INTRODUCTION TO OUR ARMENIAN STORY
REMEMBRANCE, REVERENCE AND REDEMPTION:
‘OUR ARMENIAN STORY’
Perhaps more than any other ethnic group in Detroit, the motivation that drove most Armenians from their homeland to southeast Michigan is one of profound tragedy. The initial waves of immigrants from this rugged Eurasian nation, which lies in Eurasia between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, began in the early nineteenth century, and consisted mainly of students who wished to further their studies in American institutions. But by far the largest number of Armenians who fled their country occurred in the final decade of that century following the slaughters perpetrated upon Turkish Armenia by Abdul Hamid, The Bloody Sultan. The years following were no easier, and Turkish oppression continued unabated, culminating in the holocaust of1915 when the Turks annihilated over one and one-half million Armenian men, women and children. In some ways overshadowed in world consciousness by the events of World War II, the Armenian Holocaust has left an imprint on the Armenian character which persists to this day.
Though their names are lost to posterity, the first Armenians in the United States were a pair of silk-worm breeders who, at the invitation of the governor of Virginia, joined the Jamestown Colony sometime before 1623. Many of the subsequent immigrants from Armenia settled along the East Coast.
While there were Armenians in Detroit before the turn of the century, it was not until 1909 that an Armenian community as such could be recognized. The Detroit Armenian community, which numbered 3000 in 1915, has since grown to become one of the larger Armenian communities in the United States, with an estimated 35,000 members.
As for most immigrants to Detroit, it was the prospect of work that was the single driving force that drew Armenians to the city. Being uneducated, and for the most part unskilled, employment for these newly arrived Armenians consisted of long hours in factories and foundries, and the initial settlements were largely centered nearby, in Delray, Highland Park, Saline and Pontiac. With a determination to better themselves and their families, an emphasis on education was of paramount importance to these early settlers, and the proof of their commitment may be seen in the vast professional landscape of Armenian Detroiters today.
Today, as then, religion plays a central role in the experience of Armenian Detroiters. For many years the community could worship in their own tradition only periodically, at such times as when an Armenian clergyman might visit and offer the Divine Liturgy in a church building borrowed for the occasion. Finally in 1913, the Very Rev. Sahag (Isaac) Vartabed Nazaretian became the first permanent pastor of the local Armenian community. Still the Armenians had no church building and it was necessary to accept the hospitality of St. John's Episcopal Church, whose pastor offered their sanctuary for Armenian use on Sunday afternoons.
Armenians in Detroit have built several churches representing the traditional Armenian church, the Protestant Armenian community, and the Roman Catholic Armenian community. Among them are St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church, located on Ford Road in Dearborn, St. Vartan Armenian Catholic Church, also in Dearborn, and the Armenian Congregationalist Church, located at 12 Mile and Northwestern Highway in Southfield.
Perhaps the best known Armenian Detroiter is Alex Manoogian. Manoogian moved to Detroit in 1924, and after gaining experience in the auto companies, he founded the Masco Screw Company, later known as Masco Corporation. By 1936 -- in the midst of the Great Depression -- Manoogian had grown Masco to the point that it was listed on the NYSE. This was the first time a company owned by an Armenian American had ever been listed on the stock exchange.
Manoogian's greatest business achievement may have been his redesign of the Delta faucet, which resulted in enormous sales for the plumbing fixture.
Today, the Detroit Mayoral mansion bears his name, and the Alex Manoogian Home for the Armenian Aged on Middlebelt Road stands in Livonia.