BY JAMES G. MANDALIAN
From The Armenian Review
Volume 10, Number 2, Summer, June 1957
Drastamat Kanayan, (1884-1956)
On March 8, 1956, at 8:45 p.m., in his sick bed at New England Deaconess Hospital, an illustrious son of Armenia made his peace with God. Dro Drastamat Kanayan, soldier of the Armenian Revolution, patriot and national leader, had closed his eyes forever. Death followed after an arduous period of suffering at the hospital after all available resources of medical science had been exhausted in a desperate but vain effort to save his life. Immediately upon the flash of the sad news there was a spontaneous effusion of shock and sympathy from all parts of the world. For weeks the pages of the Armenian language daily Hairenik of Boston were crowded with messages of sympathy and condolence from Armenian organizations and personal acquaintances and friends, in a great outpouring of sorrow and anguish.
The comrades in arms of the great hero, the revolutionary soldiers who had fought under his command, grizzled hard-bitten Fedayis, Armenian civic leaders and men who had known him in the old country, who had shared his hospitality, who had worked with him in the government of Independent Armenia, shed bitter tears, incredulous of the calamity which had befallen them. The “Revolutionary Album” of Aleppo, Syria, issued a special issue, dedicated to the great hero. A similar but much more comprehensive special number was issued by “Alik” of Teheran. Organs of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation – Hairenik, Aztag, Iloussaper and many others, as well as non political periodicals wrote editorials eulogizing him, and published their own special issues dedicated to the life of the great patriot. Special memorial services were held in his honor on the fortieth day of his passing and on the first anniversary of his death. A grateful people was paying its tribute to an immortal son of Armenia.
Who was Drastamat Kanayan, the man who came to be known by his revolutionary name of Dro? What was the thing which made him the object of universal adulation? What was the thing in him which gave him such a hold on the hearts and the affections of so many people:
He was the soldier of the Armenian revolution, the avenging angel of the tormentors of the Armenian people, the executioner of justice, the peerless Fedayi unit commander, the intrepid fighter, the Commander of the Second Armenian Volunteer Battalion during the first World War, the coordinator of the Fedayi guerilla fighters and the trained military which formed the core of the Armenian army, the savior of Erivan on two occasions, the hero of Bash-Abaran, one of the three crucial battles which won Armenia’ s independence from the Turk, the n1ilitary leader, the national figure, the man who dedicated his entire life to the liberation of the Armenian people.
Yet all this touches but the periphery of the character of this remarkable man. To grasp the universal sense of loss by his death, the extraordinary influence which he exerted on all men with whom he came in contact, to penetrate the depth of the affection and the adulation freely bestowed upon him, it is necessary to go much deeper than a summary appraisal of his accomplishments.
Writing in the Hairenik Daily soon after Dro’s death, Meroujan Ozanian cites a characteristic incident related by Korns (Vahan Papazian) in his work “Humble Heroes” which illustrates the extent of the Armenian revolutionary’s devotion.
During the Armeno-Tatar clashes of 1905-06–an intra-racial war instigated by the Tsar’s government in its effort to liquidate the Armenians of the Caucasus– the defense of the City of Erivan was committed to a man named Nicol Duman, a legendary figure of the Armenian revolution. The Armenian revolution produced a galaxy of company commanders, each a paladin in his own rights, and yet there are many veterans of the revolution today who swear that Nicol Duman was the greatest of them all. A strict disciplinarian, coolheaded, resolute and inexorable, Duman expected implicit obedience to his every command. As commander in chief of the defense force of Erivan, he was everywhere inspecting his positions all the way from Sharoor, Nakhitchevan, Zangezour and Karabagh.
In the midst of these operations one of the unknown heroes of ~the revolution, taking advantage of a couple of weeks leave of absence, went to his native province to get married. His arrival had made a big stir in his hometown. The whole people had turned out to join in the festive celebration of the wedding. The groom, surrounded by his companions in arms, was the first to enter the church. He was soon followed by the bride and her retinue of bridesmaids and relatives. The nuptial ceremonies over, as the two processions, now merged into one, were escorting the bride and the groom to the latter’s home, suddenly a messenger arrived who handed the groom a piece of paper. It was a telegram from Nicol Duman, ordering him to report to his company at once since the following day there would be an engagement with the enemy.
As ~they were about to enter the home the soldier stopped the procession. Then he turned to his astonished father and mother and said, “Dad, Mom, the fatherland has called me. Nicol Duman, my commander has ordered me to report at once. There will be a battle with the enemy tomorrow and I must be there.” Then pointing to his bird he said, “Take good care of her. If I return alive I shall claim her. If not, she is your ward. She is a member of our family now.”
And without any further ado, the soldier mounted his horse and together with his companions marched to the battle.
That unknown soldier was Dro, the future hero of Bash-Abaran.
When Koms wrote the story of this unknown soldier he withheld his name because he was still alive. After the death of Dro, Ozanian felt free to divulge the name publicly (although everyone knew but never spoke of it) by explaining ~that the Armenian tradition – the revolutionary tradition in particular – forbade praising a hero •-while he still lived. The Armenians are very lavish in their praises after a hero’s death but they are exceedingly niggardly in saying a good word about him while he still lives. This custom has its roots in the supreme concern to keep their heroes from being spoiled by inordinate adulation. The perfect hero is the humble hero.
Another secret of Dro’ s hold on the masses was the legend of his invincibility. When last fall I was visiting in California I spent a day with Leon Surmelian, the author of “I Ask You, Ladies and Gentlemen.” In the course of a conversation, as we were discussing the Fedayi commanders, Leon suddenly said to me: “Dro was the greatest commander of them all; he was never defeated in battle.”
Now Leon is not a military man nor is ‘he a historian. He is a literary man, and therefore he is not qualified to pass judgment on military matters. And yet in his teens he happened to be in Armenia during the most hectic days of Armenia’s liberation where he heard and saw quite a few things. Obviously he had heard it from someone else for I, too, have heard it from many sources. In the special issue of “Alik” of Teheran, Iran, Yervand Hayrapetian, one of Dro’ s soldiers, has an article dedicated to the memory of his commander with the significant caption “Dro never knew defeat.”
All the Fedayi commanders, Serop Pasha, Kevork Chavoush, Andranik, Keri, Hrayr, Koryoun, Nicol Duman, Rouben, Murat of Sebastia, and many other were brave men. They were fearless to .the point of recklessness for their lives. Due to overwhelming odds pitted against them, some of them at times were forced to retreat and at times they were defeated.
There must have been something providential about Dro which gave him a perfect record. Somehow or other, attribute it to circumstance or to luck, Dro never retreated nor suffered defeat. Even at the three crucial battles of Sardarapat, Karakilisseh and Bash-Abaran which decided Armenia’s independence, in spots the lines were broken at the first two battles, but at Bash-Abaran Dro’s soldiers did not yield an inch.
Dro – baptismal name Drastamat Kana yan – was born on May 31, 1884, in the town of Igdir, at the base of Mount Ararat. He was the son of a well-known family named Kokoyenrtz, compatriots of Avetis Aharonian, the great Armenian poet. He attended the Russian gymnasium (high school) of Erivan but before finishing his course in 1904, he enlisted in the army with a view to preparing for the officers corps. However, the stormy life of the Armenian people did not permit Dro to complete his military training and he flung himself into the vortex of the Armenian revolution.
Dro’s life may easily be divided into four periods: the phase of revolutionary justice, Dro the Fedayi commander, his role during the period of the Independent Republic of Armenia, and the last days of his life.
In the initial stages of the Armenian revolution, simultaneous with the guerilla operations, the organization had a punitive weapon which was called revolutionary justice. On frequent occasions when tyrannical excesses of a Tsarist provincial governor or a Turkish Pasha, Agha or Beg became insufferable, a revolutionary court tried the criminal in absentia and sentenced him to death. The removal of a manifest scourge was considered as a restraining influence upon the government. The execution of the sentence was then turned over to a volunteer who was considered the revolutionary avenger, or the executor of revolutionary justice. The avenging arm of the revolution had a chastening effect on both the Tsarist and Turkish governments.
Dro enlisted in this branch of revolutionary activity while he was still a lad with a tawny beard. His first act was the liquidation of Boghoslavski, the Armenophobe monster who was governor of Igdir. This act marked the beginning of Dro’s future stormy life.
Dro’s second avenging act was the liquidation of the infamous Prince Nakashidze, the Governor of Baku. This was the time (1905) when the bloody clashes between the Armenians and the Tartars had reached the peak of their intensity in Baku. Blood was freely flowing on both sides and yet the government did not lift a finger to stop the carnage. The Russian troops, the gendarmerie and Prince Nakashidze silently stood by and watched the slaughter. Meanwhile Nakashidze secretly aided the Tatars to destroy the Armenians.
The revolutionary court sentenced Nakashidze to death as the instigator and author of Baku massacres. On May 11, at 3 p.m., as the Governor’s carriage was racing along the central boulevard of the city, a bomb shattered the carriage, instantly disfiguring the body of Nakashidze and mortally wounding the Turkish driver, Nakashidze’ s aide and a Turkish fruit vendor nearby.
The panic in the crowded boulevard was so great that for ten minutes no one dared to approach the scene and Dro, the man who had thrown the bomb, had ample opportunity to make his getaway. At this time Dro was 20 years old.
Vahan Afrikian, writing in Hairenik Daily (April 22, 1956) gives a vivid description of this event as related to him by Dro himself which throws a characteristic light on Dro’ s humanitarian trait.
“At the appointed hour, carrying what was necessary, and posing as a pitiful looking stranger, I took my position at the designated place. As luck would have H, just then I had an acute stomach ache and for a moment thought of retiring for a brief rest and then returning, but when I thought the Governor might come and go any minute, then what answer could I give? I decided to stay and go through with it. I kept on, rubbing my belly and exercising my legs up and down.
“Just then, not far from me, I saw a Turkish fruit vendor who was seated nearby. I walked over to him and said something then retraced my steps. At this moment I saw the Governor in his carriage, escorted by his mounted guards. Instantly straightened up, forgot my pain, and as the carriage passed by me I threw the bomb. It was a bull’s eye. At the terrific explosion and the ensuing panic I assumed my former pitiful appearance and silently got away. I cut into the narrow street to my left where I saw Tigran Rashmajian whom I knew from Igdir standing at the door. ‘Dro Djan,’ he said “what was that noise?’ I told him to ask no questions and stepped inside. A few moments later I emerged into the street at the rear of his house and leisurely made my way to the scene of the explosion to see what was going on. I saw the ravages of the bomb – the shattered bodies of the dead and the splinters of the carriage. My only regret was that the Turkish cherry vendor had been blown to bits.”
This statement: about the Turkish fruit vendor is revelatory of his concept of the essential nature of the Armenian revolution. Dro had no quarrel with the Turkish fruit vendor. He had no quarrel with the Russian Moujik or the Turkish peasant who equally were victims of tyranny. His fight was against the oppressors, the tormentors, the exploiters of the common people, and against them he was inexorable and pitiless.
Aram Betrosian, writing in Hairenik Daily (April 22, 1956), epitomizes Dro’s philosophy in following words:
“I still vividly see before me, in spite the passage of 23 years, when speaking from the platform of the Society of the Savantes, Dro addressed his listeners with the simplicity of a peasant: ‘My dear fellow-countrymen, I have no hatred against any people, but woe unto the nation which dares to do harm to the Armenian people, be it the Turk, the Russian or any other nation. My arm is raised against such peoples.'”
When Nicol Duman was appointed military defender of Erivan he took along with him Dro whom he sent on a number of important missions. One of these was the demolition of a military depot in the heart of the Turkish quarter of the city.
Seeing the course he had taken, Dro’s father was very concerned about the future of his son. “Son, he said to him importunately, “stop this mad course of yours, go to America and continue your education. I will give you all the money you want or need. I will do everything in my power just so you will continue your education.
“No Dad,” Dro said, “the path I have chosen is holy. I shall keep on along this holy path., Repeated pleas by his father failed to budge Dro from his determination until finally the father yielded, and kissing him, gave him his blessing.
After the assassination of Nakashidze, Nicol Duman sent Dro to the region of Zangezour where he fought against the Tatars first under the command of Khecho, and later under Keri. Thereafter Dro became a daring fighter and a brave company commander in which capacity he operated in Nakhitchevan and Siunik where the Armeno- Tatar clashes were hottest.
One of the greatest instigators of the Armeno-Tatar clashes was the monster Gen. Alikhanov Avarsky. Alikhanov had destroyed many Armenian villages in the region of Nakhitchevan. In 1905, on the eve of the Russian revolution, he had ruthlessly massacred the inhabitants of the region of Gouria in Georgia. He was the author of the bloody conflict between two neighboring peoples. A Georgian attempt against his life had proved abortive. After this attempt the Russian government had appointed him Governor of Alexandropol. In the summer of 1907 the fighting arm of the revolution caught up with this criminal. A bomb, dropped on his carriage in Alexandropol, ended the life of Alikhanov, the scourge of the Armenians and the Georgians. The avenger was again Dro.
In the latter part of 1908 when the Tsarist government was making mass arrests of the Dashnaks (members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation), Dro was one of those who was sought after most. Taking advantage of the proclamation of the Turkish Constitution of 1908, Dro moved to Turkish Armenia and settled in old Beyazit, some 35-40 miles from his native town of Igdir.
By 1914 when the First World War had broken and from all signs Turkey’s adherence to the Central Allies was an assured fact, the Russian government was making feverish efforts to prepare against a surprise attack. To this end the government was formulating a plan for organizing an Armenian Volunteer Corps. By this time Dro was a universally known figure and the Revolutionary Federation did not hesitate to appoint him commander of the Second Volunteer Battalion, having for his assistant Armen Garo, and for his aides Nezhdeh, Beno, Yapon, Zemliak and Thovmas. His battalion was the first to enter the City of Van, Shatakh and Moks, and rescued the beleaguered population from certain massacre by the Turks.
At the start of the Russo- Turkish war Dro’s battalion crossed the border and marched on Abagha-Bergri in the direction of Van. In this battle, contrary to the repeated importunities of Armen Garo and Khecho to be careful of his life, mounted on his fleet steed, Dro flew from position to position cheering his captains and ordering them to hold fast. In the heat of this battle he was hit by a bullet and was seriously wounded. In his critical condition he was moved to his native town of Igdir and then to Tiflis where, thanks to extreme medical care, he recovered in two months and was ready to return to the fights. The bullet which had lodged in his lungs, Dro carried to his death.
While he lay sick in his hospital bed, Emperor Nicolas paid a visit to the wounded in the hospitals. Along wti.th the others, the Emperor stopped at the bed of Dro and questioned him about his wound. After listening to Dro’s account the Emperor decorated him with the medal of St. George, the highest military decoration. Dro never wore the n1edal, as well as the Russian uniform, for, as a revolutionary who was fighting against the oppressors of his people, he could not conscientiously accept any honors from the tyrant.
There are several versions of the Emperor’s visit. It should be noted that, at the time he received his wound, the Russian General had ordered a strategic retreat but Dro had disobeyed the command and his tenacity had won the battle. Bearing this in mind, A. Astvatzatrian ( Hairenik Daily, April 27), gives the following account of the interview with the Emperor.
When wounded Dro was introduced to the Emperor, the latter asked him the circumstances of his wounding. Dro gave him a full account of the battle and how he had disregarded the command to retreat.
“Then why didn’t you retreat?” the Emperor asked, implying that, in that event, he could have avoided being wounded.
“Because,” Dro promptly replied, “the revolutionaries know no retreat.”
He who is familiar with the mentality of the times, Astvatzatrian comments, knows very well that it takes a greater degree of courage to give the almighty Tsar such an answer than the greatest heroism on the battle field. When the Tsar heard Dro’ s answer he abruptly cut off the conversation and withdrew. Dro’s answer had cost him dearly. Martiros Abrahamian, otherwise known as Martiros of Bashgiami, who was a soldlier of Dro, gives the following first hand testimony about this incident:
“Months later when we had the good fortune of seeing Dro wholly recovered, we were surprised to learn that they had not removed the bullet from his lung, probably in order to avoid excessive loss of blood. He related to us the brief conversation he had had with Emperor Nicolas II and how he pinned the medal on his chest.
“To encourage his soldiers, the Emperor had come to the Caucasus where he made a tour of the military hospitals in Tiflis. Among •the others he also visited the hospital where Dro was lying in his sick bed. The Tsar was accompanied by the head physician of the hospital who gave details of the wounding of each man. When he reached the bed of Dro, the head physician told the Emperor that Dro was the commander of the second battalion of the Armenian volunteer corps.
The Tsar frowned at this and asked Dro why he had not retreated when he was ordered to do so.
“Your Imperial Highness,” Dro replied, “’I received the order to retreat when I was in the thick of the battle, surrounded by the enemy on three sides, and outnumbered four to one. Under the circumstances a retreat would have meant the wiping out of the whole battalion. Therefore I decided to hold on until night and make my retreat under the cover of darkness.”
“I would have done the same thing,” the Tsar replied as he grasped Dro’s hand and pinned the medal of St. George I on his chest.
Colonel Yegor Ter Avetikian, writing in the special memorial issue of “Alik,” makes the following revelation about this incident:
“The second time I met Dro was in a Tiflis hospital where he was lying after a serious wound which he had received at the Battle of Kavre-Shameh. I was accompanied by my brother (member of the second Duma) and Djoumshud (who later became Djoumshud Khan in the Persian army). We embraced, while Djoumshud kissed his hand. Dro instantly drew back his wounded hand (he never liked to show off).
“Dro begged me to refute the rumor which was circulating in Armenian circles that Emperor Nicholas had grasped his hand and had asked ‘Where did you learn the military art?’ To which Dro had allegedly replied ‘I learned it in the school of Dashnaktzoutyoun (Armenian Revolutionary Federation).”
“He insistently asked me to refute this fictitious rumor. Nicholas II never shook the hands of the wounded soldiers even if they belonged to the higher echelons. Nor was it possible for him to shake the hands of thousands of wounded soldiers. He merely spoke a cheering word to each and passed on to the next. He never sat down at the hospitals to rest, even if his visit lasted hours. The man who introduced the Emperor to Dro was Alexander Khatissian, the Mayor of Tiflis who later became Prime Minister of Armenia.
The most authoritative and the most credible account of this incident is the version of Alexander Khatissian himself who related the story in an article published in “Illiustrirovannaya Rossia” of Paris, 1928.
Following is Khatissian’ s version:
During the early months of the war (World War I) the Tsar paid a visit to the Caucasus, spending some two weeks in Tillis where he was the guest of Alexander Khatissian, the Mayor of the city. Khatissian took the Emperor to the military hospitals where the latter personally spoke to the wounded. It was during these routine calls that the Emperor one day called on Dro in his sick bed.
After Khatissian had explained to the Emperor the details of the circumstances or Dro’s behavior in the battle where he had been wounded, the Emperor was curious and asked Dro, since he was not a trained officer, where he had learned his military art?
Dro, the hard-bitten outspoken Fedayi soldier who never concerned about considerations of tact or sensitivity, promptly replied:
“I learned my art in the School of the Revolution.”
The Emperor was shocked hearing the word “revolution,” changed color, and for a moment stood frozen. Realizing the damage which had been done by Dro’s tactless answer, Khatissian instantly stepped into the breach and saved the situation.
“Your Majesty,” he smiled at the Emperor soothingly, “the revolution Dro spoke about was directed at the Turks, and not against you.”
At this the Emperor took a deep breath of relief. His face brightened and he was his usual self again. He decorated the wounded Dro with the Order of St. George.
Stripped of its conflicting and divergent trivia of detail, the important truth which emerges from these several versions is the fact that the Tsar did visit Dro in his sick bed, was told about the circumstances of his wound, and decorated him with the Order of St. George.
After the liberation of Van by the Russian army, Dro, at the head of his volunteer battalion, as part of the Volunteer Corps took part in countless battles against the Turk until the fall of 1916 when the Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaievich, the newly appointed Generalissimo of the Caucasian front dissolved the Armenian Volunteer Corps.
Following the Bolshevik revolution in the fall of 1917, thanks to Lenin’s insidious propaganda slogan of “Land and Bread,” the mighty Russian army of 18 million disintegrated, including the half a million army which defended the Caucasian front. As a result of these wholesale desertions the country was torn with anarchy and civil wars, cutting off the Caucasus from main Russia. A temporary government, first called Ozakom, and later the Seym, was formed by three nations – the Armenians, the Georgians and the Azerbaijanis- to continue the war and to govern the country.
Profitting by Russia’s political disintegration, Turkey which had been defeated in the war, took a new lease on life by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and bolstered by European gold, arms and ammunition, proceeded to march on the caucasus via Armenia.
By decree of the Seym, each member of the Caucasian Confederation was authorized to form its own National Council – a sort of temporary government – to restore the ruined economy, put an end to the reigning anarchy, and to organize a national army. In December the Armenians organized their National Council under the presidency of Bishop Khoren Mouradbekian, Prelate of Erivan who later became Catholicos. The task of organizing the Armenian army was committed to Aram, the hero of Van, and to Dro.
Dro had the happy facility of winning the hearts of men by his fiery nature, his selflessness and the intensity of his devotion. He would cajole his men with his endearing and irresistible appeals. “My lion, my brave, my soul, may I be a sacrifice unto your soul.” When he approached his man in this manner he melted their hearts and they were willing to lay down their lives for their peerless commander. If cajolery failed, he did not hesitate to shoot the intransigent to teach the others a lesson. He always made them feel that he meant what he said. In this respect he was of incalculable value in the formation of the incipient Armenian army. He was not a giant of intellect nor a writer. He was a soldier of the revolution, dedicated to the liberation of his people. Through his indefatigable labors he brought to the fore a host of trained generals and company commanders who assumed the task of organizing the Armenian army.
In the formation of the army the organizers were confronted with a serious problem. The trained military scorned the fedayis – those irregular guerilla fighters who had brought the Armenian revolution to this stage. Thanks to Dro’s understanding and tact, a common ground was found between the two classes of the soldiery which eventually formed the nucleus of the new army. This new army, consisting of Armenian regulars in the Tsarist army who had returned home after the latter’s dissolution, soldiers of the former Armenian Volunteer Corps, and Fedayi fighters of the revolutionary era was the only force which stopped the Turkish onslaught and saved Armenia.
In the early part of 1918 the army of the Caucasian Confederation had been pushed back, the Turks were knocking at the gates of Caucasus, and the Caucasian Seym had been dissolved. The Georgians had accepted the protection of Germany, the Azerbaijani Tatars refused to fight against their Turkish kinsmen. This left the burden of the defense of the Caucasian front on the Armenians alone.
Between May 23 and 28, the Armenian and Turkish armies were locked in mortal combat, the Turks trying to exterminate the last remnants of the Armenians, the latter trying to prevent racial extinction. Three bitterly contested battles were fought at Sardarapat, Karakilisseh and Bash-Abaran under Generals Nazarbekov, Silikian and Dro. Dro commanded the unit at Bash-Abaran which defended Erivan, the capital of Armenia. Karakilisseh, the bloodiest of the three, was evenly fought, the slight advantage going to the Armenians. Sardarapat was a decisive victory. So was the battle of Bash-Abaran. For five days Dro repulsed the repeated attacks of a numerically far superior enemy. A daring counteroffensive on May 28th routed the enemy and forced him to take the road to retreat.
Following the triple victory, on May 28, the Armenian National Council which until then had directed the Armenian resistance formally proclaimed the independence of Armenia. A treaty of peace was signed with the Turks in which the latter recognized Armenia as an independent state.
During the period of the Independent Republic Dro remained one of the most esteemed and cherished soldiers of the Armenian army and the high ranking military and the always sought-after counselor of Generals Nazarbekov, Silikian and Hakhverdian. When in the fall of 1920 the Turco-Soviet combination attacked Armenia, once again it was Dro who defended the Plain of Ararat against the Turks, and once again he did not yield an inch of ground to the enemy. However, Armenia succumbed to the joint Turco-Soviet superior forces and on December 2 ,the Soviet took over Armenia. In the agreement which affected the transfer of the government, the Soviet gave an explicit promise that there would be absolutely no political persecution in Armenia, which meant the Dashnaks who had fought against the Soviet would not be molested. As a token of good faith, two Dashnaks were admitted to the new Soviet govenlment – Dro and Hambartzoum Terterian.
Once in the saddle, however, the Bolsheviks scrapped their promises and now they inaugurated a reign of terror. Members of the former government and officers of the former army were arrested and exiled to Siberia. Contrary to their promises, the Armenian Bolsheviks repudiated their claim on Turkish Armenia. On January 10, 1921, Dro was exiled to Moscow where he remained for some time unmolested, •thanks to his former acquaintance with Stalin.
Two years later Dashnak avengers executed revolutionary justice on Djemal Pasha, a notorious Turkish author of the Armenian massacres, right near the Cheka building in Tiflis. Two hundred Dashnaks were arrested as a result of this act, and once again Dro came to the fore as intermediary. He was permitted to go to Tiflis where, to appease the Soviet tyrants, he signed a forced statement which enabled him to rescue his comrades in arms from prison. Thanks to his intercession, all the prisoners were released and were sent to Moscow.
For two years Dro lingered in Moscow in the hope that the Bolsheviks would restore Kars and Ardahan which the Turks had seized with the aid of the Soviet. Burt when he became convinced that the Bolsheviks had acted perfidiously, he contrived to obtain a passport from the Soviet and moved to Rumania.
In the 13th ARF World Congress in 1938 he was elected in absentia a member of the ARF Bureau, Supreme Executive body of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, a function which was abruptly interrupted by the outbreak of the World War. His services were now needed in an entirely new and unexpected area of activity.
During the course of the war, in the countries occupied by t:he German armies there were thousands of Armenians who became stranded. At this time Nazi chauvinism was at its peak. Slanderers tried to prove that the Armenians were not Indo-Europeans. Documentary proof had to be produced to prove the falsity of •this charge. As prisoners, the Armenians were drafted into the factories, or crowded in concentration camps. It was necessary to do something to prevent these unfortunates from -sharing the fate of the Jews.
As he had interceded with the Soviet Cheka in the Djemal Pasha incident, Dro now became the intermediary with Germany. He went to Germany, saw the Nazi authorities, explained to them the situation of the Armenians and completely succeeded in insuring their safety. As a result of his intercession not a single stranded Armenian was harmed. Approximately 4000 of these men later were brought to the United States through the efforts of the ANCHA under George Mardikian and General Shekerjian.
In the summer of 1947 Dro moved to Beirut, Lebanon. A new political horizon was opened before him after the 14th ARF World Congress. From then on he was a member of the ARF Bureau, and as such, he traveled far and wide, bolstering the faith of the Armenians in the eventual triumph of the free West and the restoration of their independence. During that period he made four trips to the United States.
Ever since 1950 his wife Mrs. Gayane and his son Mardik were established in Boston. Dro had rejoined his family during the last few months of his life.
Vardkes Aharonian, writing in the Hairenik Daily soon after Dro’ s death, makes a significant statement which isolates one of the unique traits of this remarkable man. “Armenian history,” he writes, “was fair to Dro, but Dro was not fair to Armenian history.”
By this, Aharonian means that Dro robbed Armenian history of a rich chapter by his extraordinary modesty. He did not write his memories and he refused to let someone else do the writing. He was a fascinating raconteur, holding his listeners spellbound for hours as he recounted the exploits of his soldiers, but when people asked him to relate his adventures he instantly would clam up. In vain many a scribe volunteered to sit down and put into writing his life if he only would condescend to relate it. He was too sensitive and too much ill at ease whenever conversation turned on his person, especially his heroic exploits. Toward others he was lavish in his praise, but when it came to himself, he abhorred praise or showmanship. Only two or three passages from his memoirs were published in the periodical “Vern”, edited by Simon Vratzian in Paris some twenty years ago. The story of Dro still awaits the historian’s pen.
A passionate patriot, a fierce champion of liberty, a fearless fighter and a peerless commander, Dro detested the lie, the sham and the deceit. This was the secret of his invincibility. He was a rebel against all sort of human injustice, modest in his opinions and ruthless toward all parasites and hypocritical leeches.
Dr. Yervand Khatanasian, Writing in the special issue of “Alik” relates the following interesting incident:
“Once, addressing me, Dro asked sarcastically: ‘What is your value? What are your true merits?’
“To shatter the brunt of his sarcasm, I answered deliberately: ‘Well, even if I am worth nothing, I have at least one advantage over you. I know French and English.’
“Dro did not reply, but he kept repeating to himself ‘He knows French and English!’ Meaning it must be a great thing to know languages. Perhaps he was saying in his mind, ‘I know men who can speak ten languages, who have diplomas from ten universities, who have ten degrees from colleges, and yet they are idiots.'”
As has been said, Dro had a reputation for his reckless intrepidity in battle and his invincibility. The thing called fear was apparently unknown to him. Once a Dashnak youth who had been enraptured by the glory of Armenian heroes,” asked Dro, “How is it possible to be without fear? How can one be devoid of all fear?” Dro fixed .the youth with his penetrating look, seeing in him his sincerity and his spiritual exaltation, then said with paternal tenderness:
“My son, the human being is created with the sense of fear. The Creator has endowed him with this instinct for his own self-defense. That is a good thing. But it turns bad when you run away from it. The more you run away, the closer it clings to you. Look him straight in the eye. When you recognize him he will be disarmed.” In times of panic in battle, Dro was a tower of strength as a morale restorer. In this respect General Daniel Beg Piroomian relates a characteristic incident:
“Once, Dro and I were fighting the Turks on the Igdir front. One day, as a number of us high ranking officers were seated on the left bank of the Araxes River and having our lunch, suddenly we saw our soldiers deserting their positions and running to the safety of the other side of the river. Suddenly Dro sprang to his feet, jumped onto a nearby horse and spurred him into the river. ‘Boys,’ he shouted to his •soldiers, ‘my life a sacrifice unto you, my lads, my braves, why are you running away? Turn back, turn back!’” “Turn back. Tum Back!” the echo reverberated all around. “Dro is ordering us to tum back!”
“The fleeing soldiers turned back and inflicted a terrible slaughter on the Turks. If it had been we the trained military, we would have consulted our maps, would have sent our scouts to reconnoiter the place, and by that time our entire army would have fled to the other side of the river. Dro’s prompt action saved the day for us. Herein lay the greatness of Dro.”
When Dro set out to do something no power on earth could stop him from achieving his aim. His indomitable faith overcmne all obstacles. This was true in battle as well as in peacetime.
Only few men – his own companions in arms and the revolutionary leaders – perceived that this daring executioner of revolutionary justice, this avenger of Nakashidze and Alikhanov, was endowed with the qualities of the military strategist. During the Armeno-Tatar clashes of 1905-06, first as a soldier and later as company commander, Dro attracted the attention of Nicol Duman, the talented military leader of the revolution. Nicol Duman saw in him the explorer with a keen sense of smell, the proficient tactician, the Fedayi who always anticipated the enemy’s moves, and the genius which readily grasped the meaning and the secret of the battle.
Asian Stepanian, a veteran Fedayi who saw countless encounters with the enemy said of him:
“I have fought under Andranik, Sebouh and other unit commanders. In my humble opinion, however, Dro was the greatest of them all, both in point of personal valor and military proficiency. He was a good mixer, extremely sociable, modest and full of life. He was capable of promoting projects under the most difficult circumstances. He was an exceptional power, both as organizer and leader. In battle, he was an exacting taskmaster, a sharp commander. When in private life, he was an affable companion, generous and cordial.”
This was the man Dro. He gave his life for his people and when he died that people gave him a grateful tribute. No one shall perhaps know the extent of the pain which he suffered from the dread ailment which afflicted him. During the last few days of his life he was in a coma. He closed his eyes forever the night of March 8, 1956, in his sick bed at Boston’s New England Deaconess Hospital. His body was laid to rest at the Mount Auburn Cemetary of Watertown. In accordance with the wish of his widow, Mrs. Gayane, a medical operation extracted both his heart and the enemy bullet which he carried in his lung until his death. Both the bullet and his heart are now being kept in Boston, to be sent to the National Museum of Free Armenia in the future.
Dro the indomitable champion of Armenian liberation is no more. His spirit lives on.