Valley Voices

Armenian military hero was revered in Fresno

Gen. Antranik Ozanian’s newspaper obituary.
Gen. Antranik Ozanian’s newspaper obituary.

It was Wednesday, Sept. 7, 1927. According to The Fresno Morning Republican, a newspaper, thousands had gathered in downtown Fresno to pay their final respects to a general who was known at the time in the Armenian community as a hero. Many arrived from out of town the night before and attended the viewing.

As the body left the original Stephens and Bean chapel (at the time located at Tuolumne and Broadway streets), a military band and an escort of Armenian veterans of World War I led the way. The first stop was at the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church on Ventura and M streets, where high mass was celebrated. A special choir sang a somber, sad farewell. The body and funeral procession then headed to the Ararat Cemetery for the graveside services.

Those in attendance were paying their final respects to Antranik Ozanian. He was a carpenter who turned into a general out of necessity. During the Armenian massacres, which began as early as 1894 and were a precursor to the Armenian Genocide, Antranik and a small group of volunteers defended Armenian villages. Putting their lives on the line, they protected many women and children.

On May 15, 1922, Antranik married Nevart Kurkjian in Paris. The newly married couple traveled to the United States and arrived in Fresno with no place to live or work. They stayed with Mugrdich and Zarouhi Koligian for almost a year. The beautiful two-story home, near Kearney and Cornelia avenues, was flooded with Sunday afternoon visitors who came weekly to listen to war stories and pay homage to the general.

General Antranik was a hero to the four young Koligian brothers who lived near Kearney Park since the early 1900s. Throughout his adult life, Deran Koligian would sit in Antranik’s chair and position visitors at the family dinner table so they had a direct view of the general’s portrait. Of course, they would ask, “Who is that?” And, the decades-old Antranik stories began.

The four Koligian brothers gave Antranik his own 40 acres to farm. But, it didn’t take long for him to inform the brothers that he was a soldier, not a farmer.

On June 5, 1923, the brothers joined forces and raised a $5,500 down payment along with a second loan from Leon Kurkjian to buy a building near Van Ness and Weldon avenues across from Fresno High School. There was a grocery store on the ground floor and living quarters nearby. The property was purchased, held for six years, and sold after Antranik’s death.

During visits to the Minas Koligian home across from Kearney Park, the arthritic general would lie on the floor in front of the fireplace while young Vaughn Koligian walked on his back to help relieve the pain.

Deran Koligian was born in January 1927, and never hesitated to relate the general’s remark on his first visit congratulating Khachadour and Anna on their new baby. Antranik held the baby Deran and proclaimed “Aus dughan aslan bedee ulla” – “This boy is going to be a lion.”

The general’s health problems persisted, and his doctor gave strict orders to quit smoking and drinking Armenian coffee. But, before the doctor could pack up his equipment and get out the door, the general had two cigarettes and at least one cup of coffee. He was obviously a tough guy who was more accustomed to giving, rather than taking, orders.

In February 1927, Antranik and Nevart traveled to San Francisco and then visited Richardson Springs in Butte County where he died on Aug. 31, 1927. Today, there is a rock monument at the old hotel in Richardson Springs in his honor. His death certificate shows the cause of death for the retired army officer to be angina pectoris.

News of the general’s death quickly reached his multitude of admirers around the world. On the day of his death, The Fresno Bee carried a headline: “Death claims famous General, Once of Fresno.”

After Antranik’s death, Nevart Ozanian gave each of the Koligian brothers one of the four chairs from the general’s dining set. As far as we know, the only remaining chair is at the head of the dinner table at the Deran Koligian home. That chair was one of Deran’s prized possessions.

The general was originally buried at Ararat Cemetery in Fresno and then moved to Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris where streams of visitors passed by daily with bouquets of flowers and a quiet, solemn sign of the cross. In 2000, his remains were transported to Yerablur military cemetery located on a hilltop on the outskirts of Yerevan, Armenia.

Around this time in April, Armenian Genocide commemorations take place around the world. During commemorative activities, many remember the 1.5 million men, women and children who were brutally murdered and forced to march out of their historic homeland.

Along with remembering the innocent victims, people also remember the volunteers like Antranik, who fought to protect the Armenian villages. We, in Fresno, have a special connection to him, something very few places can mirror.

Debbie Poochigian is a retired Fresno County supervisor and daughter of the late Deran Koligian. Sevag Tateosian is host and producer of The Central Valley Ledger airing on 90.7 FM KFSR Fresno and CMAC Comcast 93 and Att 99.