Drastamat Kanayan

From Kaiserreich


Drastamat Kanayan (born in Surmalu, at that time Russia and now Ottoman Empire, on May 31 1884) is an armenian military leader and politician and the current Pasha of Armenia.



Early Life

Drastamat Kanayan was born in Surmalu (Iğdır) on May 31 1884 from Martiros Kanayan, the head of the Kanayan family clan in Iğdır, and Horom Kanayan. The Surmalu region was annexed by the Russian Empire after the Russo-Persian War of 1826-1828, but after the Weltkrieg it was given to the Ottoman Empire. At an early age, Martiros Kanayan enrolled his son to the parish school of Iğdır; however, Drastamat usually skipped school to hang out near the military barracks of Iğdır because of his interest in the military exercises held there. 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 proved to be 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 Tsar's government and promoted Armenian nationalism.

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 the tsarist edict was perceived 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. This prompted Drastamat Kanayan to join the ranks of the Dashnaktsutiun, the powerful Armenian Revolutionary Federation party, in order to defend the churches from being confiscated through public demonstrations and guard duty. In the end the Tsar Nicholas was convinced to reverse his policies and return the property of the Armenian Church.

During the Weltkrieg

Kanayan served as detachment (military) commander in the Russian Caucasus Army during the Weltkrieg: he was one of the commanders of the Armenian volunteer units and he was even decorated by the Tsar. Despite being wounded and having to rest for a couple of months at the end of 1917, Kanayan became a popular military leader after his victories over the Ottoman Empire during the Caucasus Campaign. For this reason between March 1918 and April 1918 he was appointed by the Armenian National Council military commissar to the provisional government of the Administration for Western Armenia in the Ararat region.

When the Democratic Republic of Armenia was proclamed on May 28 1918 and the ARF (Armenian Revolutionary Federation) became the ruling party, Kanayan was chosen as Minister of Defence of the newborn government. From this position not only he had to defend the country from the Ottoman Empire but he also had to fight short but brutal border conflicts with the newborn nations of Georgia and Azerbaijan for disputes over the control of certain territories. The new state was devastated, with a dislocated economy, hundreds of thousands of refugees, and a mostly starving population, but Dramastat was able to assure its existence until 1920 when German and Austrian reinforcements drove the British back out of Palestine and Mesopotamia and the Ottoman Empire was able to send more troops against the Armenians. In June 1921, the Armenian Army was finally defeated and the country fell under the military occupation of the Ottomans. Drastamat Kanayan was captured and imprisoned.

After the Weltkrieg

After the Weltkrieg and following the successful German intervention in the Russian Civil War Armenia was officially given as a new province to the Ottoman Empire. Once under Ottoman rule social and religious repression followed quickly, resulting in massive protests and several underground movements. However, the Ottomans used the force to repress the protests and the Armenians had no other choices but to accept them as their new ruler. Kanayan spent four years in prison because at that time he was seen by the Armenians as a national hero who was able to win several battles against the Ottoman Empire and the Ottomans feared that if he was released he would have rallied the populations against them, resulting in more revolts and bloodsheds.

Kanayan was released in April 1925 when the situation in Armenia seemed under control, but he was watched closely to see what he would have done. Kanayan however was tired of fighting and he was ready to accept the Ottomans rule because he was convinced that an open rebellion against them was doomed to failure. For this reason, when he was finally contacted by a member of the ARF (now an underground movement), he refused to help them, as he thought that their rebellion would only cause the Armenians to pay a high price in blood.


In 1928 the Ottoman authority over its empire was declining and the internal pressure was increasing. In Armenia the tension was rising and the population started asking for a higher level of autonomy with growing insistence. In June 1928 the Ottoman Caliph decided to establish Lybia and Armenia as autonomous regions within the Empire. While still under the influence of the Ottoman Empire, the Armenians were able to govern themselves and were even allowed to create a small national army. Drastamat Kanayan was appointed as the new Pasha: this choice appeased both the Ottomans, who thought he wasn't going to revolt against them as he understood that they would react with brutality, and the Armenians, who remembered his past and thought he was a wise leader who knew how to deal with the Ottomans.

In the following years Kanayan struggled to improve his country, but sometimes he was limited in his efforts by the Ottomans whose influence on Armenia was still powerful enough. The Ottomans in fact didn't want Armenia to modernize or gain more autonomy, as they feared this could add more instability to the Empire. When faced with the opposition of the Ottoman Empire on a certain matter, Kanayan always backed down and for this reason he has been heavily criticized by the nationalist among the Armenian population.

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