Drastamat Kanayan

Drastamat Kanayan
Drastamat Kanayan
Դրաստամատ Կանայեան
Drastamat "Dro" Kanayan
1st Defense Minister of Armenia
In office
30 May 1918 – 28 May 1919
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by Ruben Ter-Minasian
Personal details
Born May 31, 1884
Igdir, Russian Empire
Died March 8, 1956
Boston, United States
Nationality Armenian
Political party Armenian Revolutionary Federation
Military service
Nickname(s) General Dro
Allegiance Democratic Republic of Armenia, Axis powers
Years of service 1914-1945
Commands Armed Forces of Yerevan,
812th Armenian Battalion
Battles/wars World War I,
Battle of Bash Abaran,
Turkish-Armenian War,
Georgian-Armenian War

General Drastamat Kanayan (Armenian: Դրաստամատ Կանայեան (Drastamat Kanahyean), known as General Dro, Դրօ, May 31, 1884 – March 8, 1956), was a politician, revolutionary, military commander of Hitler’s Armenian Legion of the Wehrmacht, the armed forces of Nazi Germany,[1] and part of Armenian national liberation movement as a member of the A.R.F. Dashnaktsuyun.


Early life

Drastamat Kanayan was born in, Surmalu (present-day Iğdır), Russian Empire (present-day Turkey) in 1884. He was the son of Martiros Kanayan, the head of the Kanayan, or "Gago", family clan in Igdir and Horom Kanayan, Drastamat's mother. At an early age, Martiros Kanayan 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.[2] Noticing that he had no interest in books and learning, Martiros Kanayan pulled him out of the village school and enrolled him to the Yerevan Gymnasium school.

Drastamat was no better in the Yerevan Gymanisium 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.[3]

Edict on Armenian church property

On June 12, 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.[4] This prompted Drastamat Kanayan to join the ranks of the Dashnaktsutiun in order to defend the churches from being confiscated through public demonstrations and guard duty.[3]

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.[5]

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 battilion 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.

1914, Staff of Armenian volunteers; Khetcho, Drastamat Kanayan, and Karekin Pastermadjian
Kanayan on horseback

Between March 1918 and April 1918 he was appointed by the Armenian National Council military commissar to the Administration for Western Armenia of the Ararat region. He was the commander of Battle of Bash Abaran.

During the Armenian Genocide, Kanayan fought off Turkish aggression against Armenian civilians. "In history it happened to the Armenians in Turkey and Eastern Anatolia 2.5 million Armenians were killed by the Turks in the worst possible way imaginable. It is sickening to think that the human race is capable of such actions, but there is no denying the fact that the genocide of 1 million Armenians happened. The Armenian General Dro, was the hero of this Turkish genocide of Armenians, 1914-1920." - Arto Derounian (as 'John Roy Carlson'), Armenian Affairs magazine Winter issue, 1949–50, page 19, footnote. (Derounian's first name was "Avedis," and "Arthur" is the name he usually used; the author's "Under Cover" was a best seller in 1944.)

Democratic Republic of Armenia

In 1918-1920, Kanayan became the Defence Minister of the short-lived Democratic Republic of Armenia and commanded Armenian troops in various successful wars. The last battles against the Ottoman Empire at the Caucasus Campaign essentially saved the Armenian Republic from total destruction. As a Defence Minister before the end of 1918, he took responsibility at the Armenian-Azeri war 1918 and Georgian-Armenian War 1918. Later in 1920, Turkish-Armenian War.

In 1920, after the incorporation of the Republic of Armenia into the Soviet Union, Drastamat Kanayan immigrated to Iran and later to Germany.

Armenian-Azeri war

In 1920, Drastamat Kanayan advanced to the vicinity of Shushi.[6] On the night from March 21-March 22, 1920 when the Azeris were celebrating Novruz Bayram, the Armenians of Karabakh began to revolt and organized a surprise attack.[7] During these clashes thousands of people from both the Armenian and Azeri sides were killed, with more than 7,000 houses burned and Shusha virtually cleansed of its Armenian population. On 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.[8] Dro had to withdraw because of the Sovietization of Azerbaijan and the assurances given by Sergo Ordzhonikidze’s messengers regarding a just solution to the Karabagh conflict.[6] In this situation on May 26 the tenth congress of 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 "Revolutionary Committee of Nagorno Karabagh". It was headed by S. Hambartsumian. On the same day Drastamat Kanayan along with his units was forced to leave Karabagh.[8]

World War II

The short-lived Armenian Republic established in 1918 in the Southern Caucasus by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (The Dashnaks) was conquered by the Russian Bolsheviks in 1920, and ceased to exist. During World War II, the Dashnaks saw a good opportunity in the collaboration with the Nazis to regain those territories. The expected prize was an Armenian state in a new world created by Nazi Germany. Aid was given in propaganda and intelligence in which the Armenian organizations were active. On December 30, 1941 they formed from ethnic Armenians an 18,000-strong battalion known as the "812th Armenian Battalion of Wehrmacht" under the command of Drastamat Kanayan known by his nickname “Dro”. The legion was trained by SS officers and participated in the occupation of the Crimean Peninsula and the Caucasus.[9]

According to Joris Versteeg, the total number of Armenians serving in the German armed forces during the war was 18,000: 11,000 were placed in field battalions, while 7,000 were placed in logistic and non-combat units. Ailsby puts the number at 11,600.

After World War II, Kanayan emigrated to the United States and continued his political activities with the purpose of advancing the “Armenian Cause”. In 1947, at the Universal Congress of the Dashnak Party, he was forgiven for his collaboration with Nazis, as he could justify it with powerful arguments, and was again elected a member of the Party.[10]

Death and burial

With the end of World War II, Drastamat Kanayan was arrested by American forces, but soon released. Kanayan settled within the large Armenian Diaspora of Lebanon. When traveling to the U.S. for medical treatment, he died in Boston on 8 March 1956.

With much pomp and ceremony, Kanayan's remains were taken to Armenia for final burial in Aparan, on 28 May 2000, within the commemoration of the 82nd anniversary of the Democratic Republic of Armenia. Drastamat Kanayan, along with his famous comrade in arms Garegin Nzhdeh , is considered to be a great Armenian hero by Armenians worldwide.



  • Dimensions of Democracy and Authority in Caucasian Armenia, 1917-1920, Richard G. Hovannisian, Russian Review, Vol. 33, No. 1 (January, 1974)
  1. ^ This Land Was Your Land, This Land Was My Land, James Russell
  2. ^ Igdir at the time was an important military post where eight to ten thousand Russian troops were stationed including: infantry, Cossacks, cavalry and border guards. Most of the inhabitants of the village thrived by trading with the soldiers.
  3. ^ a b Vratsian, Simon (2000). Tempest-Born DRO. Armenian Prelacy, New York, translated by Tamar Der-Ohannesian. pp. 13–22. 
  4. ^ Geifman, Anna. Thou Shalt Kill: Revolutionary Terrorism in Russia, 1894-1917. pp. 21–22. ISBN 0-691-02549-5. 
  5. ^ Smbat Minasyan. "HISTORY OF ARTSAKH". http://www.armenian-history.com/Nyuter/BIOGRAPHY/drastamat_kanayan.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-16. 
  6. ^ a b Richard G. Hovannisian, "Historical Memory and Armenian-Azerbaijani Relations The Armenian Perspective" September 14, 2000
  7. ^ Richard G. Hovannisian. The Republic of Armenia, Vol. III: From London to Sèvres, February–August 1920
  8. ^ a b Government source. [f http://www.nkr.am/eng/history/svlast.htm "HISTORY OF ARTSAKH"]. Ministry of Foreign Affairs NKR, 2001.. f http://www.nkr.am/eng/history/svlast.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-16. 
  9. ^ The banality of denial: Israel and the Armenian genocide, Yair Auron, p. 238
  10. ^ Drastamat Kanayan Bio

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