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Our Plural History | Springfield, MA
Local area women prepare 40 dozen cheoreg rolls, a traditional Armenian sweet bread and a staple of Easter Celebrations, for the annual "Armenian Fest" held at St. Mark Armenian Church on Wilbraham Road, Springfield, MA. In this image: Mary Omartian (front left), Ellie Demirjian (top left), Elsie Zirakian (bottom right), Anita Assarian (top right).
Courtesy of Setta McCabe

industrialization & immigration

Armenian Communities in the Valley

Located on the borders of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, Armenia has the distinction of being the world’s first Christian state in the early fourth century. Due to its position on the edge of two continents, Armenia has an ancient heritage that is both distinctly Armenian but which has also taken in cultural aspects from its neighbors.   

Although the bulk of Armenian immigration to the United States came between the years 1894 and 1917, Armenians were among the first European settlers in what is now the United States. The records of the Virginia Company of London list a man named “Martin the Armenian” as arriving in the Jamestown Colony in 1618-1619. Most likely an indentured servant to Virginia Governor George Yeardly, Martin was eventually granted his freedom. Records show that once freed he gained British citizenship and returned to London in 1622. As a free man Martin the Armenian rose up in the ranks of the Virginia Company. He again appears in the Company’s records a few years later, this time as member of the Company's Standing Committee. However, besides from a few thousand people at most, few Armenians immigrated to America until the end of the nineteenth century.

The vast majority of Armenian immigrants came as refugees escaping forced deportations and massacres at the hands of the Ottoman Empire beginning in the mid-1890s through the end of World War I. Known as the Armenian Genocide, approximately 1.5 million of the two million living in Armenia died as the result of forced marches and mass executions that spared few. A local resident shares her family’s story of escape and immigration. She states that, “My father had already come to the United States but my mother and aunt were protected and hidden from the Turks by a Kurdish family. Eventually my mother arrived at Ellis Island at the tender age of 16.” To this day the Turkish government completely denies that the Armenian Genocide occurred.

As result of these atrocities Armenians began to leave their homeland out of necessity. The resulting Armenian Diaspora has led to large communities of Armenians settling around the world in places such as France, India, Canada, the United States, Poland, Argentina, Australia, Greece, Egypt, and modern Israel. However, the Armenians have long been somewhat of an international people. Indeed, one section of Jerusalem’s Old City is called the Armenian Quarter and was established in approximately 95 BCE.

In the United States Armenians originally settled in the north-east region in New York and Massachusetts. By 1920, around the end of significant Armenian immigration, Massachusetts was home to over 14,000 Armenians. At the time this was the second only to New York.

Today, large Armenian-American communities are found on the West Coast and Massachusetts. The largest Armenian community in Massachusetts is located in Watertown, home to the Armenian Library and Museum of America. However, since the early 1900s, Springfield has been host to a vibrant Armenian community with many new arrivals settling in Indian Orchard. Like other immigrant groups to call Springfield home, many new arrivals were undoubtedly attracted by the readily available work in the ctiy's factories and mills. Soon enough Armenian owned businesses sprang up around the city. Building off cultural traditions, some opened Oriental rug dealers such as the Omartian rug dealer, which was on Bridge Street, and Yenian Rug which is still on Pearl Street in Springfield.

Today, the signs of Armenian heritage can be found in and around the city of Springfield in peoples last names, businesses, and churches. In Springfield alone there are two Armenian churches, St. Mark Armenian Church on Wilbraham Road in Springfield and the St. Gregory Armenian Church on Goodwin St. in Indian Orchard. Each year St. Mark’s holds its “Armenian Fest” which offers traditional music, food, and culture. This event draws in many non-Armenians who come to enjoy the food, learn about Armenian culture and interact with neighbors. 

Malcom, Vartan. M. Armenians in America (Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1919), 51-55.

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