalion of Wehrmacht" under the command of Drastamat Kanayan (Dro). A number of Armenian veterans who had escaped to the US after World War I came back to Europe to head it. General Drastamat "Dro" Kanayan (a one-time leader of the First Republic of Armenia) led the legion, and fought on the Eastern front. French genocide scholar Yves Ternon, who has studied the battalion, suggested that while there were no "substantial" fascistic inclinations among the Armenians in general, Kanayan was an exception; Ternon characterized "Dro" as possessive of substantial "fascist deviation."
The Dashnaks tried to counter Turkish propaganda which falsely portrayed Armenians as a Semitic people close to the Jews to ensure their genocidal destruction should Soviet Armenia fall under Nazi rule. To fight Turkey's anti-Armenian politicking, the Dashnaks entered into negotiations with Berlin, and reluctantly agreed to participate in the formation of the legion.
Drastamat Kanayan (nicknamed Dro), a seasoned guerrilla leader who had fought against the Turks in Eastern Turkey before and during the Turkish War of Independence following World War I. Later, he became the Supreme Commandant of the Armenian army in the short lived First Armenian Republic, and in 1920-1921 he organized a wide-spread fight against the Azeri and the Turkish populations in the region. This is documented in the book World Alive by the U.S. Naval officier Robert Steed Dunn who was an eye-witness to those Armenian atrocities. Lieutenant Dunn was the Intelligence officer of Rear Admiral Mark L. Bristol, the American High-Commissioner in the region and also a de facto American Ambassador in Turkey. Between 1919-1921 lieutenant Dunn traveled extensively with Dro and his army in the region, and both made several contacts with the Russian Bolsheviks, the Turkish and the Armenian National forces. With this historical perspective, this new task assigned to Dro by the Nazi leadership a quarter of century later seemed to be a chance to recover Armenian territories lost to Turkey.
According to Joris Versteeg, the total number of Armenians serving in the German armed forces during the war reached 33,000: 14,000 were placed in field battalions, while another 7,000 served in logistical and other non-combat units. Ailsby puts the number at 11,600.
Several Jewish soldiers serving in the Red Army and captured as POWs were saved by some of the Armenians in the Legion. Josef Moisevich Kogan, a Jewish Red Army soldier captured by German forces, noted the help he received by an Armenian doctor in the 812th Battalion when he was sneaked into the battalion itself and later escaped with the help of Dutch underground resistance members. Other instances included Jews being sent to the battalion to evade detection by the Nazis. Hans Houterman reported that in one case a battalion in the Netherlands where the legion was stationed even revolted.
Toulon, Southern France, 1944
One part of the Armenian Legion formed the 4th Battalion of the 918th Grenadier Regiment, 242 Infanterie-Division, one of the few Eastern Legion units to be given German insignia after March 18, 1944. The battalion was destroyed in the defense of Toulon. At the end of the war, the remaining members in the battalion surrendered to the Western Allied forces. If not detained by them, they were turned over to Soviet authorities who, under an order enacted by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, were sent to camps in Siberia as punishment for surrendering to Axis forces and "allowing themselves to be captured," a fate suffered by nearly all of the former Soviet prisoners of the war who had served as Nazi collaborators.
Alfred Rosenberg, Hitler's Minister of the Occupied Territories, declared that the Armenians were Indo-European, or Aryans, and thus they were immediately subject to conscription. According to Versteeg, however, "Although Armenians officially were considered 'Aryans', the notion of them being 'Levantine traders', similar to the Jews, was deep-seated in Nazi circles, and racial 'purists' along with Hitler himself were prone to look upon the Armenians as 'non-Aryans.'"
Hitler himself expressed his doubts on the Armenian and other Soviet battalions. Speaking about military units from Soviet peoples, Hitler said: "I don't know about these Georgians. They do not belong to the Turkic peoples...I consider only the moslims [sic] to be reliable...All others I deem unreliable. For the time being I consider the formation of these battalions of purely Caucasian peoples very risky, while I don't see any danger in the establishment of purely Moslim units...In spite of all declarations from Rosenberg and the military, I don't trust the Armenians either."
- Turkistanische Legion
- Aserbaidschanische Legion
- The Georgian Legion (1914-1918)
- The Georgian Legion (1941-1945)
- Auron. The Banality Of Denial, p. 262.
- Ailsby, Christopher (2004). Hitler’s Renegades: Foreign Nationals in the Service of the Third Reich. Staplehurst, Kent: Spellmount. pp. 123–124. ISBN 1-57488-838-2.
- Auron, Yair (2003). The Banality of Denial: Israel and the Armenian Genocide. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers. pp. 262–263. ISBN 0-7658-0834-X.
- Suny, Ronald G. "Soviet Armenia" in The Armenian People From Ancient to Modern Times, Volume II: Foreign Dominion to Statehood: The Fifteenth Century to the Twentieth Century, ed. Richard G. Hovannisian. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997, pp. 366-367. ISBN 0-312-10168-6.
- Auron, Yair. The Banality of Denial, p. 261.
- Auron, Yair. The Banality of Denial, p. 238.
- Walker, Christopher J. Armenia: The Survival of a Nation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1990 p. 357
- Auron. The Banality of Denial, p. 261.
- (German) Kurt Mehner, Germany. Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, Bundesarchiv (Germany). Militärarchiv, Arbeitskreis für Wehrforschung. Die Geheimen Tagesberichte der Deutschen Wehrmachtführung im Zweiten Weltkrieg, 1939-1945: 1. December 1943-29. February 1944. p. 51.
- Auron The Banality of Denial. p. 263.
- Houterman, Hans (1997). Eastern Troops in Zeeland, Netherlands, 1943-1944. Bayside, NY: Axis Europa Books.
- Thomas, Nigel (2000). The German Army 1939-45 (5). Stephen Andrew. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. pp. 43–44. ISBN 1-85532-797-X.
- Dallin, Alexander (1957). German Rule in Russia: 1941-1945: A Study of Occupation Policies. New York: St Martin's Press. pp. 229, 251.
- Thomassian, Levon. Summer of '42: A Study of German-Armenian Relations During the Second World War. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 2012.
- Battalion Zaytun