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Cobblestone, May 2000 v21 i5 p10 
A Fruitful Legacy. Nicole E. Vartanian.

Armenian Americans in California

More than a century ago, Armenians began to leave their country in large numbers. Some went in search of new opportunities in business or education. Most, however, left their homeland as a result of acts of genocide. This violence caused Armenians to seek safe, productive places in which to rebuild their lives.

The United States is now home to more than one million Armenians. Approximately half of this population reside in California, largely in the cities of Glendale, Fresno, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

The first Armenian to arrive in California was called Normart, which means "new man" in Armenian. (He was so relieved to find himself safely out of danger that he pledged to become a "new man" in this new world.) Normart visited Fresno in 1874, settling there in 1878. In 1881, the Seropian brothers also settled there. They wrote to relatives and friends describing the landscape of their new home. It reminded them of the Armenian heartland. They told of the agricultural opportunities available in California.

Around this time, Armenian Americans had a key role in the development of the fig industry in Fresno. They helped reproduce varieties such as Smyrna figs and white Adriatic figs and exported them to other parts of this country and the world. Similarly, Armenian Americans played instrumental roles in the development of the bulgur (cracked wheat), grape, and raisin industries in California. They also were the first Oriental rug merchants in that state.

More Armenian immigrants followed these trailblazers, many fleeing the massacres of the Turkish government from 1894 to 1896. In 1901, Reverend Haroutoon Jenanian established the first and only U.S. community inhabited exclusively by Armenians. He sold them small tracts of undeveloped land near Fresno. By 1920, hundreds of Armenians lived in this area, known as Yettem, or "Garden of Eden."

In the 1920s, Armenians began to move from rural regions to cities. They hoped to recover from losses encountered when the prices of raisins and other farm products fell. As a result, by 1930, the Armenian population of Los Angeles was the largest in California.

Today, California is home to Armenian American television shows and newspapers, nursing homes, churches, schools, and cultural organizations. The state also has produced many noteworthy Armenian Americans, including businessman Kirk Kerkorian and author William Saroyan (see the article). In addition, two of the most important Armenian military leaders lived in California. General Antranig Ozanian, who was instrumental in the struggle against Turkish oppression at the beginning of the twentieth century, settled in Fresno. Monte Melkonian, who led the forces that secured independence of Armenian territory from Azerbaijani control in the early 1990s, was born in Tulare County, California.

Many Armenians who settled in California originally left their homeland for nations as varied as Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon. They were uprooted from those countries after strife such as the civil war in Lebanon and the revolution in Iran in the 1970s. Because of such events, Armenian Americans living in California today represent an impressively diverse group. In that state, Armenian immigrants found a new home that physically reminded them of their native land. California has enabled Armenians to establish strong communities in which they can blend some traditions from the Old World with the freedoms of the New.

From Coast to Coast

The East Coast of the United States was the first stop for many Armenians. The first record of an Armenian coming to America dates to 1618, with "Martin ye [the] Armenian," a member of the Jamestown, Virginia, colony. Major Armenian population centers eventually formed north of Virginia in New York and Massachusetts.

With nearly 100,000 Armenians, the greater New York area represents this nation's second largest concentration of Armenian Americans. Armenians began to arrive in the state in the 1860s. This population was educated and sought employment in areas such as medicine and business. Immigration swelled after the 1894 to 1896 massacres in the Armenian homeland. By 1914, there were approximately sixteen thousand Armenians in New York, mostly in Manhattan. By the mid-1920s to the 1930s, Armenians had earned enough to move into the suburbs of the tristate (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut) area.

Led by Protestant missionaries, Armenians who came to Massachusetts settled first in Worcester. Some missionaries arranged for Armenians to find work as servants in American homes. Local wire mills also provided jobs. By 1891, Worcester's Armenian community had built America's first Armenian church. Armenians soon began to also settle in Watertown, Massachusetts, where the Hood Rubber Company offered employment. By 1914, more than fourteen thousand Armenians called Massachusetts their new home.

A walk around Watertown's Coolidge Square (the "Main Street" of the Boston area's Armenian community) today finds a concentration of Armenian-run businesses. It is common to hear the Armenian language spoken and see it written on store signs. More than fifty thousand Armenians currently live in and around Boston. The region is home to many Armenian organizations, including more than a dozen churches, three newspapers, and the Armenian Library and Museum of America (see the article on). -- N.E.V.

Nicole E. Vartanian is a doctoral candidate at Teachers College of Columbia University in New York. She studies ways in which American schools can teach students about genocides. Article Source: Katy Pearce

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