2795) Armenian & American: Changing Face Of Ethnic Identity & Diasporic Nationalism, 1915-1955 By Benjamin F. Alexander

Armenian And American: The Changing Face Of Ethnic Identity And Diasporic Nationalism, 1915-1955 By Benjamin F. Alexander
Advisor: Prof. Thomas Kessner . .

This dissertation traces the development of Armenian-American community life between 1915 and 1955, with a special emphasis on ideas and internal dialogue about the meaning of ethnic identity and the relationship between an ethnic group and its ancestral homeland. Going from the traumas of the 1915 Turkish genocide through the coming-of age of much of the third generation, the study looks at the role of those ethnic institutions, especially the Armenian political parties, which profoundly influenced the nature of the Armenian-American experience. Special emphasis is placed on the concept of a symbiotic marketing relationship between the general ethnic populace, which increasingly included the American-born generations, and those organizations which needed their allegiance to stay in existence. The commodities being marketed were visions of peoplehood and ideas about collective identity, as well as the more literal products of newspapers and admission to sponsored social events. Extensive attention is given to the special role played by a bitter partisan conflict between the militant-nationalist Tashnak party and a coalition of other factions, especially the Ramgavar party. An important part of this conflict was a sequence of events that occurred shortly after the genocide, when the Tashnak party in the eastern portion of historic Armenia played the dominant role in governing the short-lived Republic of Armenia from mid-1918 through late 1920. The nature of that republic, and the circumstances under which Armenia became a Soviet republic, spawned contested memories. Those contested memories led to an even fresher one in 1933 with the assassination of an archbishop. This dissertation also explores the role that integration into mainstream American middle-class life played in the ethnic and diasporic experience.

The political parties, especially when they sponsored dances and other social affairs, helped to facilitate a smooth merger of the Armenian and the American worlds for their constituents. Ironically, they did so while remaining bitterly unreconciled across the lines of intra-ethnic faction.

To my mother, and to the memory of my father.


If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes what one might call a “virtual village” to raise a dissertation. It certainly took a huge one to raise this piece of work. I have so many people to thank for so many different varieties of help that I write these words in trepidation of how many deserving people I’ll accidentally leave out, even if I limit these acknowledgements to the people who helped directly with the dissertation itself apart from the many others who encouraged me and gave me much-needed diversions along the way. Having been at work on it for seven years, and having opened dialogue with people about it even earlier than that, there's bound to have been some important conversation I had with someone on Armenian-American immigrant experiences that I've since forgotten, even if my reservoir of knowledge and insight retained the benefits of it. I can only say, if that person is you, please remind me and I'll make good on it for the published book. (And there is very definitely one in the works, God and some publishing house willing.)

Among the greatest of my many good fortunes, in the writing of this dissertation as well as the whole graduate school experience, has been the privilege of having Prof. Thomas Kessner for an advisor. Advising the likes of me is a job that takes patience, and I heartily thank him for having it. Beyond that, his knowledge of history and the historical profession, his sense of what the process of scholarship is all about, his adeptness at mentoring, and his professional integrity have all been qualities that made the dissertation adventure a pleasure, which is saying a lot, as anyone who has ever done a dissertation will understand. I also very much appreciate the guidance and the kind encouragement that I have received from the other committee members: Profs. Martin Burke, Barbara Welter, Mehdi Bozorgmehr, and Gerald Markowitz. This committee was exactly what I needed, for both fairness and insightfulness. I thank them all.

I also wish to thank Anny Bakalian, who has also been an invaluable mentor to this project. It was a stroke of good luck that, after I had gotten to know her fine book on the subject, she took a job not only at the same school but on the same floor as my department, with an office that I could stroll over to for a chat any time. Anny has encouraged me with this dissertation to the fullest, sharing very helpful insights of her own with me throughout the process. She also gave the manuscript a thorough read, and her detailed, incisive comments have considerably helped the product that it is now. At the proposal stage, I received very helpful guidance from Profs. Ervand Abrahamian, Phillip Cannistraro, and Judith Stein alongside Prof. Welter and Kessner. In the course of the writing process, I took part in three seminars where I received valuable suggestions on chapter drafts from fellow students. Two of those seminars were ably run by members of my present committee, Profs. Thomas Kessner and Martin Burke, and the other was presided over by the very insightful and helpful Prof. David Berger. From these three seminars, I wish to thank my fellow students Rosalie Bachana, Marcella Bencivenni, Dorothy Browne, Moira Egan, Marcia Gallo, Carol Giardina, Hilary-Anne Hallett, Anne Hayes, Bob Johnson, Steve Levine, Carol Quirke, and Christolyn Williams. And, through it all, there was Betty Einerman, assistant program officer. She's an outsider to all the themes that we write seminar papers and dissertations about, but she understands everything about what it's like personally to be a graduate student, from her vantage point at that desk in the program office. She's the soothing, sympathetic voice when one falls upon misfortune, and the first to offer congratulations when someone passes an oral exam or, as in this case, finishes a dissertation. She has also helped me tangible ways over the years, writing letters for me, looking up regulations, and so forth. There's much about the lifestyle of being a doctoral student that I won't miss, but Betty, I'll miss you.

I visited a number of resource centers for this research, as well as the headquarters of both the Armenian Democratic Liberal party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, both in Watertown, MA. The persons I met at the ARF, though not at liberty to make any archives available to me, did give me some published volumes that were very helpful; at the ADL, I wish to thank Mr. Kevork Marashlian as well as the district leadership for allowing me to peruse and photocopy archival materials. At the Armenian Cultural Foundation in Arlington, MA, I received generous assistance from Ara Ghazarians and Bob Mirak. I was also a frequent visitor at the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) in Belmont, MA, where gracious hospitality and access to a wealth of materials were afforded by Marc Mamigonian, Sandra Jurigian, and Ruby Chorbajian; I want to thank Ruby in particular for the excellent job she did of cataloguing the Avedis Derounian papers, a gold mine of material to which I know I’ll be returning. My visits to the Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA) in Watertown, MA, brought me enlightening and stimulating conversation with Gary Lind-Sinanian and Jon McCollum. For access to church records, I thank Very Rev. Fr. Muron Aznikian and Marina Dilakian at the St. Illuminator Church in New York, and Fr. Vazken Karayan and Noubar Dorian at Holy Cross Armenian Church in Union City, NJ. I also very much appreciate Mrs. Arpena Mesrobian for making a copy of her brother’s unpublished short play “Marriage by Ballot” available to me.

Most of my research for this project was done at yet another place, the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center at the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church in New York. The director, Fr. Krikor Maksoudian, gave very generously of his time answering questions, sharing insights, and generally encouraging me to do this project. Two assistants who worked there in the past, Ludmilla Batchelor and Anahid Sahagian, were also very kind and helpful.

And then, there’s Aram Arkun. Aram is the co-coordinator of the Zohrab Center. The number of ways that Aram helped me with this dissertation might well exceed space limits. For starters, he made sure that the needed materials at the Zohrab Center were available to me. That much is his job, but he did a lot more from the sheer goodness of his heart. He helped me translate passages from the Armenian papers. He answered questions for me at length, from his extensive knowledge of Armenian history. He read sizable chunks of the manuscript and gave me insightful comments. I never could have done what I did without him, and I’m very much looking forward to the completion of his own dissertation in progress at UCLA and the published book that I’m confident will follow, on the Cilician provinces of Marash and Sis from the beginning of World War I through 1923.

For interviews, factual consultations, and generally helpful conversations or written correspondence—and this is where I have the greatest fear of omissions—a warm thank you to all of these people:

Anahad Ajemian
Haig Asadourian
Sarkis Atamian
Levon Avdoyan
Edward Azadian
George Bashian, Jr.
Florence Chakerian
Dr. Hagop Deranian
Marjorie Housepian Dobkin
Rev. Dr. Peter Doghramji
Noubar Dourian
Lionel Galstaun
Arthur Gregorian
George Harutunian
Charlotte Kechejian
Diana and Michael Keleshian
Gerard Libaridian
Lou Ann Matossian
Arpena Mesrobian
Souren Papazian
Paul Sagsoorian
James H. Tashjian
Bertha Turnamian
Hagop Vartivarian
Hratch Zadoian

Doing research with Armenian-language sources required me to learn how to read Armenian. I have had three excellent teachers: Shakeh Kadehjian, Vehanoush Tekian, and Seta Melkonian. To all three of these fine and patient mentors, shnorhagaloutiun. I also want to thank the University of California at Berkeley for awarding me a study grant for Dr. Melkonian’s course. In addition, Aram Balagyozyan helped me translate some materials one afternoon; I much appreciate his time and assistance.

Many other people were helpful to this dissertation as well, in indirect ways. A number of good personal friends gave me ongoing encouragement and moral support, for which I am grateful. Elizabeth Pallitto gave me all this plus a place to stay in Boston, several times when I was using research facilities in the area, so I think her name belongs in here. Elizabeth is also an outstanding scholar of Renaissance literature, whose own dissertation on the poet Tullia D’Aragona rests on the Graduate Center library shelves not far from this present volume.

And to the many friends who helped with general encouragement, you are not forgotten. Thank you. There is just no way I could list you all here without making egregious omissions.

I particularly want to thank my parents. My father is not with us now, but in my early childhood he taught me my first Armenian words; when I began my language study, I already knew how to say “what do you want.” My mother has given me an appreciation for learning and teaching, and has supported this dissertation in many assorted ways. It is to my mother, and to the memory of my father, that I dedicate this work.

Table of Contents:

1. The Loyal Millet: Armenians Through 1915
2. Armenian-Americans During the Crisis Years
3. Years of Adjustment: Armenians in America in the 1920s
4. Battles for the Armenian Soul: The 1930s and the Nationalization of Ethnic Institutions
5. A Special Kind of Americans: The Second World War and the Post-War Years



In present-day Watertown, Massachusetts, on a major thoroughfare called Mount Auburn Road, stands the small, unassuming Baikar building. Baikar, in Armenian, means “struggle,” and until 1976 was the name of a daily Armenian-language newspaper. The English-language weekly Armenian Mirror-Spectator still comes out from that building, headquarters of the North American district of the Armenian Democratic Liberal, or Ramgavar, party. (Ramgavar is the Armenian word for “democratic.”) A modest distance away, on the less centrally located Bigelow Avenue, stands the Hairenik (“fatherland”) building, home of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, or Tashnag party. Tashnag, alternately spelled Tashnak, Dashnag, and Dashnak due to the quirks of Armenian-English transliteration, is a shortened version of the Armenian word for “federation.” From this building come the Armenian-language Hairenik, now a weekly and formerly a daily paper, and the English-language Armenian Weekly, formerly called Hairenik Weekly. For comic relief, tashnag is also the Armenian word for piano, the point being that, like a federation—in theory, at least—it is an instrument of harmony.

While the Hairenik building boasts a larger staff and more elaborate operations than its counterpart across town, both are much-reduced fractions of their former selves. The Ramgavar1 party, once a vibrant network of local clubs and youth groups, is now 1 For convenience, the words “Tashnag” and “Ramgavar” will be treated as adoptive English words, so much have they been used as such by Armenian-Americans in their own Englishlanguage publications throughout the past century. Thus, they will not be italicized beyond this point. Also, other than in quotations, the spelling “Tashnag” will be employed here, with the understanding that in quotations the other spellings are merely variants on the same word, transliterated. Several pairs of consonant sounds in Armenian—b and p, d and t, and g and k— pose transliteration problems, especially in the differences between Western and Eastern Armenian pronunciations. These come full-circle when one refers in English to an Armenian mainly a political lobbying concern, pressing most strongly for commemoration and official recognition by governments (especially the U.S.) of the 1915 genocide. The Tashnag party still has an active membership, albeit smaller than before, and continues to operate subsidiaries such as the Armenian Youth Federation and the Armenian Relief Society, also headquartered on Bigelow Avenue, as well as to press for remembrance of the genocide and for harsh stances toward Turkey. The two parties have never been friendly. Though tensions have diminished in recent decades, one can still find words of vitriol between Tashnag and anti-Tashnag sympathizers, especially now on Armenianoriented internet message boards.

The typical non-Armenian has never heard of any of these entities. More visible—and more relevant in many of the Armenian population’s lives—are the churches. Armenians historically have been associated with their own Apostolic Christian church, an institution which, though sharing many features in common with Eastern Orthodox churches, has its own distinct liturgies and theological fine points. Many New Yorkers today, who know little else about their Armenian neighbors, know there is a beautiful Armenian cathedral located on Second Avenue between 34th and 35th Streets, though they might be vague on its name (St. Vartan). Armenian Protestant, or Evangelical, churches, are smaller in both size and number but still a significant presence. In New York City, in fact, an Armenian Evangelical Church can be found on 34th Street within two blocks to the west of the St. Vartan cathedral. 2

“gomideh,” which is merely an Armenian reworking of the English word “committee.” Generally, the Western Armenian transliterations will be chosen here. 2 Contrary to what outsiders might guess, in the United States there does not appear ever to have been significant tension between the two leading Armenian religious institutions, the Armenian Apostolic Church and the network of Protestant Evangelical churches. Religious tension has only

For Apostolic Armenians in the United States and worldwide, there are actually two Apostolic churches, and this phenomenon harks back to the historic conflict between the Tashnag party and its partisan rivals. Contiguous to the aforementioned St. Vartan on Second Avenue in New York is the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, which is affiliated with a worldwide Holy See in Echmiadzin (in Armenia, near the present-day capital Yerevan). Just a short walk from there, on East 39th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues, is the Armenian Prelacy of America, affiliated with another Holy See, that of Sis, Cilicia (though actually located in Antelias, Lebanon; Cilicia is a part of historic Armenia now thoroughly under Turkish rule). Each of these spiritual offices has a network of churches under it. The dual church system, formalized in 1956, actually dates back to the early twentieth century; the rift reached the point-ofno-return on December 24, 1933, when the long-running controversies climaxed with the New York murder of Archbishop Levon Tourian. To this day worshipers at churches of “the Prelacy” tend to identify with the Tashnag party; those connected with “the Archdiocese” tend to be of non-Tashnag, and in some instances passionately anti-Tashnag, persuasion.

Also prominent in the Armenian-American world is the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU). While ostensibly non-partisan, AGBU has historically been associated with the non-Tashnag circles, having been founded in 1908 by Boghos Nubar Pasha, a prominent Armenian in Ottoman Egypt connected with the Ramgavar party, who, been significant within the Apostolic church, to the point of rupture in 1933 and an even more formalized schism in 1956, but that was along lines of Tashnag and anti-Tashnag, rather than over any devotional or theological issues. There is also a much smaller Armenian Catholic Church in America. Anny Bakalian, Armenian-Americans: From Being to Feeling Armenian (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1993), 89-125.

as head of a church-appointed delegation in Paris during and after World War I, was largely at cross-purposes with the Tashnag agenda. Today AGBU, though like many of the other institutions a reduced version of what it once was, operates schools and various other philanthropic ventures worldwide; among its publications are a semiannual newspaper and the literary journal Ararat.

Of course, not all Armenian-Americans identify themselves with any partisan leaning at all. There have always been the chezoks, or “neutrals,” and in the present era a considerable number of persons of Armenian lineage are not familiar with the Tashnag and Ramgavar party labels, with the assassination of Archbishop Tourian, or for that matter with the word chezok. Armenianness for them may well consist of attending an occasional service, if even that, at their local church; of being vaguely familiar with a few culinary specialties associated with the Mediterranean world; or merely of noticing an Armenian name in a news article or in the credits of a cultural event. However, virtually all persons of Armenian descent know the date 1915, and associate it with a horrifically potent set of syllables: “the genocide.”

At the time that the Young Turk regime of the tottering Ottoman Empire orchestrated the slaughter and violent expulsion of most of the Armenian population within its borders, more than 50,000 Armenians already lived in the United States.3 As historian Robert Mirak ably demonstrates, this immigrant population had already 3 In 1920, there were 36,620 Armenian-born and 52,840 Armenian-speaking persons in America, including just over 5,000 who made the voyage between 1916 and 1920. The number of Armenian-Americans who did not know the language is difficult to determine and will therefore be rounded modestly. The peak years of Armenian immigration were on the eve of the genocide, 1912-1914, years during which danger was commonly understood to be imminent. Annual Report of the Commissioner General of Immigration, 1924, 113-114, cited in Schnorhig (Beatrice) Balayan, The Armenians in the United States of America, (MA Thesis in History, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, 1927), 3.

achieved some collective economic success on both the East and the West Coasts, finding its niche in Oriental rug and photo-engraving businesses in many of America’s urban centers, and in commercial agriculture in rural Fresno, California. There was already a substantial scattering of Apostolic and Evangelical churches; the political parties had their club halls, their presses, and their propagandists in operation, as well as the rare but not unknown partisan assassination. Thus, the immigrants who were new in the years surrounding the First World War joined a community already in place. These immigrants gave birth to a generation that would become the focal point of much of the discourse about the meaning of the Armenian identity and the rules of the game for being an ethnic group in the American salad bowl.4

This study focuses on the experiences of Armenian immigrants and their American-born descendants between 1915 and 1955. The time frame begins at the point where Robert Mirak’s work leaves off, the year of the worst of the Turkish atrocities, and carries the story far enough into the twentieth century to see the grandchildren of genocide survivors come into their teens and young adulthood and become articulate players in the drama. This study decisively does not include the more recent immigrants, who, while they have come to the attention of a number of social and behavioral scientists, very much await their historian. Two interconnected concepts dominate the pages of the present work: ethnic identity and diasporic nationalism. Basically, ethnic identity, or “ethnicity,” refers to the general range of ways in which members of an immigrant population and their descendants identify themselves as members of a 4 Robert Mirak, Torn Between Two Lands: Armenians in America, 1890 to World War I (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 105-122. The use of the term “salad bowl” in this context is informed by the subtitle and the introductory notes of Michael D’Innocenzo and Jofef P. Sirefman, Immigration and Ethnicity: American Society—‘Melting Pot’ or ‘Salad Bowl’? (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), ix-xi.

community by virtue of that common descent and let that identification play some part (large or small) in their lives. The term can apply to activities as diverse as eating certain foods, belonging to relevant churches and social clubs, and—at the highest end of the intensity scale—engaging in patterns of courtship, marriage, and family relationships which are associated with the country of origin rather than with the dominant society of one’s present country of residence. While some expressions of ethnicity are of an intrinsically retentive nature, scholars have taken notice of ethnic behavior as including the creation of syncretic rituals and institutions within the new country of residence, not directly transplanted from the former country but rather designed specifically in the context of being an ethnic group within a larger society. Parades and mutual benefit societies are the prime examples of syncretic ethnic institutions.5

“Diasporic nationalism” carries ethnicity a step farther. As explained by cultural historian Matthew Frye Jacobson in his 1996 work Special Sorrows, diasporic nationalism occurs when members of an immigrant group or their progeny express a sense of citizenship in a worldwide diaspora, with a strong emphasis on a specific area of soil which they call their “homeland.” The phenomenon goes beyond mere sentimentality. To be of a diasporic nationalist persuasion is to care about specifics in the homeland, especially questions of what regime should be in power. The term is most applicable to groups whose homeland is not, during the time in question, a fully autonomous and secure nation-state; Jacobson’s work focuses on the diasporic consciousness found among late-nineteenth-century Irish, Polish, and Jewish immigrant 5 John Bodnar, The Transplanted: A History of Immigrants in Urban America (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1985), 184-189; April Schultz, Ethnicity on Parade: Inventing the Norwegian American Through Celebration (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994), 10-21.

communities, groups whose homelands at the time were, respectively, colonized, occupied, and (where the modern era is concerned) not yet established.6 The present work on Armenian-Americans in the years 1915-1955 reaffirms the importance of both ethnicity and diasporic nationalism as variables for scholars to consider in the study of immigrant communities and their succeeding generations. Moreover, it suggests two points of emphasis which scholars of other ethnic groups might fruitfully explore further. One is internal conflict, the dynamics by which members of an ethnic population disagree and debate over what perceptions and aspirations the group should collectively express. Especially when a sizable part of a group’s experience is a struggle—whether that struggle centers on life in America (as is most notably the case with African-Americans) or with the status of their homeland (as is true of the Jews, Irish, Poles, Lithuanians, and Slovaks whom Matthew Jacobson, Victor Greene, and June Alexander have spotlighted, and of the Armenians of the present work), one can expect to see not one but multiple visions among a group, when it comes to the definition of the struggle and the ideal goals to be sought.7 The second distinctive point of emphasis in this study is the running dialogue between the general ethnic populace and the institutions such as churches, partes, and the press which seek to cultivate a long-term constituency to 6 Matthew Frye Jacobson, Special Sorrows: The Diasporic Imagination of Irish, Jewish, and Polish Immigrants in the United States (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 15-18. Jacobson credits Puerto Rican nationalist/ Marxist James Blaut, Jr., with having refined the understanding of nationalism, as distinct from sentimentalism, to involve state power and a sense of struggle against an opposing force.

7 Jacobson, Special Sorrows; Victor Greene, For God and Country: The Rise of Polish and Lithuanian Ethnic Consciousness in America, 1860-1910 (Madison, WI: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1975); June Granatir Alexander, Ethnic Pride, American Patriotism: Slovaks and Other New Immigrants in the Interwar Era (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2004).

ensure their own future relevance and viability. In this study, it is suggested that the dialogue often takes the form of a symbiotic marketing relationship. It is essentially visions of peoplehood, as well as more situation-specific political ideologies, that are being marketed, alongside more literally marketable commodities and services such as newspapers, organizational memberships, and admission to organized events. The concept of a symbiotic marketing relationship requires some clarification. Most importantly, it does not imply passivity or reluctance on the part of the general ethnic population. Nor does the use of the phrase connote a value judgment against (or for) the legitimacy of the ideas being circulated, the institutions that are circulating them, or the group consciousness being maintained. Finally, it does not mean to suggest that the sense of identity or the attachment to matters of group or homeland originate with the institutions, the “marketers.” Rather, it seeks to provide a way of understanding the dialogue between the editorials, speeches, and sermons of the ethnic leadership and the thoughts and actions of the broader populace, a task made harder by the fact that, much of the time, it is only the leadership’s part of the dialogue that has been preserved to “listen to.”

It can be assumed that the leadership wants to influence the behavior of the constituency. At the same time, the leadership must be servicing some pre-existing needs of the constituency in order for the dialogue to occur. When people purchase a newspaper, for example, it can be assumed that something in that newspaper is meeting some needs of the purchasers. The model of a symbiotic marketing relationship, with all its connotations—the negotiation between the elites and the populace, the dependence of the elites on the populace to keep their establishments in existence, and the power of the elites to shape the options to which the populace is exposed—provides a framework in which to understand the part of the dialogue that is available to us, that is, the voices of editors, clergy, and partisan spokespersons who are talking to the general population of an ethnic group, a framework which takes into account both the desire of these institutional advocates to wield influence and the behavior of the general populace in affiliating themselves with these community institutions. It is useful, in considering the merits of this model, to remember that with the sale of a newspaper, a literal marketing transaction takes place; this model proceeds a step further to suggest that the ideas on the editorial page—as well as the ideas found in other forums of ethnic-oriented discourse— are being marketed as well.

In the case of the Armenian-Americans, there is an additional dimension associated with more conventional marketing situations: intense, even vituperative, competition between rival marketers for the market share. For the entire span of the present study, there were two dominant political parties, though one went through several retoolings and other smaller parties existed alongside them. Each had its own press, peddling not only competing visions of peoplehood but bitter castigations and recriminations of each other. The constancy of these recriminations certainly shows that the advocates of each party found the ideas and actions of the other party offensive, but perhaps more importantly, it shows a fear on the part of each party of its rivals’ persuasive powers. The notion that to be a good Armenian meant to listen to the ideas of this party and this newspaper rather than that one pervaded the editorial discourse on nearly every issue that will arise in this study.

This study is largely a history of ideas about how to be an ethnic group, how to be good Armenian-Americans. The main source from which such ideas can be gleaned is the partisan press. Ethnic newspapers have always served not only as a source of news stories and a forum for individuals to pontificate, but as a meeting ground, a sort of village square for communities scattered over multiple cities and states, serving a populatoin for which a literal village square is not possible. Obviously, the press as a source must be used with care. One letter to the editor, by itself, cannot be taken as a clue to very much more than the personal opinion of its author. However, multiple letters on the same subject begin to render more of a gestalt, especially when one looks beyond the face-value opinions and observes the common patterns and implicit assumptions with which the various letter-writers approach those issues.

To use a single example previewing Chapter Four, letters in the 1930s by young Armenian-American men and women who attended Armenian-sponsored dances, complaining about each other’s comportment across lines of gender, show some very definite patterns in at least a sector of the Armenian-American youth. These included (1.) a consensus that Armenian-to-Armenian courtship and marriage was a salutary ideal worth sustaining, since they otherwise would feel no need to blame each other for the difficulties of sustaining it; (2.) a mixture of envy and scorn toward their non-Armenian counterparts in the white American middle class, with their insistence that Armenians needed more time to acquire fully the cosmopolitanism and the nonchalance of “American” youth alongside the suggestion that certain traits at which Armenian youth were intrinsically superior; and (3.) a general sense of themselves as being at a cultural crossroads between old world and new, or Orient and Occident, exemplified by a young woman’s letter after a New Year’s Eve dance, complaining that the music at the dance was too American while the manner in which the coat check was run was too Armenian. Editorials are also significant. It would be an error to assume automatically that editorials simply reflected the general consensus. In the case of the Armenian papers, editorials represented the fairly official point of view of organizations—ethnic political parties—whose mission was to keep a long-term constituency for their own institutional undertakings. At the same time, consistent with the theme of a marketing relationship, these writers can never be entirely out of touch with their readers’ interests; thus, the word “marketing” should not be taken as implying a manipulation of the naïve or the unwilling.

The structure of this study is chronological. Chapter One summarizes hundreds of years of history, sets the backdrop of nineteenth-century Ottoman village life that many of the immigrants remembered, chronicles the early years of migration and community-building in the United States, and concludes with the 1915 Turkish genocide against the Armenians. Chapter Two opens in the wake of the genocide and takes the story up through 1921. In the near background are the events of World War I, the creation of the thousand-day Armenian republic, the representation of Armenia’s interests at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the battles between President Woodrow Wilson and the Senate Republicans which included a major Armenian issue, and the 1920 collapse and Sovietization of the republic (with portions falling to Turkish rule). All of these events are crucial to Armenian-American history, for both the short-term responses of factional leaders and community members to specific issues and exigencies of the time, and for the indelible memories they left for Armenian-Americans to commemorate and debate in the decades to come. Integral to this analysis is the partisan conflict between Tashnag and anti-Tashnag, the latter faction most prominently represented by the Ramgavars.

Chapter Three deals with the 1920s. It was here that recent and still-arriving refugees from the genocide joined with the longer-settled Armenian-American community and began building lives and identities as an immigrant community. Much of the Armenianness of these immigrants centered at the time on the specific villages or towns they remembered, expressed through membership in village-oriented compatriotic societies and through fund-raising events held to found and sustain new towns in Soviet Armenia. At the same time, through the federal court case Cartozian v. United States (1925), Armenians in America successfully defended their eligibility to be naturalized, which required them to assert their whiteness. Culturally, the decade was a time of transition and adaptation.

In the 1930s, the setting for the fourth chapter, American-born children of genocide survivors were reaching adolescence and young adulthood, the span which together had come to be referred to as “youth.” While some parents, in a pattern nearly universal to immigrant annals, continued to cling to untenable old-world traditions, community leaders such as partisan organizers and newspaper editors sought ways to keep the youth Armenian-conscious through the usages of the dominant American consumer society. It was in this decade that a flurry of Armenian dances, banquets, and athletic tournaments cropped up for the youth, advertised on the pages of the newly founded English-language weekly newspapers that now joined the Armenian-language dailies (and were published by the same political parties). The preservation of an Armenian-American community at the youth level was now a nationwide effort, with the identification of Armenianness transcending local geographical divisions of both the remembered old world and the America they currently inhabited. Also in the 1930s, the animosity between the Tashnag and anti-Tashnag factions was raised to an even higher intensity level with the December, 1933, assassination in New York of an anti-Tashnag archbishop and the subsequent trial of nine Tashnag Armenians. The virulently divided responses to this crime speak volumes about the fractious nature of ethnic identity and diasporic nationalism in this community. The assassination is significant both because it emanated from a contested memory and because it created a new one.

The final chapter combines the years of World War II and its aftermath, showing how the Armenian partisan factionalism remained strong while, at the very same time, the language of Armenian-Americanness grew to place a greater emphasis on the Americanness. Armenian-Americans were always noted for their high rate of upward mobility to the point that, even if some of their language of partisan conflict included elements of class orientation in the memories from the old world, their extant discourse and annals do not portray them as a class-divided group in the United States. The years after the war saw Armenians taking part in the same trend as other Americans, of moving from urban rental clusters to owning their homes in either the more residential sections of their original cities or in suburbs outlying those cities. The creation of new Armenian churches in those suburbs in the 1950s marked this phenomenon. During these years, the grandchildren of genocide survivors entered their teenage years, and a new round of debating and strategizing took off over how to keep the Armenian-American community together as a community, with the third generation even farther removed from the memory of the towns and villages in historic Armenia.

The dilemmas faced by any immigrants and their progeny are of necessity complex. Different immigrants, and different children and grandchildren of immigrants, want different things. While birth and heritage are not matters of choice, allegiance and identification certainly are. There is, moreover, a strong element of myth in any visions of ethnic or national identity, Armenians, Americans, and Armenian-Americans being no exception. It is the purpose of this study neither to endorse nor to debunk those mythic elements, but merely to analyze them, for both their content and the purposes they served in the lives of their adherents. Benedict Anderson has coined the phrase “imagined communities” to refer to the fictional qualities of nationhood and national identity, and Werner Sollors, in a book tellingly titled The Invention of Ethnicity, has suggested that an American ethnic group is as much an imagined community as a nation state. Visions of peoplehood are, of course, very real in the minds of those who carry them, a realization which in its own right plays an important part in this study. However, in order to do full justice to the ideas under consideration here, this study will assume a stance of healthy agnosticism to ethnic and national identity, put the various ideas that were formulated to full critical scrutiny, and leave the prescriptions and the prognoses to others so inclined.8 8 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, second edition (London: Verso, 1991), 6-7; Werner Sollors, ed., The Invention of Ethnicity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), Introduction, xi-xii.



It is essentially impossible to begin the story of the Armenian-American experience in the United States. The Armenian experience in twentieth-century America includes the collective awareness of both factual and mythic history extending back many centuries—the ancient Armenians’ embrace of Christianity as their official religion (301 or 314, sources vary), the heroics of Tigranes the Great (an actual warrior-king in the first century B.C.E.) and David of Sassoun (a fabled leader of seventh-century resistance to Arab invaders), the political status of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire of the nineteenth century, and a host of names of conferences, treaties, provinces, and cities in the Old World. These were all part of the vernacular lexicon of the immigrants themselves when they arrived, as well as of the informal curriculum by which the American-born second and third generations of this nationality were socialized in the meaning of their identity as Armenian-Americans. . .


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