Beginning in the late nineteenth century and continuing into the first three decades of the twentieth century, a community of Protestant Armenians left the horrific persecutions of Armenian Christians in Turkey and arrived and thrived in the city of Troy, NY. According to the church history, “This land of the free and the brave was then offering refuge to those who were persecuted, massacred, and treated with injustice. Those who had lost their freedom and liberty of worship, of press, and of speech; those who were oppressed and ill treated and whose lives were in constant danger by cruel governments, sought and found refuge in this part of the world…. Troy was not an exception in offering haven to the newcomers, so that after the massacre of 1895 in Turkey, a stream of Armenians overflowed this city.” Many of the Protestants initially settled in a 6-7 block square surrounding the Protestant Armenian church.
The church history, completed in 1946, went on to describe the city’s new arrivals: “The first immigrants were poor and bewildered. They naturally did not know the language of the country and were treated as foreigners. All these deprivations could not discourage these freedom-loving and progressive people. Especially nothing could hinder them from rebuilding their churches which they revered so much in their own country. In order to be able to quench the spiritual thirst and hunger…they gathered together and wanted to start some kind of a religious organization.”
Three of my ancestors were among the first forty-six chartered members of the Armenian Presbyterian Church they founded in 1906: Hadji S. Essegian, Boghos Essegian, and Margrit Essegian.
As happens in churches to this day, there were challenges and disagreements within the congregation, which led to a split between the Presbyterians and those of the congregation who were originally Congregationalists. The Congregationalists split off in 1910, shortly after the original church was completed.
The Congregationalists eventually built a new church, begun in 1916 while reports of slaughter, terrible massacres and deportations of Armenians in Turkey were beginning to arrive. As a result, the new church was named the Armenian Calvary Congregational Church of Troy, in commemoration of a martyred nation, holding fast to their faith, following her master to Calvary.
The two protestant Armenian churches reunited in 1919, choosing the new church–renamed the United Armenian Calvary Congregational Church of Troy, NY–as the place of worship, and the original Presbyterian church became the parsonage. Another of my ancestors, Paul Essegian, was elected to the first joint Board of Church Committee. As the history reads, “With a strong Church Committee and a United congregation, the Church could not fail.” Under the leadership of the first pastor, Rev. Samuel Rejebian, the church flourished.
As did the Armenian community in Troy, into the 21st Century.