According to legend, the Armenians were descended from one of Noah’s sons after the landing of the Ark on Mount Ararat. Some specialists believe that the “Arimoi” mentioned by Homer in the Iliad may have been among the remote forebears of the Armenians.
(Taken from the Introduction to the Second Edition of Reverend Abraham Hartunian’s Neither to Laugh Nor to Weep. The introduction was written by Marjorie Housepian Dobkin of Barnard College in April, 1986)
Reverend—or Badveli, as the Armenian ministers are called—documented his, his family’s and so many others’ experiences with the massacre of the Armenians. “The premeditated, ruthless, official campaign by the Turkish government to exterminate Turkey’s Armenian minority—which began in 1895—ground relentlessly through 27 years and two million deaths.” He documented how a once proud people was reduced to scattered and ragged remnants. The quiet voice of Abraham Hartunian offers a profound warning: “When governments forget that they are dealing with human beings, not abstract problems, the results can be horribly inhuman.”
As I have sat with and listened to stories of first generation Armenian Americans–those whose parents survived the massacres and immigrated to America to ensure the survival of their children, the stories have shared many commonalities, all against the backdrop of horror beyond description left behind in their native land:
- They rarely if ever spoke of the worst of their experiences. Women in their eighties and nineties I’ve spoken with had nuggets of information that shed some light on what their parents went through. Some had stories that had risen to legend within their families.
- They embraced their new homes in America. Most were actively involved in their churches. They learned English. They had to prove before they were processed through Ellis Island that they had a place to live and a way to earn a living–and that they were healthy.
- Many started in one city and ultimately settled in others.
- Many started businesses – food markets popped up on every corner; stores sold rugs and furniture.
- Large groups of Armenians settled together. A good example is the migration of Armenians to Watertown, MA to work at the Hood Rubber Company.
- First generation offspring saw themselves as Americans – many placing their American identity above their Armenian heritage.
Although the men held the leadership positions in their churches, the women held the fabric of the church community and Sunday School together:
And the story continues. It’s a story of survival, of strong wills, of self-determination and positivism.