ALTADENA, Calif. — The Tekeyan Cultural Association Metro Los Angeles Chapter hosted a program titled “Captain Jim Chankalian: Leader of the Armenian-American Volunteer Soldiers” on Sunday, November 18, 2018 at the Tekeyan Center in Altadena. Boston-based scholar Aram Arkun, executive director of the Tekeyan Cultural Association of the United States and Canada and assistant editor of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, served as the keynote speaker. Arkun eloquently presented the fascinating life of Captain Jim Chankalian, who was a part of the Armenian Legion that successfully defeated the Turkish and German forces at the Battle of Arara in Palestine in September 1918 and occupied Cilicia, as well as a volunteer fighter under the Russians in Van during World War I. Arkun is the grandson of Armenian Legionnaire Roupen Chakerian of Zeitoun, who fought in Cilicia, as well as served under General Antranig in the Caucasus.
The AGBU-AYA Scouts of the Pasadena-Glendale chapter opened the bilingual program with the flag ceremony dedicated to the 100th anniversary of this heroic victory at the Battle of Arara that opened the way for the allied armies to march up the coast through Syria and reach Cilicia. The 4,000 members of the Armenian Legion (including 1,200 valiant American-Armenian soldiers, with Chankalian as one of their leaders) risked their lives, with many sacrifices, to avenge the Armenian Genocide and create an independent Armenian state.
The master of ceremonies, Aleksan Giragosian, the vice chairman of the Tekeyan Metro Los Angeles chapter, then introduced Kana Hovhannisyan, second secretary of the Republic of Armenia’s Consulate General in Los Angeles, who spoke poignantly about Chankalian and the Armenian Legion.
Arkun meticulously detailed Chankalian’s life, based on family documents and photos, contemporary Armenian press reports, memoirs and articles. After his birth in Dikranagerd in 1879 and arrival in New Jersey, from a very young age Chankalian was a very active and martially-inclined youth. He was encouraged to maintain his Armenian heritage by his older brother and father. Chankalian entered the United States Army during the Spanish-American War and trained in Florida, but the war ended before he actually saw combat duty. Upon return to New Jersey, he took a role of leadership in local Armenian military training clubs prior to World War I.
Chankalian’s military prowess as leader of the Armenian-Americans in the Armenian Legion and his life of sacrifice resonated with the audience. Arkun explained how Chankalian was initially a member of the Reformed Hunchag party and later on became a member of the Armenian Democratic Liberal party (ADL). Chankalian took Armenian-American volunteers to the Caucasus in 1915 to help the Russian armies against the Ottoman Turks. He served in Van as a militia leader alongside Armenag Yegarian, meeting General Antranig and other noted fedayi leaders. A few years later he collaborated with General Antranig in a failed attempt to bring independence to Cilicia under Armenian rule.