Armenian Activities in the United States of America

Armenians who migrated to the American continent after the 19th century deeply affect the relations between the Republic of Turkey and the United States of America today, as well as they did in history. The most effective Armenian diaspora organizations are those which are active in USA. USA is the administration point of directing world activities for Armenian diaspora organizations.

Armenian activities in USA continued without stop during the periods of Abdulhamid II, the Constitutional Monarchy and the First World War years. Armenians who went to USA to earn their living turned into people who are anti-Ottoman Empire and anti-Turks. They made the USA public opinion in favour of them in a short while and used this influence over the governments.

Armenian Migrations to USA

Those who first organized Armenian migrations from the Ottoman Empire to the USA were Protestants. Protestant churches in the USA in the beginning of the 1900s decided to work among other religion’s members. The Church founded the American Table for foreign missionaries in 1812 to organize these activities. This table chose Ottoman Muslims as a working area for themselves. With this goal, the first of American missionaries came to Anatolia in 1820. As it was banned for Muslims to change their religions according to Ottoman Empire laws, missionaries chose the local Christians. Missionaries first wanted to do reforms to be able to draw ancient Gregorian Church to their side and when this was not possible, they wanted to form a Protestant community among these local Christians. The Greek Orthodox community did not take interest in American Protestants, but Armenians were very willing on this issue. For this reason, Protestant schools, medical clinics and churches started to be full of Armenians. The demand by Armenians expanded the American Table of missionaries and their program was more effective from those in other countries (Şişman, 2006: 15-25).

American missionaries in Anatolia founded 9 colleges by 1891. The most known ones of these are Istanbul Robert College (1862), University of Beirut (1864), and American Girls College (1873).

Ottoman citizen young students getting education in missionary schools started considering to go to America to complete their education. Intelligent students chosen among these were sent to America by missionaries. Missionaries expected these students to come back and be teachers, priests or assistants in clinics. However, most of these students did not come back and followed a new path for themselves in America.

Those coming to the USA from the Ottoman Empire were not only young people educated in missionary schools, some of them had come to the New World to search for their future with great sacrifices. Immigrant Armenians gave importance to work in the same factories and live in the same places and put forward mutual assistance. In this closed environment, a few shops, coffee shops, greengroceries, shoe repair shops and other small places for social services were opened. These students and merchants rapidly adapted to America (Papazian, 2000: 311-312).

A new group of Armenians started to join these in the 1880s. These newcomers were Anatolian villager Armenians who were poorer. 40% of these immigrant Armenians coming by the end of the 1870s were from the Harput region and 90% of them were single.

They founded their primary school Armenian-American Vadookian School in New York in 1885. Their first newspaper Aregak (Sun) started to be published in Jersey City in 1888. In this way Armenians in America were becoming organized. The first big Armenian settlement in America happened in Fresno City, California in 1883. Those coming for education were more settling in New York and those coming for work were settling in Worcester (Bakalian, 1993, p. 75-78).

Revolutionist Armenians also started coming to America at the end of the 1880s. These revolutionists started to establish cells in America between the years 1887-1890. The most important of revolutionist Armenians was Sympad Kaprielian, known for his Armenian Nationalism. Kaprielian was exiled in 1886 by the Ottoman Empire after being arrested and he started to publish Haik, the first Armenian revolutionist newspaper in America, after settling in New York (Mirak, 1983, p.95-98).

According to the writing sent to the Foreign Ministry on 29 March 1892 by Mavroyani Bey, who was the Washington Ambassador of the Ottoman Empire in the 1890s, the number of Ottoman immigrants in 1890 was 2,167. As ambassador Mavroyani Bey expressed, Armenians started to try to be effective on the American Senate beginning from the first day onwards.

The population of Ottoman immigrants in America was 5,255 in 1895 and 26,799 in 1900 (Karpat, 1985, p. 190). Armenian historian Vartan Malcom claims that almost all of these immigrants were Armenians because of the events happening in Anatolia and ignores the migrations especially from the Syria region (Malcom, 1919, p. 65). The reason for this assumption of Malcom is that race was not mentioned in American immigrant records until 1899. The number of Armenian migrated to Armenia between the years 1891-1898 is actually 12,500. It is 674 in 1899, 982 in 1900 (Mirak, 1983, p. 292). Therefore, the claim that Armenians escaped to America due to the events happening in the Ottoman Empire between the years 1895-1900 does not really seem consistent. One of the important factors in the maturing of the relations between the Ottoman Empire and the USA is the issue of nationality of the immigrants.

First Armenian Churches and Organizations in USA

Armenians who migrated to America also came together to meet their spiritual needs. The lack of a central political formation in the Armenian community outside of Armenia made the church the point of gathering and the focus of community life. The city of Worcester where about 1,000 Armenians lived at the end of the 1880s was the place Armenians founded the first church in. Mekertich Portukalian, who came to Worcester in 1888 and was sought by the Ottoman Empire, encouraged Armenians to found a church. Portukalian was the founder of the Armenekan Party which was the first Armenian revolutionist organization in the Ottoman Empire and his goal was to establish an independent Armenia in Ottoman lands. He initially established an Armenian club in the USA.

This opening in Worcester was followed by church openings in other regions. Armenian Protestants managed to shape these churches with their own priests, Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate also sent priests to America. Former Armenian Patriarch Mekertich Hirimyan had an important role in sending these priests to America.

Armenians, who had a number of five thousand until 1896, were organized within themselves and were closely interested in the futures of their race living in the Ottoman Empire. The instructions of especially politically oriented associations such as Hunchakian and Dashnaksutyun had been influential in this interest. Armenians who acted in America upon every event happening about them in Anatolia until 1896, achieved to draw the attention of the American public opinion to the Armenian Problem with the support of American missionaries in pursuit of big goals in the east (Mirak, 1983: 306).

These Armenians started to learn English at night courses. Some Armenian researches write that Armenians started to get assimilated in this way. According to them, the Armenian language was the only bond connecting them together and to the homeland, so Armenians lost their spirits in this way.

There was a rapid increase in Armenian organizations in the USA between the years 1965-2000. Hundreds of organizations were founded in this period. When it is considered that these organizations have branches in various cities and towns, the number is quite big. In general, the number of Armenian organizations in the USA and Canada from 1887 until today is about 1,046 except for the churches. When 182 Armenian churches are added to this number, the number reaches to 1,228 (Kantarcı, 2007, p. 165).

Propaganda Activities of Armenians in the USA

The Armenian community in America holds the center where the most effective Armenian activities are carried out. The Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) and the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) are carrying out activities to pressure the Congress and the American President for both the economic and political conditions of Armenia and the recognition of the genocide by Turkey. The Armenian committees give great importance to propaganda attempt to form the thoughts of Americans about Turkey in favor of themselves through newspapers, magazines, declarations and wall posters. We can say that Armenian propaganda activities in the USA started with them coming to this geography.

These activities sometimes increasing and sometimes decreasing depended on the foreign policy methods of the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey often demonstrate parallelism with the USA’s Ottoman and Turkey politics. The USA’s Ottoman and Middle East politics also affected activities of the Armenian lobby in the country. These propaganda activities, which we can divide into various time periods, followed this process which still influences today as well:

Initially, an enforced event is broken out in Anatolia, this is followed by local authorities arresting Armenians; the religious authority there was passing this to the patriarchate; the consul to the ambassador or ministry they are bonded to; and missionary to the organization he is member of; any newspaper and embassies and from there to the world media. This news was getting bigger like an avalanche. This was actually a requirement of the charter of Hunchakian and Dashnaksutyun organizations.

Armenians in America carried out intense activities to get their revolution ideas accepted by the American people and governors and to prove that the Ottoman Empire was a brutal state. They chose two methods for this: the first of these was to publish articles in newspapers, and the second was to organize frequent meetings. The most important starting point in this propaganda was the emphasis on Islam and Christianity.

Armenians in America did everything possible to convince American newspapers to write articles in favor of them. Some part of the Armenians in New York stated that there are 10,000 Armenians living there and that they will subscribe to those newspapers which support their cause. These attempts were influential. The newspaper Worcester Daily Spy published an interview with Hunchakian leader Nishan Garabetyan under the title of “Suffering Armenia” on 21 March 1894. While Armenians were written to be educated, wishing to progress and be civilized people, Turks were claimed to suppress these people in Anatolia.

There was a big propaganda boost in America against Turks after the Sason uprising in August of 1894 and the events as a result of this uprising. By ignoring the fact that Armenians started the uprising, it was claimed that they were slaughtered just because they were Christians. There were prayers of cursing Turks in the churches and protest meetings in the squares. Articles of extreme hostility were written in newspapers and magazines, and many books and booklets were published (Hüseyin Nazım Paşa, 1998, p. 196).

Other than newspapers, books on Armenians were also being used as tools for propaganda. Dozens of books were published in America by missionaries in the years 1895-1896. There was hostility against Turks in the books published by American missionaries and these propaganda books became fundamental sources for later researchers.

The main purpose of propaganda for both Armenians and missionaries was to supply money and arms for the schools to be founded in the Ottoman Empire and the protests. Donation was one of the principal financial sources for missionaries and Armenian Revolution Committees. Supplying arms was an absolute need for the hot war of the guerrillas. While from one hand it was demanded for every Armenian to provide their own arms according to their legislation, on the other hand, the entry of these arms to the committee, passing them secretly into Ottoman Empire after buying them from foreign countries with monthly money and storage of them inside the country were tried to be carried out. The center of help and donation was churches and public meetings. Priest Saraciyan in Worcester had asked for help to the committees by giving speeches during Sunday rituals here. After such activities, Armenians in America bought 50,000 martinis, 75,000 guns, 2 million rifles and gun bullets and dynamite in various amounts until April of 1894 and sent these to Anatolia. Armenians who wanted Americans to also join these activities founded “The United Friends of Armenia” on 1 May 1894 (Osmanlı Belgelerinde Ermeniler, book 11, Document No: 149; book 12, Document No: 15, Appendix-2; book 19, Document No: 20; Document No: 6).

Armenians in New York were regularly gathering in a coffee shop on Madison Street. Missionaries who published false news about the Ottoman Empire in the USA newspapers were not allowed to return to the Ottoman Empire as long as possible. Reporter of the New York Herald Newspaper came to Istanbul to examine the claims made by Armenians and missionaries in their original place (Osmanlı Belgelerinde Ermeniler B. 39, Document No: 81. (3 January 1896); Document No: 99 (8 January 1896); Document No: 127 (14 January 1896); B.O.A. Y.E.E. 6/21).

According to the research in May of 1898 done by Ali Ferruh Bey who was performing his duty as American Middle Ambassador between the years 1898-1900, the leader of the Armenian conspirators in America was Nishan Garabetian (BOA, Yıldız Esas Evrakı, 136/53, 136/67; 136/78, 139/104).

All of these activities of Armenians were closely followed by Ottoman diplomats working in USA and reports were written to Istanbul. The Ottoman Empire’s USA Middle Ambassador Mustafa Şefik Bey gave the work of researching Armenian activities in Boston to New York Primary Consul Aziz Bey in November of 1901. Aziz Bey resented the report he prepared to the ambassador and informed that almost all Armenians in America were from a “conspirator group,” they should be kept under observance and the embassy should start an enterprise before USA government for the elimination of Arapkir Orphanage Society by always investigating about Armenian committees (BOA, Y. MTV. 225/81, lef. 1. 24 Ocak 1902).

The Ottoman Empire accepted that the biggest Armenian conspirator committee was in America. It was proved that they send large amounts of weapons, armoury and money to Batumi, Kars and other regions where the Armenian population is large in the Ottoman Empire. Arms sent to Batumi were distributed to the guerrillas (11 June 1908), (BOA HR.SYS. 2743/60). Four revolvers and three hunting rifle were found in the house of Josef Azaryan Efendi, who was from the American people and lived in Büyükada, and it was understood that his brother Artaki was also involved (BOA, Y.MTV. 286/16).

The USA and Armenians From the First World War to Today

When the Ottoman Empire had to decide on deportations in the First World War, American ambassador in Istanbul Henry Morgenthau protested this decision. For Americans, deportations of Armenians meant the vanity of all activities carried out in Anatolia since 1880 and the waste of an investment of millions of dollars. For this reason, a huge propaganda was started in USA public opinion against the Ottoman Empire.

A charity organization called “American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief” planned to affect the public opinion in America and Europe by publishing the telegraphs coming from their employees with the title of “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story” in New York in 1916. This book is still an important reference for Armenian and European writers. Such telegraphs were published in American newspapers during the war. Armenians in America supported, thanks to these articles, the Armenians in Eastern and Southern Anatolia during the war with money and arms.

An organization named “American Committee for Independence of Armenia” was established in America in 1919. This organization carried out country-wide activities against Turks. According to American President Wilson, the Great Armenian State should have been founded in Eastern Anatolia at the end of the war. Wilson had this opinion as a result of the propagandas of Armenians in America and missionaries, who were their supporters. Admiral Bristol, who was appointed to Istanbul as High Commissar after the Treaty of Mondros, on the other hand, thought differently than the President. He argued that Turkey’s unity should have stayed as a whole.

In the Paris Peace Conference where new borders would be determined at the end of the First World War, the American Mandate in Armenia was accepted on the condition of the approval of the American Congress. For this purpose, Harbord was sent to Eastern Anatolia in 1919. The Harbord Committee had seen that Armenians did not hold the majority in any part of Anatolia and in any period of history and the acceptance of the American mandate for Armenia to be established in Eastern Anatolia would cost at least 750 million dollars for USA in the first five years. After this report, the American Senate rejected the Armenia Mandate on 1 June 1920. Harding, who became the President after Wilson, left the Armenian issue aside and accepted Bristol’s thesis. Therefore, the dreams of Armenians after the war were destroyed from the American side.

Admiral Bristol had written these in his war diary on 23 December 1920:

“… It is such a pity that there is no real and accurate opinion in our people in the United States regarding the character of Armenian people and that there is nothing called an Armenian land.”

When the Treaty of Lausanne was signed in 1923, like Armenians in other countries, the Armenians in the USA did not recognise this treaty and accused the USA of letting Armenians down. The organization called “American Committee for Independence of Armenia,” which was founded, as we mentioned before, in 1919, changed its name to “American Committee Opposed to the Lausanne Treaty” and started its activities in this direction. The activities in publication were increased, brochures including anti-peace opinions of famous politicians and clergy were distributed and protesting telegraphs were sent to the senate. However, these activities could not prevent the establishment of normal relations between the USA and the Republic of Turkey.

The Republic of Turkey, Armenians and the USA

The Armenians of the USA were silent in the international sphere until the 1960 Cyprus Crisis. However, they continued infusing Turkish hostility to the American people in this period. They tried to draw the attention of world public opinion to the Armenian problem by arranging various assassinations of Turkish diplomats in the international sphere until 1984. For this purpose, many Turkish consuls working in the USA were martyred.

All Armenian organizations in America decided to unite under “Armenian Assembly of America” and continue their propaganda activities.


Documents from different sections of Prime Ministry Ottoman Archive

Akter, Ahmet (2007), Tehcir Öncesi Anadolu’dan Amerika’ya Ermeni Göçü (1834-1915), Istanbul.

Aydın, Mithat (2008), Bulgarlar ve Ermeniler Arasında Amerikan Misyonerleri, Istanbul.

Bakalian, Anny (1993), Armenian- Americans: From Being to Feeling Armenian, London.

Çiçek, Kemal (2003), Türk-Amerikan İlişkilerinde Ermeni Diasporasının Rolü, Fırat Üniversitesi IV. Türkiye’nin Güvenliği Sempozyumu Bildirileri.

Erhan, Çağrı (2001), Türk-Amerikan İlişkilerinin Tarihsel Kökenleri, Ankara.

Kantarcı, Şenol (2007), ABD’nde Ermeniler ve Ermeni Lobisi, Ankara.

Karpat, Kemal (1985), The Otoman Population to America (1860-1914), International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 17.

Kocabaşoğlu, Uygur (2000), Anadolu’daki Amerika, Ankara.

Mirak, Robert (1983), Torn Between Two Lands, Armenians in America (1890 to World War I), Cambridge.

New York Times.

Osmanlı Belgelerinde Ermeni-Amerikan İlişkileri (1896-1919), Ankara.

Papazian, Dennis (2000), Armenians in America, Het Christelijk Oosten, 52, No: 3-4.

Papazian, Dennis (1986), The Changing American View of the Armenian Question and Interpretation, Armenian Review 39, No: 4-156.

Selvi, Haluk, Kurtuluş Demirkol(2012), Osmanlı Devleti’nde Amerika Birleşik Devletleri Vatandaşlarının Hukuku ve Karşılaşılan Bazı Problemler, History Studies.

Şimşir, Bilal(1985), Ermeni Propagan­dasının Amerika Boyutu Üzerine, Tarih Boyunca Türklerin Ermeni Toplumu İle İlişkileri (8-12 October 1984 Erzurum), An­kara.

Şişman, Adnan(2006), XX. Yüzyıl Başlarında Osmanlı Devleti’nde Yabancı Devletlerin Kültürel ve Sosyal Müesseseleri, Ankara.

The Times.

Washington Post.

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