by Harold Takooshian
The estimated 700,000 Americans of Armenian ancestry are descended from an ancient nation located at the borders of modern Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Through much of the past 4,000 years, Armenians have been a subjugated people with no independent state until September 23, 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved and the 3,400,000 people in that area voted to form a new Republic of Armenia.
The Armenian homeland lies at the crossroads of Asia Minor, which links Europe with the Middle and Far East. The plateau's original settlers, beginning about 2800 B.C., were the various Aryan tribes of Armens and Hayasas who later melded to form the Urartu civilization and kingdom (860-580 B.C.). These settlers developed advanced skills in farming and metal work. The Armenian civilization managed to survive despite a steady succession of wars and occupations by much larger groups, including the Hittites, Assyrians, Parthians, Medes, Macedonians, Romans, Persians, Byzantines, Tartars, Mongols, Turks, Soviet Russians, and now Azerbaijanis, in the 25 centuries that followed. The capital city of Armenia today, Yerevan (population 1.3 million), celebrated its 2,775th anniversary in 1993.
The long history of the Armenian nation has been punctuated by triumphs over adversity. In 301 A.D., the small kingdom of Armenia became the first to adopt Christianity as its national religion, some 20 years before Constantine declared it the state religion of the Roman empire. In 451, when Persia ordered a return to paganism, Armenia's small army defiantly stood firm to defend its faith; at the Battle of Avarair, Persia's victory over these determined martyrs proved so costly that it finally allowed Armenians to maintain their religious freedom. By the time European Crusaders in the twelfth century entered the Near East to "liberate" the Holy Land from the Moslems, they found prosperous Armenian communities thriving among the Moslems, while maintaining the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and other Christian sites. Under 400 years of Ottoman Turkish rule (1512-1908), the Christian Armenian minority—an industrious, educated elite within the Sultan's empire—had risen to a position of trust and influence. One such subject of the Sultan, Calouste Gulbenkian, later became the world's first billionaire through negotiations with seven Western oil companies that sought Arabian oil in the 1920s.
William Saroyan, 1935.
"I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose history is ended, whose wars have been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, whose literature is unread, whose prayers are no longer answered.... For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a new Armenia!
During World War I (1915-1920), with the collapse of the Ottoman empire and the rise of Pan-Turkish nationalism, the Turkish government attempted to eradicate the Armenian nation in what is now termed "the first genocide of the twentieth century." One million Turkish Armenians were slaughtered, while the other million survivors were cast from their Anatolian homeland into a global diaspora that remains to this day.
THE ARMENIAN REPUBLIC
On May 28, 1918, facing death, some Armenians declared an independent Armenian state in the northeast corner of Turkey. Facing the stronger Turkish army, the short-lived Republic quickly accepted Russian protection in 1920. In 1936 it became the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR), the smallest of the Union's 15 republics, occupying only the northeastern ten percent of the territory of historic Armenia. (The remaining 90 percent in Eastern Turkey lies empty of Armenians today.) Though Stalin successfully encouraged some 200,000 diaspora Armenians to "return" to Soviet Armenia after World War II, the Stalin years were marked by political and economic oppression. On September 23, 1991, with the Soviet Union dissolving, citizens of Armenia overwhelmingly voted to form another independent republic. As of 1995, Armenia is one of only two of the 15 former Soviet states not headed by a former communist, now maintaining a free press and vigorous new multi-party system that it has not had before.
Armenia is still recovering from a severe 1988 earthquake that destroyed several cities and killed some 50,000 people. Also since 1988, Armenia has been embroiled in a painful armed conflict with larger, Moslem Azerbaijan, resulting in a blockade of Armenia, and dire shortages of food, fuel, and supplies. The fighting is over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan which wants to break away from Azerbaijani rule. A cease-fire went into effect in 1994 but little progress has been made towards a permanent peaceful resolution. Disagreements within the government over the peace process led to the resignation of Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian in 1998. He was replaced by his prime minister, Robert Kocharian. Meanwhile, the four million Armenians in the diaspora energetically extended their support for Armenia's survival.
Among the 15 Soviet republics, Armenia was the smallest; its 11,306 square miles would rank it 42nd among the 50 U.S. states (it is about the size of Maryland). It was also the most educated (in per capita students), and the most ethnically homogeneous, with 93 percent Armenians, and 7 percent Russians, Kurds, Assyrians, Greeks, or Azeris. The capital city of Yerevan (population 1,300,000) was nicknamed the Silicon Valley of the USSR because of its leadership in computer and telecommunications technology. The huge statue of Mother Armenia, sword in hand, facing nearby Turkey from downtown Yerevan, symbolizes how citizens in the Armenian republic historically see themselves as stalwart guardians of the homeland, in the absence of the far-away spiurk (diaspora Armenians).
Although the independent Republic of Armenia has existed since 1991, it is misleading to term it a homeland like, for example, Sweden is for Swedish Americans, for a few reasons. First, for almost all of the past 500 years, Armenians have had no independent state. Second, communism's avowed policy of quashing nationalists within its 15 republics rendered the status of the previous Soviet republic and its citizens as questionable among most diaspora Armenians. Third, this Republic occupies only the northeastern ten percent of the territory of historic Armenia, including only a few of the dozen largest Armenian cities of pre-1915 Turkey—cities now empty of Armenians in Eastern Turkey. Only a small fraction of the ancestors of today's Armenian Americans had any contact with the Russified northern cities of Yerevan, Van, or Erzerum. A recent survey finds that 80 percent of U.S. Armenian youth express an interest to visit the Republic, yet 94 percent continue to feel it important to regain the occupied part of the homeland from Turkey. Modern Turkey does not allow Armenians into parts of Eastern Turkey, and less than one percent of American Armenians have "repatriated" to the Armenia Republic.
IMMIGRATION TO AMERICA
Like ancient Phoenicians and Greeks, Armenians' affinity for global exploration stretches back to the eighth century B.C. By 1660, there were 60 Armenian trading firms in the city of Amsterdam, Holland, alone, and Armenian colonies in every corner of the known earth, from Addis Ababa to Calcutta, Lisbon to Singapore. At least one old manuscript raises the possibility of an Armenian who sailed with Columbus. More documented is the arrival of "Martin the Armenian," who was brought as a farmer to the Virginia Bay colony by Governor George Yeardley in 1618—two years before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. Still, up to 1870, there were fewer than 70 Armenians in the United States, most of whom planned to return to Anatolia after completing their training in college or a trade. For example, one was pharmacist Kristapor Der Seropian, who introduced the class book concept while studying at Yale. In the 1850s, he invented the durable green dye that continues to be used in printing U.S. currency. Another was reporter Khachadur Osganian, who wrote for the New York Herald after graduating from New York University; he was elected President of the New York Press Club in the 1850s.
The great Armenian migration to America began in the 1890s. During these troubled final years of the Ottoman Empire, its prosperous Christian minorities became the targets of violent Turkish nationalism and were treated as giavours (non-Moslem infidels). The outbreaks of 1894-1895 saw an estimated 300,000 Turkish Armenians massacred. This was followed in 1915-1920 by the government-orchestrated genocide of a million more Armenians during World War I. This tumult caused massive Armenian immigration to America in three waves. First, from 1890-1914, 64,000 Turkish Armenians fled to America before World War I. Second, after 1920, some 30,771 survivors fled to the United States until 1924, when the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act drastically reduced the annual quota to 150 for Armenians.
The third wave to America began following World War II, as the 700,000 Armenians who earlier had been forced from Turkey into the Middle East faced paroxysms of rising Arab/Turkish nationalism, Islamic fundamentalism, or socialism. The large and prosperous Armenian minorities were driven westward to Europe and America—first from Egypt (1952), then Turkey again (1955), Iraq (1958), Syria (1961), Lebanon (1975), and Iran (1978). Tens of thousands of prosperous, educated Armenians flooded westward toward the safety of the United States. Though it is hard to say how many immigrants constituted this third wave, the 1990 U.S. Census reports that of a total of 267,975 Americans who have Armenian ancestry, more than 60,000 came in the decade of 1980-1989 alone, and more than 75 percent of them settled in greater Los Angeles (Glendale, Pasadena, Hollywood). This third wave has proven the largest of the three, and its timing slowed the assimilation of the second-generation Armenian Americans. The influx of fiercely ethnic Middle Eastern newcomers caused a visible burgeoning of Armenian American institutions starting in the 1960s. For instance, Armenian day schools began appearing in 1967, and numbered eight in 1975, the first year of the Lebanese civil war; since then, they have increased to 33 as of 1995. A 1986 survey confirmed that the foreign-born are the spearhead of these new ethnic organizations—new day schools, churches, media, political, and cultural organizations—which now attract native as well as immigrant Armenians (Anny P. Bakalian, Armenian-Americans: From Being to Feeling Armenian [New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1992]; cited hereafter as Bakalian).
SETTLEMENTS IN AMERICA
The first wave of Armenians in America flooded into greater Boston and New York, where some 90 percent of the immigrants joined the handful of relatives or friends who had arrived earlier. Many Armenians were drawn to New England factories, while others in New York started small businesses. Using their entrepreneurial backgrounds and multilingual skills, Armenians often found quick success with import-export firms and acquired a distorted reputation as "rug merchants" for their total domination of the lucrative oriental carpet business. From the East Coast, growing Armenian communities soon expanded into the Great Lakes regions ofDetroit and Chicago as well as the southern California farming areas of Fresno and Los Angeles. Armenian communities may also be found in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
Since the 1975 Lebanese civil war, Los Angeles has replaced war-torn Beirut as the "first city" of the Armenian diaspora—the largest Armenian community outside of Armenia. The majority of Armenian immigrants to the United States since the 1970s has settled in greater Los Angeles, bringing its size to between 200,000 and 300,000. This includes some 30,000 Armenians who left Soviet Armenia between 1960 and 1984. The Armenian presence in Los Angeles makes this U.S. city one of the few that is noticeable to the general public. Though the community has no full-time television or radio station, it currently supports about a dozen local or syndicated television or radio programs designed for Armenian-speaking audiences. Since 1979, UniArts Publications has published a bilingual Armenian Directory White/Yellow Pages that lists 40,000 households, thousands of local businesses, and hundreds of Armenian organizations among its 500 pages. The community bustles with Armenian media and publishers, some 20 schools and 40 churches, one college, and all sorts of ethnic specialty shops and businesses. The community also has its problems. The number of LEP (Limited English Proficiency) Armenian students in local public schools has leapt from 6,727 in 1989 to 15,156 in 1993, creating a shortage of bilingual teachers. Even more perturbing is the growing involvement of Armenian youth with weapons, gangs, and substance abuse. Some of the thousands of newcomers from the former Soviet Union have been accused of bringing with them a jarbig (crafty) attitude that evokes embarrassment from other Armenians and resentment and prejudice from odars (non-Armenians). In response, the Armenian community has tried to meet its own needs with two multiservice organizations: the Armenian Evangelical Social Service Center and the Armenian Relief Society.
Armenians estimate their own number to be between 500,000 and 800,000 in the United States plus 100,000 in Canada. These estimates include all those with at least one Armenian grandparent, whether or not they identify with Armenians. Assuming an estimate of 700,000, the four largest U.S. concentrations are in southern California (40 percent, or 280,000), greater Boston (15 percent, or 100,000), greater New York (15 percent, or 100,000), and Michigan (10 percent, or 70,000). Since so few Armenians entered America prior to World War I, and so many since World War II, the majority of U.S. Armenians today are only first-, second-, or third-generation Americans, with very few who have all four grandparents born on U.S. soil. Official U.S. Census figures are more conservative than Armenian estimates. The 1990 Census counted 308,096 Americans who cite their ancestry as "Armenian," up from 212,621 in 1980. One hundred fifty thousand report Armenian as the language spoken at home in 1990, up from 102,387 in 1980. Between 1992 and 1997, nearly 23,000 Armenians emigrated to the United States, according to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
RELATIONS WITH OTHER AMERICANS
The majority of Armenians were not so much "pulled" to America by opportunity as they were "pushed" to America by bloodshed within their native country. Still, traditional Armenian culture so closely resembles American values that many Armenian feel they are "coming home" to America and make an easy transition to its free-market economy and social values. A large percentage of immigrants become wealthy businesspeople or educated community leaders within a decade or two of arrival, and feel a kinship with U.S. natives.
American society's reception of Armenians is equally friendly. Armenians have experienced little prejudice in the United States. Armenians are a tiny minority, barely noticed by most Americans because Armenian newcomers are typically multilingual, English-speaking Christians arriving in tight-knit families in which the head of household is an educated professional, skilled craftsman, or businessperson readily absorbed into the U.S. economy. Armenian culture encourages women's education (dating back to its fifth century Canon Law), so many women also have training or work experience. Since most move in a "chain migration," with families already in the United States to receive them, new arrivals have assistance from their families or from the network of U.S. Armenian organizations. In their personal values too, Armenians were dubbed "The Anglo-Saxons of the Middle East" by British writers of the 1800s, because they had the reputation of being industrious, creative, God-fearing, family-oriented, frugal businesspeople who leaned towards conservatism and smooth adaptation to society. Examples of anti-Armenian sentiment are few.
Acculturation and Assimilation
Throughout the diaspora, Armenians have developed a pattern of quick acculturation and slow assimilation. Armenians quickly acculturate to their society, learning the language, attending school, and adapting to economic and political life. Meanwhile, they are highly resistant to assimilation, maintaining their own schools, churches, associations, language, and networks of intramarriage and friendship. Sociologist Anny Bakalian observes that across generations, U.S. Armenians move from a more central "being Armenian" to a more surface "feeling Armenian," expressing nostalgic pride in their heritage while acting fully American.
The U.S. Armenian community is best viewed as the product of two sets of intense, opposing forces—centripetal pressures binding Armenians closer together, and centrifugal pressures pushing them apart. Centripetal forces among Armenians are clear. More than most U.S. nationalities, diaspora Armenian youth and adults feel like the proud guardians charged with protecting their ancient, highly-evolved culture—its distinctive language, alphabet, architecture, music, and art—from extinction. This sense of duty makes them resist assimilation. They tenaciously maintain their own schools, churches, associations, language, local hantesses (festivals) and networks of intramarriage and friendship. Today's U.S. Armenian community is bound together by a network of Armenian groups including, for example, some 170 church congregations, 33 day schools, 20 national newspapers, 36 radio or television programs, 58 student scholarship programs, and 26 professional associations. Anthropologist Margaret Mead suggested that over the centuries, diaspora Armenians (like Jews) have developed a tight-knit family structure to serve as a bulwark against extinction and assimilation (Culture and Commitment [New York: Columbia University Press, 1978]). There is merit to the sentiment expressed by some Armenians that America's culture has evolved for less than 400 years since the 1600s, at a time when Armenian culture was already 2,500 years into its evolution.
Meanwhile, centrifugal forces also can be strong, driving Armenians out of their community. Due to political and religious schisms, the many groups often duplicate or even compete with one another, creating ill feelings. The American-born and youths, in particular, often view organization leaders as "out-of-touch," while others avoid Armenian organizations due to the plutocratic tendency to allow their wealthy sponsors to dictate organization policy. Unlike most U.S. nationalities, there is no coordinating body at all among the many wealthy Armenian groups, often leading to discord and a vying for leadership. The few recent efforts at community coordination (like the compilation of the Armenian Almanac, Armenian Directory, and Who's Who ) are the efforts of well-intentioned individuals, not funded community groups. Perhaps the emergence, in 1991, of a stable Armenian Republic for the first time in 500 years may serve as a stabilizing force within the diaspora. Meanwhile, it is not clear how many U.S. Armenians have left behind their community, if not their heritage, due to divisive forces within it.
The Bible is the source of most Armenian adages. Armenians also share with their Moslem Turkish neighbors the sayings of "Hojah," a mythical character who teaches listeners by his sometimes foolish, sometimes wise example. Other popular Armenian sayings are: We learn more from a clever rival than a stupid ally; It burns only where the fire falls; Wherever there are two Armenians there are at least three opinions; Mouth to mouth, the splinter becomes a log; The older we get, the more our parents know; Jealousy first hurts the jealous; Money brings wisdom to some, and makes others act foolish; In marriage, as in death, you go either to heaven or to hell; I'm boss, you're boss. So who grinds the flour?; Lock your door well: don't make a thief of your neighbor; The evil tongue is sharper than a razor, with no remedy for what it cuts; The fish begins to smell from its head; Fear the man who doesn't fear God; A narrow mind has a broad tongue; A sweet tongue will bring the snake from its hole; See the mother, marry the girl.
The Armenian woman is expected to take pride in her kitchen, and pass this skill on to her daughters. Nutritionally, the Armenian diet is rich in dairy, oils, and red meats. It emphasizes subtlety of flavors and textures, with many herbs and spices. It includes nonmeat dishes, to accommodate Lent each spring. Since so much time and effort is needed—for marinating, stuffing, stewing—U.S. Armenian restaurants lean toward the expensive multi-course evening fare, not fast food or take-out. Traditional Armenian foods fall into two categories—the shared and the distinctive.
The shared part of the Armenian diet is the Mediterranean foods widely familiar among Arabs, Turks, Greeks. This includes appetizers like humus, baba ganoush, tabouleh, madzoon (yogurt); main courses like pilaf (rice), imam bayildi (eggplant casserole), foule (beans), felafel (vegetable fritters), meat cut into cubes called kebabs for barbecue (shish kebab ) or boiling (tass kebab ), or ground into kufta (meatballs); bakery and desserts like pita bread, baklawa, bourma, halawi, halvah, mamoul, lokhoom; and beverages like espresso, or oghi (raisin brandy).
The distinctive part of the Armenian diet is unlikely to be found outside an Armenian home or restaurant. This includes appetizers like Armenian string cheese, manti (dumpling soup), tourshou (pickled vegetables), tahnabour (yogurt soup), jajik (spicy yogurt), basterma (spicy dried beef), lahmajun (ground meat pizza), midia (mussels); main courses like bulghur (wheat), harisse (lamb pottage), boeregs (flaky pastry stuffed with meat, cheese, or vegetables), soujuk (sausage), tourlu (vegetable stew), sarma (meat/grain fillings wrapped by grape or cabbage leaves), dolma (meat/grain fillings stuffed into squash or tomatoes), khash (boiled hooves); bakery and desserts like lavash (thin flat bread), katah (butter/egg pastry), choereg (egg/anise pastry), katayif (sweets), gatnabour (rice pudding), kourabia (sugar cookies), kaymak (whipped cream); and beverages like tahn (a tart yogurt drink).
Traditional recipes go back 1,000 years or more. Though demanding, their preparation has become almost a symbol of national survival for Armenians. A vivid example of this occurs each September in the Republic of Armenia. Armenians gather by the thousands at the outdoor grounds of Musa Ler to share harrise porridge for two days. This celebrates the survival of a village nearly exterminated in the Turkish genocide in 1918 (as described in Franz Werfel's novel, Forty Days of Musa Dagh ).
Traditional holidays celebrated by Armenian Americans include January 6: Armenian Christmas (Epiphany in most other Christian churches, marking the three Magi's visit to Christ); February 10: St. Vartan's Day, commemorating martyr Vartan Mamigonian's battle for religious freedom against the Persians in 451 A.D.; religious springtime holidays such as Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter; April 24: Martyrs' Day, a day of speeches and marches remembering the first day in 1915 of the Turkish genocide of some one million Armenians in Anatolia; May 28: Independence Day, celebrating the short-lived freedom of the Republic of Armenia from 1918-1920, after 500 years of Turkish suzerainty; and September 23: the declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Armenian language is an independent branch of the Indo-European group of languages. Since it separated from its Indo-European origins thousands of years ago, it is not closely related to any other existing language. Its syntactical rules make it a concise language, expressing much meaning in few words. One unique aspect of Armenian is its alphabet. At the time Armenians converted to Christianity in 301, they had their own language but, with no alphabet, they relied on Greek and Assyrian for writing. One priest, Mesrob Mashtots (353-439), resigned his high post as the royal Secretary to King Vramshabouh when he received God's call to become an evangelist monk. With inspired scholarship, in 410 he literally invented the unique new characters of an alphabet that captured the array of sounds of his language in order to pen the Holy Scriptures in his own Armenian tongue. Immediately, his efforts ushered in a golden age of literature in Armenia, and the nearby Georgians soon commissioned Mesrob to invent an alphabet for their language. Armenians today continue to use Mesrob's original 36 characters (now 38), and regard him as a national hero.
The spoken Armenian of Mesrob's era has evolved over the centuries. This classical Armenian, called Krapar, is used now only in religious services. Modern spoken Armenian is now one language with two dialects world-wide. The slightly more guttural "Eastern" Armenian is used among 55 percent of the world's 8 million Armenians—those in Iran, in Armenia, and in the post-Soviet nations. "Western" is used among the other 45 percent in every other nation throughout the diaspora—the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. With effort, speakers of the two dialects can understand each other's pronunciation, much the way Portuguese can comprehend Spanish.
Because more than half of these ancient people now live dispersed outside their homeland, the intense fear of cultural extinction among diaspora Armenians has resulted in a lively debate. Many Armenians wonder if the speaking of Armenian is essential for future national survival. A recent U.S. survey found that 94 percent of Armenian immigrants to the United States feel their children should learn to speak Armenian, yet the actual percentage who can speak Armenian dropped dramatically from 98 percent among the first generation to just 12 percent among third-generation Americans (Bakalian, p. 256). The Armenian day school movement is not nearly sufficient to reverse or even slow this sharp decline in Armenian-language speakers. The 1990 U.S. Census found that 150,000 Americans report speaking Armenian at home.
Armenian is taught at several American colleges and universities, including Stanford University, Boston College, Harvard University, the University of Michigan, and the University ofPennsylvania to name a few. Library collections in the Armenian language may be found wherever there is a large Armenian American population. Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, New York, Detroit, and Cleveland public libraries all have good Armenian language holdings.
GREETINGS AND OTHER POPULAR EXPRESSIONS
Some common expressions in Armenian are: Parev —Hello; Inch bes es? —How are you? Pari louys —Good morning; Ksher pari —Good night; Pari janabar —A good trip!; Hachoghootiun —Good luck; Pari ygak —Welcome; Ayo —Yes; Voch —No; Shnor hagalem —Thank you; Pahme che —You're welcome; Abris —Congratulations!; Oorish or ge desnevink —See you again; Shnor nor dari —Happy new year; Shnor soorp dznoort —Merry Christmas; Kristos haryav ee merelots —Easter greeting Christ is risen!; Ortnial eh harutiun Kristosi! —Easter reply Blessed is Christ risen!; Asvadz ortne kezi —God bless you; Ge sihrem —I like you/it; Hye es? —Are you Armenian?
Family and Community Dynamics
In her book Culture and Commitment, anthropologist Margaret Mead singled out Jewish and Armenian nationalities as two examples of cultures in which children seem unusually respectful and less rebellious towards their parents, perhaps because these groups had come so close to extinction in the past. In 1990, the President of the Armenian International College in California surveyed a representative sample of 1,864 Armenians in public and private schools in 22 states, ages 12 to 19, to derive this snapshot of "the future of the Armenian community in America": more speak English at home (56 percent) than Armenian (44 percent). Some 90 percent live with two parents, and 91 percent report excellent or good relations with them. Some 83 percent plan for college. Some 94 percent feel it important to have faith in God. Among those involved in an Armenian church, 74 percent are Apostolic, 17 percent Protestant, seven percent Catholic. Only five percent do not identify as "Armenian" at all. Some 94 percent felt somehow affected by the 1988 earthquake in Armenia. These findings confirm a positive view of Americans proud of their heritage.
Education has been a high priority in Armenians' ancestral culture. One Canadian sponsor of hundreds of young Armenians into Canada later described them as "school crazy" in their eagerness to complete an education. A 1986 survey of 584 Armenian Americans found that 41 percent of immigrants, 43 percent of first generation, and 69 percent of second-generation Armenians, had completed a college degree. Another survey of Armenian adolescents in 1990 found 83 percent plan to attend college. The 1990 U.S. Census similarly found that 41 percent of all Armenian-ancestry adults reported some college training—with a baccalaureate completed by 23 percent of men and 19 percent of women. Though these data vary, they all confirm a picture of a people seeking higher education.
Armenian day schools now number 33 in North America, educating some 5,500 pupils. Though their prime goal was to foster ethnic identity, evidence also documents their academic excellence in preparing students, in at least two ways. These schools achieve unusually high averages on standardized national tests like the California Achievement Tests, even though the majority of their pupils are foreign-born ESL (English as a Second Language) students. Graduates of these schools typically go on to scholarships and other successes in their higher education.
Notable here is the growth of Armenian studies within U.S. universities over the past 30 years. Some 20 U.S. universities now offer some program in Armenian studies. As of 1995, more than a half-dozen of these have established one or more endowed chairs in Armenian studies within a major university: University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Los Angeles; California State University, Fresno; Columbia University; Harvard University; and the Universities of Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Armenians have distinctive surnames, which their familiar "ian" endings make easily recognizable. Most Armenians in Anatolia took surnames with "ian" meaning "of"—such as Tashjian (the tailor's family) or Artounian (Artoun's family)—in about the eighteenth century. A U.S. survey found that 94 percent of traditional Armenian surnames today end in "-ian" (like Artounian), with only six percent ending in "yan" (Artounyan), "-ians" (Artounians), or the more ancient "-ooni" (Artooni). In still other cases, Armenians can often detect surnames just by their Armenian root, despite some other suffix adjusted to fit a diaspora Armenian into a local host nation—such as Artounoff (Russia), Artounoglu (Turkey), Artounescu (Romania). With intermarriage or assimilation in the United States, more Armenians are shedding their distinctive surnames, typically for briefer ones. The "ian" suffix is especially common among East European Jews (Brodian, Gibian, Gurian, Millian, Safian, Slepian, Slobodzian, Yaryan), perhaps indicating some historic link in this region.
When Christ's apostles Thaddeus and Bartholemew came to Armenia in 43 and 68 A.D., they found a pagan nation of nature-worshippers; the land was dotted with temples for a pantheon of gods resembling those of nearby Greece and Persia. Armenian authorities eventually executed the two preachers, in part because of Armenian listeners' receptivity to the Gospel. In 301 King Trdates III was the last Armenian king to persecute Christians, before his dramatic conversion to Christianity by the miracles of "Gregory the Illuminator." Armenia thus became the world's first Christian nation, a major breakthrough for those early believers, and a source of continuing pride to Armenians today. Trdates III appointed Gregory the Church's first Catholicos in 303, and the Cathedral he erected in Echmiadzin, Armenia, continues today as the seat of the supreme Catholicos of the worldwide Armenian Apostolic Church. In 506 doctrinal differences caused the Armenian and Constantinople churches to divide, and the Armenian Apostolic Church remains an orthodox church today. Few nations have been so transfixed by their religion as Armenians. With the single exception of some 300 Jews in Armenia, there is no other known group of non-Christian Armenians today, making Christianity practically a defining feature of being Armenian. Moreover, Armenians' Christian heritage had led not only to repeated martyrdoms, but also to a number of key elements of their modern culture.
Today, practicing Christian Armenians fall into one of three church bodies—Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox. The smallest of these is the Armenian Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, which includes nearly 150,000 worldwide members. Of these, an estimated 30,000 Armenian Catholics are in one of the ten U.S. parishes within the relatively new North American Diocese, established in 1981 in New York City. It was back in the twelfth century that Western Europe and the Armenians reestablished contact, when Middle East Armenians extended hospitality to the passing Crusaders. In the late 1500s the Vatican's Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith began the Roman Catholic Church's outreach to its "separated" Armenian brethren. In 1717 Father Mekhitar of Sebaste (1675-1749) began forming the Mekhitarist Order's Armenian seminary and research center on the Isle of San Lazzaro in Venice, Italy, which remains known today for its erudition on Armenian affairs. The Church also formed the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in Rome in 1847, an order best known today for the 60 Armenian schools it has opened around the world. The current Superior General of the Vatican's Jesuit Order, Hans Kolvenbach, is an expert in Armenian studies, further indicating the close relationship between Roman Catholic and Armenian Christianity.
In the United States Armenian priests are elected by laymen and ordained by bishops, but confirmed by the Patriarch, who resides in Armenia. There are lower priests (called kahanas ) who are allowed to marry. The Armenian Catholic Church also has higher servants of God (called vartabeds ) who remain celibate so that they may become bishops. The liturgy is conducted in classical Armenian and lasts three hours, but the sermons can be delivered in both English and Armenian.
Protestantism among Armenians dates back to American missionary activity in Anatolia, beginning in 1831. At that time, there was a fundamentalist reform movement within the ranks of the highly traditional Armenian orthodox Church, which closely paralleled the theological views of American Protestants. In this way, missionaries indirectly inspired reform-minded Armenians to form their own Protestant denominations, principally Congregationalist, Evangelical, and Presbyterian. Today, ten to 15 percent of U.S. Armenians (up to 100,000) belong to one of 40 Armenian Protestant congregations, most of them in the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America. These Armenians have a reputation as an unusually educated and financially prosperous segment within the U.S. Armenian community.
By far the largest church group among U.S. Armenians is the original orthodox Apostolic Church founded by Saint Gregory in 301, and currently includes 80 percent of practicing Armenian Christians in the United States. Many non-Armenians admire the beauty of its Divine Liturgy, spoken in old Armenian (Krapar ). The Church has some 120 parishes in North America. Due to the division following Archbishop Tourian's assassination in 1933, 80 of these are under the Diocese, the other 40 under the Prelacy. Compared with other denominations, there are two points to note about this Church. First, it typically does not portend to influence its members on social issues of the day—like birth control, homosexuality, or school prayer. Second, it does not proselytize among non-Armenians. A 1986 survey found that only some 16 percent of U.S. Armenians have joined a non-Armenian church—a figure that increases in proportion to their length of stay on U.S. soil (Bakalian, p. 64).
Employment and Economic Traditions
Due to the quick assimilation and divided nature of the Armenian American community, precise data on the demographics of this group—their education, occupations, income, family size, and dynamics—is lacking. Still, there is a wealth of fairly uniform impressionistic information on the Armenian community's tendencies. The majority of early Armenian immigrants took unskilled jobs in wire mills, garment factories, silk mills, or vineyards in California. Second-generation Armenian Americans were a more professional lot and often obtained managerial positions. Third-generation Armenian Americans, as well as Armenian immigrants who came after World War II, were well-educated and largely attracted to careers in business; they also have a penchant toward engineering, medicine, the sciences, and technology. One Armenian group, which sponsored some 25,000 Armenian refugees into the United States from 1947-1970, reports that these refugees tended to do well economically, with a surprisingly large fraction achieving affluence within their first generation in the United States, primarily by working long hours in their own family businesses.
Though U.S. Census data is admittedly imprecise, especially on ethnic issues, this picture of the Armenian community emerges from the 1990 reports: Of the total of 267,975 Americans who report their ancestry as Armenian, fully 44 percent of these are immigrants—21 percent prior to 1980, and fully 23 percent in 1980-1990. The self-reported mean household income averaged $43,000 for immigrants and $56,000 for native-born, with eight percent of immigrants and 11 percent of natives reporting in excess of $100,000 annually. Eighteen percent of immigrant families and three percent of American-born families fell below the poverty line.
Another profile is yielded in a 1986 sociological survey of 584 New York Armenians: some 40 percent were immigrants, and four out of five of these are from the Middle East. Their three largest occupations were business owners (25 percent), professionals (22 percent), and semi-professionals (17 percent). Median income was about $45,000 annually. Only 25 percent sympathized with one of the three Armenian political parties (primarily Dashnags), with the remaining 75 percent neutral or indifferent (Bakalian, p. 64).
Politics and Government
As the Armenian American community swelled after World War I, so did tensions within it. A few Armenian political parties—Dashnags, Ramgavars, Hunchags—disagreed over acceptance of the Russian-dominated Armenian republic. This conflict came to a head on December 24, 1933 in New York's Holy Cross Armenian Church, when Archbishop Elishe Tourian was surrounded and brutally stabbed by an assassination team in front of his stunned parishioners during the Christmas Eve service. Nine local Dashnags were soon convicted of his murder. Armenians ousted all Dashnags from their Church, forcing these thousands to form their own parallel Church structure. To this day, there continues to be two doctrinally identical yet structurally independent Armenian Church bodies in America, the original Diocese and the later Prelacy. As of 1995, efforts continue to reunite them.
With regard to American politics, Armenian Americans have been active in almost every level of government. Notable politicians include Steven Derounian (1918– ), a U.S. congressman who represented New York from 1952 to 1964 and Walter Karabian (1938– ), who was a California State Senator for several years.
Individual and Group Contributions
Over the years, diaspora Armenians have been fortunate to contribute to the economies and cultures of the nations in which they live, including the United States. Their most visible contributions seem to be in the arts, science and technology (particularly medicine), and business. Up to now they have been least involved in law and the social sciences. In 1994, the first Who's Who among Armenians in North America was published in the United States. Among notable Armenian Americans, three clearly stand out for the visibility of their Armenian heritage. First and foremost is author William Saroyan (1908-1981) who, among other things, declined the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for his play "The Time of Your Life," because he felt such awards distract artists. Another is George Deukmejian (1928– ), the popular Republican governor of California from 1982-1990, who in 1984 was among those considered as a vice-presidential running-mate for his fellow Californian Ronald Reagan. Third is Vartan Gregorian (1935– ), the director of the New York Public Library from 1981-1989, who went on to become the first foreign-born President of an Ivy-League college—Brown University.
Armenian American university presidents have included Gregory Adamian (Bentley), Carnegie Calian (Pittsburgh Theological), Vartan Gregorian (Brown), Barkev Kibarian (Husson), Robert Mehrabian (Carnegie Mellon), Mihran Agbabian (the new American University of Armenia, affiliated with the University of California system).
Visual artists include painter Arshile Gorky (Vostanig Adoian, 1905-1948); photographers Yousef Karsh, Arthur Tcholakian, Harry Nalchayan; and sculptors Reuben Nakian (1897-1986) and Khoren Der Harootian. Musical notables include singer/composers Charles Aznavour, Raffi, Kay Armen (Manoogian); sopranos Lucine Amara and Cathy Berberian, and contralto Lili Chookasian; composer Alan Hovhaness; violin maestro Ivan Galamian; and Boston Pops organist Berj Zamkochian. Entertainers in film and television include many Armenians who have changed their distinctive surnames—Arlene Francis (Kazanjian), Mike Connors (Krikor Ohanian), Cher (Sarkisian) Bono, David Hedison (Hedisian), Akim Tamiroff, Sylvie Vartan (Vartanian), director Eric Bogosian, and producer Rouben Mamoulian (who introduced the modern musical to Broadway, with Oklahoma ! in 1943). Others include cartoonist Ross Baghdasarian (creator of "The Chipmunks" cartoon characters), film producer Howard Kazanjian (Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark ), and screenwriter Steve Zallian, (Awakenings and Clear and Present Danger ) who won an Oscar for the 1993 movie Schindler's List.
Business leaders today include tycoon Kirk Kerkorian (of Metro Goldwyn-Mayer [MGM]), Stephen Mugar (founder of Star Markets in New England), industrialist Sarkis Tarzian, and Alex Manoogian, founder of the Masco Corporation, a conglomerate of building products companies.
In addition to William Saroyan, notable Armenian American writers include novelist Michael Arlen (Dikran Kouyoumdjian), his son Michael J. Arlen, Jr., and Marjorie Housepian Dobkin.
In addition to Governor Deukmejian are Edward N. Costikyan (1924-) of New York City, and Garabed "Chuck" Haytaian of New Jersey. Lawyers include activist Charles Garry (Garabedian), and Raffi Hovanissian, the recent Foreign Minister of Armenia.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Raymond Damadian (inventor of Magnetic Resonance Imaging [MRI]), and U.S. astronaut James Bagian.
Sports figures include Miami Dolphins football player Garo Yepremian; football coach Ara Parseghian; basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian; race-car sponsor J. C. Agajanian; Major League Baseball pitcher Steve Bedrossian.
Armenian International Magazine.
Founded in 1989, this unprecedented monthly newsmagazine seems modeled after Time in content and format. AIM has quickly become a unique source of current facts and trends among Armenians worldwide, offering up-to-date news and features.
Contact: Salpi H. Ghazarian, Editor.
Address: Fourth Millenium, 207 South Brand Boulevard, Glendale, California 91204.
Telephone: (818) 246-7979.
Fax: (818) 246-0088.
E-mail: [email protected]
Weekly community newspaper in Armenian and English founded in 1932.
Contact: Ara Kalaydjian, Editor.
Address: Baikar Association, Inc., 755 Mt. Auburn Street, Watertown, Massachusetts 02172.
Telephone: (617) 924-4420.
Fax: (617) 924-3860.
Contact: Osheen Keshishian, Editor.
Address: 6646 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90028.
Armenian Reporter International.
Since 1967, an independent, English-language Armenian news weekly, considered by some the newspaper of record for the diaspora.
Contact: Aris Sevag, Managing Editor.
Address: 67-07 Utopia Parkway, Fresh Meadows, New York 11365.
Telephone: (718) 380-3636.
Fax: (718) 380-8057.
Email: [email protected]
Since 1948, a quarterly academic journal on Armenian issues, published by the largest Armenian political party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
Address: 80 Bigelow Avenue, Watertown, Massachusetts 02172.
Telephone: (617) 926-4037.
Periodical on Armenian interests in English.
Contact: Vahe Habeshian, Editor.
Address: Hairenik Association, Inc., 80 Bigelow Avenue, Watertown, Massachusetts 02172-2012.
Telephone: (617) 926-3974.
Fax: (617) 926-1750.
English language ethnic newspaper covering news and commentary for Armenian Americans.
Contact: Harut Sassounian, Editor.
Address: P.O. Box 5390, Glendale, California 91221.
Telephone: (818) 409-0949.
UniArts Armenian Directory Yellow Pages.
Founded in 1979. An annual directory of the entire Armenian community in southern California—listing 40,000 families and thousands of businesses, and listing a bilingual reference section listing hundreds of community organizations and churches.
Contact: Bernard Berberian, Publisher.
Address: 424 Colorado Street, Glendale, California 91204.
Telephone: (818) 244-1167.
Fax: (818) 244-1287.
Armenian American Radio Hour, started in 1949, offers two bilingual programs totalling three hours per week in greater Los Angeles.
Contact: Harry Hadigian, Director.
Address: 14610 Cohasset Street, Van Nuys, California 91405.
Telephone: (213) 463-4545.
KRCA-TV (Channel 62).
"Armenia Today," a daily half-hour show describing itself as "the only Armenian daily television outside Armenia;" it is carried on 70 cable systems in southern California.
Address: Thirty Seconds Inc., 520 North Central Avenue, Glendale, California 91203.
Telephone: (818) 244-9044.
Fax: (818) 244-8220.
Organizations and Associations
Armenian Assembly of America (AAA).
Founded in 1972, AAA is a nonprofit public affairs office that tries to communicate the Armenian voice to government, increase the involvement of Armenians in public affairs, and sponsor activities fostering unity among Armenian groups.
Contact: Ross Vartian, Executive Director.
Address: 122 C Street, Washington, D.C. 20001.
Telephone: (202) 393-3434.
Fax: (202) 638-4904.
E-mail: [email protected]
Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU).
Founded in 1906 in Egypt by statesman Boghos Nubar, this wealthy service group operates internationally, with some 60 chapters in North America. AGBU resources are targeted onto specific projects chosen by its Honorary Life President and Central Committee—sponsoring its own schools, scholarships, relief efforts, cultural and youth groups, and, since 1991, a free English-language newsmagazine. More than any major diaspora group, AGBU has had close ties with Armenia, in both the Soviet and post-Soviet eras.
Contact: Louise Simone, President.
Address: 55 E. 59th St., New York, NY 10022-1112.
Telephone: (212) 765-8260.
Fax: (212) 319-6507.
E-mail: [email protected]
Armenian National Committee (ANC).
Founded in 1958, the ANC has 5,000 members and is a political lobby group for Armenian Americans.
Contact: Vicken Sonentz-Papazian, Executive Director.
Address: 104 North Belmont Street, Suite 208, Glendale, California 91206.
Telephone: (818) 500-1918. Fax: (818) 246-7353.
Armenian Network of America (ANA).
Founded 1983. A nonpolitical social organization with chapters in several U.S. cities, ANA is of special appeal to young adults in the professions.
Contact: Greg Postian, Chairman.
Address: P.O. Box 1444, New York, New York 10185.
Telephone: (914) 693-0480.
Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF).
Founded in 1890 in Turkey, the ARF, or Dashnags, is the largest and most nationalistic of the three Armenian political parties.
Contact: Silva Parseghian, Executive Secretary.
Address: 80 Bigelow Street, Watertown, Massachusetts 02172.
Telephone: (617) 926-3685.
Fax: (617) 926-1750.
Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America. The largest of the several independent Christian churches among Armenians, directly under the supreme Catholicos in Echmiadzin, Armenia.
Contact: Archbishop Khajag Barsamian.
Address: 630 Second Avenue, New York, New York 10016.
Telephone: (212) 686-0710.
Society for Armenian Studies (SAS).
Promotes the study of Armenia and related geographic areas, as well as issues related to the history and culture of Armenia.
Contact: Dr. Dennis R. Papazian, Chair.
Address: University of Michigan, Armenian Research Center, 4901 Evergreen Road, Dearborn, Michigan 48128-1491.
Telephone: (313) 593-5181.
Fax: (313) 593-5452.
E-mail: [email protected]
Museums and Research Centers
The 1990 Armenian American Almanac identified 76 libraries and research collections in the United States, scattered among public and university libraries, Armenian organizations and churches, and special collections. Of special value are the university collections at the University of California, Los Angeles (21,000 titles), Harvard University (7,000), Columbia University (6,600), University of California, Berkeley (3,500), and the University of Michigan.
Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA).
ALMA houses a library of over 10,000 volumes and audiovisual materials, and several permanent and visiting collections of Armenian artifacts dating as far back as 3000 B.C.
Address: 65 Main Street, Watertown, Massachusetts 02172.
Telephone: (617) 926-ALMA.
National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR).
NAASR fosters the study of Armenian history, culture, and language on an active, scholarly, and continuous basis in American institutions of higher education. Provides a newsletter, Journal of Armenian Studies, and a building housing its large mail-order bookshop, and a library of more than 12,000 volumes, 100 periodicals, and diverse audio-visual materials.
Address: 395 Concord Avenue, Belmont, Massachusetts 02478-3049.
Telephone: (617) 489-1610.
Fax: (617) 484-1759.
Sources for Additional Study
Armenian American Almanac, third edition, edited by Hamo B. Vassilian. Glendale, California: Armenian Reference Books, 1995.
Mirak, Robert. Torn between Two Lands. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1983.
Takooshian, Harold. "Armenian Immigration to the United States Today from the Middle East," Journal of Armenian Studies, 3, 1987, pp. 133-55.
Waldstreicher, David. The Armenian Americans. New York: Chelsea House, 1989.
Wertsman, Vladimir. The Armenians in America, 1616-1976: A Chronology and Fact Book. Dobbs Ferry, New York: Oceana Publications, 1978.