WATERTOWN, Mass. (A.W.)—On the eve of Veteran’s Day, the Armenia Tree Project (ATP) and the Kanayan family hosted a special dinner in Watertown, honoring Armenian hero General Drastamat “Dro” Kanayan, who led the triumphant Armenian forces at the Battle of Bash Aparan in May 1918.
In addition to being a military commander, General Dro was also a statesman. As a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), he served as Defense Minister of Armenia in 1920, during the First Republic of Armenia.
In 2000, General Dro’s remains were repatriated to Armenia from Massachusetts, and reburied at the site of the Battle of Bash Aparan under a monument commemorating all his historic battles.
Next year marks the centennial anniversary of Armenian independence and in preparation, ATP is planting over 2,000 trees and decorative shrubs and adding walkways and benches at the site of the battle.
(Read more about ATP’s project here)
Tatul Sonentz-Papazian, former editor of the Armenian Review, former director of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and First Republic of Armenia Archives, and current director of the publications department of the Armenian Relief Society (ARS), was the evening’s guest of honor and keynote speaker.
Sonentz-Papazian first met Dro in Cairo in the early 1950s, when both men attended the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) World Congress there. Below are Sonentz-Papazian’s remarks, delivered at the Armenian-American Social Club (Papken Suni agoump) on Nov. 10, in their entirety.
In Memory of General Dro
Once more, we stand on the threshold of a historic centenary. A whole century has passed since the day that we, the remnants of a decimated nation, took our destiny in our own hands, not as meek subjects of foreign empires but as a people arising from its own ashes, claiming its mantle of sovereignty in the midst of unimaginable devastation.
Along the millennia that Armenia’s history has covered, a mere 100 years may easily pass unnoticed. Nevertheless, even a random assessment of past crucial times would stop us in our tracks and make us ponder with mixed feelings of awe, sorrow and elation, and pain and pride, about the impact of certain fateful years, months, dates, and individuals whose names punctuate our nation’s recent history with overwhelming significance.
One such revered date—and surely destined to remain so—is the 28th of May, 1918, a date of miraculous renewal a mere three years after the darkest date of our modern history: April 24, 1915.
And an outstanding name that comes to mind—along with so many others forever connected with the glorious days of May 1918—is Drastamat Kanayan, the young, indomitable avenger, whose steady hand put an end to the oppressive measures against the Armenians of the Caucasus by assassinating Prince Nakashidze and General Alikhanov, both sworn enemies of our people’s resurgence as a nation.
Who was Drastamat Kanayan, born 34 years before the birth of the First Republic, known throughout his life as Dashnaktsakan Dro? He was many things.
A man for all seasons, he was a fearless fedayi (freedom fighter), astute statesman, dexterous diplomat, general of armies, and successful businessman.
He was, simply, Dro.
A name of mere three letters for a man of many, many talents, all of them selflessly committed, throughout his stormy life, to the protection and liberation of his embattled nation… A name, forever remembered as the victorious commander of the heroic battles at Bash Abaran and Surmalu… Dro Kanayan.
The First Armenian Republic—rising in the early spring of 1918 from the sweat, guts, and blood of three heroic battles waged by the survivors of a battered and decimated nation fighting against a ferociously determined foe—was the re-manifestation of the cruelly extinguished aspirations of national independence in heroic Vaspurakan, reborn, for a short while, on the very heartland of historic Armenia.
Those epic May 1918 battles marked the springtime of Armenia’s resurrection as a sovereign nation in the aftermath of the Great War and the Genocidal policies put into action in its shadow. They would not have been conceivable if it hadn’t been for the heroic defense of Vaspurakan, led by Aram Manoukian—the future iron-willed founder of Armenian independent statehood, a miracle made possible with the active support of Dro and other commanders backed by an entire nation ready to defend its patrimony and die with honor, if need be. But our nation’s indomitable spirit did shape its destiny, secured and sealed on the field of honor.
It is as a direct result of those factors—along with countless other battles fought for decades by our fedayees committed to our people’s liberation from tyranny—that more than a quarter of a century ago, another historic date, Sept. 21, 1991, saw the light of day, proclaiming the re-establishment of Armenia’s interrupted independence within the present boundaries of the Republic of Armenia, the sovereign homeland of us all and the guarantor of the freedom of the embattled people of heroic Artsakh and its independence.
Throughout these historic events, throughout the turmoil of resurrection and rebirth of our free and independent homeland, and beyond, for over half a century—until his death, 61 years ago—Drastamat Kanayan was there, always at the forefront, involved in one capacity or another as a true leader of men…
In almost all major military, political, and diplomatic crises that faced our exhausted nation from the beginning of World War I through World War II and its aftermath, with his astute geopolitical sagacity and daring actions, in the most ominous circumstances, he managed to turn the tide of prejudice menacing our people and save countless precious Armenian lives that would have been lost to the brutal practices of the Third Reich, led by a racist tyrant and his Aryan cohorts who were courting Turkey to join them in their ferocious crusade against the Soviet Union…
A saga of momentous times—and dates and protagonists…
Celebrations and periods of mourning, all interconnected over a relatively brief period, yet profoundly different in their portent and consequences, opening new avenues of expansion and development, dependent on our solemn commitment to live up to our as-yet-untapped, full potential.
To that end, in a pledge to the defense of our Homeland, its people, its ancient soil and vulnerable environment, let us remember storm-driven Dro’s recorded words, which reflect the indomitable spirit of our people:
“I bear no grudge,” he says, with a firm voice, “nor do I have feelings of animosity against any nation—be they French, German, English, or Russian, or any other; I respect and wish them well. But, if any of them were to dare attack my people, or my Homeland, they will find me and my comrades confronting them, ready and willing to blow them away with the ferocity of a lightning-spewing thunderstorm…”
May his tempestuous life be an example to all those who in one way or another have made a commitment to the security, preservation and development, and stability and growth of our beloved homeland, mother to us all…