Jim Chankalian was promoted to captain of the US Army for his service during the 1898 Spanish-American War. He would later with success and honors participate in the Armenian liberation movement. Subsequently, Chankalian would serve in the Democratic Liberal Party of America, AGBU, and the Armenian Church until his death on May 10, 1947.
Jim Chankalian was born in Tigranakert as Bedros Chankalian. He and his family soon emigrated to the United States, where Chankalian graduated from an American high school and entered a military academy to become an officer of the US Army.
Apart from being an experienced American soldier, Chankalian also was a renowned figure in the Armenian community in New York. Having retired with the rank of captain, Chankalian was offered a key position in the company “Powers & Co.”, which allowed him to build a comfortable life.
In 1915, the Reformed party Gnchak along with the Regional Committee of the Constitutional Democratic Party (Ramgavar) of the US requested to send Chankalian to a special mission first to the Caucasus and then to Van, where he would aid the Armenian liberation movement.
Chankalian readily accepted the request, even though it meant that he would have to give up his high position and careless life in America. Along with a volunteer group from Western Armenia, Chankalian reached Van at the appointed time to be met by Armenak Egaryan, a heroic leader of the Armenian self-defense forces.
After an initial consultation with Egaryan, Chankalian put his vast military experience at the service of the heroic struggle of the Armenians of Van. As the adviser of Eganyan, Chankalian played a conducive role in the formation of the Yerkrapah regiment (Defenders of the Motherland). In the end, his military mission was successful.
Having returned to the US in 1917, Chankalian soon learned about the plan of the formation of the Armenian Legion in France, which he decided to join. The Legion was set up to go the Palestinian front to fight on the side of the Allies against the German and Turkish armies.
Enjoying the respect of the American-Armenian community, as well as of the Armenian political parties, Chankalian was appointed the head of a detachment consisting of US-Armenian volunteers. On July 9, 1917, Chankalian along with his unit boarded a French ship to head to Marseille, from where he then went to Port Said and joined the Armenian Legion. They would then be transported to Cyprus to meet the rest of the volunteers of the French Foreign Legion.
On September 14, 1918, the Armenian volunteers were transported to Palestine by the order of General Allenby, the commander of the united forces of the Allied Powers in the Middle Eastern front. Five days later, they went on the attack against Turkish and German forces stationed in Arar where they would achieve a minimal-loss victory in the Battle of Arar.
Upon the end of WWI in November 1918, the Armenian volunteers were sent to the Palestinian front in Beirut. From there, British ships took them through Alexandretta to the mountains and plains of Cilicia. In Adana, the legionnaires were welcomed with the Armenian tricolor flags. Turks had already been demoralized by the time the Armenian Legion was about to take Cilicia under control.
Mihran Damadyan was to implement the plan of the establishment of an autonomous and independent Armenian Cilicia. To bring the plan to fruition, it was necessary to summon a strong fighting force. It was about to become a reality with such experienced military figures as Chankalian, Andranik, Egaryan, Esai Yagubyan, and others. The Allied Powers had other plans though as they prevented the arrival of Andranik, Eganyan, and others to Cilicia, thus ending the prospects of the Cilician success of the Armenians.
Disappointed with the unfulfilled dream of an independent Cilicia, Chankalian returned to the US. His achievements would be recorded in the history of the Armenian liberation movement. Subsequently, as one of the leading figures of the Democratic Liberal Party of America, Chankalian set up fundraising campaigns to support the First Republic of Armenia.
Chankalian would continue his activities for the benefit of his homeland over the decades to come. He became the main contributor to the creation of the American-Armenian National Council and served as its president. He also was the first president of the Central Committee of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) and devoted himself to the service to the Armenian Church. Chankalian, a remarkable Armenian patriot, died in New York in 1947, leaving behind the glorious legacy of his unforgettable service for his people.