The Armenian community in the United States of America has existed for more than a century. The Torch Was Passed: The Centennial History of the Armenian Church of America, a work edited by Christopher Hagop Zakian in celebration of the centennial history of the Armenian Church of America in 1998, tells the history of the Armenians in the land of freedom and opportunity, from humble and often distressing beginnings in 1898 to a hopeful and bright one hundred years later.
Zakian embarks on a detailed journey that has its roots in the little community of Armenians in Worcester, Massachusetts, who banded together to form the first Armenian Church of America, the Church of Our Savior. From this small and improbable starting point, Mr. Zakian tells of the spread of the faith of the Armenians across the country. For the Armenian community at this time, no one imagined a permanent diocese taking shape in the United States; as far as they were concerned, America was a pit stop for refugees before returning to the motherland again one day.
Trials and Tribulations
The developments of the coming century would change all of that. As Mr. Zakian writes, changing circumstances at home and abroad would forever change the destiny of the Armenians in America and shape their future. With Bishop Hovsep Sarajian chosen by the Armenian flock to serve as the first primate in the United States, the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America was established in 1898. For the next 50 years, the young and fledgling diocese underwent numerous periods of trial, tribulation, and transformation on the path of coming to resemble, more or less, the Diocese that we have today. Notable events included coping with the emotional trauma of the Armenian Genocide, caring for countless refugees from Soviet Armenia, and fracturing from within, culminating in the assassination of Archbishop Ghevont Tourian.
Consolidation and Growth
Following years of relative peace and stability under Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America began to expand and prosper, forming organizations recognizable today, such as the ACYOA, the St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, and the construction of the St. Vartan Cathedral and diocesan headquarters in New York City. Indeed, with the ardent confidence and support exhibited by the newly-elected pontiff of the Armenian Apostolic Church in His Holiness Vasken I, the Armenian Church in America continued to increase in number of parishes, laypeople, and clergymen. Especially under the long primacy of Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America reached its peak of influence for the Armenian-American community. Mr. Zakian concludes his chronicle with a review of the diocese and its various activities and organizations under the tenure of the current primate, His Eminence Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, and he looks to the future of the Armenian Church in America.
Mr. Zakian’s work contains helpful appendices provided by contributing authors that supplement his narrative of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America. The first two deal with the formation and history of the Western and Canadian Dioceses, respectively. The third appendix discusses the unique schism within the Armenian Church in America and its slow, painful progress towards reconciliation and hoped-for unity. The book is rounded out by a general chronology of the Armenian Church of America and a list of parishes of the Eastern Diocese. While it is clear that Mr. Zakian went to painstaking lengths to obtain and compile informative lists and histories of the various Armenian churches in America, he also narrates the story of the Armenians in the United States compellingly. Surely, this book not only serves as a history of our people, but reminds us of just how strong and tenacious the Armenian community is.
ALEXANDER CALIKYAN is a senior at the Catholic University of America (Washington, DC) majoring in philosophy. He has been an intern at the Zohrab Center last summer and this summer.
Did you miss last week’s marvelous presentation at the Zohrab Center by Dr. Roberta Ervine? She read between the lines of the writings of the 12th-century Armenian monk Mkhitar Gosh and uncovered surprising insights for all who wonder whether Armenians have a future in our complex, multicultural world.
Enjoy the video.
Did you miss last Thursday’s ZIC lecture by Dr. Armen Marsoobian on Armenians who converted to Islam during the Genocide? We’ve posted it for you on YouTube. Enjoy.
Armenian? American? Christian? Some combination of the above?
Most Armenians for most of history have lived as minorities in lands not their own. So the preservation of Armenian identity and the free practice of their ancestral Christian faith have been unavoidable challenges for Armenians in the past as they are for us today. But what is this Armenian identity that we seek to preserve? What does it look like? Is it an unchanging treasure or a living, evolving being? What are the boundaries between the Armenian expression of the Christian faith and the convictions of others Christians—indeed other people of faith—in our society today?
Dr. Roberta Ervine, Professor of Armenian Studies at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary (New Rochelle, NY) will address these questions next Wednesday, June 4 at 7PM at the Zohrab Center in New York in a lecture entitled, “Living the Gospel of Christ in a Multicultural World: The Monastic Experience of Goshavank.”
Talk amongst yourselves: #ZICMkhitar
As it happens, the inescapable questions that come with living as Armenians in a pluralistic society are not new. They were pondered by a beardless monk named Mkhitar, who lived in the northern hinterlands of 12th century Armenia. What principles do we use to guide our thinking and behavior as people with multiple identities? How should we relate to others who are not like us? How do we want to distinguish ourselves as unique — or do we? Mkhitar’s responses to these questions are as fresh today as they were when he first spoke them.
The great intellectual Mkhitar, known as “Gosh” [the beardless] is best known for having codified Armenian law in a work called Datastanagirk. He also wrote a marvelous collection of fables—he was the Armenian Aesop—as well as prayers, sermons, a short chronicle and various theological works. He was also the teacher of a number of disciples who went on to become the most prominent historians and theologians of the thirteenth century.
Roberta Ervine is a specialist in medieval Armenian authors and theology, and a much loved teacher to generations of students both in Jerusalem and at St. Nersess. She holds her PhD from Columbia University, where she studied with Profs. Nina Garsoïan, James Russell, and Very Rev. Fr. Krikor Maksoudian. Dissertation research led her to Jerusalem, where she lived in the Armenian Monastery of St. James as a disciple of His Grace Abp. Norayr Bogharian, curator of manuscripts. For sixteen of her twenty-one years in the Holy City, Prof. Ervine taught for the Holy Translators Academy; she also lectured for several other Jerusalem institutions, including the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 2001 she returned to the United States to teach at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, where she lectures on topics related to the history of Armenian Christianity and Armenian Christian thought. She is the editor of the St. Nersess Theological Review.
Join Dr. Ervine on June 4 and be challenged by what one of Armenia’s great teachers has to say on social relationships, community identity and individual integrity. The lecture is free and open to the public. A reception will follow. For further information contact the Zohrab Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 686-0710.
by Paylag Khatchadourian (1906-1991)
Քաղաք մըն ես դուն արաբական,
Ծննդավայր իմ պատուական.
Աչքս բացի քեզի տեսայ,
Գիտցայ թէ ա´լ քաղաք չկայ։
Իմ հայրենիք երկրորդական,
Եղար հայուն բարի պաշտպան
Տուիր մեզի հաց ապաստան։
Ապրեցանք մենք միշտ միասին
Որպէս եղբայր հայն արապին.
Գործեցինք մենք միշտ միասին,
Որպէս անկեղծ Սուրիայի։
Մօտ է օրը մեր բաժանման,
Իմ մանկութեան լոյսի խորան.
Պիտի յիշենք քեզ տեւական,
Իմ մանկութեան յոյսի խորան։
Էջմիածնայ կոչնակը հնչեց,
Զաւակները իր քովը կանչեց.
Կը բաժնուիմ քեզմէ սիրով
Հալէպ քաղաք մնաս բարով։
Born in Erzerum, Turkey in 1906, Paylag Khatchadourian lost his parents, grandparents, uncle, three sisters and one brother in the Genocide. Barely escaping the atrocities himself, he was placed in the Kalekian Armenian orphanage in Syria. At the age of 18, Khatchadourian was released from the orphanage. He continued his education and subsequently settled with his family in Aleppo.
Written as the author was preparing to emigrate to Armenia along with thousands of others during the great repatriation of 1946, the poem poignantly conveys the tender love of countless Armenian genocide survivors for Aleppo, which became their “precious birthplace” and “second fatherland.” Today, as this historic city lies in ruins, the poem resonates in a new and tragic strain.
The poem was submitted by Dr. Aida Khatchadourian of Orlando, Florida, daughter of the poet, who died in 1991.
This Friday, May 16, Dr. Arda Jebejian will present a lecture at St. Leon Armenian Church, Fair Lawn, New Jersey entitled Challenges and Opportunities to Maintaining an Endangered Language.
A socio-linguist, Dr. Jebejian will explore the experience of other endangered languages and explain why languages die, what is lost and what we can do to avoid extinction. Unlike the physical destruction and other aspects of the genocidal process, the death of Western Armenian is neither inevitable nor irreversible. Simple, practical steps by parents and communities can be taken to maintain Western Armenian and pass it on to subsequent generations.
The lecture is being co-sponsored by St. Leon Armenian Church, the Armenian Studies Department of the Diocese of the Armenian Church (Eastern) and the Zohrab Information Center.
Dr. Jebejian is a lecturer at the University of Nicosia. She holds a Doctor of Applied Linguistics from the University of Leicester, United Kingdom. She has authored twenty-two books including four text books for English language instruction with supplemental materials.
The presentation will take place on Friday, May 16 at 7:45PM at the Grace & Charles Pinajian Youth Center of St. Leon Armenian Church, 12-61 Saddle River Road, Fair Lawn, New Jersey. The lecture will be presented in English, and is free and open to the public. A reception will follow.
For further information contact email@example.com or (212) 686-0710.
In the summer of 1915 Tsolag Dildilian and his family converted to Islam and adopted Turkish identity as a condition for remaining in their hometown of #Marzovan (Merzifon) in north-central Turkey. Like many “hidden Armenians,” they postured as Muslim Turks in public, but never swayed from their Armenian Christian identity at home. In so doing they were able to rescue and hide significant numbers of young Armenian men and women during the Genocide.
Dr. Armen T. Marsoobian, Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Southern Connecticut State University, will tell the story of the Dildilian-Der-Haroutiounian families and describe daily life in a Genocide-era Turkish city where the only remaining Armenians were those who had purportedly adopted Turkish identity. Prof. Marsoobian’s presentation is based on extensive family memoirs, letters, oral testimony and scores of historic photographs.
Entitled, Resisting the Darkness: The Story of an “Islamized” Armenian Family in #Marzovan (Armenia) 1915-1919, Marsoobian’s richly illustrated presentation will take place at the Zohrab Center on Thursday, May 29 at 7PM. The lecture is free and open to the public. A reception will follow. For further information contact the Zohrab Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 686-0710.
Of the approximately 12,000 Armenians living in #Marzovan and its associated villages, a small number remained behind at the conclusion of the deportations in August 1915. Read more…