Gayane Kanayan Honored by Armenian Defense Ministry

JAMAICA PLAIN–MA (Armenian Weekly)–The Armenian Ministry of Defense honored Gayane Kanayan–the wife of the late Armenian hero General Dro Kanayan–with the Drastamat Kanayan Medal on Saturday–February 8–2003. Prominent members of the clergy–Armenian government representatives–and numerous friends of the Kanayan family attended the event at the Armenian Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Jamaica Plain.

On the 80th anniversary of the First Republic in 1998–the Armenian government approached the Kanayan family about returning the remains of General Dro to his native land. In May 2000–a high level military and political delegation escorted the remains of General Dro from Boston to Armenia. The same weekend that her husband’s remains were being returned to his homeland–Mrs. Kanayan celebrated her 100th birthday.

The Drastamat Kanayan Medal was established to honor those who have given extraordinary service to the Armenian nation–and Mrs. Kanayan is one of the first to be honored by Armenia with this medal.

The Defense Ministry was represented at the event by the Military Attach to the Armenian Embassy in Washington–Colonel Armen Sargsian–and also in attendance were Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan of the Armenian Prelacy of the Eastern US–Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian–former Prelate of the Eastern US–ARF Eastern US Central Committee representative John Avedisian, and former ARF Bureau member Hratch Aprahamian.

Mrs. Kanayan’s gran’son–Philip Kanayan–led the program–introducing the various prominent individuals in attendance. He fondly discussed his grandparents–Dro and Gayane–and acknowledged the members of his family present for the occasion–including his parents–Mr. and Mrs. Mardik Kanayan–his brother–Dro Kanayan–his aunt–Olga Proudian–and others.

On behalf of the ARF Eastern US Central Committee–Tatul Sonentz delivered remarks in Armenian–in honor of Gayane Kanayan for her strength and devotion to her husband–who served the ARF and the Armenian nation–and for her own dedication to the Armenian nation. "We are gathered here today to pay a debt of recognition to a gracious Armenian lady; the spouse of the legendary Dro–our beloved Gayane–a true daughter of Armenia–whose life evolved on a parallel course with the most crucial days of our nation’s recent history," began Sonentz. "They say that behind every great man’stands an exceptional woman–who–with her strength of character and devotion–sustains her mate–keeping alive and firm in him the bonds and commitment to family–clan–and nation. For Drastamat Kanayan–the fearless freedom-fighter–great commander of armies–and outstanding statesman–Gayane remained the reliable source of love for those bonds and his unwavering commitment."

"It is a source of great joy for us to witness this ceremony of appreciation initiated by the government of our free and independent Homeland–honoring–with obvious respect and affection–a gallant Armenian lady who–all through her long life remained–and still remains–at her post in thought and spirit–never denying her contribution–beyond the immediate family–to her beloved organizations and to her people," he continued. "On behalf of the ARF Central Committee–I congratulate with all my heart our most senior comrade-in-arms in our nation’s struggle for freedom and justice. Well done–ungerouhi Gayane!"

A long-time friend of the Kanayan family–Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian remembered visiting Mrs. Kanayan before leaving the Prelacy five years ago for Armenia. He also recalled seeing General Dro when he was a child in Lebanon. Archbishop Ashjian noted that Dro was a symbol of heroism and patriotism–and that he was identified with Armenian history and our lost lands. He congratulated Mrs. Ganayan for the award–and expressed his respect for such a great man and his wife. Finally–Archbishop Ashjian recalled the repatriation of General Dro’s remains in May 2000–and recent memorial services at his final resting place in Bash Abaran.

On behalf of the Prelacy–Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan expressed his appreciation to the Armenian government for honoring the wife of the great Armenian hero. He noted that Dro needed a strong woman like Gayane to be his wife–and that the spirit of Dro was still with us. "The spirit of struggle–victory–and sacrifice–he had all of them–and he left them as his legacy to us–which is why were are here," declared Archbishop Choloyan.

Before presenting the award to Mrs. Kanayan–Colonel Armen Sargsian read an official statement from the Armenian Defense Ministry. "On behalf of Defense Minister Serge Sargsian–I am delighted to present a very prestigious Armenian government award–the Defense Ministry Drastamat Kanayan Medal–to Gayane Kanayan–for her achievemen’s and tireless advocacy of the interests of the Armenian nation. This award is given to Mrs. Kanayan not only in recognition of the wise counsel and moral support she has provided to her husband–but also for her efforts as president of the Armenian Relief Society–her assistance to fellow Armenia’s in need–and the great example she set for Armenian women," began the Defense Ministry statement.

"General Dro lived a long life–notable for his incessant dedication and sacrifice to the Armenian Cause–the Armenian people–and an independent Armenia–which he did not live to see–but which gladly became his final resting place. I don’t need to list his many accomplishmen’s in the Republic and in the Diaspora. His name–together with Vartan Mamigonian–Zoravar Antranig–and Vazgen Sargsian–is an inspiration for all Armenian military personnel and the people of Armenia," concluded the statement.

Gayane Kanayan was born on May 29–1900 in the town of Nukhi–one of six children born to Varvara and Right Rev. Eremia Aprilian. The family fled to Akkerman during the Armeno-Tatar conflict in 1906–and Mrs. Kanayan attended high school there. She received her advanced education in Odessa from 1918-1920.

She returned to Akkerman–which was now part of Romania–and then went to Bazarjik–Bulgaria–where she taught orphaned Armenian children. It was here that she met her first husband–Barour Levonian–son of the famous Armenian poet and singer Ashod Jivani. They had two children–Lucy–who died as a child–and Olga Proudian. They resided in Bucharest–and Parouir died of tuberculosis in 1933.

One of Parouir’s close friends was General Dro–who lived in Romania after escaping from Russia. Knowing he was ill–Barour asked General Dro to look after Gayane and her daughter–Olga. Gayane and Dro were married in 1935 in Bucharest–and their son–Martin–was born in 1938.

Because her father was a priest and because of General Dro’s connections among the Armenian migr community–Mrs. Kanayan supported many Armenian refugees escaping from communism who found their way to Romania. After World War II–the family moved to Beirut–Lebanon–and then in 1951 to Watertown.

Mrs. Kanayan continued her active involvement in the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) and its projects to help Armenia’s. She had been active in the Armenian Red Cross in Lebanon and served on its Central Executive. In the US–she was a member of the Central Executive and later served as President of the ARS. She was a fieldworker and also served as the organization’s Executive Secretary.

She helped to establish the Sophia Hagopian Endowment to the ARS–by opening a dialogue with Sophia Hagopian that resulted in a $1 million endowment to help Armenia’s. Mrs. Kanayan was also one of the architects of the "Bnag me Geragoor" fund to support underprivileged Armenia’s throughout the world–particularly in the Middle East.

From the time of their marriage–Mrs. Kanayan was a source of strength–counsel–and moral support to General Dro.

In 1992–Mrs. Kanayan was honored by the Prelacy of the Armenian Church as Mother of the Year. She was very touched by the honor–as she felt that some of her most important roles in life had been as a mother–grandmother–and great-grandmother.

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