BY JASON SOHIGIAN
GLENDALE—Armenian around the world are celebrating the centennial of Armenia’s declaration of independence on May 28, 1918 with programs of all sorts. The birth of the First Republic will be commemorated in Armenia with national events, for example, while in the diaspora conferences are being planned in New York.
On May 21, 1918, an Ottoman Turkish division attacked Armenian forces at Bash Aparan, with the intent of pushing towards Yerevan. After three days of fierce combat, the Armenians, led by General Drastamat “Dro” Kanayan, began to repel the Turkish regiments and they retreated on May 29, 1918. The victory at Aparan, along with Armenian success at Saradarabad and Karakilisa (known today as Vanadzor), was instrumental in the formation of the First Republic of Armenia.
The Kanayan Family is cooperating with Armenia Tree Project (ATP) to create a living memorial to General Dro and his victory in Aparan. ATP has been planting trees to beautify the park around the Bash Aparan Monument and the location of General Dro’s final resting place. General Dro was buried in Boston, and his body was re-interred in Aparan in 2000 in a major national ceremony initiated by Armenia’s military establishment.
The overall goal is to plant 2,500 trees to improve the site. Already 1,700 of ATP’s trees have been planted by local residents in partnership with volunteers from Birthright Armenia and the tech company Monitis Armenia. An additional 800 trees will be planted this spring as part of a visit by the Kanayan Family.
ATP organized a series of educational and fundraising events to support these programs. The first was a lecture about the Battle of Bash Aparan by Dr. Dikran Kaligian at the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research in Boston, followed by a fundraising reception at the Papken Suni Agoump which included remarks by Dro’s daughter Olga Proudian and fellow comrade Tatul Sonentz-Papazian. Both were well attended by friends, family, and students who were interested in learning more about the historic events while supporting a project that is also forward-looking at the same time.
General Dro’s grandson and namesake, Dro Kanayan of Massachusetts, says that planting trees in his grandfather’s honor is appropriate because he had a strong connection to the land: “Dro understood the importance of what the land can provide for the people. My family believes that planting trees for the future of Armenia is a fitting tribute to the bravery and sacrifices of General Dro and his troops. We are proud to continue our grandfather’s tradition of service to the Armenian Nation in this way.”
The next series of events are in Los Angeles. The first, a lecture by Dr. Garabet Moumdjian co-hosted by the Woodbury University Armenian Students Association, was held on March 7.
Dr. Moumdjian expanded on earlier lectures on Aparan offered by Kaligian and Sonentz-Papazian. “The history of the formation of the First Republic is fixated on the Battle of Sardarabad,” explained Dr. Moumdjian at Woodbury University. “However, the battles at Karakilisa and Bash Abaran were as important and crucial. The Turkish strategy was to crush those two Armenian defense fronts in order to flank Sardarabad and Yerevan. Thus, what General Dro and his fighters did in Abaran must be studied in this context in order to have a full historical appreciation of the events.”
Dr. Moumdjian also discussed the important of forests in the history of Armenia, to emphasize the significance of the ATP initiative: “The study of history from ancient times illustrates a special synergy between the people and the land. Many Armenian kings from antiquity planted forests. Moreover, in our pagan tradition, the lore of the ‘Sosyats Andar’ shows how trees and forests are important elements of environmentalism in Armenian culture. So is the fact that King Khosrov planted a forest in the fourth century that came to bare his namesake. Thus, it is imperative to continue this tradition and make Armenia the green and colorful ‘Garden of Eden’ that the biblical story suggests.”
The next event is a fundraising reception at the popular wine bar Oak and Vine in Glendale on Thursday, April 12. General Dro’s grandson Philip Kanayan is planning to attend, along with leaders from the local Armenian community. Before the event, Philip took a moment to explain the significance of the project: “Any monument to our grandfather should be a living memorial. General Dro was not a man who wore medals. He lived a life of service to the Armenian Nation, and in that vein ATP promotes those ideals of giving back to Armenia.”
Tickets to the Oak and Vine event are $125 per person, and ATP is encouraging people to make sponsorship donations to support the tree plantings in Aparan. Ticket and sponsorship information is available via ArmeniaTree.org/1918