History of AHARI

The Armenian Historical Association of Rhode Island, quickly referred to as AHARI, was originally formed to provide permanent and temporary exhibitions and artifacts for the opening of the Rhode Island based Heritage Harbor Museum & Library. A wing of this museum was to house various historical multicultural exhibits…
The Armenian exhibit being one of them.

Unfortunately, the Heritage Harbor Museum & Library was never realized. AHARI has since embarked on a journey to create its own museum. The new Rhode Island
Armenian Exhibit Gallery is located within its new headquarters in Providence.
which opened on Saturday, May 13, 2017.

AHARI is a non-profit, non-sectarian, non-political corporation organized exclusively for educational purposes. AHARI is a registered tax-exempt organization in Rhode Island and falls within the guidelines of Section501-C3 of the IRS code.

History of Armenians in Rhode Island

Armenian immigration into Rhode Island has taken place over the past one and one half centuries. Those who survived the terrible ordeals of the Hamidian massacres and the 1915 Armenian Genocide found a safe haven, which allowed establishment of communities, churches and schools. Like so many other immigrant groups that settled in community pockets, the Armenians established new homes, raised their children and prospered. They made many indelible marks in Rhode Island and played an important role in Rhode Island history, while fiercely maintaining their heritage and identify. As it continues today, Americans of Armenian descent continue the legacy.

The legacy of our ancestors is an inspiration to all those descendents who followed, and it is this organization’s focus to educate future generations in the ways that these early Armenian Americans enriched their new home and new identity with their ethnic heritage.

The main objective of AHARI is to establish a vital avenue of information for all present Rhode Island residents and future descendents and out-of-state visitors for learning about the history and culture of Rhode Island Armenians.

 

Ethnic warfare was the key to Armenian immigration. Despite the hardships common to agricultural peasant life everywhere, Armenian immigration was not driven principally by economic duress. Held together by religion, language, literature, education and customs, Armenians moved into the whole world not forgetting who they were. The burial in Providence of an Armenian woman in the late 1880s illustrates this point:

“Look at Aghavni
She gives tidings of the Armenian race.
From Noah’s Ark.”

Although there were Armenians in Rhode Island from the 1870s, substantial immigration began in the late1880s. Most of the first arrivals were single men who lived in communal boarding houses along downtown Providence Washington and Fountain streets. Conditions were grim by modern standards, but temporary. As arrivals became established, more appropriate residential communities grew in Providence’s North End, Federal Hill, Olneyville and, particularly, Smith Hill. Other concentrations were soonfound in Pawtucket and Central Falls.

These first immigrants found semi-skilled and unskilled work in the factory industries of Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls and Cranston. Two workers were on the payroll of the Providence Locomotive works as early as 1877 and several were employed by the Rhode Island machine builders, Brown and Sharpe, and, be 1890, no less than seven Armenian men were employed by Nicholson File. Early arrivals were also drawn to work in the paint factories and textile mills of Providence and Pawtucket.

To find jobs in larger steel mills and machine shops, recent immigrants relied on a growing network of recent Armenian immigrants in the communities of Worcester and Watertown, Massachusetts as well as the machine building works of the Whitin Machine Shop in Whitinsville, Massachusetts.

Generally, new immigrants could not expect to continue the skills and professions they had enjoyed in Armenia- this would await fluency in English and familiarity with the a new land. Textile work was somewhat an exception. Armenia had developed an expertise in several areas of textile manufacture including silk, and linen production as well as hand knotted woolen rug production. Workers familiar with silk manufacturing in Armenia sometimes sought employment in the silk mills of Paterson, N.J. as well as in silk mills in Providence and Pawtucket.

For some Armenian immigrants, the sojourn in factories lasted for many years. But, the dream of most Armenians was to establish their own businesses, shops and stores, and this dream was realized for many and it was also an additional motive to pursue education for themselves and their children. Many small-scale enterprises were launched by Armenians in Rhode Island. These included services to the growing Armenian community itself and their neighborhoods. Grocery stores, shoe shops, and tailors shops lead the list of Armenian businesses in both Providence and Boston at the turn of the century.

The largest numbers of Armenian stores and businesses in the decades of 1890-1920 were listed as “Tailors” or “Grocers.” Many “tailors” were not really clothing manufacturers but rather cleaners of worsted clothing and hats. This merchant trade extended beyond the confines of the Armenian community with many first-rate, highly respected, tailors and means clothing stores. One of the best known was Tateos Heditsian who made clothing for the Rhode Island elite and was contracted to design the original Rhode Island State Police uniforms.

Armenian grocers were first located near the center of the Armenian boarding house population on Washington, Fountain, and Westminster streets in the downtown of Providence.

More ambitious shops were manufacturing plants for the production of jewelry, an important Rhode Island industry in which Armenians participated and excelled. Factories established by Armenians included several Providence plating companies as well as enameled jewelry, pencils, and other products.

Oriental carpets have long been associated with Armenian business enterprise and success – and for good reason. Even though only relatively few were engaged in this specialized business, nearly 70% of the American rug business was dominated by Armenian merchants by the 1880s. Every major city had an oriental rug store and this was usually run by Armenians as, indeed, it was in Providence where the city’s oriental rug merchant, Krikor Krikorian, established a store on Westminster Street in 1884. In the Armenian center of Worcester, Massachusetts, the city’s first Armenian commercial enterprise had been the carpet store of Thomas Nishanian in 1879.

The numbers of Armenians engaged in the rug business was small but in this sphere Armenians made the greatest initial impact of commerce and, indeed, the home fashions of prominent American, and Rhode Island, homes.

Selection of 19th century oriental carpets (The display can be developed to
using imperfect examples)

The advancement of Armenians as Rhode Island shopkeepers may have grown, in part, from the experience of Armenia itself and its merchant class based on that country’s cottage industries. But, the thirst of education, notable in Armenia and in Rhode Island, supported the success of Armenians in many walks of life, in their transition to life in America, and to their success in the professions. Within only a few decades there were in Rhode Island respected doctors, dentists, attorneys and educators.

The community took steps to continue its traditions and preserve its cultural Heritage. As early as 1891 Ararat, the first Armenian language newspaper was published in Providence.

The glue binding the community together in Rhode Island was the same glue that had held the society together in its historic homeland- the Christian faith. Services in Armenian began on Westminster Street before 1890 with help from the Armenian clergy in Worcester, MA. The Armenian Evangelical Church of Providence was established in 1889 and both The Evangelical Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church were active serving the Rhode Island community.
The community spawned a number of organizations devoted to national, spiritual and /educational purposes. One of these, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, maintained two clubrooms in Providence.

The attachment and commitment to Armenia- the love of country and its defense is a theme of Armenian life from the beginning down to this day. At work is a strong sense of duty to the greater, the international Armenia- the protection and preservation of culture among a people widely dispersed and, increasingly distant from those traditions with the passing of the generations. Armenians in Rhode Island today are citizens of the wider multinational Armenian community and they share a commitment to the preservation of their distinct culture, their special story. Toward the fulfillment of this agenda, an effort is underway to catalog all Rhode Islanders of Armenian Heritage.

Rhode Island Facts

Rhode Island boasts of being home to America’s oldest Armenian Colony
historically documented since 1877 yet spoken about as far back as 1695 by
Cotten Mather.

  • Rhode Island has nurtured a spirit within its Armenian Community which has won the a city and state recognition in the Republic of Armenian and Armenian Communities in the Diaspora.
  • In 1896, Providence was the first American city to hold public outcry over the 1896 massacre of Armenia in Turkey.
  • In 1993 the Rhode Island community produced and sent more humanitarian aid than any other state for the U.S. State Department’s “Operation Winter Rescue” for Armenia.
  • Third generation Providence native Michael Manoog Kaprielian awarded
    Republic of Armenia Humanitarian Honor for work in post 1988 earthquake trauma relief and stateside assistance to relief efforts.
  • In 1994, area athletes comprised Armenia’s team for the World Winter
    Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Chef d’affairs Paul Varadian and bobsled athletes Kenneth J. Topalian and Joseph Almasian present the Armenian Flag in the ‘parade of nations’ for the first time since 1 920.
  • The Republic of Armenia government ministries of education and health
    maintain relations with Rhode Island’s Institutions and citizens: Rhode
    Island College. Henry Barnard School. Fulbright scholar Barbara Bejoian,
    Penelope Giragossian on developmental disabilities, Adrienne Cady and M. Manoog Kaprielian on post traumatic stress and women’s issues.

Armenians in Rhode Island have made contributions in a number of arenas:

  • The late John Kababian, second Armenian Yale graduate (1897) who designed and developed “Watch Hill” in Westerly, Rhode Island.
  • The late Margaret Thorpe known as the “first lady of Rhode Island
    education” has a state college campus building named in her honor.
  • Harry Kizirian, retired Rhode Island postmaster isthe state’s most
    decorated Marine and with a regional U.S. Postal facility re-named in his
    honorby U.S. Congressional and Presidential decree.
  • Haiganush Bedrosian. Senior Justice of the RI FamilyCoult …. ‘8S the first
    woman to run for a state general office.

Rhode Island Armenians of national and international prominence include:

  • Writer Ben Bagdikian
  • Egyptologist Cynthia Shartzer (in National Geographic)
  • Antarctic Marine Biologist Deneb Karentz (in National Geographic)
  • Media honored individuals: Russell Allenby Gasparian (1997 by the National Museum 0f Television and Radio for the longest hosted ethnic radio broadcast in America)
  • M. Manoog Kcprielian (1983 ACT. NFLCP, ACE awards while program manager at Cox Communications and 1991 Videomaker of the year in America)
  • Thomas Ohanian (1994 Emmy and Academy Awards for inventing the non-linear editor).