Napoleon’s Shushi Armenian Mameluke Ouanis Petro participated in Karabakh protection during Russo-Persian War

Napoleon’s Shushi Armenian Mameluke Ouanis Petro participated in Karabakh protection during Russo-Persian War –

Napoleon used to include various foreign troops’ units into the French army. A significant part of these troops were of Caucasian origin, like Armenians, Georgians, Circassians and representatives of other nations captured by the Turks. They were, as a rule, voluntarily enlisted in Bonaparte’s army.  Vardges Mikaelyan and Varuzhan Poghosyan compiled documentary information about the life of one of Napoleon’s mamelukes, Ouanis Petro, an Armenian from Shushi, warrior and guard, Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, who took part in many important wars of the Napoleon epoch. The material is published on the website

 Citing the French historian P. Cottin’s estimates, the authors write that there were 17 Armenians in the squadron (Roustam, Bagdassar d’Arménie, Hagop d’Arménie, Joseph d’Arménie, Hovhannès d’Arménie, Hovhannès d’Arménie le Grand, Hovhannès d’Arménie le Petit, Tounis d’Arménie, Azaria le Grand, Azaria le Petit, Jean Mardiros, Mirza le Grand, Daniel Mirza le Petit, Petrous, Joseph Sera and others). Three of them, Ouanis Petro, Daniel Mirza le Petit and Tounis d’Arménie were Chevaliers of the Legion of Honour.

Ouanis Petro, or Hovhannes, son of Petros, was born in the city Shushi. When young, he was captured by the Persians during Agha Mohammad Khan’s second invasion in the Transcaucasia in 1797, and later sold to the Egyptian mamelukes. The French recruited Ouanis in Egypt, and he was enlisted in the mamelukes’ squadron to leave for France. Ouanis remained faithful to Napoleon to the last moment. However, he was forced to leave France after the ultimate defeat and return to his native Karabakh. There he took part in the liberation of the Western Armenia during the Russo-Persian War (1826–1828).

The history has not forgotten Ouanis Petro. M. Neyman, F. Masson, P. Cottin, Hagоp-Кrikоr mention him in their works. Although not all of the documents about him have been preserved, those that did are still able to present a more or less complete picture of his life and activities.

The first document, dated 14 March 1806, is the Grand Chancelier’s message to a member of the Legion of Honour, gefreiter of the mamelukes of the Imperial Guard, Monsieur Ouanis (Petro) about the Emperor and King appointing him a member of the Legion of Honour during the grand council.

“Monsieur, I hasten to inform you with a great joy about the evidence of the righteousness of His Imperial and Royal Majesty and about the gratitude of the nation,” reads the Grand Chancelier’s message.

The Legion of Honour is a military and political organisation founded by Napoleon in May 1802. Its members were selected due to their prominent military and political merits. They enjoyed certain privileges and received money.

Further biographical data about Ouanis can be obtained from a memorandum for offering him pension, dated 23 June 1813, which he submitted to get a permission to move from Paris to Marseille, to the “home of the Egyptian refugees.” According to the document, Ouanis d’Arménie, son of Petro and Margarita, was born in Shushi, Armenia, on 12 September 1781. In June-July of 1799, he was enlisted in the Syrian squad. In 1802, Ouanis became a mameluke of guard, and in December of 1809 – a non-commissioned officer.

Ouanis was in active service from 21 June 1799 to 20 June 1813 inclusive, 10 years in 10 military campaigns. He got multiple injuries during the military campaigns but miraculously survived. In particular, he got a spear injury in the right thigh in Egypt during the battle of Matarieh; a shot in the head and left ear during Austerlitz battle; four sabre stabs in head in Benavente, Spain. There is a corps doctor’s evidence preserved about the above-mentioned injuries: “I, the undersigned, testify that Monsieur Ouanis d’Arménie, non-commissioned officer of mamelukes, was injured in the right temporal area because of a shot, four sabre stabs in the head and a spear stab in the knee. In addition, he has an inguinal hernia on the left side and attenuated appearance resulted from wars.”

The members of the Administrative Council confirmed the authenticity of the information about the service, campaigns and wounds and acknowledged that Monsieur Ouanis d’Arménie’s indisposition is a result of military events and severities.

“The members of the Administrative Council certify that Monsieur Ouanis d’Arménie, non-commissioned officer of the third detachment of the squadron of mamelukes, who is going to leave for the home of the Egyptian refugees in Marseille upon His Excellency Military Minister’s decision, has always stood out with his perfect behaviour since 2 Germinal of the X year, that is the time he was enlisted in the aforementioned squadron, to this day,” reads the record. (2 Germinal of the X year corresponds to 23 March 1802 in the French Republican Calendar)

After retiring from the army, the former non-commissioned officer, member of the Legion of Honour, Monsieur Ouanis Petro was allowed to wear the fleur-de-lys upon the order of His Royal Majesty Duke of Berry.

The certificate given to Ouanis Petro in Shushi in 1828 provides details of his life in his homeland, Karabakh, where he returned on demobilisation. The document testifies that Hovhannes Petrosov, Armenian resident of Karabakh, who served in the French service of mamelukes and has the order of the Legion of Honour, was abroad among the troops of the left flank during the whole current campaign against the Persians. Due to his knowledge of languages, he carried out various commissions with excellent diligence and special zeal.

An autobiography written by Ouanis-Hovhannes has also been preserved. He writes about his uneasy course of life, about how he was seized by the mamelukes as a child and sold to slavery, about his enlistment in Napoleon’s army and how he fought up to Waterloo. Returning to his homeland and willing to be of help to it, he participated in the campaigns against the Lezgians, as well as the war against Persia in 1826, 1827, 1828 with the troops of the Russian Empire.

Ouanis Petro’s archive is kept at the Institute of Ancient Manuscripts (Matenadaran). It was bestowed to Matenadaran by the mameluke’s great-grandson, H. I. Hovahannesbekov, in 1962. He translated all the materials from the original languages (French, Persian) into Russian. Hovhannesbekov’s translations have only been slightly edited.



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