Sunday, 17 December 2017

Armenian News... A Topalian... A special recognition for Rev Nerses Nersessian!

Der Nerses has been awarded the highest academic honour in recognition of his scholarship and ecumenical relations - a honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity by the University of London: 

Rev Dr Nerses Nersessian - University of London Honorary Doctorate in Divinity 
The Rev Dr Nerses (Vrej) Nersessian (born 1948, Tehran) was educated at the Armenian College in Calcutta, the Gevorkian Theological Academy in Holy Etchmiadzin (Armenia), and King’s College, London. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Doctorate in Modern Greek and Byzantine Studies. 

Dr Nersessian’s doctoral thesis on The Tondrakian Movement. Religious movements in the Armenian Church from the fourth to the tenth centuries, was published in 1987 in London, and reprinted in the Princeton Theological Monograph series in 1988. He joined the British Library in 1975 as curator in Charge of the Christian Middle East section, a post that he held until his retirement in August 2012. In July 1983, he was ordained priest in the Church of St. Sarkis in Armenia and given the name Nerses replacing his baptismal name Vrej. 

In July 2005, he was made Honorary Doctor of The National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia for his services to Armenian Studies and Art History. He was awarded the distinguished medal of Saint Nerses Shnorhali by His Holiness Karekin [Garegin] II, Catholicos of All Armenians, for his distinguished career in the British Library and devoted services to the Armenian Church. 

A Festschrift entitled Reflection on Armenia and the Christian Orient: Studies in Honour of Vrej Nersessian, edited by Christiane Esche-Ramshorn was presented to him on 15 September 2017. 

Please find attached the notes written by Der Nerses on the Badarak. 
This is Part 1 about the Preparation.
Three Apples: Unparalleled Armenian Television: Road / Ճանապարհ 

(mostly in Armenian describing a walking journey in Armenia. Worth watching to see  stunning images and witness the warmth of rural people. There are three other episodes by clicking the options on the right hand side 

Picture breathtaking, sweeping views of Armenia. Visualize panoramic landscapes of an historic place, populated for more than six thousand years. Imagine drone camera footage, a bird’s eye view of the country’s diverse and colorful geography, its mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes.

Buckle your belts now. You’re about to journey to parts of a homeland that have never been this comprehensively filmed before. Your front row-seat to an unparalleled, first-person audio-visual experience is right in your living room or office.

Point and click your way to Armenian public television’s website or YouTube to enjoy a new series called Road / Ճանապարհ. It’s an engaging documentary series captured by multiple body-mounted, handheld and stabilized cameras. Turn up the volume to hear her ancient, salt-of-the-earth people, the villagers, her farmers and her youth.
Roffi's journey captured the amazing and diverse natural beauty of mountainous Armenia; here he is climbing towards Gogi Lake on the border with Nakhichevan.

Roffi’s journey captured the amazing and diverse natural beauty of mountainous Armenia; here he is climbing towards Gogi Lake on the border with Nakhichevan.

Multi-platform Content for Millennials
The Road / Ճանապարհ travel-food-discovery-reality-ecotourism television series premiered this fall on Armenia’s First Channel. Many fans say It’s by far the best reality television show produced in Armenia to date.

The inception of Road / Ճանապարհ was prompted when its protagonist, an American-Armenian, found himself in an existential angst many first, second or third generation diasporans are bound to confront. Like thousands of other immigrants and refugees or the progeny of displaced peoples, the 35-year-old, blond, blue-eyed star of the show confronted the mystery for the archetypical, often-hyphenated diasporan. He wanted to know what it meant to be an Armenian. He wondered how others connected with the homeland decades or hundreds of years after they emigrated or were forced to leave.

Before heading to his ancestors’ birthplace from his native U.S. state of Washington, Roffi Petrossian had always pondered how to explain the origins of his name to others. He wondered how a diasporan could teach his or her children to be Armenian and feel like an Armenian? He wanted to know what it was like to live in that place, experience its modern civilization, taste its foods and get to know the land and its people.

“I originally came to Armenia to see the country with my own eyes, to better my Armenian language skills, so that I can continue the traditions and culture,” says Roffi. He found himself wanting to tell the story of Armenia when he met new people in Seattle, but he heard himself repeating the stories he had been told by relatives, who themselves had not been to Armenia.

“The catalyst was going to an Armenian wedding in California and realizing I could not understand what people were saying. I couldn’t be part of the dinner table conversation. I saw wedding traditions that I didn’t know existed,” he says. The wedding celebration made him wonder what else he didn’t know about his people and his ancestry. The experience prompted him to think about traveling to Armenia and getting involved somehow.

“The reason your dad and I named you Roffi was that you were born when the first movie from the Rocky film franchise was released. We enjoyed it so much that we thought about the strength of that name. We decided the Armenian name Roffi was so close we’d name you Roffi, but spelled it R-O-F-F-I rather than R-A-F-I. We didn’t want you to go through school with Americans pronouncing it wrong, emphasizing the ‘ah’ sound.”

Birthright Armenia
A few months after his “aha” moment at the wedding he attended in Glendale, Roffi was on the ground in Yerevan, courtesy of Depi Hayk, Birthright Armenia. Depi Hayk is a volunteer organization, created by Edele Hovnanian , that offers part or full travel reimbursements for those of Armenian descent who are at least 21 years old. The amount of reimbursement is between fifty to one hundred percent depending on how long a participant volunteers in Armenia.
Roffi laces up his traditional Armenian trekh shoes, a replica of the recently discovered “oldest one-piece leather shoe in the world” (Photo courtesy of Roffi Petrossian)

Roffi laces up his traditional Armenian trekh shoes, a replica of the recently discovered “oldest one-piece leather shoe in the world” (Photo courtesy of Roffi Petrossian)

“I purchased a one-way ticket, not with the intent to stay permanently, but to have the freedom to go back when I was ready, or my money ran out,” says Roffi. “After one year of volunteering, I wasn’t ready to go back. Luckily, I found work straight away as the chief gardener at the Boghossian Garden in Yerevan.” Known as Lovers’ Park, the 18th century park had been left in disrepair and was renovated and reopened in 2008, thanks to Swiss-Armenian philanthropist Albert Boghossian and Armenia Fund , the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund .

After Roffi started his job at Lovers’ Park , he also was tapped to be a development advisor to the Clean Energy and Water Program administered by USAID , the U.S. agency responsible for distributing aid money to foreign countries. “I was also Chief Gardener at Nairian Cosmetics, at which point, I was working nights managing the indoor rock climbing gym, Boulder Town.

Media Celebrity
“Back in the States, I was a horticulturalist and a gardener. I never dreamt of performing or being a media personality,” says the star of Road / Ճանապարհ. “In all honesty, I shy away from the spotlight, from attention, and to this day, I always feel a certain performance anxiety whenever I have to go in front of the camera.”
Cameraman-director Hrayr Sargsyan and cameraman Khachatur Chobanyan took turns as part of the rotating production crew that filmed Roffi throughout his journey.

Cameraman-director Hrayr Sargsyan and cameraman Khachatur Chobanyan took turns as part of the rotating production crew that filmed Roffi throughout his journey.

Roffi says he’s been working since he was 16 and has done everything from waiting tables to tending bar and even telemarketing. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Design and Technology and worked as the manager of videography for a consumer research firm. He was tasked to work alongside anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists to understand people’s food purchasing habits. Those years of travel around the U.S., filming interviews and making short documentaries for their clients paid off when he landed in Armenia.

After the global financial meltdown, Roffi lost his job at the consumer research firm. It was then he decided to returned to school to earn a second degree in Environmental Horticulture. Contacts he made at his university lead him to a job in his new field.

“I did landscape design for the city of Seattle, designing and building rain gardens, special gardens using a mix of special soil, and plants adapted to tolerate both extreme wet and dry soil,” he says. “I designed systems that redirected rainwater that would normally fall onto impermeable surface to the garden, so that it can slowly infiltrate the soil profile and not overwhelm the water treatment facilities during periods of heavy rain.” 

Footage for the show was recorded by cameramen following Roffi, as well as personal cameras mounted on Roffi’s body to capture more candid shots. 

The star of Road / Ճանապարհ never imagined he would become a coveted celebrity when he decided to repatriate to his ancestral homeland. His journey toward stardom began slowly when he started hosting a show called Homesick at Home on the Van radio station. 

“I started doing some voice overs in English, here in Yerevan,” says Roffi. “Someone heard me speaking and said I had a great voice. So, I was recorded reading translated Armenian books for an international audience.” 

Soon Roffi found himself doing commercials on the radio and on television. Dozens of organizations and agencies tapped his voice and his image for their media and advertising campaigns. He says he was gardening at Lovers’ Park during the day and shooting commercials and films at nights and weekends. 

“One day at the Sharm Holding studio, a casting director saw me standing in the hall, and asked me to act as Jesus for an upcoming show,” he says. From there, another casting agent at another studio saw me, and so on and so forth.” 

On the Road with Roffi 
Roffi’s avocation soon became his vocation when he decided he would commit full time to shooting a documentary exploring Armenia with Bars Media founder, filmmaker Vardan Hovhannisyan . 

“Armenia is approachable, warm, inviting, genetically and culturally homogenous, and yet naturally diverse and rich,” says Roffi. “There was no better way to show Armenia than to get out of the capital, and roam around through the countryside.” 

Road / Ճանապարհ is a work of art and a work of love, a collaboration between Roffi, Bars Media and H1, Armenian Public Television. 
These women living in the mountains outside of a village for the summer herding season taught Roffi how to make bread in a the underground oven called a tonir. They also offered him fresh-made cheese to eat with the bread. 

These women living in the mountains outside of a village for the summer herding season taught Roffi how to make bread in a the underground oven called a tonir. They also offered him fresh-made cheese to eat with the bread. 

“In May of 2016, Vardan and I sat down to discuss the filming of me walking through Armenia,” says Roffi. “We waited for confirmation from H1 and started filming last June.” He says he hopes his new series will make Armenia-natives, Hayastancis proud of their country. “To make Spirkahays (diasporans) want to visit. And to make everyone else aware of the country and the natural beauty, both of the people, culture, and land.” 

Roffi, a rotating crew of three producers, three directors and twelve cameramen have shot the first 12-episode season of the show through late October. As Roffi walked from the republic’s southernmost border to its northern, he and his crew had a support vehicle in case emergency. 

Producers in Yerevan kept abreast of his travels and contacted villages and cities he traveled through ahead of his arrival. Roffi and his team spent a night in a villager’s home every ten days to recharge their batteries, record Roffi’s narration of the footage and upload their work to Bars Media in Yerevan. 

Behind the Scenes 
The biggest takeaways from his journey around Armenia were about people’s generosity and the feeling of belonging. “I often felt like a long lost relative who finally came home,” Roffi says. “Everyone wanted to talk with me, sit down with me, share a story over food and drink. Everyone wanted to help however they could. This kind of generosity is something that I’ve only found in Armenia, even though I’ve traveled and lived in England, Canada, Australia, Norway and all of western Europe.” 

Roffi remembers his time in Kalar, a small village in the southern Syunik region . “I stumbled into a hidden and faraway village with no plans. I was greeted by the entire village. They were all telling me how to climb the tallest mountain in the region, even though each of their directions to the same mountain were different.” 

Two young men from the village drove Roffi to the peak, where they collected edible herbs before returning home to eat homemade cheese, fresh greens and tea. “We sat in their humble village home, laughing, joking,” he says. “Then I fed their pigs and took selfies with the family.” 

Roffi walked on dirt roads, through fields, climbed mountains and met Armenia’s salt-of-the-earth people, who opened their homes to him. Roffi says meeting people of Armenia was the best part of the journey. 

As he continued on from Syunik, the family he broke bread with sent him text messages, asking about his well-being and how much of his journey north had he completed. “To this day, we still talk,” he says. 

“I think the most difficult aspect was the fact that I always had a camera filming me for four months,” he says. “Physically, it was no problem. I’m relatively young and healthy. I’ve been hiking and camping all my life, and I have no problem sleeping on the floor or eating bread all day. But emotionally sharing every moment and being surrounded by people all the time, that was different, draining.” 

Roffi says he’s a private person and seeks alone time. Midway through the shoot, he and his team took time off for rest and recuperation. The break during his border-to-border walk also meant he could spend time with his future wife, a woman he met and fell in love with in Armenia. 

Family Reaction 
Roffi says his father is proud of what he’s doing here in Armenia, how he repatriated with no connections and no family and how he has not just survived but thrived. “I know he would love to be in Armenia too,” he says. 

Roffi’s mother is also proud, he says. “She loves seeing what I’m posting on Facebook. She follows my adventures online. I don’t think it matters for either of them that it is in Armenia or anywhere else. They are proud of my accomplishments, happy to see me happy, even if it means being far away from them.” 

Petrossian Family History explained by Roffi 

“My father is full Armenian, born and raised in Tehran, Iran. At the age of 18, he moved to Seattle, Washington, to attend university. He held a number of jobs to pay his way through school, studied engineering and began a career in the aerospace industry. 

“My mother has British and French roots. She grew up in Virginia. Her father was an insurance salesman, who quit everything to move the entire family out to Washington state, build a farm and live off the land. My parents met in University. My mother learned Armenian for my father, and after they were married, my father brought his entire family from Iran to America. There were ten of us living in one house, only speaking Armenian. 

“There is a very small Armenian community in Seattle that my father helped in bringing together in the 1970s. They met once a month at the agump, the clubhouse in a rental building near the city of Bellevue. I did not go to Armenian school, but I always knew I was Armenian. I identified as Armenian, but I was clearly an American and really too different to fit into either. 

“My grandma would walk me to elementary school holding my hand. My lunch would be dolma and rice. It was nothing the other kids wanted to trade. And all I wanted was to be like them and eat a non-nutritious, store-bought Lunchable. I would come home to my grandma’s home cooked macarone. My family would drink coffee and read fortunes from the dried grounds collecting at the bottom of the cup. 

“At Armenian barbeques, newcomers would ask who the blonde haired blue-eyed kid was; I stood out. It was this dichotomy, these differences that always made me appreciate the strange, the misunderstood, and to treat all with respect, and to live with a constant sense of curiosity. 

“But I think these differences were difficult for my family, the old world and the new. My mother was a progressive American woman, with a poster of Rosie the Riveter on her wall. She worked like my father, and the expectations everyone had of what happy families look like were never met. 

“After years of arguing behind closed doors, my parents divorced. My father moved to England, and I went with him, having just graduated from high school. My brother, who is two years younger than me, stayed with my mother near Seattle. That was the end of childhood and adolescence. I’ve been on my own for the most part, since then.” 

The Road Less Traveled 
Roffi Petrosian, the modern-day adventurer, says the hardest moments in shooting the series were as he was close to the border and getting ready to film the last shots of his journey. “I knew I was close to finishing, close to being free. The seconds just kept ticking away, and I knew I had to film that one last shot. That was the hardest moment.” 

For each 30-minute episode, the team shot about 15 hours of raw video, which included interviews Roffi conducted with people he met on his way through the countryside or in villages where he stayed. 

Roffi’’s narration came from journals he kept in English. The first airing of the series is in Armenian with English subtitles, but the team is preparing an English version for mass distribution.

Armenian Weekly
Dec 13 2017
Fifth Century Historian Describes Deplorable State of Armenian Society
A friend recently sent me an excerpt written in the 5th century by historian Movses Khorenatsi, in which he described the deplorable societal conditions in ancient Armenia.

My friend commented: “St. Movses could have easily written these words about our Armenian clergy, leaders, church, organizations, judges, institutions and us today in 2017 as he did in the 5th Century. So what has changed in 1,600 years? What will change? What if nothing changes? What if this is who and what we are? The greatest challenge we face as Armenians is how to survive and succeed on the world stage in spite of ourselves and not give up hope. Because despite the worst of our nature that St. Movses describes, somehow this small nation found a way to survive to this day. Let’s not lament over Armenia. Let’s rejoice over our children, grandchildren and the bright future that each of us can create for our nation.”
The quotation below is from Movses Khorenatsi’s trailblazing book, History of the Armenians. The chapter is titled, “Lament over the removal of the Armenian throne from Arsacid Family and of the archbishopric from the family of St. Gregory.” The book has been translated from Armenian into English by Prof. Robert W. Thomson of Harvard University. I have added in brackets a few clarifications to the translation.

Movses Khorenatsi wrote:
“I lament over you Armenia; I lament over who you are superior to all the nations of the north. For your king and priest, counselor and teacher, have been removed. Peace has been disturbed, disorder has taken root, orthodoxy has been shaken, and heresy has strengthened through ignorance.

“I pity you, church of Armenia, which has lost the splendor of the sanctuary and has been deprived of the noble pastor and his companion. No longer do I see your rational flock pastured in a verdant place and by peaceful waters nor gathered in a fold and protected from wolves, but scattered to the wilderness and precipices…

“The teachers are ignorant and presumptuous, taking honor by themselves and not called by God, elected by money and not by the [Holy] Spirit; lovers of gold and envious, they have abandoned gentleness, where God dwells, and have become wolves, tearing their own flocks.

“The religious are hypocritical, ostentatious, vainglorious, lovers of honor rather than lovers of God.

“The [senior] clergy are proud, slothful, frivolous, lazy, haters of the arts and instructive words, lovers of commerce and buffoonery.

“The students are lazy to study and eager to teach; they are theologians before their examinations [before they finish their studies].

“The laity are arrogant, insubordinate, blusterers, loafers, topers [drunks], pernicious, and they flee their patrimonies.

“The soldiers are cowards, false boasters, hating their weapons, negligent, lovers of ease, intemperate, thieves, drunkards, marauders, imitators of brigands.
“The princes are rebellious, companions of thieves, robbers [bribable], rapacious [greedy], avaricious, grasping, plunderers, despoilers of the land, depraved, likeminded with their subjects [servants].

“The judges are inhuman, false, deceitful, venal, [not protectors of rights] ignorant of the law, volatile, contentious.

“And [in general], love and shame have been entirely removed from all….
“The kings are cruel and evil rulers, imposing heavy and onerous burdens and giving intolerable commands. Governors do not [keep the order] correct disorders and are unmerciful. Friends are betrayed and enemies strengthened. Faith is sold for this vain life. Brigands have come in abundance and from all sides. Houses are sacked and possessions ravaged. There is bondage for the foremost and prison for the famous. There is exile abroad for the nobility and innumerable outrages for the common people. Cities are captured and fortresses destroyed; towns are ruined and buildings burned. There are famines without end and every kind of [epidemic] illness and death. Piety has been forgotten and expectation is for hell…”

My friend who sent me this “lament” is comparing Movses Khorentasi’s description of the deplorable state in Armenia 1,600 years ago to today’s conditions in general both in Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora. Of course, one cannot generalize to everyone in Armenian society. There are respectable exceptions in every segment of our society, among the teachers, clergy, military, students, judges, and rulers.
I agree with my friend when he expresses the hope that our nation will survive despite all the shortcomings and setbacks, and despite all enemies inside and outside of the country, as it has for centuries since Movses Khorentatsi wrote his highly critical observations.
How Armenian-Americans Became White: A Brief History /2017/08/29/armenian-whiteness-america/

Aram Ghoogasian is a teacher and writer from Los Angeles. His work has appeared in several publications, including The New York Times, Armenian Weekly, and The Daily Bruin. 


On Christmas Eve 1909, four Ottoman-born Armenian men received an auspicious gift from a circuit judge in Boston. 

Jacob Halladjian, Mkrtich Ekmekjian, Avak Mouradian, and Basar Bayentz had petitioned for citizenship in the face of government opposition and won. A small headline wedged into the congested third page of The New York Times unceremoniously announced their legal triumph to the world the next morning: “Citizenship for Armenians.”
Excerpt from story in the The New York Times regarding Armenian citizenship. Photo via The New York Times archive. 

Though the brief article was likely of minimal import for most people who picked up a copy of The Times that Saturday , the historical consequences of the case proved momentous. Judge Francis C. Lowell hadn’t simply deemed four immigrants eligible for naturalization; he bestowed upon Armenians the juridical distinction of whiteness for the first time. 

A few months later, Congress codified Lowell’s decision, decreeing that Armenians, along with Assyrians and Jews, were exceptions to the rule that so-called “Asiatics” were ineligible for naturalization. 

Although whiteness would not receive a somewhat positive legal definition until 1924 – a Virginia anti-miscegenation law defined whites as those who have either “no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian” or “one-sixteenth or less of the blood of the American Indian and have no other non-Caucasic blood” – naturalization was restricted to white persons by the Naturalization Act of 1790. This provision stayed in place until the enactment of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, though there were frequent changes to the requirements in between. 

Because of the malleability and general instability of racial categories, Armenians were able to take advantage of the blurry boundaries of whiteness, going from potential members of the “yellow race” to white persons eligible for naturalization. 

Despite the ruling in favor of the four Armenians, one of the arguments in the 1909 case laid bare that their classification as white was far from set in stone. Along with scientific racism, “ popular knowledge ” was often used as a justification for including or excluding people from the elusive racial category, especially in the early twentieth century. This hardly-definitive criterium was on full display in the Halladjian decision; the brief issued by the United States contended that “without being able to define a white person, the average man in the street understands distinctly what it means.” Furthermore, the proverbial average man would ostensibly “find no difficulty in assigning to the yellow race a Turk or Syrian with as much ease as he would bestow that designation on a Chinaman or a Korean.” 

The judge dismissed this argument on the grounds that skin color alone was not a useful indicator of whiteness, adding that the four men – all of whom hailed from cities within the modern-day borders of the Republic of Turkey – would, in appearance, “pass undistinguished in western Europe.” The court even went so far as to reject the notion that certain racial categories existed in the first place, finding that “there is no European or white race, as the United States contends, and no Asiatic or yellow race which includes substantially all the peoples of Asia.” Nevertheless, the judge ruled that, if the “ordinary classification” was followed, Armenians had always “been reckoned as… white persons.” 

Regardless of the decision, the fact that representatives of the United States relied on flimsy, racialist logic in a court of law carried some weight. Whether intentional or not, the state gave credence to the notion that something as unreliable as a typical person’s supposed perception of race was enough to potentially bar an entire group of people from the benefits of naturalization. The court’s finding that the racial categories upon which American naturalization law rested did not exist only worked to compound the uncertainty. 

As such, Armenians’ legal status as white persons was not firmly secured by In re Halladjian . It would take a second court case, this time in Oregon, to put the matter to bed. 

In 1923 Tatos Cartozian , a resident of the United States of nearly twenty years, applied for citizenship and received provisional approval after physically presenting himself to the court for “visual scrutiny” – in other words so the judge could ensure his skin was the proper tinge of white. Not long thereafter, the attorney general’s office filed a suit to revoke his newly-granted certificate of naturalization, alleging that the rug merchant was not a “free white person.” Cartozian was going to court. 

The resulting case, United States v. Cartozian , lasted until the summer of 1925. District Judge Charles E. Wolverton, a Theodore Roosevelt appointee, was tasked with determining whether Cartozian qualified as a free white person as outlined in the eighteenth-century Naturalization Act. Like Lowell before him, Wolverton stated that skin color was not a practical litmus test for ascertaining citizenship eligibility, but resolved that “it may be confidently affirmed” that Armenians are white persons, basing his conclusion in part on the belief that they “readily amalgamate with the European and white races.” 

Citing Herodotus and Strabo to bolster the claim that “Armenians are of the Alpine stock” along with expert witness and noted anthropologist Franz Boas’ assertion that “it would be utterly impossible to classify [Armenians] as not belonging to the white race,” Wolverton dismissed the bill of complaint. The state, just as it had sixteen years earlier in Massachusetts, found itself on the losing end; Armenians’ claim to whiteness had been reaffirmed. 

The first quarter of the twentieth century saw Armenians go from “Asiatics,” at least in the eyes of the state, to legal white persons. Doubtless, the difference was palpable. Four years after Halladjian , California had passed its alien land law, which denied the right to own, lease, or “otherwise enjoy” land to people ineligible for citizenship, giving Armenians the edge on some of their fellow immigrants. Over time, this access to land ownership and housing loans allowed many Armenians to become relatively wealthy farmers in places like Fresno County, California. 

Structural advantages notwithstanding, Armenians were still unable to assimilate completely. Fresno, a hub for Armenian immigrants in the 1890s and early 1900s, serves as a representative example here as well. While Armenians quickly established themselves as a sizeable minority in the city, many Fresnans considered them to be non-white and treated them accordingly . They faced exclusion from social activities and discrimination in landowning and employment, and were even excluded from a Protestant church they helped establish. 

Armenians were also vilified for being stereotypically thievish and dishonest. Adults and children alike regularly faced racial invectives such as “ dirty black Armenian ,” “low-class Jew,” and – most commonly – “ Fresno Indian .” American-born author William Saroyan, a Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award winner who was certainly no stranger to mainstream American culture, wrote in one of his many memoirs that “Armenians were considered inferior” and were “hated” in his hometown. In the same work, he recounts an episode from his childhood in which one of his schoolteachers told him it was rude to speak a foreign language in class, saying , “this is America, now.” The prolific writer apparently thought, even in his young age, that the teacher openly disliked Armenian children. To make matters worse, Fresnan Armenians had to deal with more institutional modes of discrimination as well, such as restrictive housing covenants in the city that lasted until the middle of the twentieth century. 

While some of these conditions persist to the present day as part of a broader culture of nativism and xenophobia endemic to the United States, they now come in large part without demonstrable socioeconomic consequences. Today Armenian Americans, on the whole, enjoy high levels of wealth relative to many non-whites, an observable trend more attributable to Armenians’ racial position – which is but one of many inextricable demographic factors such as occupation, educational attainment, etc. – than their fabled proclivity for hard work. In 2015 , per capita income in the United States was an estimated $29,979. For Armenians, that figure was $36,644, more than double that of people the Census Bureau recorded as “Hispanic or Latino (of any race),” about 80 percent more than that of “Blacks or African Americans,” and just slightly greater than the number reported for “Asians.” If these statistics are any indication, Armenians have achieved a degree of social mobility that has never been attainable for the Black and brown classes of America. 

About four hundred years ago, an Armenian servant to the colonial governor of Virginia reached Jamestown, possibly the same year the first Africans – Kimbundu and Kikongo speakers from the Angola-Congo regions – in English America were transported to the same settlement by pirates in 1619 and sold into bondage. It would not be until the late 1800s, however, that Armenians began arriving to the United States in significant numbers, thus marking the beginning of their fraught relationship with the country’s particular racial regime. 

Despite considerable improvements in the community’s material conditions over time, this relationship is no less complex now than it was during the legal drama of the last century. As whiteness itself is continually being defined and redefined by ever-shifting frontiers, so too is the racial position of the hundreds of thousands of Armenians living in contemporary America. Though the margins of whiteness remain a site of fierce contention, at least one thing is certain: the lines of demarcation are just as ambiguous today as they were on that December day in 1909. 

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