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The historical background of the Armenian Diaspora

Under King Tigran the Great1, the Armenian empire was one of the most powerful in Asia,

stretching from the Caspian to the Mediterranean Seas. However, throughout most of the

country’s long history, the Armenians have been invaded by a number of empires and have been

subjected to mass emigration. This has resulted in establishment of different Armenian

communities worldwide, which are known to us as a strong and powerful Diaspora. Under

foreign rule, Armenians have become both cosmopolitan as well as strong defenders of their

culture and tradition. Continuous life in foreign countries has led Armenians to develop traditions

that accommodated the societies and cultures they lived in while preserving their ethnic and

cultural identity.

The emigration of Armenians from their country has been taking place for the last 1,500 years

(Redgate, 01). At the beginning of the 11th century, continuous invasions and migrations reduced

the Armenian population in the nation’s historic homeland on the Armenian Plateau, resulting in a

large number of Armenians moving to Russia, Europe, and India. While most Armenians

remaining in historical Armenia under the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century were peasant

farmers in eastern Anatolia, others resettled in Constantinople, Smyrna, and other cities in the

empire (Country Studies, n.d.). In the 19th century, the political tensions in the Ottoman Empire

put the security of the Armenians at a higher risk. After a short time, the Young Turk government

massacred and removed the vast majority of Armenians from the eastern Anatolian provinces. The

Armenian Genocide committed by the Ottoman Turks is the primary reason why today’s majority

of Armenians live outside their homeland.

Tigran the Great was a king that ruled the largest Armenian Empire in its history. Ruling just before the time of
Christ, his empire stretched from the Caspian shores of today’s Azerbaijan, to the Mediterranean shores of today’s
Israel (The Armenia Encyclopedia, 05).
An Armenian Diaspora has existed throughout the nation's history and has been rather influential

since the country’s independence from the Soviet Union. There are a total of ten million

Armenians living in the world, of whom only about 3,000,000 live in Armenia, about 120,000 in

Nagorno-Karabakh2, and sixty percent live outside the country. Significant Armenian

communities are located in the United States, the Russian Federation, Georgia, France, Iran,

Lebanon, Syria, and Canada. There are also a number of Armenian communities in other parts of

the world.

In this research paper I am going to investigate the causes of the establishment of the Armenian

Diaspora, how it spread throughout the world, and present-day Armenia-Diaspora relations. I will

describe the efforts that the Armenians make to preserve their heritage by educating and

motivating younger members of the Diaspora. I will also investigate how the Armenian Diaspora

maintains its unity through churches, schools, political parties, charitable organizations, and

publications in the Armenian communities of different countries.

A. Causes of Diaspora before World War I - Migration of the Armenians from their country

occurred in variety of forms, being either voluntary or forced, by way of deportation and

extradition, across states and continents. Emigration was caused by economic, religious and

political factors. The Greeks, Romans, Persians, Byzantines, Mongols, Arabs, Ottoman Turks, and

Russians conquered Armenia over the centuries. “Already in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, during

the reigns of Persian Sassanian Kings Ardashir and Shapur II, the first recorded mass deportation

of the Armenians took place” (Melkonian, 02). The mass migration increased significantly in the

7th-14th centuries, due to the fact that the country was invaded by Arabs, Seljuk Turks and

Mongols. Following the migration to Cilicia3 in the 10th-11th centuries, Armenians were able to

settle and reach high levels in society, and thus laid a basis for the establishment of the strong

Nagorno-Karabakh is a region of Azerbaijan that declared itself an independent Republic on 10 December 1991.
The region is predominantly populated by Armenians and is under ethnic Armenian military control (Wikipedia, 06).
Cilicia is an independent Armenian Kingdom during the early second millennium with a large Armenian population
until the Armenian Genocide. The final expulsion of Armenians from this Mediterranean coastal region was carried
out by Mustafa Kemal’s forces (The Armenia Encyclopedia, 06).
Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. In later centuries, the economic, political, and cultural influence of

the Armenians increased in the Ottoman Empire. Also, Armenians realized that by uniting their

efforts they would have a stronger say in the society. Because of this, the Turkish population

started to feel that soon the Armenians would outgrow them. Therefore, during the First World

War, the Ottoman Turkish authorities made a decision to permanently end the activated national

liberation movement which had grown among the Armenian people. “To uproot this movement,

the Turkish authorities during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II 4 commonly known as "the

bloody Sultan" organized massacres resulting in deaths of 300,000 Armenians in Western

Armenia and other parts of the Ottoman Empire in 1894-1896” (Melkonian, 02).

As a reaction to anti-Armenian tensions within the Empire, Armenians sought to start strong

political movements. The three influential political parties of the late 19th early 20th centuries, that

played a strong role in everyday life of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, were the Armenian

Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun), the Hunchakians, and the Armenian Democratic

League (Mouradian, 95). The Dashnaktsutiun party was formed in 1890 in Tiflis (present-day

Tbilisi), Georgia and later moved its headquarters to Trepizond5. The main goal of this party was

to liberate Armenia from the Turkish domination. The Hunchakian political party was established

in 1887 in Geneva, Switzerland. Although the Headquarters was based in Geneva, this party

(being the first socialist party in Turkey and Persia) played a strong role in the local defenses of

Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. Being secretive in their activities, the Hunchakian party

believed in revolt against the Turks, and in having a free Armenian state (Mouradian, 95).

Established in 1885, the Armenakan party later known as the Armenian Democratic League

(Ramgavar) was established in Van6, whose members believed in the armed self-protection of

In 1876, Sultan Abdul Hamid became king of the Ottoman Empire. In 1878, he dissolved the national parliament
and was set as the head of affairs. He was a very tricky despot and a blood-thirsty dictator, under whose rule the
condition of Armenians became more deplorable and frightening than ever (Our Ararat, 05).
Trepizond is a city in northeastern Turkey.
Van is the capital city of Urartu (ancient country in southwest Asia) and an important commercial center in the late
19th and early 20th centuries (Mouradian, 95).
Western Armenians. Although these three traditional political parties had separate mandates, they

had one common objective to ensure well-being of the Armenians.

B. Causes of Diaspora - The Armenian Genocide –The Armenian genocide was the first

genocide of the 20th century, organized by the Ottoman Turkish government against the

Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. The genocide was centrally planned against the entire

Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire. It was the intent of the Turks to eliminate the

Armenian Christian population. Additionally, various Turkish ideologists propagandized

promotion of Pan-Turkism through the media that would lead to the establishment of a powerful

empire stretching from Anatolia into Central Asia, populated exclusively by Turks.

Having very few civil rights compared with the Turks, Armenians lived under fear that massacres

would break at any time for any reason. After the massacres of Armenians in 1895 by Abdul

Hamid, the following decades of persecution and smaller rounds of massacres put the entire

Armenian community in great jeopardy (Hartunian, n.d.). The Armenians were subjected to

deportation, expropriation and starvation. A large Armenian population was forcibly removed to

Syria, whereby the vast majority was sent into the desert to die of thirst and hunger. The decision

to carry out genocide against the Armenian people was made by the political party named the

Committee of Union and Progress in the Ottoman Empire, known as the Young Turks. This

government was mainly ruled by three powerful authorities, Mehmet Talaat, Minister of the

Interior in 1915; Ismail Enver, Minister of War; and Ahmed Jemal, Minister of the Marine and the

Military Governor of Syria (The Armenia Encyclopedia, 05).

When World War I broke out, the Young Turks gained an opportunity of the chaotic situation to

fulfill their desire, which was freeing Turkey of all Armenians. About one and a half million

Armenians perished between the years of 1915 and 1923. An estimated two million Armenians

lived in the Ottoman Empire before World War I, and over a million of them were deported in
1915. Hundreds of thousands were murdered, many died from starvation and epidemics in

concentration camps. Those Armenians who lived along the periphery of the Ottoman Empire

were able to escape to the central provinces of Turkey (Dadrian, 95). Those living in the East

moved towards the Russian border as refugees. Also, in 1918, the Young Turk regime started a

war in the Caucasus, where some 1,800,000 Armenians lived under the Russian command.

Advancing through East Armenia and Azerbaijan, they also carried out systematic massacres, thus

resulting in added tens of thousands of more victims in between 1920 and 1922. Eventually, by

1923 all of Asia Minor and historic Western Armenia was cleared of its Armenian population. All

the Armenian communities located in this part of the world were completely destroyed.

Turkish massacres set no limits in destroying anything that was Armenian. A survivor of the

Armenian Genocide remembers,

…During 1920, 1921, as a child of 5 to 6, I witnessed an Armenian church in which there were
2,000 Armenian men, women and children taking refuge. The Turks surrounded the church and
poured kerosene all around and set the church on fire, ready to shoot anyone who came out of the
building. The Turks went to the extent of cutting off the hands of children and letting them bleed
and yell themselves to death. They buried children alive in ditches in the desert, and they drove
thousands of Armenians in death marches until they dropped dead or were shot dead...
(Hartunian, n.d.).

The Armenian genocide is still called “the unremembered genocide” for several reasons. Firstly,

the world thought the First World War was a war ending all other minor wars, hence the western

powers felt that the Armenian tragedy should be minimized and not talked about. Secondly, the

majority of Armenians were so deeply hurt in their hearts and souls, that they were not even able

to speak out what happened. Only in 1965 did they finally begin to proclaim to the world that this

horrible act had taken place (Hartunian, n.d.). And thirdly, the Turks found it very convenient to

deny the genocide and state that a civil war had taken place, affecting both sides. They still

continue denying the genocide, as recognition of it would lead to responsibility of returning lands,

property, and an official apology.

However, despite Turkey’s denial, the international community condemned the Armenian

genocide. Even in May 1915, Great Britain, France and Russia warned the Young Turk leaders

that they would be held responsible for the crime they had committed against humanity. In the

United States, following these terrible acts, there was a strong reaction from the public related to

the mistreatment of the Armenians. Relief efforts were made in order to save the lives of those

Armenians who had survived but were living in miserable situations. The governments of the

United States, Great Britain, and Germany sponsored publication of numerous accounts and

reports. However, despite the anger of the international community related to this sensitive issue,

no significant actions were taken against conduct of the Ottoman Empire (Dadrian, 95).

Moreover, no steps were taken that would require the post war Turkish governments to make

compensation to the Armenian people for their human and material losses. Even today, despite the

fact that there is great deal of documentary evidence, Turkey does not wish to admit the genocidal

intention of these massacres. The results may yet impel the civilized world to show greater

concern for the depth of the anguish that has been tormenting generations of Armenians. In its

turn, the more educated layers of the Turkish society should face these facts of history and should

try to raise public awareness and thus convince public-at-large to come in terms with it. It is only

now that the international community has officially recognized its genocidal character officially.

In June of 1987, the European Parliament, declared the Turkish massacres of World War I to be a
crime of genocide under the UN Convention on Genocide, and stipulated that Turkey, among other
conditions, must recognize the genocide before the Parliament would favorably consider Turkey’s
application for membership in that body. The European Parliament labeled Turkey’s refusal to do
so an insurmountable obstacle to consideration of the possibility of Turkey’s accession to the
[European] Community (Dadrian, 95).

In a number of ways, Armenians all over the world have been proclaiming the Genocide to the

world. A popular Californian band, System of a Down7, comprising four Armenian musicians,

continually promotes awareness of the Genocide through organizing annual concert tours

System of a Down (sometimes referred to as SOAD, or System) is a very famous rock band, which was formed in
1995 in California. The name of the band was inspired by a poem written by band member Daron Malakian entitled
"Victims of a Down" (Wikipedia, 2006).
dedicated to the memory of innocent victims. The Armenian Genocide is a main theme of Atom

Egoyan’s film “Ararat” produced in 2002. One of the most famous literary works concerning the

Armenian Genocide is Franz Werfel's “Forty days of Musa Dagh”, published in 1933 (Wikipedia,

06). All these efforts are directed at official recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey.

II. The Armenian Diaspora in the Old World

A. Armenians in the Middle East - In the section below, I will present the Armenian

communities in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran. The socio-economic conditions of the

Armenian immigrants in these countries were very dire in the first years of their resettlement.

They lived in towns and villages with the most minimal facilities. It was extremely difficult for

them to adjust to new realities, given that all of their belongings were left behind. They had to

start new lives in foreign countries. The Armenian communities in the Arab world received a

large percentage of the survivors of the massacres. Armenians settled in Egypt, Greater Syria,

Mesopotamia8, Sudan and Ethiopia.

Most of the Armenian survivors of the massacres settled in Syria, primarily in Aleppo. This has

become one of the most active Armenian Diasporas in the twentieth century. The Armenian

schools, churches, centers, and hospitals in Syria inspired Armenian communities in Beirut,

Baghdad, Jerusalem, and Amman during the second half of the twentieth century with their unity

and common vision. Later on in the century, the number of Armenians increased to 100,000, thus

making Syria one of the largest Armenian communities in the Arab world. In Aleppo, there are

over 40,000 Armenians (Bournatian, n.d.). There are also a large number of community-sponsored

events organized by Armenians. The community in Damascus has also grown in the last quarter of

the 20th century and new businesses have been established.

Mesopotamia refers to the region that is now occupied by modern Iraq, eastern Syria, and southern Turkey. The
name comes from the Greek words ‘between’ and ‘river’ - referring to the area between the Tigris and the Euphrates
(Wikipedia, 06).
The Armenian presence in Lebanon during the Ottoman period was minimal; however, there was

a large influx of Armenians after the Armenian Genocide of 1915 (Wikipedia, 06). Arriving as a

result of massacres in Turkey, the Armenians of Lebanon have been a very important community.

In the second half of the twentieth century, the 75,000 Armenians living in Lebanon were granted

minority civil rights by the government, thus enabling them to elect their own members of

parliament. By 1974 there were over 200,000 Armenians, who opened numerous Armenian

churches, schools and well-known educational institutions including the Haigazian College.

Living in a foreign coutnry, Armenian immigrants endured many difficulties and had to adapt to

the Arab lifestyle. They grouped and established Bourj Hammoud - or the Armenian quarter of

Beirut - and Anjar, where an Armenian community exists to this day. Even during the years of the

Lebanese Civil War, grouped in Bourj Hammoud and Anjar, the Armenians did their best to

remain neutral. However, the war had a negative impact on the lives of Armenians, hence

thousands of them left Lebanon in search of peace and a better life in North America, Western

Europe, and elsewhere (Wikipedia, 06).

Egypt became one of the areas where the Armenians settled in the Arab world until the mid-

twentieth century. The leader of Armenians in that country was Boghos Nubar, the son of Nubar

Pasha9. Armenians had a significant role in the functioning of the Egyptian government. They also

created numerous businesses which significantly helped Egypt become a major Armenian center.

Schools, churches and newspapers guided the lives of some 40,000 Armenians. The in-country

political restructuring of the Egyptian president in 1956 compelled many Armenians to migrate to

the countries of Europe, as well as Australia and the United States of America. Today, there are

only 5,000 Armenians living in Egypt, mainly in Cairo.

Nubar Pasha is an Egyptian statesman of Armenian descent who was instrumental in the negotiation of important
treaties with the European powers and in the division of authority between Egyptian and British administrators
(Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.).
The Armenians in Iraq arrived primarily in the 1920's and settled in Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra.

Armenians had an active involvement in business and trade in the beginning of the twentieth

century. Though the Armenian population in the country grew up to 35,000 at one point, at

present there are less than 10,000 Armenians in Iraq (Bournatian, n.d.). Following the recent

military intervention in Iraq, many Armenian families left their homes and moved and settled

either in Armenia or in other countries with Armenian communities.

Iran has been a major center of Armenian life in the Middle East comprising a population of

200,000 people. The arrival of Armenians in Iran dates back to the beginning of the 17th century.

In 1603, Shah Abbas10 moved around 30,000 Armenian residents of Van, Kars, Alashkert,

Manezkert, and eight other towns and villages to Isfahan. Shah Abbas had the following

intentions: (a) to use the Armenians in the development of the country’s agriculture and industry;

(b) to introduce higher-quality carpets to the international market using Armenian weavers who

had the skills to make this happen; (c) to westernize the country and enter into an era of

understanding among the people of different religions and nationalities (Bashiri, 99).

Following the massacres of 1895-1896, Armenian refugees moved to northwestern Iran. Later, the

Russian Revolution of 1905 drastically affected northern Iran and, in 1906, Iranian liberals and

revolutionaries, together with many Armenians, demanded a constitution there. Despite the fact

that the document was signed by the shah, his descendant dissolved the Maflis [Parliament]. Only

in 1909 did the revolutionaries force the ruler to renounce some of its sanctions (Bournoutian,


Shah Abbas ruled Iran from 1571 to 1629, he was the most eminent ruler of the Safavid Dynasty, also known as
Shah Abbas the Great (Wikipedia, 06).
Also, thousands of Armenians migrated to Iran during the genocide. The Armenian Iranians were

very influential and active in the modernization of Iran during the 19th and 20th centuries. After

the Iranian Revolution, many Armenians immigrated to Armenian Diasporan communities in

North America and Western Europe. There are an estimated 300,000 Armenians in the country at

the time of the Revolution in 1979 (Country Study and Guide, 1987). Today, Armenians are Iran's

largest Christian religious minority and are mostly populated in the cities of Tehran and Isfahan

Jolfa (Wikipedia, 06). Though Armenians do not face obstacles in practicing the Christian faith in

Iran, to protect their own culture, they prefer to live separately from Muslims and limit good

relations with the local population mostly to business (Chauffour, 05).

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenian-Iranian diplomatic relations were re-

established and this led to a new stage of relations between the two countries. Recently, many

Armenians have considered moving to Yerevan or to Shoushi in Nagorno Karabakh after having

obtained a University degree in Iran. For those who continue to consider Iran their second home,

an Armenian daily newspaper “Aliq”, published in Tehran, and the US-published “Asbarez”

remain good sources of information about the homeland (Chauffour, 05). Armenians also

maintain their own schools in the country.

B. Armenians in Europe - Initially, the Armenian immigrants in the developed countries of the

West lived in especially difficult conditions. Because of their lack of good labor skills and poor

knowledge of the local languages, the Armenians were only able to provide poorly paid hard

manual labor. The local populations were not familiar with Armenians and named them ‘Asiatic'

people. It was the hard work and determination of the Armenians that helped them earn their full

rights. Those Armenians who received an education in Western countries soon joined the middle

and upper classes of the societies and enjoyed good respect from the locals. Among them were

entrepreneurs, civil servants, scientists, professors, and professionals.

The Armenian citizens of Western democracies were further integrated into the society [the
European] after so many of them fought valiantly on the battlefields of the Second World War.
Some 10,000 Armenians fought on the British and French sides each against the Nazi Germany
and its Axis allies. The Armenian population of France, Greece, and Bulgaria joined the ranks of
Resistance in the Nazi-occupied regions of their host countries (Melkonian, 02).

However, it has been very difficult for Armenians to preserve their ethnic identity because of the

strong influence of Western culture upon them. The first wave of Armenian immigrants did their

best to become fully integrated into their new societies, seeking to adapt to their new lifestyles

(Melkonian, 02).

Through the influx of Armenians to Europe from Russia and the Ottoman Empire, the already-

established Armenian settlements became larger, and new centers were also created. Among the

Italian cities where Armenians had communities, Venice was a place with significant Armenian

presence, due to the Mekhitarians Armenian Educational Institution of San Lazzaro and their

Murad-Raphaelian Armenian School on the main island (Bournatian, n.d.).

France accommodated many Armenians who arrived after the genocide. Those Armenians who

originated from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and European Turkey and who received an education in

France remained in France during the 1930s. At present, the French- Armenian community is

estimated to be around 250,000, and is one of the most influential Armenian communities in

Europe (Bournoutian, n.d.). As of today, there are over thirty Armenian churches in Paris and

other cities including Marseilles, Lyon, and Nice. The Armenian schools, institutions and

newspapers maximize their efforts to maintain the strong ties with the Republic of Armenia. “The

French-Armenian community has produced artists such as Charles Aznavour, Carzou, and Jansem

and scholars such as Sirarpie Der Nersessian. The widely-respected scholarly journal Revue Des

Etudes Armeniennes is published in Paris” (Bournoutian, n.d.). These French Armenians maintain

a great deal of Armenian pride.


The Armenian communities of Belgium and Holland experienced Europe's world wars firsthand.

According to Bournatian,

During the First World War, many Armenians, who were still Turkish citizens, left Belgium for
Holland to escape the German onslaught and from fear of being sent back to Turkey to be drafted.
Most returned after the war and a chair in Armenian studies was established in the University of
Brussels in 1931, with the famed professor Nicholas Adontz as its first chair holder (Bournoutian,

More Armenians came to Holland from Iran, Turkey and Lebanon later in the 1980s. They were

able to reopen the Armenian Church in Amsterdam, which had been closed in the 1850s. The

present Armenian community in Belgium and Holland comprises 10,000 people (Bournoutian,


Presently, there are also Armenian communities in Austria, England, Germany, Scandinavia, and

Switzerland. A total number of six churches and numerous cultural centers serve around 50,000

Armenians living in these countries. As early as in the seventeenth century, a few Armenians lived

in Austria. The first coffee-house in Vienna was reportedly established by an Armenian

(Bournoutian, n.d.). Moreover, in the sixteenth century the Armenians that settled in England

established an Armenian press in London.

The previously large and powerful Armenian communities of Eastern Europe have mostly become

very small. The formation of first Armenian communities in Poland, specifically by the Black Sea

and in Ruthenian towns, had commercial reasons. Prospering, these communities attracted more

newcomers from Armenia, which resulted in a large Armenian population in the Ruthenian

territories of Poland in the mid 14th century. They were engaged in trade with the East and

manufacturing of Eastern goods such as oriental carpets, rugs, jewelry, and ornaments

(Amirowicz, 99). While in the 18th century, many Armenians reached the living standard of the
Polish middle class, the 19th century became a turning point in the life of Armenians in Poland. In

this period, the country put forward a strategy of Polonization, aiming at destroying differences

between Polish Armenians and Poles. Due to this, most present Polish Armenians currently define

themselves as Poles of Armenian origin. Nevertheless, they still try to preserve their Armenian

identity by involvement in several Armenian cultural organizations. Also, Polish Armenians have

helped new Armenian immigrants who started migrating to Poland in view of finding employment

there. The number of the latter group varies from tens of thousands up to 200,000 while the Polish

Armenians are estimated to range between 5,000 and 10,000 (Amirowicz, 99).

The Armenian communities of Romania and Bulgaria received many emigrants from the

political disruptions in Russia and Turkey during the period of 1915-1922. After World War II,

the communist regime shut down most of the private enterprises that were owned by the

Armenians in Romania. These circumstances forced a large number Romanian Armenians to

depart for Western Europe and the United States, while a considerable number of Bulgarian

Armenians moved to settle in Soviet Armenia (Bournatian, n.d.). After a short while, they also

began to leave for Europe and the United States. At present, the Armenian Diaspora in Romania is

estimated to be 5,000 people, who live primarily in Bucharest, Constantza and Tulca. In Bulgaria

the number of Armenians reaches 30,000. Most of them live in Sofia and Plovdiv.

Cyprus has a large Armenian community which was established during the period between 1895-

1922. The present-day Melkonian Educational Institute, located in Nicosia, has a long history. It

was founded in 1926 to accommodate and educate orphans of the Armenian genocide. Moreover,

the Melkonian Institute hosted a large number of students from Lebanon which left during the

country’s civil war (Bournoutian, n.d.). After the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the

Armenian community was strongly affected as most of the Armenian settlements in Nicosia, as

well as the school and the church, fell into the Turkish-conquered side of Cyprus. After the
invasion, most of the Armenians fled to the West, leaving only a community of 2,000 members

from an estimated 15,000.

Before 1895 there were only some 500 Armenians in all of Greece, however over 150,000

Armenians arrived after the genocide. After the Second World War, many Greek Armenians

moved to Armenia, United States, and Western Europe. The present Armenian population of

Greece stands at 10,000 (Bournatian, n.d.).

There is still a small Armenian community, centered around a 14th century church in Lvov, which

maintains its Armenian lifestyle in Ukraine. Following the world wars and the communist

regime, the once strong Armenian community in Hungary became very weak and eventually


C. Armenians in the Post Soviet States – In the section below, I will speak about the Armenian

Diasporan communities in the Russian Federation and Georgia. The Armenian Diaspora in Russia

stands out among the Armenian communities. During Soviet times, the word “diaspora” was not

used when describing the Armenian communities in different Russian cities. This was due to the

fact that the territory was not perceived as a foreign land. Only after the collapse of the Soviet

Union did members of Armenian communities in Russia start seeing themselves as members of

the Diaspora. Members of the Armenian Diaspora in Russia did not strive to build a traditional

diaspora, which is the kind mostly based on a collective memory of a past genocide, religious

beliefs and/or the attempt to establish a diasporic identity preserving a group’s language, customs

and traditions (Oussatcheva, 03). Instead, the Armenian Diaspora within Russia is more occupied

with legal, political, and economic affairs to strengthen its ties to the homeland.
However, there is competition among Diasporan organizations resulting in the absence of one that

might bring together all the activities within the Armenian Diaspora. The explanation for this is

that the community consists of different social and intellectual layers, which do not have close ties

with each other due to differences between their experience and wealth status. Three communities

within the Armenian Diaspora in Russia can be distinguished. These are: (1) the “old” members of

the Diaspora who came to Russia before the collapse of the Soviet Union and who adapted to life

in Russian cities11; (2) the successful businessmen from the wave of legal immigration in the

1990s; and (3) the immigrants of the 1990s without legal status, respectable jobs, good housing,

and often living on the edge of being involved in criminal and illegal activities (Oussatcheva,

2003). This group migrated to Russia during the time when Armenia’s economy was fully

collapsed and they had no employment opportunities. Leaving families behind, the third group of

immigrants aimed at providing for their family needs as much as possible. And since it would not

have been feasible to make a good living with low salaries they were receiving, some thought that

illegal activities would reward them more money. These illegal activities included different kinds

of fraud, money laundering, and other corrupt activities.

In view of these three different layers within the Armenians in Russia, it seems impossible to

speak about this Diaspora in terms of being a unified community with common interests. Despite

the above, Armenians have done everything possible to expand the life of their community in

Russia. A number of language courses have been created, Sunday and secondary schools have

been established, chapels and churches have been built, and newspapers, magazines and books

have been published. In Moscow alone, there are more than 30 Armenian organizations of various

types, from cultural to economic and political. Armenians are active in all sectors of social,

political and cultural life in Russia. This is proven by the fact that Armenians have been members

of the State Duma (Parliament), the Senate, and have also occupied ministerial-level posts in

It is worth mentioning that, while living within Soviet Union, the Armenians did not feel the need to organize and
establish themselves, and members of the Diaspora were mostly occupied with the preservation of their culture and
religion, in opposition to the Soviet policy of erasing national differences (Oussatcheva, 2003).
Russia. There are also many Armenians operating various businesses, who maintain strong ties

with their homeland. A number of locally based Armenian newspapers and monthly magazines

are published throughout Russia, and a few periodicals have nationwide distribution

(Oussatcheva, 2003).

Though life in the Armenian Diaspora in Russia is much more active and diverse now than during

the Soviet era, it still does not have very strong political, financial, and organizational potential.

This is explained by the fact that the effort to unite under a common idea is not strong enough

among Armenians in Russia. However, with considerable support from the Armenian Diaspora of

the West, there is indication that the organizational and financial growth will accelerate. Despite

their diversity and isolation from each other, the Armenian organizations and unions in Russia are

considered to be an essential tool in the development of Russian-Armenian relations. In 1999 a

new Armenian organization emerged within the Diaspora in Russia – the Union of Armenians in

Russia, which aims to consolidate cultural, educational, legal, and defense issues, as well as play

key roles in maintaining and improving Armenian-Russian relations (Oussatcheva, 2003). In

recent years, the Union of Armenians in Russia has proven to be an organization capable of

helping Armenia in a number of ways. I do believe that in several years, this Union will further

enlarge its scope of activities and achieve higher goals.

Armenians constitute the largest ethnic minority in Georgia. They make up 8.1 percent of the

country’s population. According to official statistics, the Armenian population in Georgia stands

at 248,900. However, unofficial data indicates that the number of Armenians in Georgia is as high

as 400,000, of whom 120,000 live in the city of Tbilisi, and another 160,000 people live in

Javakhk12. Also, it is said that approximately 50-60,000 inhabit Abkhazia13 (Hakobyan, 04).
Georgian region with the largest Armenian population. Javakhk was part of Great Armenia until 387 AD (The
Armenia Encyclopedia, 06).
A self-proclaimed republic of 8,600 km² in the Caucasus. It is a de jure autonomous republic within Georgia, but is
de facto independent of Georgia, although not recognized as such internationally (Wikipedia, 06).
Though Armenians used to have a strong influence in the country’s life, they presently feel unsure

about their future in Georgia. Their primary concern is to fit in; to succeed, for example, they have

to change the Armenian suffix of a surname to a Georgian one. “It costs five lari (about $2.50) for

an Armenian to become a “Georgian”. For that amount a Vardanian, for example, can become

“Vardanishvili”. It is not an unusual practice, since many Armenians find it easier to get along in

Georgian society with a Georgian name” (Suleymanyan, 2004).

This makes Armenians feel inferior to the local population. As opposed the present situation of

Armenians in Georgia, they had a stronger role in the society in the 18th and 19th centuries, when a

large number of wealthy Armenian industrialists and merchants made essential investments in the

country’s economy. This is proven by the fact that the city of Tbilisi was based on Armenian

architectural ideas. The involvement of Armenians in Georgia’s political life is not high though.

There are only six Armenians in the present-day Parliament of Georgia, and all of them have

originated from Armenian-populated districts within the country. The vast majority of Armenians

living in Georgia are employed in small and medium-sized businesses. According to Hakobyan,

there are 15 Armenian churches throughout the country, of which two are located in Tbilisi.

The present-day Armenian population inhabits a great deed of space in the Georgian area of

Javakhk. It is said that Javakhk is the world’s third Armenian land after Karabakh and Armenia.

About 95 percent of the people in this region are Armenian (Ishkhanyan, 04).

III. The Armenian Diaspora in North America

After the massacres of 1895-1896, many Armenian families traveled to America and by 1900 their

numbers reached 15,000. Between 1900 and 1916 about 70,000 Armenians, primarily middle age

skilled and literate men who had left their families behind to seek better opportunities, immigrated

to the United States (Bournatian, n.d.). In 1924, around 23,000 Armenians arrived in North

America. In later years, the number of Armenian immigrants who came primarily from Turkey
was over 100,000. Another wave of Armenian immigrants arrived in mid 20th century from

Europe and the Middle East. In the 1970s and 80s about 80,000 Armenians from Soviet Armenia

came to North America (Bournoutian, n.d.). The deteriorating conditions of the Armenian

population following the 1988 earthquake in the country resulted in another large migration of

Armenians to North America. There are at present around one million Armenians in the United

States and 100,000 in Canada, giving North America the largest concentration of Armenians

outside the former Soviet Union.

A. Armenians in the United States of America - The early immigrants to the United States

settled in the urban, industrial centers of the East coast, primarily in New York, Massachusetts,

Connecticut, and New Jersey. Another smaller cluster of them inhabited cities of Detroit, Chicago,

and Cleveland. Only a few Armenians, who did not follow the example of the majority at end of

the nineteenth century, settled in the San Joaquin Valley in Central California, where they

primarily engaged in farming and grape-growing. The largest Armenian settlement of this area

was the City of Fresno. For near half a century, the Fresno Armenians were not well accepted by

the local people (Bournoutian, n.d.). Most likely, the local residents were not willing to see the

Armenians develop and live better than themselves on their land. And, although discrimination

reached high levels in some places, it did not discourage the will of Armenians to improve their

standard of living. After all, the Armenians had lived through much worse. Nonetheless, the

Fresno Armenian community was strong enough to further expand and even attract new


The first two generations of Armenian immigrants faced various challenges and had to work very

hard to be able to establish themselves in the new land. Being rather conservative in nature, most

of the Armenians kept their old customs and traditions. However, some tried to readjust to the

new realities in a shorter time. Being very hard-working people, the Armenians saved money to
bring their families to the United States and establish small businesses. Having high literacy rates

and self esteem to further enhance their skills, many Armenians succeeded in achieving a higher

standing in society.

During recent years, the majority of Armenians migrating to the United States has tended to settle

in and around Los Angeles. The reason for this is because the Los Angeles area, especially the

city of Glendale, feels like another Armenia to them. Having in mind that Armenians in a foreign

land may face numerous challenges, they prefer staying together to be able to support and care for

each other. With a number of Armenian schools and businesses operating in Armenian and a high

level of Armenian being spoken nearly everywhere in the area, the immigrants do not feel the

need to learn English, as would be required in other parts of the country. A few years ago, a wave

of Armenians traveled to the United States as tourists and decided not to return to their homeland,

looking for employment opportunities in the states. For that purpose, Los Angeles became the

most preferred area for them.

The city of Glendale hosts the largest Armenian population in the United States. It has the highest

percentage of residents of Armenian descent, most of whom arrived during the last two decades.

Armenian families have lived in the city since the 1920s. However, immigration intensified in the

1970s, when Armenians were forced to leave Lebanon, Iran and even the then-Soviet Republic of

Armenia, due to political tensions in their host countries. Hence, in a city with a total population

of 200,000, the Armenians make up nearly 85,000; moreover, about 40 percent of the students in

Glendale Unified School District are Armenian (The Armenia Encyclopedia, 05). Despite its size

though, the population is highly diverse. Wealthy second and third generation Armenian

Americans live in wealthy neighborhoods, while recent immigrants inhabit the lower-income

quarters and complain of difficulties in achieving their high expectations in America, especially

with limited English skills.


The table below indicates the breakdown of the Armenian population in the United States in

particular and the world in general. The present Armenian population of 10,000,000 worldwide is

distributed as follows:

Present Day Armenian Statistics

Armenians Worldwide: 10,000,000
Armenians in the United States Armenians Worldwide
USA - 700,000
East Coast:
New York - 100,000 (15%) Armenia - 3,800,000
Boston - 100,000 (15%) Russia - 2,500,000
Detroit - 70,000 (10%) Middle East - 1,000,000
Chicago - 70,000 (10%) USA - 700,000
West Coast: Los Angeles Europe – 520,000
Fresno - 280,000 (40%) South America - 360,000
Other - 70,000 (10%) Australia - 70,000
Canada – 50,000
Other – 500,000

By the third generation after the Genocide, American Armenians had produced numerous doctors,

lawyers, engineers, and academics, as well as successful entrepreneurs. Armenian politicians,

sports figures, composers, actors, artists and authors such as Alan Hovhannes, Rouben

Mamoulian, Arshile Gorky and William Saroyan created a sense of pride among the new

generation of American Armenians (Bournoutian, n.d.). Following the re-emergence of the

Republic of Armenia in 1991, the Diasporan Armenians of the United States have enhanced their

ties with the homeland through establishing industries, and educational and health institutions in

Armenia. A number of churches, schools, associations, academic and cultural societies,

magazines, newspapers, as well as active and influential organizations, of different types have

become an indispensable part of Armenian life in the US.

B. Armenians in Canada - The first Armenian settlements in Canada date back to the 1880s. The

first Armenian to settle in Ontario is believed to have been Garabed Nergararian in 1887, in Port
Hope. Most of the Armenian immigrants of the late 19th century migrated from the various regions

of the Ottoman Empire. They worked in the factories of Brantford, Hamilton and St. Catharine’s,

and many are believed to have worked on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway

(Bournoutian, n.d.).

Similar to many others immigrants of this period, the Armenians had no intention of settling

permanently in Canada; their specific goal was to earn enough money to support their families

back at home, and after becoming financially secure, to re-unite with their families. However, as a

result of the increasing cruelties in the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians in the late 1890s

and early 1900s, the majority of the Armenian immigrants were obliged to change their reasons

for being in Canada and had to look for possibilities of getting permanent settlements and bringing

their families to join them. During the beginning of the 20th century, the number of Armenians

who migrated to Canada stood at 1,850 (Bournoutian, n.d.). Hence the period of the end of the 19th

century and beginning of the 20th century can be characterized as a period of laying the foundation

of the Armenian community in Canada.

The Armenians formed political parties and village associations to maintain their ties with their

families in the homeland. American and Canadian missionaries were also of high importance in

spreading American culture in Armenian settlements through building missions, schools, colleges,

orphanages, and hospitals in the areas densely populated by Armenians.

It is noteworthy that the Canadian immigration laws put a number of restrictions in place related

to admitting Armenians to Canada. As Bournoutian points out, the two basic regulations that did

not encourage larger numbers of Armenians from getting into Canada before 1914 were medical

examinations and minimal money qualifications. Despite all of this, those Armenians who were

lucky enough to be accepted into Canada took the jobs they were offered. Most of them settled in
Brantford, Hamilton and St. Catharine’s and they worked either in factories, or farms, or railway

construction, or engaged themselves in seasonal public works. A large number of Armenians were

recruited from American industries to come to Canada as unskilled laborers in the expanding

foundries of southern Ontario. Others ran coffee houses, barber shops, grocery stores or

confectionaries or developed their professional skills as carpenters, carpet weavers and repairers

(Bournoutian, n.d.). As is obvious from this, the Armenians were rather industrious and stuck to

their main goal of helping their families back at home. They primarily lived in the same

neighborhoods, enabling them to remain with their own people, eat national food and share news

from back home. In addition to their main goal of supporting their families back at home, the

Armenians were very concerned about the education of their children. They established

independent village educational associations, and through various local fund-raising campaigns

were able to provide for building school facilities as well as pay the salaries of the teachers.

The spiritual needs of the Armenians in Canada were met by itinerant priests that were sent from
the American Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church in New York. Armenian Mass and
sacraments were held in an Anglican Church which was the closest Christian establishment to the
Armenian Apostolic Church as far as theological similarities are concerned (Bournoutian, n.d.).

Today there are many Armenian organizations that their aims are to preserve and promote the

Armenian identity and heritage through educational, cultural, and humanitarian programs (AGBU,

06),so the Diaspora can continue to further its efforts to have a prosperous homeland.
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Punoi Louena Nuellari