Diocesan History

The Armenian Church of America

The pioneers of Armenian immigration to the United States were young high school graduates who, beginning in 1834, arrived in small numbers in search of higher education at American universities.

Larger groups began arriving in the 1880s and 1890s to escape Ottoman Turkish oppression, especially the massacres of 1895-96. The influx of Armenian immigrants to the New World reached its peak in the aftermath of the 1915 Armenian Genocide when large numbers of Armenians living in Turkey were systematically persecuted, deported, and exterminated by the Ottoman regime.

Beginning in the 1950s and continuing through the 1980s, another wave of Armenian immigrants—originating from such countries as Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq—came to America, a result of the rising political unrest in the Middle East. Immigration from Armenia itself was rare during that country’s period under Soviet domination, but this trend reversed in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the establishment of a free and independent Republic of Armenia.

The first Armenian Church was built in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1891. The first Armenian clergyman had arrived earlier, in response to a petition by 300 Armenian residents of the city. By 1897, as the number of Armenian immigrants grew, there were six clergymen serving the Armenian Church in America. With the exception of Worcester, services were held in non-Armenian sanctuaries, notably Episcopalian churches. The Armenian Church of America was established officially by Catholicos Mkrtich Khrimian in 1898.

There are about one million Armenians in the United States and Canada today. The Church has two dioceses in the U.S: the Eastern Diocese—known officially as the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern)—has jurisdiction over all of the United States except California, Washington, Nevada, and Arizona. The Western Diocese, consisting of the above western states, was constituted in 1928. There are 63 organized and mission parishes in the Eastern Diocese. A third diocese governs all of Canada.

The head of the Eastern Diocese is the Primate—currently His Eminence Archbishop Khajag Barsamian—who is elected by clerical and lay representatives of the parishes at the Diocesan Assembly, which meets annually. The Primate is president of the Diocesan Council, consisting of lay and clerical members, which governs the affairs of the Diocese.

Archbishop Barsamian presides over St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York City. The Cathedral, consecrated in April 1968 by the late Catholicos Vasken I, resembles the world’s first cruciform church, the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin, built in the 4th century near Yerevan, Armenia.

Adjacent to the St. Vartan Cathedral is the three-story Gulbenkian Cultural Center and Diocesan House. The complex includes a cultural center, museum, library, religious and language departments, office and meeting rooms and various other facilities. The center also contains the Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium, as well as the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center, a research facility dedicated to scholarship and the dissemination of information about Armenian-related topics.

Major centers of the Armenian population in the United States include the greater New York area; Boston and its environs; Worcester, MA; Detroit, MI; Philadelphia, PA; Los Angeles, CA; and Fresno, CA. Substantial and expanding communities exist in Wisconsin, Texas, and Florida.

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