People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. Armenian Americans

About the Armenian Americans in the U.S. including where they are from, why they left, how many there are, famous Armenians and more.


Where They Came From: With a continuity of race that few other peoples exceed, the Armenians claim to be descended from Noah. According to legend, Haik, the great-grandson of Noah, discovered Armenia. Their land was believed to be the cradle of civilization and the original garden of Eden. The Bible says Noah's ark landed "upon the mountains of Ararat" (Gen. 8:4). This region, presumably in Armenia, is now divided between the U.S.S.R. and Turkey.

Why They Left: Known as tradesmen for centuries, the Armenians were invited to the New World by the earliest colonists.

When American missionaries went to Turkey in 1831, they encouraged the second wave of immigration. The largest wave of Armenian immigration started in 1894, when Sultan Abdul-Hamid II ordered the annihilation of all 3 million Armenian Christians. Although the bulk of these people perished in the deserts, at least half a million escaped to Greece, Russia, Bulgaria, the Balkans, France, and England. From these countries, especially under the quota system, many Armenians entered the U.S. at Ellis Island. The official figure is 97,128; but the actual figure is probably twice that because of intermediary citizenship and births in the countries of first emigration.

The latest wave of 200,000 Armenians started in 1975 because of trouble in the Middle East and the sudden willingness of Soviet Armenia to allow its citizens to emigrate.

Where They Settled: New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island attracted the most Armenians, while others went to New Jersey, Illinois, and Michigan. Farmers for millennia, Armenians traveled to California and bought and worked thousands of acres of rich farmland in the San Joaquin Valley. Armenians currently reside in all 50 states.

Numbers: More than half a million Armenians are now in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, two thirds of them in the western and midwestern U.S.

Their Story in America: The first Armenian to arrive was Martin the Armenian, who is recorded in a Virginia chronicle as being a tobacco merchant and grower. His compatriots were producers of silk and ornaments, which the colonists traded for Indian blankets and supplies.

Horatio Alger stories abound among the Armenians, who arrived penniless, worked long hours, saved their money, and invested in property.

In the East, they crowded into factories, service trades, and schools. As soon as they were educated, they became known as industrialists, manufacturers, doctors, lawyers, inventors, teachers, architects, and inventors. The new waves of immigrants replaced their compatriots in the factories, farms, small businesses, and maintenance jobs. Many Armenian technicians and mechanics worked in the automobile plants in Detroit and Flint, Mich. Armenian farmers imported seeds from the old country and introduced many new varieties of figs, apricots, Persian melons, and grapes to America. Their packinghouses and wineries shipped their products to every state.

Through all their activities they remained loyal to their language and religion. Most of them still belong to the Armenian Gregorian Church, founded about 301 A.D. by St. Gregory the Illuminator, who persuaded his cousin, King Tiridates III, to proclaim Armenia the first Christian nation. Armenian private schools still focus on the Armenian cause, retribution for the Turkish genocide, and the liberation of their homeland from the Soviet Union.

Famous Armenian Americans: Stage and film director Rouben Mamoulian; author William Saroyan; former assistant secretary of defense during the Johnson administration, Paul Ignatius; TV entertainer Arlene Francis; singer Cher (Sarkisian) Bono; Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian; Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian; and the Armenian Howard Hughes, Kirk Kerkorian.

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