Marty Kanayan Walked in Dad’s Footsteps

HOUSTON, Texas—Growing up on the streets of Watertown, Mass., Mardiros (Martin) Kanayan was his father’s keeper.

As the proud son of Armenian freedom fighter General Dro Kanayan, he had big shoes to fill. At AYF Conventions, he served as a leader and worthy ambassador for his peers. At demonstrations and other political gatherings, his Armenian was impeccable. His demeanor was one of respect and admiration.

Wherever Marty Kanayan ventured, the image of his famous Dad—the man who instigated the fight for liberation while leading the charge at Bash Abaran and Karakilese during the genocide—was sure to follow.

“My father had a deep feeling of national pride toward the Armenian nation,” said Marty’s son, Dro. “Two of his greatest moments in life were when he saw Armenia become independent in 1991 and returning his father’s [General Dro Kanayan’s] remains to the homeland.”

“My father was also a proud American military veteran, believing we live in the greatest country of the world,” his son continued. “He used his success in America to help the Armenian nation.”

Marty Kanayan died on Dec. 26 after celebrating Christmas with his family by his side. He was 71 and maintained an active Armenian American lifestyle in Texas before taking ill several years ago.

He was born in Bucharest, Romania, son of the late Gayane and Dro Kanayan, and also lived in Germany, Italy, and Lebanon before settling in Watertown in 1951 at the age of 13.

He graduated from Northeastern University and served with the Army Signal Corps. He was employed by Shell Oil Company in sales and marketing and as an economist in Shell’s Pecten International before retiring in 1997.

Marty took an active interest in the Republic of Armenia. In 1998, he was invited to attend the 80th anniversary of the First Independent Republic, at which time the Armenian government asked to have his father’s remains exhumed and reburied in Abaran.

Two years later, he and his family, including his mother (a centenarian), realized that dream. Gayane Kanayan taught orphaned Armenian children and supported many refugees escaping from communism who found their way to Romania. She continued her mission with the ARS and helped establish the Sophia Hagopian Endowment and the “Bnag Meh Geragoor” fund to support underprivileged Armenians throughout the world.

“The reception my father received from the Armenian government and people moved him deeply,” said the son. “Growing up, Dad always understood the importance of Dro’s legacy and tried to continue his ideals of protecting and supporting the people, both in Armenia and the diaspora. It was a responsibility he maintained with dignity throughout his life.”

Like his father, Marty was a lifelong member of the ARF and assisted many organizations like the Armenia Fund. He organized a committee to help a girl from Armenia receive medical treatment in Houston.

He remained active in the Armenian community, continuing his support of the ARF and other Armenian organizations, and making a number of visits to the homeland with a caring and benevolent hand extended. He helped start an Armenian Political Action Group in Houston and continued helping the country on a national level by advising on different projects that erupted.

In the outside world, Marty enjoyed a friendly game of golf and followed the sports scene closely.

“Dad was always a person who fought for what he believed,” said Philip, a second son. “He didn’t believe people should be complacent and tried to encourage Armenians to stay involved, even if they were removed. He loved his wife with all his heart and in his waning years, continued taking cruises with her because he felt she needed the relaxation time.”

On more than one occasion, they were aboard the Costa Mediterranean for the Armenian Heritage Cruise, mingling with one Armenian passenger after another whether Marty knew them or not. He was easily one of the more popular guests on board, given his lineage and notoriety.

Though his health became tenuous at the end, Marty never failed to reflect upon the positive side.

“There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for his wife Alice and two sons,” said the younger Dro. “He worked to provide for his family and we never had to worry about things. Dad would roll out the red carpet with a white horse and carriage for his wife.”

Marty wed the former Alice Daghlian in 1967, the gal he had met from the Watertown AYF who was the sister of his best friend Lee. In addition to his parents, he was predeceased by three brothers, Luther, Suren, and Gourgen, leaving behind a sister, Olga Proudian of Watertown; his only grandchild, Grace; two daughters-in-law, Lynn and Catherine Grace; and several nieces and nephews.

The 2000 project to return General Dro’s remains to his homeland turned into an extravaganza of sorts at Mount Auburn Cemetery where the body had rested. Prominent Armenian and American officials were on hand for the occasion in what turned into a memorable event.

“When the government discussed the idea, they wanted to erect a memorial statue for my grandfather,” said the younger Dro. “He had wanted to be buried in his homeland among his people but due to the politics at the time, his wishes went unanswered.”

But Marty knew his Dad may have relented at such a public spectacle. It was more about helping the people, not about statues and monuments. Marty finally conceded and worked with the Republic of Armenia to develop the current memorial in Abaran, towering over the countryside as a beacon of glory for motorists and mountaineers alike.

Marty also worked diligently in establishing the General Dro Institute where memorial contributions may be made: Armenia Fund USA, Inc., 80 Maiden Lane, Suite 301, New York, NY 10038.

“One of the last things he said to me was the ultimate praise any son would want to hear,” Dro concluded. “He told me what a wonderful job I was doing in raising my daughter Gracie. That meant a lot to me.”

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Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
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