On this photo from 1907 (see below), Drastamat Kanayan (General Dro) can be seen together with his friend Martiros Charkhchyan. On July 3 of the same year in Alexandropol (Gyumri), they assassinated the Tiflis governor General Maksud Alikhanov-Avarsky, a provoker of Armenian pogroms.
In the summer of 1905, General Maksud Alikhanov-Avarsky was sent to “pacify” the Erivan gubernia where Armenian-Tatar clashes took place. According to the Russian press, he openly patronized the Tatars in general and in particular his relatives – the khans of Nakhichevan – during the massacres of Armenians.
Alikhanov-Avarsky was killed on July 3, 1907, when he was returning from the meeting of the Kabardian regiment. On the Bebutovskaya street, two bombs were thrown into his carriage. The general, his son, and the wife and daughter of General Glebov were in the carriage. Alikhanov, Glebova, and the coachman died in the explosion.
Drastamat Martirosovich Kanayan (Armenian: Դրաստամատ Մարտիրոսի Կանայան, better known as Dro, Armenian: Դրո; May 1, 1883 — March 8, 1956) was a prominent Armenian political and military figure, a member of the Dashnaktsutyun party, and a fighter for the freedom of Armenia and the Armenian people. He was born in Surmali, Russian Empire (present-day Iğdır in Turkey), on May 1, 1883.
At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, the tsarist government of Russia began to carry out an obvious anti-Armenian policy.
This policy resulted in, firstly, an openly racist persecution of Armenians in the media (where Vasily Velichko became particularly distinguished).
Secondly, the Russian authorities attempted to shut down Armenian national schools and teaching in the Armenian language in general.
Thirdly, the Russians confiscated the property of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Before the Armenian Genocide of 1915, even the Turks hadn’t dared to harm the Armenian Church. The Armenians’ advocacy of the Church was mercilessly suppressed by the army.
And the last result of Russia’s policy was the organization of Armenian pogroms carried out by the Muslim population of the Transcaucasia.
The terror of the militants of the Armenian nationalist organization Dashnaktsutyun was a response to this policy of national oppression. Driven by the desire to protect his people and its Church, Drastamat Kanayan joined the ranks of the Dashnaks in 1903.
In the same year, he took part in an attempt on the governor of Surmalu Golitsyn. In May 1905 in Baku, Kanayan blew up the main culprit and instigator of the Armenian-Tatar clashes, the Governor-General Nakashidze.
During World War I, the tsarist government made a cunning trick. After the outbreak of hostilities between the Russian Empire and Turkey, all Dashnak terrorists who were serving their sentences in Russian prisons or were hiding from Russian justice were granted an amnesty.
The Russians sent these Dashnaks to the Turkish front, rightly believing that they would clash with the Turks especially fiercely. And if they were killed by the Turks, it would not be a pity.
Drastamat Kanayan also participated in these events: he assumed the command of the 2nd Armenian Volunteer Detachment of the Russian Army. This volunteer detachment had taken part in many battles, with the Battle of Van being their most prominent one.
A funny case in a hospital
Once, Tsar Nicholas II arrived in a hospital to see the wounded. Dro was at the hospital as well, recovering after a complicated surgery. Accompanied by doctors and nurses, as well as an Armenian major who told the tsar about the circumstances of the Armenian officer’s wounding, Nicholas visited Dro, congratulated him, and awarded him the Imperial Cross of Saint George IV class.
“Where did you acquire your military skill?” the tsar asked Dro.
“In the revolution, Your Majesty” answered Dro in Russian confidently.
Nicholas II, being timid by nature, lost his head and hurried away, while the Armenian major accompanying him tried to reassure him, explaining that Dro meant the Armenian revolution in Turkey. The next day, the entire Tiflis spoke with admiration about the audacity of Dro.
At the end of 1917, Dro was appointed Commissioner of the Armenian Corps. Over the course of the Armenian-Turkish War of 1918, he took an active part in the Bashaparan battle against the Turkish invaders as a commander of cover forces. As a result of this battle, the Turkish army was surrounded and defeated.
In November 1920, General Drastamat Kanayan was appointed Minister of War of the Republic of Armenia. According to the agreement between the RSFSR and the Republic of Armenia of December 2, 1920, which declared Armenia an independent socialist republic, Dro was introduced into the temporary Revolutionary Committee of Armenia (consisting of leftist Dashnaks). However, the Revcom of Armenia, which had arrived in Yerevan in early December 1920, did not agree with this decision, and Drastamat Kanayan was not approved as a member of the Revcom.
Until the beginning of January 1921, Dro served as the commander of the troops of Soviet Armenia. In February 1921, General Dro took part in the uprising against the Soviet regime. The uprising was suppressed, and Dro left Armenia. In following years, he lived in Romania and then in Lebanon.
During WWII, Drastamat Kanayan along with Garegin Nzhdeh was involved in the formation of the Armenian Legion as a part of the Wehrmacht (founded February 8, 1942). Staffed with Armenian prisoners of war of the Soviet Army, it participated in operations against the Bolshevik partisans in Crimea and the Caucasus.
After World War II, Dro participated in the activities of the American National Committee for Armenians (ANCA) which contributed to the settlement of Armenians in Western Europe and the United States.
In 1947, at the world party congress of Dashnaktsutyun, Dro received forgiveness from the party as he was able to justify his cooperation with the Nazis with weighty arguments. Primarily, he had contributed to the salvation of Armenian prisoners – including Communists – from torture and death.
General Drastamat Kanayan spent the last years of his life in Beirut (Lebanon). The great Armenian politician and military man died on March 8, 1956. He would be buried in Boston, the US. At the end of May 2000, he was reburied in Aparan (former Bash-Aparan) near the memorial to the hero soldiers.