The Politics and Imperialism of Colonial and Foreign Volunteer Legions during the Great War: Comparing Proposals for Cypriot, Armenian and Jewish Legions

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    Abstract

    Throughout history, colonial and foreign legions have been a part of larger armies but rarely have they been as politically a€loadeda€™ as the three proposed to the British government during the Great War. Cypriot, Armenian, and Jewish political elites proposed the formation of volunteer legions in the British army in late 1914 and early 1915. The primary sources show that they were initially rejected for political as well as military reasons. In 1916 the British agreed for the French to establish an Armenian legion, while in April 1917 the British agreed to establish a Jewish legion. When the French and British authorities accepted the Armenian Legion in the French army and the Jewish Legion in the British army respectively, the same political reasons for initially rejecting them were overcome or set aside. Imperialism was the key to understanding the initial rejecting of all three and the acceptance of those two: the Cyprus proposal threatened British rule in Cyprus and so was never accepted; the Armenian proposal did not play into British imperial interests, but once the British accepted French imperial interests in Cilicia in the Sykes-Picot Agreement the British accepted it; the Jewish Legion was accepted after the British embarked on their conquest of Palestine. Using British, French, and Cypriot archives, this article explores the official British reasoning for rejecting offers of Cypriot, Armenian, and Jewish legions and then accepting the latter two during the Great War.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)344-363
    Number of pages20
    JournalWar in History
    Volume22
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 9 Jul 2015

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