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The Armenian Community of Providence, Rhode Island, up to 1937
S. Hagopian (translated by James H. Tashjian)
(as appeared in The Armenian Review)
THE PRESENT ARTICLE comprehends a translation of a series of three found in the unhappily now defunct Hairenik Monthly, Boston, vol. xv (8-176), (9-177), (10-l78), June, July and August, respectively, 1937. Its publication here represents still another contribution to TAR’s ongoing series of materials reconstructing the histories of the various Armenian settlements in America. We trust that this effort will be continued in the future. Despite its historiographical ingenuousness, which will predictably outrage scholarship while being warmly received by general readership, Hagopian’s study is a valuable addition to the slender volume of Armenian Americana. As the author reported, his writing in essence was a record of oral testimonies of days, matters and people of the generally unchronicled past which certainly would in our day be lost to us if Hagopian, after some pains, had not searched out veteran residents of Providence and had put down on paper what they had told him. These accounts Hagopian supplemented with materials he found in the archives of Providence newspapers and libraries and, perhaps most valuably, in works of Armenian origin, now of rather rare vintage. Regrettably, there is evidence in the Hairenik Daily series that Hagopian’s manuscript which, of course is now lost, was subjected to heavy editorial red-penciling. It also suffered graphic indignities. It is possible that some Hairenik editor liberally emasculated passages which he might have considered nothing more than examples of "frivolous gossip" which, he might have felt, were in conflict with the scholarly nature of the Monthly. Thus, myopically, he may have thrown away what might have been valuable cues, or suggestions, even though found in the form of myths and legends, or even hearsay, which later researchers could have subjected to serious inquiry, in the historians’ classical duty to discern how much genuine history there, if any, is in street stories. At any rate, what we have here is, without a doubt, the only real attempt to trace down and embody in unitarian form the past history of the remarkable Armenian community of Providence, Rhode Island — the labor of love of an S. Hagopian, who describes himself as "Providence pharmacist" and that is all we now know about him. Little effort has been made to pin down the early locations of places cited in this article in relation to the present scheme of the City of Providence. However, rather extensive footnoting has been included in order to throw further light on some of the events to which Hagopian has referred, and on the dramatis personae who played roles in the drama of the origins and development of the Providence Armenian community up to 1937.
I. Early Period
OUR RESEARCH into the history of the Armenian community of the city of Providence, Rhode Island has not, unfortunately, brought to light any records bearing especially with the earliest Armenian experience with that city. We have had to rely generally on conversations we have had with a number of veteran Armenian residents of the city; but since we understand that memories are frail and often play tricks on the minds of man, we have recorded only those instances where there has been corroboration of an incident or an event on the part of more than one such witness. This writing is at the same time based on material found in about a dozen books, in either Armenian or English, which I have consulted. I found a work bearing with the 250th anniversary of the founding of the state of Rhode Island, owned by an Armenian resident of Providence to be especially invaluable. In 1937, the Providence Armenian community had had a life of some sixty years. One of the first Armenians to come to the city seems to have arrived in 1877 during the period of the Russo-Turkish war. This man, whose name I have not been able to ascertain, was a native of Constantinople who accompanied a number of Turkish military officers on a mission to the United States. It is known that the chief of this particular mission was a certain Tewfik Pasha. The group visited Providence and had conversations with officials of the Rhode Island Tool Company with the purpose of purchasing Martini-Henry rifles (the "Martini" of later Armenian revolutionary era fame) for use by the Turkish military, The pasha was the son of the well-known Ismael Hakki Pasha. It was he who, in the beginning of 1877, while in Saint Petersburg, had been handed a note from the Russian Prince Korsakov announcing that Russia had declared war on Turkey. We caution that this Turkish delegation must not be confused with two other Turkish missions, which came to Providence at a later date, led by Eumer and Abdullah effendis, respectively. Having been found in Turkey to be guilty of corruption, this Eumer and his comrades were afraid to return to Turkey. Whereupon Eumer married an American lady and sired a daughter but, a few years later, he divorced his wife and married a second time, this time having two sons. It is related that Eumer had his sons wear fezzes while they were still very young. When the boys grew to young manhood, they changed their names to Miller. One day, one of the "Miller" sons entered by chance a grocery store owned and operated by a Harutune Samourian, who, as we shall see, enjoys the distinction of having been the first Armenian student in Providence. Samourian instantly recognized the man. Miller pointed to a loaf of cracker bread in the show-window of Samourian’s store and said he would like to buy "that loaf of Turkish bread". Samourian shot back, "What Turkish bread? Do you want that Armenian bread?" Whereupon, the Armenian storekeeper chided Miller that his father was unable to return to Turkey. The Turk could only agree with Samourian. Getting back to Tewfik pasha... One night, the pasha and his retinue attended a party at 171 North Main Street, Providence, near the Old State House, within the premises of the old Furlong House Hotel. During the course of the revels, an unsolved mystery took place. One of the Turkish delegates was found to have fallen from a window of the hotel and had been instantly killed. How and why had this happened? The city was abuzz with rumors. Witnesses reported that they had overheard the short, gray-haired president of the Rhode Island Tool Company whisper that the reason for this "must be laid to a woman". It is said that the businessman’s comment was intended solely for the ears of his comely and petite secretary, who stood by him… On Tewfik’s request, the Turkish government sent twenty-four military trainees to Providence where they held military exercises in a deserted area off Admiral Street, at a place now located in one of the more populated sectors of Providence, In the same year, that is in 1877, Arakel Soghigian’s son-in-law, Ghoogas Aloojian of Kharpert, and two other Armenians, entered employment at the Rhode Island Locomotive Works. Disturbed that there were no other Armenians working for the same company, the trio, nostalgic for the company of other Armenians, packed up and moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, which was "America" to them. But there Aloojian began to yearn for his native land and, in 1891, went back to Armenia only, unfortunately, to lose his life in the 1895 massacres. Providence’s worthy judge, Jerome Hahn, 67 years old, in 1937, personally told me, [Hagopian], that these Turkish pashas visited him at his home at 75 Cranston Street (the property was to be sold to the What Cheer Laundry Company, which tore down the house and built on its place an adjunct to their main laundry) to consult with his father, Isaac Hahn, on business matters. Jerome was at that time nine years of age. The Turks, he said, gave him a few Turkish postage stamps which he said he had unfortunately lost. The judge spoke highly of the politeness of the Turks. I told him this was simply a surface aspect of the Turks, that inwardly and in reality the Turks were the world’s cruelest people. But, Judge Hahn proposed, "they have changed. Hasn’t Kemal Ataturk culturalized Turkey?" He said he knew nothing of Turkish deportations and massacres of the Armenians. I told him of the "cultured Turks", of Abdul Hamid, Enver, Talaat and Kemal. "If you have not read or heard of the massacres," I told him, "it is because there are practically no Armenians left in the fatherland of Kemal. Most have been killed or have fled the country…"
II. The "Patriarch" of the Community
From 1877-1884, a few Armenians came to Providence from Worcester. Among them was the sporting figure of Dikran Kohararian, a native of Dikranakert, who was to play an important role in the evolution of the Providence community. In 1937, a number of elderly Armenian residents of Providence still remembered this man, He was known to the community under his adopted name, D. J. Cook. It was only after a month of inquiries that I was able to find the whereabouts of this man. I sent him a letter at his residence in Long Island, New York. Three days later, I received a phone call from Cook informing me that he had received my letter, and that he would like to see me in his rooms at the Narragansett Hotel. Fifteen minutes later I was seated with him in a room of that hotel. I found the man to be 70 years of age, but active and spry, a real "young man". It was as if I had exhumed this man from under the dust of history, that he had, like the Phoenix, suddenly materialized before my eyes. He sat there conversing with me in beautiful English and, when needed, in excellent Armenian which was, attractively enough, spiced with the dialect of his native Dikranagerd. Although certainly other Armenians had come to Providence and had settled in the city before the advent of Mr. Kohararian, he was the real founder of the Providence Armenian community. He gave it substance and form and established it for the first time as an entity allowing for historical study. It was for this reason that veteran community members recognized him as the "Patriarch" of that community. Mr. Kohararian got to Worcester when he was twenty years of age and earliest worked in that city for $4 weekly. In Worcester, he became acquainted with a well-known Armenian of that community, a Mr. [Mikael] Tophanelian, a native of Constantinople, and boarded in Tophanelian’s "very clean" home, paying weekly $5 in room and board. It seems, that Kohararian became interested in Tophanelian’s attractive daughter and, one day, he confided to one of his friends that he was going to kiss that lovely Armenian girl. So his friend peached on Kohararian, told Tophanelian of Kohararian’s intention — at which the next day Tophanelian deposited a note at Kohararian’s place at the boarding table ordering him to "get lost". And so it was that our aspiring swain never claimed his kiss. He left Worcester and went on to Providence. Arriving in the city, Kohararian’s attention was first drawn to a restaurant on Exchange Place where everything was sold at five cents. Kohararian immediately sped the news to his friends in Worcester — that everything in Providence cost only five cents! He rented a room that same day on Cathedral Square and, thanks to his knowledge of English, found a job as a tool-keeper at the Locomotive Works. In 1884, Krikor S. Krikorian became the first Armenian rug merchant in Providence. He maintained a fine store located at 370 Westminster Street. D. J. Cook found work for a number of Armenians in Providence and was greatly helpful to his Armenian compatriots, helpless as they were through lack of knowledge of the language of the nation. He became an instructor at classes held nightly at the fire station located at the corner of America and Atwell avenues. He was assisted in this by Setrak Samourian, who was also active in the life of the fledgling community, The school was attended by about 50 Armenian students. In 1937, Mr. Cook owned a fine house on Long Island. Among his neighbors were the well-known actor Lewis Stone and the great Helen Keller. Both his son and his daughter were university-educated. Cook’s wife was an Armenian.
III. Armenians Arriving Before 1890
The first Armenian families in Providence were those of Asadour Mavian and Melkon Shishmanian. The latter married Mavian’s daughter, Aghavni, [the inscription of whose grave stone reads], Look at Aghavni She gives tidings of the Armenian race. From Noah’s Ark. These Armenians are known to have settled in Providence on or before 1890: From Kharpert: Setrak Samourian, Hagop Demirjian, H. Ekizian, Shahen Shainian, Bedros Kazanjian, Bedros Manoian, Rupen Berberian, Sarkis Rustigian, Toros Boghosian, Mardiros Keshishian, Mardiros Demirjian, Manoog Hovanessian (Sharkhos Mans), Feshi Kevo, Setrak and Misak Soghigians, Frank Melkonian, Harutune Sargavakian (a preacher), the son of Davouljian, Krikor Krikorian (the rug merchant), Markar and Kevork Samourians, both of whom returned to Armenia and lost their lives in the 1915 massacres, Simon Samourian, Asadour Kayajian and Harutune Boghigian. From Arghin: Hagop Pamboshooshoian, Kachadour Kasbian, and his brother Garabed, who returned to Arghin before World War I and was killed with his family during the massacres at a river located half-way between Arghin and Osmaniye. Setrak Samourian, of Kharpert, arrived in New York City in 1885. He worked there for a short while as a dishwasher and, one year later, went to Worcester where he worked for 8-10 dollars weekly at "The Wire Mill". He settled in Providence in 1888 and was the first Armenian to be employed at the Browne and Sharpe factory, earning $9 weekly. As said, Krikor Krikorian was the first Armenian to open a rug business in Providence, in 1884, at 370 Westminster Street. Small grocers at the time were Mesrob Avedisian and Hagop Gostanian, both natives of Khuylu, and both had their stores on Fountain Street, At the same times, Hagop Yokouzian, of Kharpert, had a store on High Street (near Westminster). Baghdasar Boyajian, later joined by his brothers, from Kharpert, had a store on Washington Street. All these shopkeepers resided in chambers behind their places of business. Alexan Bedrosian, Khuyly, arrived in Providence on August 9, 1889 and was the first Armenian to find work at the Nicholson File Company, the largest such manufactory in the world. He recalls that when his company interviewer met this strong and active 20-year older for the first time and heard his Armenian name, he was literally baffled . The poor man had never seen an Armenian and had never heard an Armenian name! But Mr. Nicholson, the owner of the plant, who had been connected with the missionary movement, became interested in this Armenian boy, took him to his home introduced him to his wife and children. Bedrosian went to work at Nicholson the next day. In a short while, the following Armenians found work at the same factory: from Koylu, Voskian Keoseian, Hovaness Mooshoian, Hagop Tadekhian; from Shentel, Minas Derderian and Zakar Sarkisian, who became the well-known baker Siurgin Kakar. Sarkisian was still alive in 1937 although aged, infirm and blind, When 1 interviewed him, he sat upright, motionless in his chair, but was able to answer my questions. One day, it is related, the Nicholson representative in London happened to meet the well-known Armenian author, publicist and political figure, Minas Cheraz. He told Cheraz that there were seven Armenians working in the Providence factory. Cheraz became interested in the men and sent them ten copies, addressed to Alexan Bedrosian, of his newspaper Armenia. On January 15, 1888, Setrak and Misak Soghigian, along with a few other Armenians, arrived in Philadelphia from their native Kharpert, On their arrival, the steamship company authorities did not have the least idea where these "foreignors" were bound. A Reverend Mangasarian expressed the opinion that these men were certainly "fugitives", but Mardiros Nahigian, a Philadelphia rug merchant, came to their assistance, asking them where it was they wanted to go. "We’re going to "America", they told him. "But," responded Nahigian, "you’re already in America!" "We are?" they asked, adding, "Well then, we don’t want to stay in America — we want to go to Ooster (Worcester)!"
IV. The First Armenian Student
Harutune A. Samourian was the source of a good deal of my most accurate information. When I knew him, he was a fine-looking, alert man. Although he professed to be a Protestant, he proved, in my conversation with him, to be an unadulterated Apostolic. He was married to a native Vermontian American lady who was herself a devoted, practicing Armenian in her own right. As a matter of fact, I thought for a long time that she was an Armenian by birth because every time she visited my pharmacy she spoke to me in the dialect of Kharpert. This fine Armenian became, at the age of ten, the first Armenian student in Providence. I found him to have a marvelous memory. He related that in 1890, while he was in Constantinople, an eclipse took place there on June 17. He came to the United States on July 15, 1890 and, in the same year, entered the Africa Street School, a two-story wooden structure still standing in 1937. I myself visited that school and, with the permission of the principal, entered the same classroom where the first Armenian boy had learned his A-B-C’s. The little Armenian lad sold newspapers on the street and, on Saturday, worked in a Pawtucket dry-goods store. The lady principal spoke highly of her past and present Armenian pupils. She recalled emotionally that a Haig Chopoorian, who had escaped the massacres, had attended her school. My second most exacting and informative source was Providence’s pioneer Armenian attorney, Caspar Rustigian, of Huseynik, who, in 1937, although rather old and with flowing gray hair, was still a youthful and active leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
V. Living Conditions
After 1890, comparatively larger numbers of Armenians took up residence in Providence. On the testimony of George Pashoian, a native of Kesserig, Kharpert, and other old residents of the city, the early Armenians lived communally. As an example, eighteen Armenian men lived in a four-room house on Washington Street — without bedsteads. The floor of each room had a large pallet and whoever got in first would sleep on it. Among the occupants of this place were the three Tashjian brothers, and Kevork of Tadem; Zoornadji Mooshegh — and a Turk named Mehmet from Erzinka! Each occupant paid a rent of 90 cents per week. If that figure were to be shoved up even as much as 2 cents, quarrels would ensue. Boghos Boyajian, one of the residents of the house, soon opened his own store, was joined by his three brothers — and they all lived in a sort of "closet" at the rear of the store. Finally, fourteen of the men became impatient with conditions, broke away and rented a house on Lester Street. One of them was elected cook — an act which brought them into the mainstream of civilization. As for Zoornadji Mooshegh and Siupiurgedji Megerdich — they lived in two rooms. Each Sunday they would cook a mess of beans and would live "in splendor" on this stuff all week. Other Armenians also lived on Washington Street, notably Hagop Pamboshooshoian, of Arghin whose roommates were Arav-Pekhav Paul and a few Armenians from Kharpert. Twelve other Armenians, led by Davoulji Toros, lived in a third house. Still a fourth house of communal "living" was occupied by natives of Paghen and Serent, who lived in such poverty that many of them finally contracted consumption. Old Armenian residents of Providence somberly talked about Davouldji’s son, who called himself Martin (Mardiros) Charleson. They swear that this heartless fellow would charge each man $20 for getting him a job. At one time, he found work for fifteen Armenians — thus realizing at one fell swoop a sum of $300 as his blood money. Later, when Father Vaghinag Vartapet came to Providence, the people complained to the cleric of Charleson’s usury and asked him to take steps to bring an end to the outrage. The Vartapet first appealed personally to Mr. Maginnis, the Mayor of Providence, who gave him plenipotentiary rights to govern his flock as he chose fit. At this, the Vartapet invited Charleson to visit him at his rooms at 50 Exchange Place. When Charleson began to argue with him, the Vartapet whipped out a revolver and shouted, "Death to your mother and wife if you don’t leave Providence!" The Davouldji’s son immediately repaired to see the Mayor, only to confirm that His Honor had conferred on the Vartapet the right to govern his congregation as he wished. On this, Charleson ran pell-mell to the railroad station and, up to 1937, his whereabouts remained a mystery to the community. The filthiest and most unhealthy house of all was the house the Armenians call the Keomiurkhane (the Coal Inn), at the corner of Dean (?) and Fountain Streets, where, as a rule, new Armenian arrivals would immediately go. One day, a local anti-Armenian newspaper, The Daily Telegram, reported that Armenians did not live long and were carriers of communicable diseases. At this, two Providence Journal reporters, led by the ubiquitous "Dr. Jay Cook", proceeded to make a round of inspection of the Armenian boarding houses. But Gook had alerted the Armenians of the imminent visits and had told the boys to clean up their quarters so that they could properly receive their visitors. The team deemed as especially clean the house occupied by the Samourian brothers, Zakar Sarkiaian, Hagop Terzian, Krikor Parghamian and Frank Melkonian. A picture of this house was published by the Journal as graphic evidence of Armenian cleanliness. The Setrak and Harutune Samourians’ house, on 55 Lydia Street, was the most beautiful of the cleaner Armenian establishments. Boarders included too, Setrak, Misak and Hovanes Soghigians, Boghos Aloojian, Soghomon Kazanjian, Arakel Soghigian and Garabed Ohanian, all of Kharpert. Because of its attractiveness and spic-and-span nature, the house became known as "The Citizens’ Home". The house was equipped with a "citizen cook", Megerditch Zovickian (the father of Dr. Zovickian). I had the occasion personally to visit this house and read, on one of the posts of the structure, an "inscription" left behind by Arakel Soghigian, which read, "Here Lived Nine Citizens". Two years later, the Soghigian brothers, Setrak, Misak and Hovaness, rented a fine, clean cottage at 247 Orm Street where, in fact, Vaghinag Vartapet lived for a short time. This house was still standing in 1937 — still in good condition and sturdier than more newly built residences. In 1891, the handful of Armenians in Providence gave a few hundred dollars to the Rhode Island Hospital. This made the front pages of the local press, which spoke glowingly of the Armenians.
VI. The First Armenian Baker
Krikor Najarian, from Sarpouts; Kharpert, a kindly, industrious and well-loved Armenian, arrived in Providence in 1892. He first served as a cook in one of the communal Armenian residences. In 1900, he opened his own bakery at 60 Chestnut Street and in 1937 was still active in the business which however had been moved around to other locales of the city after the establishment of his first bakeshop. The honor of having been the first Armenian baker in the city however belongs to M. Maksoudian. After opening his own bakery, Maksoudian started competing with other local bakeries, offering his loaves at 3 cents each to the general public. In those days, a loaf of bread usually went at 5 cents each but, in selling his products at 3 cents each, Maksoudian was able to win many new customers. Maksoudian also ran a clean restaurant established over his bakery, located on the corner of Cading (?) and Cranston Streets. He also maintained a boarding house, occupancy in which cost $3 weekly, in those days a princely sum.
VII. Saying of the First Armenian Mass; The Khrimian Association
As the Providence community continued to grow, the people started talking about religious services. Finally, a group of religiously-inclined members of the community got together and invited Hovsep Vartapet Sarajian to visit Providence. The latter came from Worcester and sang the first Armenian Mass ever said in Providence. The services were held at Valentine Hall, located over the High Street Bank, at 848 Westminster Street. On each Sunday from that occasion on, the community held lay or religious gatherings at the same hall. These meetings would be opened with the singing of "Aravod Louys" and would end with the communal singing of "Mer Anoun Christos, Serov koy jumlia, Sirad im Kareghen." Shortly, the community retained a small auditorium on the corner of Eddy and Washington Streets, where they continued to hold their lay-religious Sunday get-togethers. All this took place during those days when Khrimian Hairik was elected Catholicos. The echoes of this joyful event resounded throughout the Armenian world — and echoed in Providence. It would seem that the tidings of the accession of this beloved cleric shook the Armenians from a deep and glum slumber. They began to smile as they walked, cordially greeted one another when they met, because they knew that a great man had become their "Hairik" (Little Father). On September 7, 1890, after some planning, the community formed its "Khrimian Association", with a governing body consisting of Shishmanian, of Constantinople, chairman, Setrak Samourian, of Kharpert, secretary, and Sarkis Rustigian, Huseynik, treasurer. The first Armenian newspaper to be distributed in the Providence community was Ararat published and edited in New York by Parnak M. Aydanian (1891). But Haigag Eginian was the father of Armenian journalism in the United States . In 1888, Eginian published in Jersey City his Arekag monthly journal. He also published his Azadutiun on Pearl Street, New York City where, for a short period of time, Harutune Samourian, the first Armenian student in Providence, worked when he was 12 years of age. But editor Eginian went on to California, where he opened publication of his Nor Giank. This fine Armenian was fatally stricken on March 24, 1919, in Fresno, California, while working at the keyboard of his typesetting machine. Hovsep Vartapet Sarajian was the first Armenian Apostolic Church cleric to serve in the United States. He arrived in Worcester July 25, 1899 from Constantinople. He was ordered to Van after he was made Bishop and passed away while acting as Prelate of that city. The first Armenian cleric in the United States did not, while in Worcester, allow the premises of his church to be used for public lectures, nor did he allow a library to be established in the church. For that reason, the community fell into strife and heads were bloodied.
VIII. Minas Cheraz In Providence
In 1893, the Armenian publicist Minas Cheraz arrived in Chicago, Illinois, from London to attend the Chicago International Exhibition. While, there, he lectured on the Armenian Church. Later in the same year, Setrak Samourian, representing the Providence, Armenian community, went to New York, met Cheraz, and escorted him back to Providence as the guest of the local community. He was given chambers in the Narragansett Hotel. A few days later, Mr. Cheraz delivered a memorable lecture at Manning Hall, on the Brown University campus, on the subject of Armenia and the Armenians, their faith and their language. On Saturday, October 7, 1893, the Providence Journal printed a long interview with Mr. Cheraz. The picture of this notable Armenian appeared in both the morning and evening editions of the Journal. A number of Armenians were present at the lecture. Members of the Armenian church choir sang Armenian songs, the Rev. Harutune Sargavakian rendered "Groung ourgeh gookas?", the words of which were translated by the guest speaker for the benefit of the audience. Cheraz then proceeded to render a magic slide exhibition and commentary on old Armenian church structures and, as well, showed some Arabic wall inscriptions and half-ruined parapets and buildings. On a large blackboard, Cheraz traced the Armenian alphabetical characters and said that only the English language had no alphabetical characters for these phonetics. He said that he, as an Armenian, could perfectly transliterate every non-Armenian word into Armenian alphabetics and too, pronounce those words. Immediately, a Chinese student who was present suggested a Chinese word for trial. As immediately, Cheraz wrote it down in Armenian letters, pronounced the word accurately — to the approval of the Chinese student. He also wrote on the blackboard the phrase "Astvadz baheh Amerigay Miatsyal Nahankneruh" (May God Keep the United States of America). After his lecture, Cheraz explained to his listeners the meaning of the Armenian legend on the blackboard — to the wild applause of the audience. On, Saturday evening, October 8, 1893, the fourth day of his visit to Providence, Cheraz delivered a lecture in Armenian at the Thalma (?) Theater. He said that certain Americans had asked him why all Armenians looked alike. He said he had responded, "This is because the Armenians are of one nationality stock and live a pure family life", Cheraz then displayed the two medals he had received in Chicago. Only a few of the foreign diplomats present at the Exhibition had been so decorated. Cheraz warned the Huntchakists to be careful. He said that "you must not take demonstrative actions at this time or you will bring dangers on the people." A Nishan Garabedian, who was present, said from his seat, "Let’s pull this guy down. He is preaching fear to us." He added loudly, "Sultan Hamid’s soul is in my hands. If l so wish, I will throttle him." At this members of the excited audience shouted, "throttle him, throttle him!", but Cheraz quietly thrust his hand into his pocket and said, "Let him remain for a short time." Cheraz left for Worcester where he lectured on October 9, 1893 at Horticultural Hall, at a meeting chaired by Professor Homer T. Fuller, who was at that time the president of Worcester Polytechnical Institute. The Worcester community gave Cheraz a golden pen inscribed with the sentiment, "If you should run short of ink, we will replenish this pen with our blood!" This then is our review of the earliest days of the Armenian community of Providence.
IX. Historic Exchange Place Hall
The Providence community’s religious, cultural and political life began to burgeon after Cheraz’ departure from the city. In this, the natives of Palu played an important role. One of these, Garabed Pashalian, built an Armenian Church altar — first of its kind in the city — and place in the blessed and historical auditorium at 50 Exchange Place which for many years served as the spiritual, cultural and political center of the Providence community. There, the Armenians continued their Sunday gatherings, public meetings, political party and education lectures, and even took military training under the tutelage of Boghos Ayvazian and others… and, on occasion, broke one another’s heads… A Captain Hackett was the first chief military trainor of the Providence Armenians. The Armenians however had their own unit captain. One of these was a man named Dzaghig who, in 1937, lived in California. Vaghinag Vartapet was the first official priest of the Providence Armenian Apostolic community. In his brief two years of service, the Vartapet put community affairs into good order and served in fact as the community leader. He lived first at 50 Exchange Place, at the hall, but later moved to the corner of Carpenter and Broadway. For a time too he resided at the home of Mr. Soghigian and his friends located at 427 Orm Street. Unfortunately, however, this fine clergyman passed away unexpectedly of what was believed to be a slight ailment. He was succeeded by Arsen Vartapet Vehooni, in whose day the Messrs. Jorjorian, Deroyentz, Keshishian, Mardiros Paghdikian and Dr. Shahbazian served as Church Trustees. The first educational society in Providence was the Pro-Educational Association of Kharpert, in 1894. Founders of this society were Setrak Samourian and Boghos Aloojian. The founding meeting took place at "The Protestant Home", 55 Lydia Street. On the same day, Harutune Samourian, Hovaness Soghigian, Arakel Soghigian, Soghomon Kazanjian, Hovsep Keshishian and others became charter members. The Armenian National Economic Union Library was formed in 1895 with the purpose of maintaining the Armenian love for the Fatherland and language. Such people as Setrak Soghigian and Mardiros Keshishian, both of Kharpert, Caspar Arzoomanian, Harutune Mangooni, of Palu, and Setrak Samourian did good work in the development of the facility. A function was held to assist financially the library. At this meeting, Hovaness Soghigian purchased for $15 dollars a copy of Khrimian Hairik’s work Babig-Tornig at auction, and he quickly donated the book to the Hall. Unfortunately, through the years the Library became neglected and for a long time gathered dust at the Jefferson Street Armenian Church. The collection was stored in a room of the church as cold and clammy as a tomb, I personally searched out these books and found them stacked pell-mell one on top of the other in their veritable "tomb".
X. A Major Protest Meeting
The November 24, 1894, issue of the Utica, New York Saturday Globe printed a picture of a massacre scene in Armenia. A copy of this photoengraved picture was sent to Providence and a major meeting of protest took place on December 8, 1894 at the Music Hall (at the present Public Market place in Providence), on Westminster Street. Armenians and Americans addressed the meeting. These included the Reverend Anderson, Mr. and Mrs. Dionian, who had brought with them a Miss Bosse, who sang Armenian and American songs, the Reverend F. H. Tomkins, Rector of the influential Grace Church, the Reverends F. A. Horton, James L. Barton (a missionary well-known to the Armenians), and His Excellency, the Governor of Rhode Island, Russell Brown. The meeting adopted a resolution which was sent to then President Grover Cleveland. In those days, the American press was full of material on the Turkish massacres of Armenians. The Turkish government had remitted statements of public denials which cited the name of an "Armenian agitator named Hapartzoum, whose alias was Mourad," According to the Turkish reports, this man had been guilty of "anti-governmental activities in Sassoun and had led the Armenian people to revolt." I might add that Mr. John Dionian had been the chairman of the Philharmonic Society. After the sanguinary massacres of Abdul Hamid, growing numbers of Armenians started heading for the New World. The Providence community started to grow. Armenian restaurants and stores began to multiply both in the city and its Rhode Island contiguity. One of these was the large grocery store on 404 Fountain Street owned and operated by S. Arakelian. Mr. Hairabedian opened a photographic studio at 193 Westminster Street. Takvor Kavezian and Sarkis Papazian had excellent Armenian-fare restaurants on Westminster Street. Dr. Arshag Der Margosian opened his offices for the practice of medicine on the same thoroughfare. More on this beloved physician later. Giragos Minasian’s restaurant at 25 Central Street, in nearby Central Falls, was the oldest Armenian restaurant in Rhode Island. Hagop Chekinian also opened a restaurant at 492 Mill Street, Central Falls, and Levon Haroutunian had a large retail store at the same address. The first Armenian physician in Central Falls was Dr. Ardashes H. Merdinian, who practiced in chambers found over the Central Falls Post office.
XI. The Armenian Apostolic and Evangelical Churches
In 1914, the Providence Armenians purchased a church edifice on 70 Jefferson Street. The church was personally consecrated by Bishop Moushegh. By 1937, the church had paid off all its debts and had burned its mortgage. The pastor of the church (1937) was the Reverend Zkon Charkoujian. The late Rev. Vartapet Martougesian was church pastor at one time. He was a man of active patriotic spirit and lived a stormy life. Because of the conflict between the political parties, a large part of the Armenians of the community worshipped at services held at the Sabbatical Church, on Cranston Street. The pastor of this congregation was most lately the Rev. Houssig Kahana Nakhnikian. The Armenian Evangelical Church parish of Providence was established in October, 1889, under these circumstances. Led by Hagop Paragian, of Dikranagerd, seven members of the community early held prayer meetings at the local Methodist Episcopal Church. Later, through the agency of the Reverend Hitchcock, the group continued its services at the "Round Top Church", well-known to Armenians, with the Reverend Krikor Bagdasarian as pastor. Due to a misunderstanding between Mr. Der Kasparian and Harutune Sargavakian, the church experienced disorderly times and for that reason services were suspended for about a year. The Reverend Arpiarian was the first ordained Armenian minister of the Congregational Church in Providence. He served with devotion. The Reverend Stepan Yacoobian was instrumental in the purchase of the Euphrates Church, on the facade of which he had imprinted "Der Getso tou zHais" (The Lord Bless the Armenians). During his fifteen years as pastor of the church, the Reverend Depoyan was able to return the church to its former promise. In his day, the church rid itself of all its debts. It is noted that Alexan Bedrosian donated $500 to the church on the occasion of the Reverend Depoyan’s marriage. The church observed the fortieth anniversary of its founding in 1933.
XII. The Huntchakian Party
The first branch of the Huntchakian Party was established in Providence in 1890. Founders were Sarkis Goshdigian, Garabed Parghamian and Dikran Asnoian. This unit was the first Armenian political party entity in the city. The Messrs. Aghoian, A. Deroyents, K. Arzoomanian, and others did notable work in the organization of the party branch in Providence. They sponsored lectures, public meetings, and the like, at 50 Exchange Place, where fiery patriotic speeches were heard. It was at that time that Minas Cheraz, as we have noted, in his speech in Providence, cautioned the Huntchakian party against extremism. Contrary to Cheraz’ counsel, the Huntchakian branch invited Khan-Azad, a Huntchakian field worker, to lecture. He proceeded to speak on Marxism. He was greeted with shouts from the audience that "We don’t play around with Marxism". And so a violent confrontation took place — an event which made the Exchange Street hall historic — if it needed such unfortunate occurrence to be historic. After this encounter, so unworthy of the Armenians, anti-Huntchakian forces in Providence organized themselves as-"The Armenian Union". This turmoil continued until 1896 when the Huntchakian Party split in two and gave rise to the Reconstructed Huntchakian Party. Members of this new unit sought to seize the assets of the local Huntchakian branch. For all intents, the local Huntchakian unit was all but dissolved. It was at this time that the Armenian Revolutionary Federation entered Providence. A year later, the Huntchakian branch in Providence was reformed by Sarkis Shamirian, Bedros Papazian, and others, Public lectures given by H. Parechanian, A. Meldonian, G. Mardigian and P. Roupenian gave a decided lift to the organization. A military training group called Jirair was formed under the leadership of Captain S. Bedrosian. The unit was named after the revolutionary Jirair who had been hanged in Yozgat, May 15, 1894. The group was not in existence by the ‘thirties.
XIII. The Armenian Revolutional Federation
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation Committee in Providence was organized in 1896 during the days of the A.R.F. field worker S. Vahanian. The First founders were Aslan Aslanian (Bitlis), Hovaness Kazarosian (called Shishko, of Keghi), Nazareth Tateosian (Dzaghig, of Khuyly), and Harutune Mangooni. Tovmas Jelalian, who returned to Armenia after the promulgation of the Turkish Constitution in 1908, Marcus Der-Manuelian, Nazareth Mangooni and Hovsep Nahigian played important roles in the work of firming the organization in Providence. Mr. Nahigian was a graduate of Brown University and, in 1937, was a prominent member of the Chicago Committee of the A.R.F. Asadour Der Hovanessian, of Kemakh, has told me that this pioneer Committee became shortly inactive and that, in 1899, a new Committee of five members was formed. The first meeting of this new group was held in the grove near the Providence Armory, under the open skies. The following took part: Marcus Der-Manuelian, of Chimishgedzek, elected Chairman; he worked as a correspondent of the Hairenik newspaper under the penname of Papken; Bedros Manoian, of Khuyly, treasurer; Asadour M. Der Hovanessian, of Kemakh, secretary; Garabed Stepanian, of Caesarea, member. Only one of this group, Der Hovanessian, was still a resident of Providence in 1937. He was at the time one of the oldest members of the A.R.F. alive, but his youthful vigor belied his advanced age. The Committee decided to publish a newspaper to counteract the influence of Tigris in the community. To this end, the membership raised a sum of $75. This sum was added to a total of $125 raised by the A.R.F. in New York and the total figure of $200 was used to launch, on May 1, 1899, publication of the now historic Hairenik, then a weekly, in New York, with T. Charshafjian as editor. A few months later, M. Minasian took over as editor and still later, Arshag Vramian assumed the editorship. The annual convention of the A.R.F. of America took place in Providence at a large hall located on North Main Street, with Vramian as chairman. Providence’s delegate was Marcus Der-Manuelian. In 1937, the A.R.F. maintained two clubrooms in Providence, one on Westminster Street, the other on Douglas Avenue. The organization, by that time, had under its guidance a number of community organizations and societies devoted to national, spiritual and educational purposes, and was for it thriving. On July 13, 1933, the Providence Armenian community, led by the local A.R.F. Committee, participated in the statewide observance of the Tercentennial of the State of Rhode Island. The well-known choirmaster Mehrab conducted a concert of Armenian and other music, leading a chorus of 135 voices at Roger William’s Park. The press acclaimed the presentation. An Armenian booth at the exhibition held in the Armory was one of the more interesting displays of the Tercentennial exhibition. This effort was led by Zakar Boghosian, Harutune Avakian, Nishan Bedrosian, Bill Soghigian, Mrs. Bagdikian, Mrs. Altoonian, and others.
XIV. The Reconstructed Huntchakians and the Armenian Democratic Liberal Organization
As said, the Reconstructed Huntchakians were formed in Providence in 1896. In the split that ensued in the Huntchakian Party, such leaders as A. Arpiar, M . Sevasly, Aghasi, Damadian and others left the party. The Constitutional Democratic Party was formed after the division of the Huntchakian Party, in 1908 to be precise; but in 1921, these two political groups joined forces and became the present Armenian Democratic Liberal Organization. In 1937, the A.D.L., maintained two clubrooms, one at 10 Green Street, the other on Smith Street.
XV. The Panvoragan (Labor-Bolshevik) Union
This association was originally formed as the "Teknikakan Union" in 1921. Its formative meeting was held at Toros Avedisian’s home, 14 Washburn Street. A. Snarian was present. The name of the Union was changed to Armenian Workers’ Union and participated in the work of the HOK, the "Governmental Garmir Khatch", the Armenian Youth of America (AYA), and sponsored the "Peoples’ Clubroom", located at 44 Washington Street.
XVI. Old and New Generations
Early in the 1930’s, the senior generation expressed concern that Armenian life in Providence was quite altered from the traditional ways of Armenia. There was a general feeling that the respect traditionally shown by the young people for their elders had been scattered to the four winds. Armenian family traditions had been "shattered" — and the senior generation was, as said, concerned. In this situation, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation formed in 1933 its nationwide "A.R.F. Tzeghagron" organization, under the inspiration of General Karekin Nejdeh. One of its strongest and earliest chapters was formed in Providence. In 1937, Haig B. Sahagian was chapter chairman, Harutune Garabedian, vice-chairman, Miss Lalezar Surabian (later Mrs. Varjabedian), secretary, Miss Grace Kaloosdian, assistant secretary, Miss Armenouhi Papazian, treasurer. All were American-born with the exception of Mr. Garabedian. In the formation of the Providence Tzeghagron chapter, Miss Mary Avakian (later Mrs. Nersesian) and miss Arousiag Ogassian (later Mrs. Boghosian), and others were prominent.
XVII. Well Known and Professional Figures in Providence
The first Armenian medical doctor to practice in Providence was Dr. Shabazian. He remained briefly in Providence before moving to California. He was followed by Dr. Arshag Der Margosian. Dr. Margosian was born November 22, 1875, in the village of Habussi, Kharpert. He graduated from Euphrates College in 1894, studied at the American College of Beirut, arrived in the United States in 1895, entered Yale University and finally graduated from the Jefferson Medical School, Philadelphia, in 1901. After a brief period as a staff member at Jefferson, in 1901, he opened his offices in Providence. While practicing medicine, Dr. Margosian edited (1911-13) the Bahag newspaper and, in 1917-1921 published on his own his Pouzhag (Healer) organ. He also wrote for various Armenian and other organs under assumed names and often spoke at Armenian gatherings. Caspar Rustigian was the city’s first Armenian attorney. He was born August 1, 1886, in Huseynik, Kharpert, studied at the Central School, Kharpert. under the great Armenian writer Rouben Zartarian, and others. Rustigian migrated to the United States in 1904, worked for six years in Providence, entered law school in Boston, graduating in 1913. He served for one year as a field representative of the A.R.F. Central Committee, Boston. Rustigian opened his law offices in Providence in 1914 and wrote many articles for both the Hairenik and American presses. He was a frequent addressant of Armenian audiences. In 1937, there were a number of Armenian doctors, attorneys, dentists and pharmacists in Providence, among them: Dr. H. Baronian, Sebastia; Dr. Giulaserian, Huseynik; Dr. Morlin, Aintab; Dr. M. Esayian, American-born; Dr. H. Keshishian and his sister Dr. Nazeli Keshishian, Providence-born; Dr. Sarafian; Dr. Richard Arlen, Providence-born; Dr. Joseph Franklin; Dr. Mihran A. Chapian; (attorneys) S. Boyajian; Walter Johnson; A. Tovmasian; A. Arabian; Souren Morlian; Kevork Ajootian; Sarkis Tatarian; Jeremiah Eramian, etc. The first to practice dental medicine in Providence was Dr. Atamian who, in 1937, was located in California. He was followed by Dr. A. Aharonian. The dentist to practice the longest in Providence was Dr. K. Emirzian of Kharpert, Euphrates College graduate in 1907. He came to the United States in 1907, graduated from Harvard Dental School in 1913 after three years of study in the same year established himself in Providence where, by 1937, he had practiced for twenty-four years. Other dentists practicing in Providence were Dr. G. Hekimian, of Mezireh, Kharpert; Dr. Hagopian, Kharpert; Dr. A. Jorjorian, American-born, and Dr. J. Giulkhasian, also American-born. (Editor’s note: An obvious typographical mishap on page 144, bottom of second column, occurs in the original Hairenik Monthly printing. Here, Mr. Hagopian aspires to enumerate the Armenian pharmacists in Providence, but the section is not completed, and there are other obvious lacunae.)
XVIII. Prominent Figures
The most prominent property holder of Armenian stock in Providence was Apel Aharonian, a native of Huseynik. This industrious, able and intelligent man was still alive — and very active — in 1937. He was a long-standing member of the Providence A.R.F. Committee and wholeheartedly participated in its endeavors. Other well-known property-owners were the Diulgerian brothers, Harutune Y. Samourian and Vahan Der Mkhsian; also the Sarsamian brothers, Aram Nalbandian, Garabed Sahagian, Zakar Tanielian, A. Anjarian, a rug merchant, and others. Hagop Jorjorian, of Kesserig, Kharpert, came to the United States in 1889. In 1897, Jorjorian opened his New Acme Plating Works. After going to California in 1919, he returned to Providence where he established his General Plating Company which, in 1937, employed ten workers. His brothers too were as well-off and as philanthropically-inclined. Jorjorian relates that a Turkish migrant from India once maintained a store on the site of the present "Turk’s Head" building. This Moslem Turk had placed a portrait of a Turk’s head over his store, and for that reason the building became known as "The Turk’s Head". Jorjorian told me that while workers excavating the foundation of the present structure, which succeeded "The Turk’s Head", they had found a lode of money secreted by the former owner of the property, the Turk. Garabed Movsesian, a graduate of Euphrates College, came to the United States in 1904. He became the owner and operator of the Charles Manufacturing Company. Movsesian was a modest, hard working-Armenian whose whole attention was focused on his business. When I met him he was attired in coveralls, his hands grimy with oil, working side by side with his employees. His enterprise was successful, employed more than fifty workers. He told me that he had succeeded "by working hard and winning the confidence of my customers". Fred Avakian, of Kharpert, studied with the Armenian intellectual Tlgatentsi and came to the United States in 1913. Avakian became a well-known industrialist, manufacturing enameled jewelry, pencils and other products. In 1925, in partnership with Garabed Khazarosian, he founded the Eastern Products, Inc., firm, a subsidiary of which was the Cornell Manufacturing Company. I found Avakian to be a very personable, modest and industrious individual. He ushered me through every corner of his establishment and demonstrated the workings of his valuable machinery. He told me that one such machine, worth $8,000, did the work of thirty men… and lo, we have a reason for the crisis in American labor! When I asked Avakian where he had learned mechanics, he showed me his oily hands said, "My father was an iron-monger in the old country." Also manufacturers were Mr. Heditsian, Charles and Peter Azhoohan, who made jewelry, the Asadoorian brothers, from Kharpert, Khachig Arabian, from Constantinople, Michael Serejanian, from Ordu, Charles Chorbajian, Nazareth Haronian, Boghos Sahagian, the Berberian brothers, H. Oulahojian, from Tadem, Garabed Okhoumian, of Huseynik, Bedros Kaloostian, from Tadem, Shaghalian, Ruben Berberian and possibly others unknown to the author. The more recently-arrived Yegavian brothers, Krikor, Eddie and Zareh, operated a comparatively large electrical equipment business in Providence and Pawtucket. These young men emigrated from Aleppo to Constantinople where they opened their own electrical store, but soon left for America. They interpreted their success in America to their familiarity with their business, and the harmony that existed between the three brothers.
XIX. A Sacrificing Armenian Community
The Providence Armenian community was always on the top levels of the more sacrifing Armenian enclaves in the United States. During the years, the community established a myriad of educational, cultural. philanthropic societies and compatriotic groups, theater troupes, youth societies — Tzeghagrons, Ardzvigs, Shavasbians — ladies auxiliaries, religious societies, associations supporting schools, orphanages, etc., etc. It would be impossible to identify all the societies and associations established through the years up to the time of the 8,000-strong Armenian community of Providence, in 1937. The community was especially animated and worked in concord during the somber times of the First World War. During the days of the recruiting of Armenian volunteers for service in the Near East, the community especially manifested a lofty sense of cooperation, working together as one entity. In 1917, Providence was visited by M. Damadian, A. Hanemian and S. Sabahgulian as representatives of the Armenian National Union of Egypt, with the approval of the Armenian National Delegation in Paris and the French authorities. This delegation was able to remedy the discordance that had existed in the community between the political parties and, on April 2, 1917, the Armenian National Union was born in America. It is not irrelevant to here say that the spirit of this Union was the French officer Colonel Bremond who, on the orders of his government had entered into conversations with the Armenian political parties and Armenian leadership circles for the purpose of forming an "Oriental Legion". It must recalled that of the about $55,000 raised in Providence by the Union, about $40,000 were given by Armenians from Palu and their nearby village compatriots. The Providence community also recruited a number of Armenian young men who were to see service in the fighting in Cilicia and the Caucasus. The registration of recruits was crowded with members of the community despite the fact that the meeting had not been publicly announced. But word had gotten around through the verbal grapevine. Damadian, a member of the delegation, had scarcely started outlining the purpose of the meeting when a large number of young men pressed forward and demanded that they be registered. At that community mass gathering, an aged senior citizen from Palu sprang to his feet, extended his bankbook to the podium, took it to the table, and said, "I have $500.15 in the bank. Just give me the 15˘ and give the rest to our army." One cannot help but wonder what miracles the Armenian nation might have achieved if their ideals of undying patriotism and spirit of sacrifice were to have been abetted by a spirit of concord and of cooperation. All official, party and religious missions touring the Armenian communities of the United States in those days visited Providence.
Although the composition of this paper has led me to consult with literally hundreds of individuals, and although I have been assisted by a number of volumes found in the libraries of Brown University and in the archives of the Providence Journal I have no illusions that my writing is wholly devoid of weakness or even errors. The author has read in the preparation of this work, among other books, Alice C. Gleeson’s History of Rhode Island, M. Vartan Malcom’s The Armenians in America [Boston, 1919], Bishop Mollsegh’s Armenian American Yearbooks (1912-13), the Huntchaksian Yearbook (1931-32), M.K. Jizmadjian’s History of Armenian Political Parties in America (1930), and various articles appearing in the Hairenik Monthly, of Boston. I ask forgiveness if I have omitted any important names or events. Such omissions are inadvertent on my part. But the task has been an onerous one. For instance, I was told that "about 1893" the Providence Journal published Minas Cheraz’ picture. I thereupon spent almost a month poring through the back issues of the Journal before I located the picture and supporting story. Too, one of my friends, without being able to give me a fair date, told me that Providence’s first student had been the Reverend V. A. Babasinian, and not Harutune Samourian, as I have written. After almost one week of research into this problem, I was forced to inform my friend that he was in error… for the records clearly show that the Reverend Babasinian, graduated from Brown University in 1891, while Harutune Samourian entered the Africa Street School in 1890, when he was ten years of age. This is cited to point up the difficulties facing that researcher who attempts to ferret out the truth behind events handed down to him orally
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