Drastamat KanayanMonday, February 10, 2020
Drastamat Kanayan (31 May 1884 – 8 March 1956), better known as Dro (Դրօ), was an Armenian military commander and politician, a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. He served as the Defense Minister of Armenia in 1920, during the country's brief independence. During World War II, he led the Armenian Legion.
Drastamat Kanayan was born in Surmali, Russian Empire (present-day Iğdır, Turkey) in 1884. He was the son of Martiros Kanayan, the head of the Kanayan clan in Igdir, and his wife, Horom. At an early age, Martiros enrolled his son to the parish school of Igdir. Drastamat would skip school to hang out near the military barracks of Igdir because of his interest in the military exercises held there. Igdir at the time was an important military post where between 8000 and 10000 Russian troops were stationed including infantry, Cossacks, cavalry and border guards. Most of the inhabitants of the village thrived by trading with the soldiers. Noticing that his son had no interest in books and learning, Martiros pulled him out of the village school and enrolled him to the Yerevan Gymnasium school.
Drastamat was no better in the Gymnasium school as the grades he achieved were barely enough for a promotion. Like all government schools in the provinces of Russia, there was a policy of Russification that limited education in the Armenian language to religion only. Inspired by stories of General Andranik's triumphs in the Ottoman Empire and the spread of nationalism by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Drastamat joined a secret youth movement in his school that opposed the Czar's government and promoted Armenian nationalism.
On 12 June 1903, the tsarist authorities passed an edict to bring all Armenian Church property under imperial control. This was faced by strong Armenian opposition because it perceived the Tsarist edict as a threat to the Armenian national existence. As a result, the Armenian leadership decided to actively defend Armenian churches by dispatching militiamen who acted as guards and holding mass demonstrations. This prompted Drastamat to join the ranks of the Dashnaktsutiun in order to defend churches from confiscation through public demonstrations and guard duty.
World War I
He served as detachment commander in the Russian Caucasus Army during World War I. He was one of the commanders of the Armenian volunteer units and decorated by the Tsar.
In November 1914, he had the second battalion of the Armenian volunteers. At the Bergmann Offensive, the second battalion of the Armenian volunteers engaged in battle for the first time, near Bayazid. In the course of a bloody combat which lasted twenty-four hours, Dro, commander of the battalion, was seriously wounded. From that day to March of the following year, he remained in critical condition, but his battalion led into eleven battles in the neighborhood of Alashkert, Toutakh, and Malashkert, until Dro recovered and returned to resume the command. Kanayan had already become a popular military leader after the victories over the Ottoman Empire at the Caucasus Campaign.
Between March 1918 and April 1918 he was appointed by the Armenian National Council military commissar to the occupation of Turkish Armenia of the Ararat region. He was the commander of the Armenian forces in the Battle of Bash Abaran.
In 1920, Drastamat Kanayan advanced to the vicinity of Shushi.On the night from 21–22 March 1920, when the Azerbaijanis were celebrating Novruz Bayram, the Armenians of Karabakh revolted and organized a surprise attack. During these clashes thousands of people from both the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides were killed, with more than 7,000 houses burned, with Shusha virtually cleansed of its Armenian population.
In April 1920, the Bolshevik leadership of the Red Army informed from the Drastamat Kanayan to leave Karabagh. Karabagh-Zangezur was on the break of armed confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Drastamat Kanayan knew that if he did not compy with this demand the Red Army and the armed forces of Azerbaijan would have to act jointly.
He was forced to withdraw due to the Sovietization of Azerbaijan and the assurances given by the emissaries of Sergo Ordzhonikidze regarding a just solution to the Karabagh conflict. On 26 May 1920, the 10th Congress of the Armenian National Council of Karabagh, which took place in Taghavard village, proclaimed the change of position. The "Armenian National Council of Karabagh" was replaced with The Revolutionary Committee of Nagorno Karabagh, headed by S. Hambartsumian. That same day, Kanayan along with his units was forced to leave Karabagh.