Contested Memories, Divided Diaspora: Armenian Americans, the Thousand-day Republic, and the Polarized Response to an Archbishop’s Murder

ON DECEMBER 24, 1933, at the Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Church (which still stands and functions today) in the Washington Heights section of New York City, Archbishop Levon Tourian, elected primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, marched in solemn procession, opening the morning’s service of Divine Liturgy over which he was to officiate. As the procession made its way down the center aisle, a group of men suddenly jumped up from the pews, surrounded Archbishop Tourian, and stabbed him to death with a large butcher knife. The room instantly broke into pandemonium. Parishioners began beating up some of the apparent assassins, while others among them fled. The police arrived shortly and arrested two men; by the end of the week they had a total of nine in custody. The suspects all belonged to a political organization known as the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, or Tashnag party (alternatively transliterated as Dashnag and Dashnak). They stood trial and were convicted early that summer. Throughout this saga, Armenians followed every development of the proceedings with great interest and with intense convictions as to the rightful outcome. But these convictions divided them sharply, for throughout the whole affair—and then for decades to follow—one set of Armenians considered the nine Tashnag suspects, and by extension the Tashnag party at large, unequivocally guilty of the crime. The opposing camp believed with equal fervor in the innocence of the nine. They also, and perhaps with even greater fervor, regarded Archbishop Tourian as a traitor to his nation.[1]

The deed that caused Tashnag Armenians so to regard the archbishop had taken place on July 1 of that year, in a pavilion for the celebration of Armenian Day at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. Archbishop Tourian, upon his arrival to deliver an invocation, had ordered the removal of a red, blue, and orange flag known as the Tricolor from the stage before he would step out on it. From the archbishop’s stated point of view, appearing beside this flag would provoke the wrath of Armenia’s Soviet government. Such diplomatic reasoning had total validity for the primate’s supporters. For one thing, they accepted the situation wherein the church’s ultimate seat of spiritual authority still lay in the Holy See at Echmiadzin, within the borders of Soviet Armenia; the Catholicos at Echmiadzin felt bound to keep peace with Soviet authorities, and Archbishop Tourian maintained a consistent loyalty to the Catholicos. Moreover, for those Armenians who held the most love for Archbishop Tourian, the flag in question held at best little or no significance. To Armenians of the Tashnag persuasion, however, the flag had paramount significance, and to order it taken down constituted an unforgivable act of treason. The Tricolor had served as the emblem of the short-lived Republic of Armenia, which existed from May of 1918 to November of 1920 in the eastern portion of the historic homeland, on soil that had been part of czarist Russia prior to the 1917 revolution. Tashnag Armenians remembered the republic as embodying the vision of a free and independent Armenia and looked upon the flag as the sacred symbol of the Armenian nation. During those same years, to non-Tashnag Armenians, that republic fell far short of personifying the Armenian nation; they viewed a completely different set of players as holding the key to their beleaguered homeland’s future. The contested memories from 1918–20 played a direct and decisive role in shaping the conflicting responses to the events of 1933–34.[2]

The assassination, the partisan schism surrounding it, and the connection with memories of the “thousand-day republic,” while unfamiliar for most outsiders to matters Armenian, are common knowledge within Armenian circles. A number of studies have delved into these themes and issues.[3] However, even for those who know the story, one dimension awaits closer examination, namely, the way that elites in the international partisan networks shaped and cultivated public opinion within the Armenian American community, a process directly facilitated by the leading newspapers of the community that the parties owned, by local party headquarters that served as social clubs for members, and by field workers who labored actively as personal liaisons between the rank and file and the leaders of their respective parties. The years of deliberate top-down cultivation, not only of conflicting opinions but of sharply differing memories of key events and circumstances, go far to explain why, when the news story broke that the archbishop had been assassinated and nine Tashnags were in custody, one portion of the Armenian American community mourned a beloved spiritual leader and cried out for the punishment of the Tashnags, while the other portion rushed to the defense of the nine accused Tashnags and shed few tears for the man who had refused to share a stage with their sacred flag.

This story straddles a number of familiar themes in American immigrant history. Matthew Frye Jacobson, in his 1995 work, Special Sorrows, applied the cases of the Irish, Polish, and Jewish communities in the late nineteenth century to articulate the cultural dimensions of diasporic nationalism—defined as the attachment of immigrants to a real or imagined homeland, with not only sentimentality but also a desire to influence that homeland’s political future. Victor Greene, writing two decades earlier, took notice of the significance of internal conflict within nationality groups, fighting over questions of which international institutions spoke for them and what visions of their ancestral homeland they should harbor. Other historians of immigration and ethnicity, such as June Granatir Alexander and Anna D. Jaroszyńska-Kirchmann, have linked diasporic consciousness with direct efforts to mobilize American public opinion and lobby the U.S. government for policies favorable to their countries of origin. Peter D’Agostino very ably demonstrated the degree of well-planned influence that the Roman Catholic Church had on Italian American diasporic as well as religious consciousness from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. It might also be noted in passing that some historians working in the 1950s wrote of immigrant communities’ efforts to lobby the U.S. government for policies favorable to the interests of their ancestral homelands, though these historians’ purpose was to complain and to sound an indignant alarm against such consciousness.[4]

John Higham, in the preface to his edited volume, Ethnic Leadership in America (1978), suggested that “ethnic groups in an open society are, in some degree yet to be specified, the creation of their leaders.” Without insisting on that notion in its extreme form (as Higham himself clearly did not), without echoing the plaintive tones found in some of the past historiography on ethnic and diasporic political consciousness, and without reducing bearers of such consciousness to passive objects of elite propaganda, one can legitimately view ethnic leaders and institutions as influencing both the intensity level of group identity and, in the case of political allegiances vis-à-vis the ancestral homeland, the nature of the specific options available on the menu and the rhetoric with which to extol those options. In the case of the Armenian Americans, the rival political parties in question owned the major press organs that their constituency read. Through control of the newspapers, as well as the social clubs to which many Armenian Americans belonged, the parties in effect marketed their respective visions of the homeland’s future and their interpretations of unfolding events, both local and global, to the ethnic populace.[5]

The differential reporting of the news during the days of the republic and the differential rehearsing of the memories from the same camps in the years from the collapse of the republic to Archbishop Tourian’s refusal to share the stage with its flag on July 1, 1933, go far to explain why the two sets of Armenians interpreted that deed in such opposite ways and displayed such starkly contrasting reactions to his December 24 stabbing death. With great influence from the press and other channels of communication within their respective political parties, Armenian Americans had internalized two conflicting visions of their nationality and two starkly contrasting memories of what had taken place in the days from May 1918 to November 1920. This article will trace the chronology of that influence, emphasizing the one channel of communication most effectively preserved and accessible today: the partisan press.


On the eve of the 1915 Turkish genocide, Armenians had already established communities in many American cities, although small in number compared with other immigrant groups. They brought with them two major religious denominations: the Armenian Apostolic Church, an independent liturgical structure somewhat resembling Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy but distinct from both, and the Armenian Evangelical Church, a product of nineteenth-century American Protestant missionaries. In considerably smaller numbers, a Roman Catholic Armenian sector also existed and founded a modest handful of churches. Armenian political parties also came with the immigrants to America. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), or Tashnag party, had been founded in 1890 in the city of Tiflis (now Tbilisi, Georgia) by a merger of several groups dedicated to the defense of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. It defined itself as both revolutionary and socialist, with the socialism—especially in the United States—always subordinate to intense Armenian nationalism. Several other parties, by no means always in harmony with one another, together made up the Tashnag party’s opposition. From the early 1920s and continuing through and beyond the time of the Tourian assassination, this opposition found its strongest articulation through the Armenian Democratic Liberal, or Ramgavar, party, which took its fullest form in the mergers occurring in 1919 and then 1922. For the decade prior to that, the parties and subsections of parties that would comprise the merger remained divided, but as early as 1909 a party existed with the word “Ramgavar” (democrat) in its name which, as a shorthand in the interests of brevity, provides for us an ideologically consistent articulation of the views of the Tashnags’ rivals. Originally founded in 1908 by wealthy merchants and church leaders, giving it what some have called a “bourgeois-clerical” image, the Sahmanatir (constitutional) Ramgavar party became more heterogeneous through subsequent mergers with splinter groups from the other parties. While other parties, including the leftist Social Democratic, or Hunchag, indeed continued to exist (as well as a Reformed Hunchag party that merged with the Ramgavars in 1922), by 1914 Armenian American community institutions and their memberships had already moved toward a general bifurcation between Tashnag and non-Tashnag, with the Sahmanatir Ramgavar party and institutions closely aligned with it, including the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) and the upper hierarchy of the Apostolic Church, increasingly dominating the non-Tashnag coalition. (To be sure, the Apostolic Church had some Tashnag priests and bishops.)[6]

During the genocide and its immediate aftermath, Tashnag Armenians equated Armenia’s future aspirations with the work of the Tiflis-based Armenian National Bureau (ANB), whose leadership the party dominated. In the final days of May 1918, three years after the genocide in which the Turkish government presided over the killing of over one million Armenians, and half a year after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, a complex chain of events brought the Republic of Armenia into existence in the Caucasus, formed from provinces of the former Russian Empire. (Governing leaders proclaimed the republic’s existence on May 30 but predated it to May 28, the date thereafter celebrated as the republic’s birthday.) From that point onward the Republic of Armenia functioned, with multiple parties in its parliament and cabinet but decisively dominated by the Tashnag party—and ruled exclusively by Tashnags during its last several months of life. By all accounts, the republic suffered serious problems. In its first winter, 1918–19, the phrase “the starving Armenians” found the greatest currency as harsh cold, shortage of food, and the aftereffects from 1915 combined to kill thousands more, including many refugees from the Turkish provinces who had fled eastward. Meanwhile, internationally, Tashnag Armenians regarded the torch of Armenia’s essence as passing from the ANB to the republic itself.[7]

During that same time period, an entity called the Armenian National Delegation operated in Paris, appointed by the Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church to lobby for international support for Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as early as 1913. A wealthy and prominent Egyptian Armenian named Boghos Nubar Pasha, who had founded AGBU in 1912, headed this delegation, which held much the same place of importance to Armenia’s future for non-Tashnag Armenians that the ANB and then the republic held for Tashnags. Thus, both the Tashnag leaders of the republic and the Nubar delegation at Paris claimed to speak for Armenia’s future, and both entities had followers worldwide who associated them, rather than their counterparts, with it. The diplomats at the Paris Peace Conference in early 1919 heard from both Nubar and a delegation leader from the republic, Avedis Aharonian. Aharonian and Nubar, even as each delivered his own statement to the Council of Ten (composed of two delegates each representing the United States, the British Empire, France, Italy, and Japan, meeting at the Quai d’Orsay) on February 26, did not refute each other. Indeed, all Armenian leaders agreed that Armenians, as a nationality, deserved permanent control, not only of the territory within the bounds of the republic, which consisted merely of the eastern, formerly czarist-Russian-ruled portion of their historic homeland, but also of some sizable portion of the eastern region of Turkey which, prior to the genocide, had had Armenian majorities or near-majorities. Still, the two factions represented two distinct visions of Armenia and its future, one believing that the free and independent Armenia already existed by way of the Tashnag-dominated republic, the other envisioning a future Armenian nation-state to be cobbled together at negotiating tables, with the church hierarchy and Nubar taking much of the initiative.[8]

The collapse of the Tashnag-dominated regime occurred due to forces largely (though not entirely) out of the hands of Armenians. The Turkish nationalist regime of Mustafa Kemal, in August 1920, reached a secret accord with Vladimir Lenin’s government of Soviet Russia, whereupon the Turkish army from the west and the Soviet army from the east (the latter enjoying the cooperation of Armenia’s growing internal Bolshevik ranks, which had attempted a coup the previous May) both proceeded to close in on Armenia. The Tashnag Armenian government at Yerevan, after fighting hard and appealing in vain for American and Allied assistance, surrendered control of the country to a Soviet-installed junta in November. After a brief Tashnag uprising in February 1921, the much-reduced eastern slice of the homeland (the Soviets ceded a portion to the Turks) began life under Bolshevik rule as the Soviet Republic of Armenia. As the decade of the 1920s got under way, recriminations flew in both directions between Tashnag and non-Tashnag over the nature of the republic and the circumstances of its collapse. The Tashnag party declared a stance of fierce opposition to the new regime, while the other groups—the Hunchak party, the newly reconstituted Armenian Democratic Liberal, or Ramgavar, party, and the newly founded and ardently pro-Bolshevik Progressive party—accepted Soviet rule over the eastern remnants of historic Armenia.[9]

The lines that were drawn at the time of the republic’s collapse remained drawn in 1933. What stands to be examined now is the particular set of factors that caused so many Armenian Americans to have internalized these partisan interpretations of past and present events. For that, a major factor in the equation is the role that the partisan press in the United States played throughout this entire period.


Through the entire period under consideration here, the major Armenian-language newspapers came directly from the Boston headquarters of the leading political parties and circulated nationwide. As early as 1899, the Tashnag party published Hairenik, named for the Armenian word for “homeland” or “fatherland.” That paper continued as an Armenian-language daily for most of the twentieth century, joined in 1923 by the Armenian-language literary journal Hairenik Amsakir (monthly) and in 1935 by the English-language, youth-oriented newspaper Hairenik Weekly. During the years of World War I, the Sahmanatir Ramgavar party published the Armenian-language Azk (nation) several times a week. In the wake of the 1922 merger, the reconstituted Ramgavar party launched the long-enduring daily paper Baikar (struggle). In 1933 the Ramgavar party began publishing its own English-language weekly for the American-born generation, the Armenian Mirror, merging it in 1939 into the Armenian Mirror-Spectator. An additional weekly, Gotchnag (bell), published by affiliates of the Armenian Evangelical (Protestant) Church, generally echoed the Ramgavar critiques of Tashnag actions. The Armenian political parties, like the churches and other institutional entities, made full use of the press and worked tirelessly to mobilize Armenian American support for their efforts in the homeland. Much of the work involved straightforward humanitarian fund-raising, and not all of it carried heavily partisan overtones. Generally, though, during the years of genocide, independent republic, and Sovietization, editors of Hairenik and Azk asked their readers to see the Armenian world, respectively, through Tashnag and non-Tashnag eyes.

An early example of this phenomenon can be found in how the partisan papers treated the initial, very incomplete, tidings of the new republic’s existence. First, before any real details had reached America’s shores, a pithy report came in mid-June to the effect that, in the fighting on the Caucasus front, Armenian forces had inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Turks, driving them back to the border and inspiring the Georgians, a fellow Christian nationality also defending the besieged Caucasus, to keep on fighting. Very shortly after, a cryptic blurb appeared in the New York Times, drawing upon a report in a German newspaper, stating that an independent Armenian republic had been declared in the Caucasus and that an Armenian deputation had arrived at Constantinople, the capital of Turkey. For several days, this was all the information to which anybody in the Western Hemisphere, including the Armenian editors in Boston, had access. Yet as meager as these tantalizing tidbits might seem, both Azk and Hairenik found much use to make of them, even while they awaited further details. The announcement “Caucasian Armenia has declared its independence” was enough to prompt a giant-sized, front-page headline and a lengthy celebratory article in Hairenik, the Tashnag paper. The Ramgavar Azk, by contrast, ran only an unceremonial and easy-to-overlook reprint of the Times blurb. Over the next few days, the editorial page of Hairenik expressed total confidence in the actions of Armenia’s new rulers, assuming that both the declaration of the republic and the diplomatic mission to Constantinople represented the fruits of hard-won battlefield victory. The editorial page of Azk, in contrast, expressed ongoing doubt and skepticism and found the preliminary reports contradictory. If Tashnag forces were victorious on the battlefields, one editorial opined, they could not plausibly have sent a friendly delegation to their enemy’s capital so soon after.[10]

Presently, the details arrived. The leaders of the newly proclaimed republic had reached an armistice with Turkey at Batum, even though Armenian armies had appeared to be winning at that moment and even though some Armenian-inhabited territory in the Caucasus, the region previously ruled by czarist Russia, remained under the control of the Turks. In the summer and fall of 1918, readers of the Armenian-language press in America received two conflicting renditions of this truce. The Tashnag press portrayed the armistice as a military decision necessary for the security of the newly formed republic which, in itself, embodied a free and independent Armenia. Readers of Azk received an entirely different story: that the Tashnag leaders, for their own ambitions of power, had surrendered Armenian lands with Armenian inhabitants to Armenia’s worst enemy, a surrender that they had no authority to make. In Boston, the two competing factions of the tottering Armenian National Union, a coordinating agency in the United States with representatives from all the major groups, issued their rival resolutions, which the respective presses printed and endorsed. The Batum armistice would endure as part of the litany of contested memories between Tashnag and anti-Tashnag.[11]

Not long after, another episode occurred that also demonstrated both the intensity of the schism and the diffusion of interpretive news reportage from party elites to the general community. At the start of 1919, at a time when ethnic and national delegations from everywhere in the world were converging on Paris, Boghos Nubar Pasha asked the Armenian American community to send four delegates to a diasporan Armenian congress. At the insistence of Tashnag leaders, an election was called. Almost overnight, tickets, platforms, and campaigns swung into motion, with the main contest played out between the Tashnag ticket and a non-Tashnag coalition, or “bloc,” encompassing the Ramgavar party, the AGBU, and the leadership of both the Armenian Apostolic and Evangelical churches in the United States. The Tashnag campaign, predictably, placed all trust and credit in the republic as the true bearer of Armenia’s hopes, while the platform of the “bloc” downplayed the importance of the republic and aligned Armenia’s interests with the Catholicos and with Boghos Nubar Pasha’s delegation. In the days leading up to the election, the front pages and editorial columns of both Azk and Hairenik devoted much space to electioneering. Tashnag campaign manifestos reviewed the history of the past several decades, using the terms “the Armenian people” and “the Tashnags” interchangeably, depicting the Tashnags as the creators of “a free and independent homeland.” An opposing Azk editorial warned that, if Tashnags dominated the convocation at Paris, they would endanger “the likelihood of establishing a government founded on democratic principles,” a clear implication that such a regime did not already exist. Azk also heavily spotlighted the life and work of Boghos Nubar Pasha during this time. Both papers, with enormous exaggeration (as later events would show), staked the future of their homeland on the Armenian American voters’ choice of the right four delegates to go to Paris.[12]

Not surprisingly, the ensuing election produced disputed results and charges of fraud. From what can be gathered from reports of the returns, nearly equal numbers appear to have voted for the Tashnag and “bloc” slates. The leaders of the Boston-based Armenian National Union, in one of their last actions before the union collapsed under the weight of all the dissension, sent a split delegation of four to Paris. For all the difference it made to Armenia’s actual future, they might as well have sent four carrier pigeons to Antarctica, but to the partisan factions in the community in America at that time (and to scholars studying their actions years later), it still rendered great significance. It afforded the parties an opportunity, not only to communicate their competing visions and aspirations to their desired constituents in America’s cities, but to foster in the Armenian American rank and file a sense of personal stake and participation in the future of the ancestral homeland, intertwined with a righteous indignation at the treachery of the other camp’s leaders.

Generally, throughout the life of the republic, Hairenik praised the work of the regime and treated it as synonymous with the homeland and the nation. Azk wrote skeptically and critically of the Tashnag-controlled republic and at times barely acknowledged its relevance. In June 1919, on the occasion of one of the Ramgavar mergers, the Azk editorial celebrating this move characterized the reconstituted party as filling a void, giving Armenians new direction and having an enormous role to play in “tomorrow’s free Armenia.” The editorial proudly boasted that the expanded coalition embraced those Armenians “scattered from the Atlantic to the Pacific who want to bring a true remedy to our homeland’s material and moral pains and unstable political condition.”[13]

With the collapse of the Tashnag-dominated republic and the creation of Soviet Armenia at the end of 1920, Armenian American community life moved into a new stage in its relationship to the homeland, one characterized more by a status quo than by the constant upheaval over the war years. Armenians in America had much in their current local environs with which to occupy themselves, matters of working at jobs, saving money, maintaining homes, and raising children. At the same time, however, both the status quo and the memories of the war years provided much material over which to quarrel. Armenian immigrants continued to frequent party clubs and read the partisan press. In these forums, partisan advocates continued to rehearse the contested memories from the war and republic years, with conflicting commentaries on the present situation and indictments of each other’s actions and motives. One editorial in Hairenik (whose editorial staff now included several political and military leaders from that thousand-day regime) recalled the republic as the time “when the Armenian people enjoyed a completely free and democratic order.” Both the daily Hairenik and the monthly literary journal Hairenik Amsakir (launched in 1923) insinuated repeatedly that the internal divisions caused by the Ramgavars had helped weaken the defenses of the republic and hastened its collapse. The Ramgavar press, meanwhile, recalled the Tashnag regime as corrupt and oppressive, its collapse as partly the result of the dissatisfaction of its people, and the Sovietization of the country as a nick-of-time rescue. On some occasions, rather than explicitly condemning the leaders of the thousand-day republic, Baikar implicitly rendered its existence irrelevant. A 1930 editorial marking the tenth anniversary of the launching of the Soviet republic observed that Sovietization was “the event that made the impossible possible.” Yes, the editorial continued, Armenia from 1918 to 1920 enjoyed independence, but an independence that could not be sustained “as long as our people’s economic and physical powers were not equal to the task” and foreign assistance was not forthcoming. Significantly, May 28, 1928, the date observed as the tenth anniversary of the republic’s founding, saw numerous celebratory articles and announcements of public commemorations on the pages of Hairenik, but no mention of the occasion at all in Baikar. The two presses also differed sharply over Armenia’s present status: Hairenik editorials read like briefs for the prosecution against the Soviet government, while Baikar editorials often had the air of apologia. When the Soviet government began its massive confiscation of land from the Armenian Holy See at Echmiadzin, for example, Baikar editorialized in 1924 that ecclesiastics did not need to live like princes and that the resources of the church might well be better used to benefit “the people.” Responding to Hairenik’s blasting of the Soviet constraints on the Armenian church, Baikar decried “these eleventh-hour defenders of the church” who seized upon reports of persecution as a source of ammunition against the Soviet government.[14]

Conflicts anticipating that of 1933 played themselves out in the 1920s and early 1930s. The Tashnag-sympathizing primate of the churches in America from 1921 to 1928, Archbishop Dirayr Der Hovannisian, encouraged May 28 observances in the churches, an action that drew the wrath of the church authorities in Echmiadzin as well as of the editor of the Ramgavar Baikar, who viewed celebration of the thousand-day republic as an open challenge to the legitimacy of the Soviet regime that had replaced it. From the Tashnag point of view, such criticism represented acquiescence in a state of affairs whereby not only the geographical homeland but also the church worldwide writhed under the Soviet yoke.[15] Shortly before the Chicago flag incident, at an April 24, 1933, commemoration of the genocide (though that actual word would not come into usage until much later) in the social hall of an Apostolic church in Providence, Rhode Island, conflict arose between the non-Tashnag church council, which refused to display the Tricolor on the stage of the event, and a Tashnag contingent, which insisted on putting it there. This skirmish appears to have remained verbal, the only physical action being that the Tashnags walked out, Tricolor in tow and singing the national anthem “Mer Hairenik” (our fatherland), and then convened their own ceremony for the martyrs in their own club hall nearby.[16]


By 1933, the battle lines existed with sufficient intensity that, had the Armenian newspapers suddenly disappeared at this point, popular reactions to the year’s events probably would have played themselves out much as they actually did. Still, as it happened, the same presses that had played such a major part in constructing and maintaining the parallel universes in which Armenian Americans lived took no hiatus from making sure their readers knew, at every turn, both their rendition of what happened and their prescriptions for how good Armenians should feel about it. From the start, the July 1, 1933, Chicago incident—which happened to occur just on the heels of the Tashnags’ fervent celebrations of the fifteenth anniversary of the republic’s May 28 founding—came through to readers of the partisan press in notably different versions. While no one disputed that the Armenians present that day included both Tashnags and non-Tashnags, each camp, via its press organ, claimed majority status. Both the Ramgavar Baikar and the Tashnag Hairenik reported that the official in charge of the event, Major Felix J. Streyckmans, called for a vote on whether to honor the primate’s demand, and that in the initial round of voting a language barrier made the question unclear to some. Baikar reported, however, that the language barrier was quickly overcome when a bilingual person provided translation, while Hairenik’s version depicted the translator as a less-than-articulate person whose speaking efforts amounted to gibberish. Thus, while agreeing that Major Streyckmans declared a majority had voted for the flag’s removal, the partisan organs differed over the validity of his finding. Both camps agreed that fists and a few chairs flew, and that such a fracas at an Armenian event in front of so many outsiders constituted a disgrace and an embarrassment to Armenians. They differed, though, on where to place the blame. Hairenik opined that the archbishop should have thought about the consequences his actions would have before committing an act so certain to inflame passions and provoke a fight; the Baikar editorialist, meanwhile, wrote ironically that the Tashnags must feel very proud of themselves for having gained so much attention, stirring up trouble at an otherwise peaceful affair and bringing such dishonor to the community.[17]

In the half year from the July 1 incident in Chicago to Archbishop Tourian’s Christmas Eve assassination, the controversy dominated the pages of both Hairenik and Baikar. Throughout July and August, Hairenik ran a plethora of articles, editorials, and letters deploring Tourian’s action as an affront to the Armenian nation. “Has our Archbishop forgotten why our nation has suffered through long centuries?” asked one contributor. “Has the blood of our one million martyrs been shed in vain?” Baikar, in contrast, defended the archbishop for following the church’s policy not to antagonize the Soviet government, lambasted his persecutors, and in one essay expressed condescending pity for persons who had no more important concerns than a flag about which to agitate themselves. It did not take long for the editorials to revisit the debate over the events of 1918–20. A July 19 editorial in Baikar charged the Tashnag rulers of the thousand-day republic with having lost independence “by reason of their political mistakes and their absolute inability to conduct the nation’s works” and with having squandered all their resources on bravado and self-aggrandizement. Hairenik, of course, ran articles and editorials praising and defending the Tashnag party’s record of governance. A physical assault on Archbishop Tourian at an August church picnic in Massachusetts, apparently by a group of Tashnags who had driven over from a picnic of their own a few towns away, triggered reactions that somewhat foreshadowed the later responses to his assassination. Baikar predictably condemned the assault as well as the ongoing persecution of the spiritual leader whom non-Tashnag Armenians continued to revere. (Gotchnag, the weekly newspaper of the Evangelical, or Protestant, Armenian church, concurred completely with the Ramgavars in their defense of Archbishop Tourian and their anger at his attackers.) Hairenik’s editorial on the assault, while falling short of applauding it, found that the picnic incident showed Archbishop Tourian to be “a source of scandal for our community” and that the situation he had created made his removal from office a necessity.[18]

The new contested memories of 1933 continued to mount up when the annual Diocesan Convention took place in New York City on September 2 and 3. The assembly, with both elected delegates and a mob of spectators, convened on September 2 at the St. Illuminator Church on East 28th Street. Archbishop Tourian ordinarily would have presided, but through a letter read by Bishop Hovsep Garabedian, he announced that he was ill and unable to attend. Then, amid debate over whether the convention should remain open to the public or take place with only the delegates behind closed doors, the proceedings adjourned for the evening. The following day it reconvened—in two different places. The meeting sanctioned by Archbishop Tourian from his sickbed occurred in the Grand Suite of the Hotel Martinique; the other was held at the original site, presided over by the same bishop who had opened the convention the night before, Garabedian. According to the Reverend Oshagan Minassian’s history of the Armenian Apostolic Church in America, Archbishop Tourian had decided upon the change of venue and instructed Bishop Garabedian to inform all the delegates, but Garabedian failed to comply. Somehow, though, partisans of the archbishop knew where to report, and Archbishop Tourian, upon learning that Bishop Garabedian was not presiding at the Hotel Martinique, appointed another church leader for the task, the Reverend Mampreh Kalfayan. Each convocation, of course, considered itself the authentic Diocesan Convention and the other a rump assembly of dissidents. The delegates at the Hotel Martinique voted to affirm Archbishop Tourian’s leadership; those at St. Illuminator voted to remove him from his seat. Both conventions reported their results to Echmiadzin, which promptly sided with Archbishop Tourian and the delegates at the Hotel Martinique.[19]

When the December 24 assassination occurred, the partisan presses reacted swiftly. In the December 28 Baikar editorial, written when the press knew only that five Armenians were in custody and that the police investigation had focused on the Tashnag party’s New York club, the Ramgavar organ meditated over the question of who would choose the holiest of places on the holiest of days to commit such a horrid, fratricidal crime in the clear view of a multitude that included women and children. The answer was clear: the Tashnags would. The editorial noted, moreover, that Hairenik had continually stirred up rage on its editorial page ever since the Chicago incident and, even if for that reason alone, deserved a share of the blame. Only the wielders of the knife could go to jail, but “those who, with their inflammatory spoken and written words, spurred on the rage of the assassins” would bear the wrath of the Armenian people.[20]

The same morning’s Hairenik reciprocated the unfriendly sentiment. The editorial began by philosophizing about the lamentably divided state of the Armenian population.

It can be said confidently that life in our colonies would have far more peace and harmony if we did not now have a government seated at the head of Armenia, run by a foreign power’s tutelage and force, steeped in anti-national and anti-religious ideas, which carries out the work of systematic and boundless oppression, to divide and destroy all our national organizations … and sow discord in every phase of Armenian life in the name of worldwide revolution.
What was more, disquiet and dissension would not exist appreciably in the ranks of Armenians “if there were not among us whole organizations which, addicted to their blind hatred of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, encourage in every way the plots and connivances of the Soviet government against international Armenian solidarity.” The situation had grown more grave, the writer continued, now that “the enemy Soviet government [had] decided to turn the international Armenian church into a tool to destroy the peace-loving Armenian nation and decisively bury the Armenian cause.” It was from this resolution that had arisen “the past year’s furious struggle against the Armenian Tricolor and all the national values which that flag symbolized.” All those who aided and abetted this work of the Soviet enemy (a category in which Tashnags clearly held the felled churchman himself) shared in the moral responsibility for “Sunday’s frightful event.” So too, the editorial continued, did those Armenians (obviously including the editors of Baikar) who, instead of calling for the archbishop’s removal after his misdeed in Chicago, had turned the affair into an anti-Tashnag crusade and intensified the disunity. This tragic spilling of blood, the writer concluded, should stand as a lesson to all those intent on making Armenians a divided community.[21]

The mutual recriminations continued well into 1934. One Baikar editorial asserted that Archbishop Tourian had been murdered “because he loved the reborn Armenia” and wanted to keep himself clear of “the bad influence of agitating anti-Armenia groups.” A 1934 Ramgavar pamphlet titled Patriotism Perverted dwelt heavily on the Tourian assassination while also condemning the Tashnag party’s total history of activity, including its governance of the thousand-day republic. “The country was not unified internally,” Ramgavar author K. S. Papazian wrote, “and the army was demoralized by Dashnag military methods…. A timely intervention of Soviet Armenia saved the Armenians”—showing again what an integral role this contested memory played in the current conflict. The Tashnag party, meanwhile, vehemently denied complicity in the crime, and Hairenik editorials attributed it to a Soviet conspiracy to divide the Armenian community and tighten its own control over the church worldwide. The Tashnag paper also saw irony in Archbishop Tourian’s having observed steadfast loyalty to the government that had made itself the great persecutor of all great spiritual institutions and apostles, and the paper regarded the Ramgavars and other opposing parties as exploiting the tragedy to widen the rift.[22]

The trial took place in New York from June 8 to July 14, 1934, with forty-two witnesses testifying for the prosecution and thirty-five for the defense. The presses of both factions devoted column after column to detailed summaries and transcriptions of testimony, as well as numerous editorials on the subject. Here again, readers of the competing presses received starkly contrasting pictures. The Tashnag Hairenik made much of discrepancies between vividly detailed accounts offered by prosecution witnesses during the trial and the vagueness of their earlier statements to police. The archbishop’s bodyguard, for example, testified that he had seen one of the defendants with the murder weapon in his hand and that another of the nine had threatened him outside the church, “Be careful or you’ll be next,” but had not volunteered those details right after the crime. Similarly, a cook at a nearby restaurant told the court, but apparently had not previously told the police, that he had overheard two men firming up plans for the crime over coffee in his restaurant an hour before. An editorial in Hairenik remarked skeptically on the number of witnesses who had cited either confusion or fear of Tashnag reprisal as their reason for having taken so long to bring their stories into focus for the authorities, and it charged that they had been prompted, or even bribed, by the Archbishop Leon Tourian Committee, which the archdiocese had formed several days after the murder. Summaries of damaging testimony, at times, appeared with the word egher, which translates as “supposedly,” sprinkled in.

Baikar, for its part, stopped short of declaring the nine guilty while the trial was in progress, but one editorial noted that the editors of Hairenik, having repeatedly chanted “wait for the verdict” over the past six months, were now appearing to lose faith in the judicial process, clearly shaken by the damaging testimony heard in court against their comrades. To see what a strong case the Ramgavar editors perceived the prosecution as having, readers needed only to glance at the front page of Baikar or the newly founded English-language weekly Armenian Mirror to see such headlines as “Chef Says He Overheard Two Men Plotting Crime,” “Artist Identifies Six [sic] Defendents as Attackers,” and “Witness Saw Knife in [defendant Mateos] Leylegian’s hand.” The existence of a mysterious suspect dubbed “Mr. X” figured prominently in both Tashnag and anti-Tashnag reportage, but anti-Tashnag observers considered him to be merely the tenth Tashnag conspirator who eluded capture, whereas for Tashnags he was the real culprit instead of these nine innocent scapegoats. When the jury convicted the nine, Hairenik ran an editorial accusing the judge of bias and opining that a truly impartial trial would not have produced such an outcome; the corresponding Baikar editorial declared, “Unavoidable Justice finally gave its verdict on the nine Tashnag plotters who, by command of their criminal leaders, brutally murdered Archbishop Tourian.” The Ramgavar press, shortly after the verdict, also reported in tones of complete acceptance the belief of authorities that an Armenian murder victim in Providence, Rhode Island, had been slain by fellow Tashnag party members for refusing to take part in the murder of Archbishop Tourian “after twice getting the fateful ‘ticket’ in the drawing of lots.”[23]

Reaction to the assassination and trial, of course, played itself out on the streets as much as on editorial pages. One morning in mid-January, somewhere between 75 and 100 Tashnag-affiliated merchants found placards nailed to their businesses that read: “Do Not Patronize This Store! It is a member of the Dashnag—A secret order that assassinated Archbishop Leon Tourian of the Armenians of U.S.A.” In at least one apartment building full of Armenian families, on East 25th Street in New York City, Ramgavars and Tashnags called each other murderers and Communists in graffiti on the walls. Armenian schoolchildren called each other names, some having no comprehension of what they meant. In an Armenian grocery store in Washington Heights in New York City, a Ramgavar mother, in the presence of her daughter of about five years old, menaced a Tashnag woman with one of the little girl’s roller skates. Tashnags “became people with horns to the children,” the daughter would later recall. Early April saw riots break out in Boston and Chicago, pitting Tashnags against a coalition of anti-Tashnags, the former dubbing the latter “Bolshevik mongrels” in the Boston incident. Personal relationships were affected; in some instances, siblings who had fled the genocide together now stopped speaking to each other.[24]

The Tourian assassination effected a formal split in the church. In the aftermath of that bloody Christmas Eve, individual congregations became either entirely Tashnag or anti-Tashnag in their membership, with forcible expulsions and violent fights in some instances. In January 1934 St. Gregory’s Church in Philadelphia saw the two factions take turns seizing control of the building and locking each other out of Sunday services, with local police and courts called upon to referee the mess. In Troy, New York, the anti-Tashnags ousted four trustees from the area church and announced plans to publish the names of Tashnags who lived in that part of the state, even appealing to non-Armenians to assist in their social ostracism. The schism became even more formalized in 1956 when, after an elaborate and ugly imbroglio, the Holy See at Antelias, Lebanon (which continued to bear the name of its former site, Sis, in the historically Armenian region of present-day Turkey known as Cilicia), broke away from the Holy See at Echmiadzin, with Tashnag congregations aligning themselves with Sis and non-Tashnag churches remaining under the jurisdiction of Echmiadzin. Again, old memories were rehearsed and new ones created. There are, to this day, two Armenian Apostolic Church structures in the United States.[25]

As had been the case during the days of the republic, in 1918–20, members of the Armenian American community heard and read about the events of 1933 and 1934 as two starkly contrasting and irreconcilable narratives. Book and pamphlet authors, as well as the editors of the partisan dailies and weeklies, articulated their versions of both the events of the fateful Christmas Eve of 1933 and where those events fit into the larger historical picture. One side depicted a multi-decade history of the crimes of the Tashnags; the other situated the upheavals of 1933 in the context of Echmiadzin’s subservience to the enemy Soviet regime and the even more reprehensible willingness of much of the church leadership in America (including the slain archbishop) to align the church in America with that subservience, rather than professing an independent national identity that, to persons who made this critique, the Tricolor represented. The populace of each camp would rehearse these interpretations for decades to come. During the 1970s, when she conducted her research on the Armenian communities of Watertown and Belmont, Massachusetts, anthropologist Jenny Phillips found that Armenian Americans who were alive at the time remembered exactly where they were when they first learned of the killing. Both Phillips and Doudoukjian found the memories to be polarized along lines of Tashnag and anti-Tashnag, with some anti-Tashnags comparing the Tashnags to the Turks, and some Tashnags expressing satisfaction at the primate’s death. “I felt bad. I didn’t expect this to happen,” one elderly Tashnag Armenian man told Doudoukjian, “but after two hours I questioned myself and I realized that this man asked for it.” Another informant told Phillips, “For me, and for the Tashnakzoutyoun, he was dead when he committed that act in Chicago. When you ignore your symbol of independence, the tricolor flag, you are dead.” Even so, Tashnags would maintain that neither the nine Tashnag defendants nor the Tashnag party at large had had any part in the murder, and they recalled the trial as having been run on flimsy and circumstantial evidence. Tashnag-affiliated writers of community histories, including Sarkis Atamian in 1955 and Arpena Mesrobian in 2000, reflected that view. Atamian approvingly noted that “the Dashnak community at large refuses to believe the guilt of the prisoners” and “has come to define them as heroes, indeed.” Mesrobian, in her local history of Armenians in Syracuse, New York, writes, “Some ARF members were arrested and several were imprisoned, although it was never clear what had happened or who was responsible.”[26]


The polarized reactions to the Tourian assassination and the role that diasporan institutions played in shaping those reactions need to be understood in an even broader context. Most obviously, any discussion of the several decades after World War I must factor in the intense trauma suffered by those Armenians fortunate enough to be alive at all after 1915. In the immigrant communities, those who had not experienced the genocide firsthand still knew its horrors intimately. The grief, the anger, the consolation of brave stands at Musa Dagh, Van, and Sardarabad (the first of which would soon be shared with a much wider public through Franz Werfel’s famous novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, published the same year that the nine Tashnags stood trial), the hope of seeing some kind of restitution in the future—these were all part of what members of the immigrant generation carried with them, and part of what the children of the second generation would not only hear about, but feel called upon to carry in their own internal worlds. Years later, psychiatrists Levon Boyajian and Haigaz Grigorian would report, from their clinical experience with genocide survivors and their children, that many survivors displayed a “survivor syndrome” comprising depression, anxiety, and guilt over having survived while others perished. Many of the children grew up with “the sense that there is an obligation … to be the bearers of the hopes and aspirations, not only of a given family but of a whole people.” Armenians scarcely needed the press to persuade them that high stakes rode on such visions. Even so, the press did much to shape the specificity of those visions.[27]

Alongside the news and commentary on the status of Armenia, the ethnic press provided ideas and exhortations to readers, a form of prescriptive literature, about how to negotiate their dual Armenian and American identities and navigate the economic and social waters of America. When it came to behavioral prescriptions, the rival camps oftentimes scarcely differed: Tashnag and Ramgavar editors both called upon their readers to live as patriotic and socially integrated Americans, while at the same time remembering their Armenianness and their connection to the historic homeland. Encouraging their constituents to be both good Americans and good Armenians made pragmatic sense. If Armenian advocates were to solicit mainstream American sympathy for their causes, they would need to boast of their followers’ steadfast loyalty to the host country. Moreover, the parties, for their aspirations abroad, would always need to draw on the bounties of an Armenian American community. A 1926 essay published in the Tashnag Hairenik opined that, even if Armenia became liberated from its oppressors and sizable numbers of Armenians repatriated to the homeland, the country’s future would still require a contingent of Armenians remaining in America and prospering in the American economy so as to have resources to contribute to both their own individual relatives and the Armenian nation at large. Baikar, though not speaking of any mission to liberate the homeland from an oppressor, concurred that the future of the Armenian nation required the community in America to be both successful Americans and loyal Armenians.[28]

The urgency of such exhortations reached a higher level when a new second generation, born of refugees from the genocide, reached adolescence. Both the Ramgavars and the Tashnags launched English-language weeklies in 1933 and 1935, respectively, and founded nationally based youth organizations in the same decade. On the subject of the homeland, the opposing stances remained consistent, with the Tashnags writing of a homeland that suffered under an oppressor’s yoke and the Ramgavars depicting a homeland that enjoyed the protection of a friendly power. It followed logically that the Tashnags would present all matters of Armenian identity with a higher level of ideological intensity and a greater sense of struggle. It was thus predictable that the Tashnag youth organization’s creed would depict a good member as “One who demands a free and independent Armenia,” and that a contributor to Hairenik Weekly would write, with reference to the prototypical Armenian youth, “His thought must be clarified.” Articles and editorials in Hairenik Weekly regularly reinforced the theme of homeland deprivation for their young subscribers. Columnist John Melikian told readers in 1937 of one afternoon when he was walking to see the movie The Good Earth. “I started thinking of our earth, the place on earth we used to have and how we haven’t got a grain of the earth. I felt kind of sad realizing that once we were a part of a part of the earth, that we put our hands into that soil, that we drank the water from the many streams, that we breathed our own air.” Presently, he stopped for a hamburger.
It was different. It looked different. It was thick. Real thick. And it tasted different. Parsley taste. Taste like hamburger my grandmother used to make.
Boy, this is swell, I said. Real Armenian Hamburger. And it seemed my sadness disappeared for a moment and I became happy.
And when the girl came I looked at her and we both smiled.
She knew then that I was Armenian and I knew that she was too. We didn’t say anything because it wasn’t necessary, but in our minds we embraced each other somewhere in Armenia, where the soil was fertile, where the good earth was waiting for us to go and plant our seeds.
What must have looked to any outside observer like a waitress serving a customer a hamburger was, in the diasporic imagination of the Tashnags, a moment of empathy between two sorrowful exiles from their homeland.[29]

While the Tashnags in the 1930s maintained a constant tone of hostility to Soviet rule over Armenia, it should not be inferred that they advocated an armed attack on the regime. Tashnags grudgingly admitted that, for the moment, the Soviet regime was a lesser of two evils and, for that reason, could only be opposed in the long run rather than the short. Vartouhi Calantar Nalbandian, writing in Hairenik Weekly in 1935, explained, “The A.R.F. cannot eject the Soviets from Armenia, in fact, it does not want them to go at this time.” Such a withdrawal, Nalbandian was convinced, “would mean instead invasion by Turkey and fresh massacres.” But, she hastened to add, “that is no reason why [the Tashnag party] should refrain from criticism of and opposition to an odious tyranny and cease laboring for a better day.” Similarly, at a 1937 meeting of the Brooklyn chapter of Tzeghagron, the Tashnag youth group (a name that would shortly change to “Armenian Youth Federation”), when one of the young diasporic patriots raised the question of when the ARF would realize its aim of an independent Armenia, the Tashnag guest speaker replied that “it is too early now to think of independence. First we must follow the ideals of political aspirations and follow the ideals of true Tzeghagrons before we think of that.” Thus the prime goal of Tashnag leaders in America in the 1930s was not so much one of liberating Armenia as of making sure the next generation of Armenians understood that Armenia needed liberating. The ideal state of mind for them was a sense of membership in an exiled people, a feeling of having once had a homeland and of having been robbed of it, robbed by the Soviets as well as the Turks.[30]

The term “diasporic nationalism” clearly applies to the rhetoric of the Tashnags. The term might appear more questionable when used concerning the Ramgavar party, inasmuch as the latter acquiesced in Soviet rule over Armenia and viewed its role for these years as essentially auxiliary. Yet there were elements of nationalism even here. One of the contested memories from the republic involved the May 1918 armistice at Batum, with the charge by the Ramgavars that the Tashnags had failed to fight aggressively enough to defend Armenian land. Moreover, in the 1930s, if the Tashnag camp was where one could find the greater sense of exile and struggle vis-à-vis Armenia, the Ramgavar press shared the desire to affect Armenia’s future and the sense of importance of the role their young readers might play. “It is they,” a 1932 editorial in the English-language Armenian Mirror posited concerning the youth, “who are to supply Armenia with architects, mechanics, engineers, intellectuals, and artists tomorrow.” While this rhetoric lacked the sense of a contemporary struggle for the homeland (the author of this same editorial referred to “the greatest reality of contemporary times, the reawakening of Soviet Armenia”), it nonetheless displayed a spirit of nationalism in its linkage of the present-day young generation in America with the future creation of an independent Armenia. The Ramgavar party, moreover, while taking care to keep its stance toward the Soviet regime friendly, did not hesitate to express a sense of struggle against Turkey. “Our party,” read a resolution passed at a party convention in 1934, “maintains as its project the cause of liberation of our Turkish-controlled lands.” Moreover, Ramgavar commentators would at times challenge the Tashnags’ claims to nationalism and paint them as opponents of the homeland and the nation. A resolution passed during that same 1934 convention condemned the Tashnag party for having taken “a position of enmity toward Armenia” and having “turned into an anti-Armenia organization.”[31]

Much of this discourse came in the context of a shared concern among immigrants for retaining the loyalty of the second generation to their heritage. In this spirit, the English-language weeklies constantly ran profiles on historic Armenian military, political, and literary figures in efforts to keep their young readers mindful of what a glorious lineage had spawned them. The youth organizations of both parties also regularly ran New Year’s Eve dances, social cruises, and athletic tournaments to maximize opportunities for their second-generation constituents to find friendship and love with others of the same descent. And, in an awareness that much in their constituents’ lives centered on their achievements in the non-Armenian world, the English-language organs of the parties proudly announced the names of young Armenian Americans when they won piano competitions, edited yearbooks, and graduated from high school or college. Tashnag and Ramgavar leaders clearly agreed that to be a good Armenian was to be a good American and that the Armenian identity could and should be maintained within the mainstream social, recreational, and educational infrastructures and folkways of modern urban America.[32]

How the connection between the Armenian and the American components of the group identity could yield maximum mileage is further illustrated by the actions of the Tashnag leaders, as represented by their Boston-based editors, in the early 1950s when the anxieties of the Cold War reached a high intensity level. Because the Tashnag party had consistently condemned the Soviet Union, attaching itself to the more vehement anti-Communist elements in the United States hardly constituted a reversal. It did, however, represent the Americanization of an Armenian nationalist struggle. By tying their long-felt aspirations of liberating Armenia from the Soviet yoke with the American government’s more generalized anti-Communist crusade, leaders could declare that a good Armenian (read, a good Tashnag Armenian) was a good patriotic American, and that the Armenian struggle as they defined it coincided with the American struggle. In this manner, they joined the Cold Warrior camp, linking loyalty to America with devotion to the liberation of the ancestral homeland. (In this respect, the Tashnag party had its anti-Soviet counterparts within the ranks of other American ethnic groups whose lands of origin also now lay behind the Iron Curtain, including the Ukrainians, Poles, and Slovaks. The organ of the Organization for the Rebirth of Ukraine [ODWU], for example, in 1936 equated the struggle to liberate the Ukrainian homeland from Soviet rule with America’s own war for independence and noted, “A person brought up in Ukrainian Nationalism will make a 100 percent better American citizen than one who was not taught any nationalism at all.”)[33]

It can easily seem paradoxical that the Armenian party with the more bourgeois origins accommodated itself to the Soviet regime, while the party whose founding precepts encompassed socialism took the more vehemently anti-Soviet stance. Journalist Avedis Derounian, covering the Tourian trial for the New York-based Armenian Spectator, remarked on this apparent oddity in his handwritten notes taken on the last day of testimony, when the prosecutor produced a purported Tashnag constitution that read like a socialist treatise featuring references to the “bourgeois” and the “oppressed masses.” Derounian, as he listened to this segment, mused to himself, “This is very much like Russia—Why don’t Tashnags like Russia!” Moreover, the American Tashnag press, even while it did not emphasize the party’s socialist proclivities with any great frequency, did run editorials observing the significance of May 1 for the socialist movement (though generally taking care not to imply even the slightest discourtesy to its capitalistic host society), and in one of its most fiery Cold War editorials in 1952, maintained that socialism was compatible with democracy and that true socialism was not at all compatible with support for the Soviet state. Yet all this notwithstanding, the partisan division in America can best be understood as something largely divorced from these familiar debates over economic theories. It hinged, rather, on the respective factions’ contrasting rhetoric and style of ethnic nationalism in the American immigrant context. For the faction that rooted its rhetoric in a struggle to liberate the homeland from an enemy occupier, the Soviet Union constituted a villain. For the coalition that saw less of a struggle and more of a hope for fulfillment in the indeterminate future, the Soviet Union appeared more as a caretaking power, and friendly relations with that caretaker seemed apropos. When the Tashnag party adopted its hard-line Cold War stance after World War II, even then, the issue in the Tashnag mind was not so much the difference between Communism and capitalism, as rather the difference between strong and weak Armenian patriotism, a binary which at that point could seamlessly merge with the language afloat in the larger society of strong versus weak American patriotism.[34]

Ultimately, of course, the point is not how accurate such leaders were in suggesting that their constituents in America could influence the fate of the homeland. To great extents, as with the Armenian American delegate election of 1919, the advocates were spinning out a fiction, the main significance of which lay in its usefulness for cultivating and shaping among their constituents the desired vision of peoplehood. The strength of that collective vision would, in turn, affect the quality of the support base upon which the global partisan organizations could draw to maintain their existence and play a part in Armenia’s future.

Observing that these diasporan institutions needed support and that they strategized to solicit it should not be construed as reducing the general Armenian American population to passive or reluctant objects of manipulation. This article, to be sure, emphasizes the persuasive power of institutional elites, but that needs to be understood in the context of an ongoing symbiotic exchange between leaders and constituents, a discourse heavily shaped by the realities of immigrant life in the receiving country. During the same years that Armenians in America were both supporting their homeland and quarreling over it, they were also working in factories, managing shops, pursuing education, entering professions, and forming opinions as to who should be president of the United States. They were, in short, making lives for themselves as Americans. Their circumstances ensured that both the first and second generations—and to an extent even the third—would have a dual identity to negotiate. The parties, if they wanted to maintain their position of influence, would have to help their constituents negotiate that identity. They did so, in both Armenian and American terms. It is not to deny the autonomous decision-making powers of the general Armenian American population—who, after all, freely chose what newspapers to buy and in what clubhouses to socialize—to point out the degree to which the elites of international organizations affected the menu of options before them when it came to issues of who spoke for, and what symbols represented, their ancestral homeland, and of how their Armenian ancestry should fit in with their present and future lives as Americans.


On July 1, 1933, when Archbishop Tourian refused to share the stage with the Tricolor, the multitude of Armenians in the room witnessing the incident saw two completely different occurrences, a product of the disparate histories that they either remembered or had heard recounted about the events of 1918–20. Some looked upon the Tricolor as the sacred symbol of their nation and upon Archbishop Tourian as a tool of that nation’s enemy. Others in that room saw Archbishop Tourian himself as the sacred symbol of their nation and the Tricolor as a much less meaningful entity. The contrasting perceptions they harbored that day reflected the contrasting stories they had been hearing and retelling in the meeting halls of their social clubs and reading on the pages of their newspapers. They were, to be sure, active agents in their choices of social affiliations and news sources. Even so, the memories they carried directly reflected two decades’ worth of the symbiotic marketing relationship they had with their respective partisan diasporan institutions, which had a stake in keeping constituents mindful of their particularistic versions of reality. The cultivated ideologies were specific enough that, in the outrage over the flag incident of July 1 and the assassination of December 24, Armenian Americans as well as Armenians worldwide displayed a variety of diasporic nationalism which entailed loyalty and solicitude, not only to their homeland, but to their respective partisan factions as well.


A shorter version of this article was presented at the 2006 Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Washington, D.C. Special thanks to the following kind people for reading and commenting on either the present work or earlier inceptions: June Granatir Alexander, Aram Arkun, Hasia Diner, Anna D. Jaroszyńska-Kirchmann, Isabel Kaprielian-Churchill, Louise Michaud, Robert Mirak, and Costas Panayotakis, as well as to JAEH editor John J. Bukowczyk and the two anonymous readers.

1. Oshagan Minassian, “A History of the Armenian Holy Apostolic Orthodox Church in the United States” (ThD diss., Boston University School of Theology, 1974), 478–85; Jenny Phillips, Symbol, Myth and Rhetoric: The Politics of Culture in an Armenian-American Population (New York, 1989), 128–34; and Gregory Doudoukjian, “Oral History: An Intergenerational Study of the Effects of the Assassination of Archbishop Leon Tourian in 1933 on Armenian-Americans” (master of divinity thesis, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, 1993), 30–32 and passim.

2. Minassian, “History of the Armenian Holy Apostolic Orthodox Church,” 451–56; Phillips, Symbol, Myth, and Rhetoric, 121–24; Doudoukjian, “Oral History,” 28–29.

3. Doudoukjian, passim; Phillips, esp. 121–30; George Byron Kooshian Jr., “The Armenian Immigrant Community of California, 1880–1935” (PhD diss., University of California at Los Angeles, 2002), 354–400; Minassian, “History of the Armenian Holy Apostolic Orthodox Church,” 437–85.

4. Matthew Frye Jacobson, Special Sorrows: The Diasporic Imagination of Irish, Jewish, and Polish Immigrants in the United States (New York, 1995); Victor Greene, For God and Country: The Rise of Polish and Lithuanian Ethnic Consciousness in America, 1860–1910 (Madison, WI, 1975); June Granatir Alexander, Ethnic Pride, American Patriotism: Slovaks and Other New Immigrants in the Interwar Era (Philadelphia, 2004); Anna D. Jaroszyńska-Kirchmann, The Exile Mission: The Polish Political Diaspora and Polish Americans, 1939–1956 (Athens, OH, 2004); Peter R. D’Agostino, Rome in America: Transnational Catholic Ideology from the Risorgimento to Fascism (Chapel Hill, NC, 2004). Examples of the plaintive historiography of the 1950s include Robert L. Daniel, “The Armenian Question and American-Turkish Relations, 1914–1927,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 44 (September 1959): 252–75; and Louis L. Gerson, Woodrow Wilson and the Rebirth of Poland, 1914–1920: A Study in the Influence on American Society of Minority Groups of Foreign Origin (New Haven, CT, 1953).

5. John Higham, “Introduction: The Forms of Ethnic Leadership,” in Higham, ed., Ethnic Leadership in America (Baltimore, 1978), 2, and Preface, ix. Important works on the ethnic press include the classic Robert Park, The Immigrant Press and Its Control (Monclair, NJ, 1971 reprint; originally New York, 1922), and the recent Sally Miller, ed., The Ethnic Press in the United States (New York, 1987). In particular, see Miller, xvi, and Park, 304–06. The Armenian press straddled at least two of Park’s categories at once, being both party organs and commercial ventures.

6. Robert Mirak, Torn Between Two Lands: Armenians in America, 1890 to World War I (Cambridge, MA, 1983), 241–54; Louise Nalbandian, The Armenian Revolutionary Movement: The Development of Armenian Political Parties through the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1967), esp. 151–78; Isabel Kaprielian-Churchill, Like Our Mountains: A History of Armenians in Canada (Montreal, 2005), 94–100; and Kooshian, “The Armenian Immigrant Community,” 146–53.

7. Richard G. Hovannisian, The Republic of Armenia, Vol.1: The First Year, 1918–1919 (Berkeley, CA, 1971), 1–38, 126–55.

8. Hovannisian, Republic of Armenia, 1, 450–59; Kooshian, “The Armenian Immigrant Community,” 146–70, Margaret MacMillan, Paris, 1919: Six Months that Changed the World (New York, 2001), 377–80; for full text of both speeches, see Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States: The Paris Peace Conference, 1919, Vol. 4 (Washington, 1943), 147–57.

9. Cook, “United States and the Armenian Question,” 150–287; Marashlian, “Armenian Question,” 52–62; Richard G. Hovannisian, The Republic of Armenia, Vol. 3, From London to Sèvres, February–August, 1920 (Berkeley, CA, 1996), 71–93; Vol. 4, 1–44, especially 40–44, 180–236, 373–408; Balakian, Burning Tigris, 299–318, 349–62; Mary Kilbourne Matossian, The Impact of Soviet Policies in Armenia (Leiden, Netherlands, 1962), 29; Kooshian, “The Armenian Immigrant Community,” 304–09, 321–28; and Robert Mirak, “Armenians,” in Stephan Thernstrom, ed., Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups (Cambridge, MA, 1980), 145–46.

10. New York Times, 29 June 1918, 3; Hairenik, 28 June 1918, 1; 29 June 1918, 2; 4 July 1918, 2; Azk, 4 July 1918, 2; 7 July 1918, 2.

11. Kooshian, “Armenian Immigrant Community,” 176–81; Azk, 8 August 1918, 2; Hairenik, 9 October 1918, 1; Phillips, Symbol, Myth, and Rhetoric, 83.

12. Kooshian, “The Armenian Immigrant Community,” 179–88; Hairenik, 24 January 1919, 1, 2; 4 February 1919, 2; 5 February 1919, 2; Azk, 28 January 1919, 2; 1 February 1919, 2.

13. Azk, 9 June 1919, 2.

14. Baikar, 11 March 1924, 1; 7 April 1924, 2; 19 January 1926, 2; 26 January 1928, 2; 27 May 1928, 1, 2; 28 May 1928, 1, 2; 30 November 1930, 2; Hairenik, 20–25 March 1924, 2; 22 January 1926, 2; 21 February 1926, 4; 28 May 1928, 1, 2; Hairenik Amsakir I:8 (June 1923), 72; Kooshian, “The Armenian Immigrant Community,” 306–07, 324–28. The apparent paradox wherein the more religiously rooted party had the friendlier stance toward the anti-religious Soviet regime can be reconciled by noting that the Holy See at Echmiadzin had reached its own accommodation with that regime, and thus, within the diaspora, loyalty to Echmiadzin for many adherents entailed cooperation with that accommodation. Thus, the Ramgavar party and much of the church hierarchy in the United States held compatible stances.

15. Minassian, “History of the Armenian Holy Apostolic Orthodox Church,” 325–27.

16. Hairenik Amsakir, May 1933, 169–70.

17. Minassian, “History of the Armenian Holy Apostolic Orthodox Church,” 455; Baikar, 7 July 1933, 1, 2; Hairenik, 8 July 1933, 1, 2, 4.

18. Hairenik, 11 July 1933, 2; 19 July 1933, 2; 17 August, 1933, 4; 24 August 1933, 1; Baikar, 12 July 1933, 2; 19 July 1933, 2; 24 August 1933, 2; Minassian, “History of the Armenian Holy Apostolic Orthodox Church,” 461.

19. Minassian, “History of the Armenian Holy Apostolic Orthodox Church,” 462–72.

20. Baikar, 28 December 1933, 2.

21. Hairenik, 28 December 1933, 4.

22. Baikar, 13 June 1934, 2; K.S. Papazian, Patriotism Perverted (Boston, 1934), 4; Hairenik, 10 January 1934, 4; 11 January 1934, 4; 20 January 1934, 4; 29 March 1934, 4; 5 May 1934, 4.

23. Hairenik, 17 June 1934, 3; 23 June 1934, 4; 17 July 1934, 4; Baikar 19 June 1934, 1; 24 June 1934, 2; 17 July 1934, 2; Armenian Mirror, 8 June 1934, 1; 15 June 1934, 1; 13 July 1934, 1; 31 July 1934, 1. See also the extensive coverage in general in Hairenik, Baikar, and the Armenian Mirror between 8 June 1934 and 31 July 1934. Two of the nine were sentenced to death and the other seven given prison terms of varying lengths, but Governor Herbert Lehman commuted the two death sentences to life imprisonment. The trial is summarized in Minassian, “History of the Armenian Holy Apostolic Orthodox Church,” 519–39. See also Alexander H. Kaminsky, “The Murder of the Archbishop: A New York Atrocity,” The Master Detective XII (July 1935), 6–15, 65–70, written by the prosecutor in the trial and available in the clipping file “Tourian, Ghevont,” at the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center, 630 Third Avenue, New York, NY. Elaborate commentaries published at the time by the respective partisan factions include A. Partizian, Hay Ekeghets woy tagnape ew anor pataskhanatownere (Boston, 1936); Leon Tourian Committee, Patmut’ean Hamar: Matenashar Turian H’antznakhumpi t’iw, 5 vols. (New York, 1934); and Papazian, Patriotism Perverted.

24. Armenian Mirror, 19 January 1934, 1; 19 February 1934, 1, 3; Doudoukjian, 72, 50–54.

25. Phillips, Symbol, Myth, and Rhetoric, 147–50; Armenian Spectator, 18 January 1934, 1, 4; 25 January 1934, 1, 4; Armenian Mirror, 19 February 1934, 1, 3. For most of the United States, the non-Tashnag Apostolic Church network, aligned with Echmiadzin, has as its nerve center the Diocese of the Armenian Church in America (Eastern) at 630 Second Avenue in New York, while churches that host largely Tashnag and Tashnag-leaning memberships are affiliated with the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America at 138 East 39th Street, also in New York. The counterparts on the West Coast are the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America in Burbank, California, and the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America at La Crescenta, California.

26. Phillips, Symbol, Myth, and Rhetoric, 123–24, 132; Doudoukjian, “Oral History,” 45, 50–54, 79; Sarkis Atamian, The Armenian Community: The Historical Development of a Social and Ideological Conflict (New York, 1955), 369–70.; Arpena S. Mesrobian, “Like One Family”: The Armenians of Syracuse (Ann Arbor, MI, 2000), 148.

27. Levon Boyajian and Haigaz Grigorian, “Psychosocial Sequelae of the Armenian Genocide,” in Richard Hovannisian, ed., The Armenian Genocide in Perspective (New Brunswick, NJ, 1986), 177–85; Franz Werfel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (New York, 1934). For another episode of Armenian valiance ubiquitously read and celebrated in Armenian circles in the 1930s, see Onnig Mukhitarian and Haig Gossoian, The Defense of Van: An Account of the Glorious Struggle of Van-Vasbouragan, S. Tarpinian, trans. (Michigan, 1980).

28. Hairenik, 24 January 1926, 1, 2; Baikar, 29 July 1925, 2.

29. Hairenik Weekly, 24 May, 1934, 1; 10 July 1936, 2; 8 October 1937, 2; 29 October 1937, 2.

30. Hairenik Weekly, 29 March 1935, 3; 29 October 1937, 2; see also 15 January 1937, 2.

31. Armenian Mirror, 8 July 1932, 2; “Democratic Liberal Party American District, Report of the 14th Deputational Meeting,” 1934, Ramgavar party files, Drawer 2, Folder 1, Baikar Building, Watertown, MA.

32. Hairenik Weekly, 7 January 1934, 4; 24 May 1934, 2; 5 June 1936, 2; 10 July 1936, 5; 4 December 1936, 1; 8 October 1937, 2; 29 October 1937, 2; Armenian Mirror, 1 July 1932, 2; 8 July 1932, 2; 1 January 1935, 1, 2; 5 June 1935, 2.

33. Examples of Tashnag Cold War rhetoric can be found in Hairenik Weekly, 20 January 1943, 3; 21 February 1952, 1; 6 March 1952, 2; 13 March 1952, 4; and 20 March 1952, 4. This whole theme is discussed in more detail in Benjamin F. Alexander, “Armenian and American: The Changing Face of Ethnic Identity and Diasporic Nationalism, 1915–1955” (PhD diss., City University of New York Graduate Center, 2005). On anti-Soviet stances within other groups, see Richard Polenberg, One Nation Divisible: Class, Race, and Ethnicity in the United States since 1938 (New York, 1980), 121; Jaroszyńska-Kirchmann, The Exile Mission, 185–205; Myron B. Kuropas, The Ukrainian Americans: Roots and Aspirations, 1884–1954 (Toronto, 1991), 247–302, 1936 quotation on 236–37; Joseph Pauco, ed., Sixty Years of the Slovak League of America (Middletown, PA, 1967), 101–29; on the general theme of homeland- and identity-related factionalism in immigrant communities, see John J. Bukowczyk, And My Children Did Not Know Me: A History of the Polish-Americans (Bloomington, IN, 1987), 43–51; Victor Greene, For God and Country: The Rise of Polish and Lithuanian Ethnic Consciousness in America, 1860–1910 (Madison, WI, 1975), passim; and June Granatir Alexander, Ethnic Pride, 45–55, 192–207.

34. Hairenik, 1 May 1941, 4; Armenian Spectator, 12 July 1934, 1, 4; Avedis Derounian, “Notes Taken at the Trial,” Derounian Collection, National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), Belmont, MA; Hairenik Weekly, 21 February 1952, 1, 4.