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Armenians in North America

Sources mention that in the first half of the seventeenth century, an Armenian called Martin, who was originally from New Julfa, came to Virginia via Amsterdam. The genesis of the Armenian community in North America, however, began more than two centuries later. When American missionaries established schools in Turkey in the second half of the nineteenth century, they enabled some Armenians to come to the United States and attract more Armenian immigrants to the "promised land." A small group of Armenians thus settled on the East coast and built a church in 1891 in Worcester, Massachusetts. America was too far and too expensive for most to reach, however, and it was only after the massacres of 1895-1896 that a large contingent of Armenian men, realizing they had little to lose, took a risk and traveled to America. By 1900 some 15,000 had arrived. Between 1900 and 1916 some 70,000 Armenians immigrated to the United States. Statistics indicate that a great majority were men under 45 who were skilled and literate, and who had left their wives and families to seek their fortune. Before the closing of the gates in 1924, some 23,000 additional Armenians arrived in North America. Altogether over 100,000, the overwhelming majority from Turkey, settled in the United States and Canada. In 1948 a few thousand Armenians arrived from Europe under the Displaced Persons Act. Known as D.P.'s, they included Armenians who had fled western Russia with the retreating German armies. More Armenians arrived in the late 1950s and early 1960s, following the political problems in the Middle East.
The early immigrants to the United States had settled in the urban and industrial centers of the East coast, primarily in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey, with a few settling in the Midwestern cities of Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland. The only Armenians who did not follow this pattern were those who, at the end of the nineteenth century, settled in the San Joaquin Valley in Central California. Here, they engaged in farming and grape-growing particularly around Fresno. For the next half century Fresno Armenians suffered terrible discrimination from the natives. Signs saying "No Armenians," appeared in store windows and real estate offices. The Fresno community, nevertheless, expanded until the Depression when San Francisco and Los Angeles began to attract new immigrants. Until the 1960s the east coast and the midwest received the largest percentage of Armenian immigrants. As customary with other immigrant groups, the first two generations worked very hard to establish themselves in the new land. Some tried to assimilate as soon as possible, others clung to their traditions. They saved money to bring their families over and to open small businesses. Their literacy and skills meant that they would move upward whenever possible. Discrimination, which was great in some places and at certain times, did not deter the Armenians, who had lived through much worse.
In the 1970s and 1980s some 80,000 Armenians from Soviet Armenia, some of whom had repatriated there in the late 1940s, taking advantage of d6tente and relaxed emigration laws created primarily for Russian Jews, came to North America. In addition Armenians fleeing the civil war in Lebanon, the fundamentalist Islamic Revolution in Iran, and the Iran-Iraq War, relocated there as well. The 1988 earthquake and the deteriorating conditions in Armenia and in the former Soviet Union brought thousands more to North America. The great flood of Armenian immigrants in the last three decades, however, has preferred the greater Los Angeles area, which alone holds approximately 250,000 Armenians. There are at present some I million Armenians in the United States and 100,000 in Canada (primarily in Toronto and Montreal), giving North America the largest concentration of Armenians outside Armenia.
By the third generation American Armenians had produced numerous doctors, lawyers, engineers, and academics, as well as very successful entrepreneurs. Armenian politicians, sports figures, composers, actors, artists and authors such as Alan Hovhannes, Rouben Mamoulian, Arshile Gorky and William Saroyan created a sense of pride among the new generation of American Armenians. With well over 100 churches, numerous schools, associations, academic and cultural societies, magazines, newspapers, as well as active and influential organizations, the Armenians in North America are a force to be reckoned with.

Source: A History of the Armenian People by George A. Bournoutian
Images: AGBU magazine


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