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ARMENIANS

ARMENIANS. Armenian immigration to Cleveland began in 1906 or 1907, when employees of the AMERICAN STEEL & WIRE CO. factory in Worcester, MA, came to Cleveland to work in a newly opened branch of that firm. The company soon had 5 branches in the area, and Armenians who had earlier worked in its factory in Massachusetts were willing to come to the Midwest, lured by salaries that were often one-third higher. Most of the workers were young men without wives or family, and at first they numbered about 50. By 1913 there were more than 100, and some began to leave the mills to find employment as merchants, or in small crafts as barbers, shoemakers, or tailors, a trend that greatly increased in the 1920s. Many of the immigrants were from the Turkish city of Malatya, and congregated after work in a coffeehouse at E. 71st and Broadway, near the rooming houses where many lived. By 1910 the 2 principal Armenian political parties had established headquarters in Cleveland. The Tashnags (Armenian Revolutionary Fed.) eventually located at E. 55th and Broadway, while the Ramgavars (Armenian Constitutional Democratic party) went to E. 21st and Prospect. Migration slowed from World War I until the early 1920s, when the second wave of immigration occurred, though many came to America circuitously via Cuba, Mexico, or Canada because of the new immigration laws. A good number entered the U.S. illegally. Most found unskilled work at the mills, or often as workers in hotels. It was not until World War II, when the Armenian population of Cleveland approached 1,500, that the community achieved economic security. Numerous societies aided them. Locally, the Educational Society of Malatya and the national Armenian General Benevolent Union were important, helping young male workers find jobs and housing and learn English. They also assisted in the search for wives; many young Armenian women were brought directly to Cleveland from Cuba, to which they had come from the Middle East.

With prosperity, it became possible for the Armenian immigrants to consider building churches. The Tashnags purchased land for the Holy Cross Church & Community Ctr. on Wallings Rd. in N. Olmsted. The Ramgavars secured property for St. Gregory of Narek Church on Richmond Rd. in Richmond Hts. Since there were no distinct areas in Cleveland where Armenians congregated, the sites of the churches were largely geographic compromises and did not reflect Armenian population centers. The Ramgavars were financially the most successful, buying their lot in the early 1960s, building a church shortly thereafter, and paying off the mortgage within 3 years. A few years later they erected a community hall on the church grounds. The Armenian church, the focus and protector of Armenian cultural life, continued that role in Cleveland. The parish halls of both the Tashnags and Ramgavars supported the traditional Armenian culture. A Saturday school was established on the Richmond Rd. property in 1970, teaching Armenian language and history; this enterprise was supported by the Manoogian Foundation of Southfield, MI. For more than 2 decades, beginning in the late 1950s, an Armenian radio program played on station WXEN, on Wednesdays from 8-9 P.M. During the 1970s, a time of political dislocation in Lebanon and Iran, countries with substantial Armenian minorities, few new families settled in Cleveland. The community has remained stable since 1960, with a population nearing 2,500.

John A. C. Greppin

Cleveland State Univ.