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Armenian Church in the heart of Fresno.
Armenian Church near Fresno.

California is one of the few places outside of Armenia to offer public art that does not relate to the subject of Genocide. These include the statues of William Saroyan (1950) and David of Sassoun (1950) in Fresno by the artist Varaz Samuelian.



The first Armenians to move to Fresno were the brothers Hagop and Garabed Seropian, who arrived in 1881. Their letters to their home village of Marsovan in the Ottoman Empire brought more immigrants to the San Joaquin Valley, which reminded them so much of home. By 1894 the Armenian population in Fresno was 360, a number which grew rapidly with the onset of the Hamidian Massacres in 1895-96. The massacres and persecution of the Armenians by the Turks fueled the growth until it reached about 10,000 even before the start of the Armenian Genocide. Many of the immigrants were protestant converts, the result of heavy missionary activity in Armenia by American Christians seeking converts from the Armenian Church. During and after the genocide even more Armenians came until the restrictions on immigration in 1921 and 1924 brought this to a virtual end. Los Angeles also became a focus of Armenian immigration, and some Armenians from Fresno moved there as well. The number of Armenians in LA surpassed those in Fresno in 1930 - partly because of the agricultural depression in the valley during the 1920s.

The early immigrants were primarily involved with farming and agriculture, with the ultimate goal almost always that of land ownership. By 1930 Armenians owned 40% of the raisin acreage in Fresno County. The were pioneers in the melon and fig production as well.

From the very beginning, bigotry against Armenians was common, and led many to Anglicize their names. In the 1890s Armenian Protestants were stripped of membership in local churches. Fear of Armenian land ownership caused the passage of laws restricting their rights to freely buy land. This attitude towards the tight knit Armenian community led some to try and assimilate, while having the opposite affect on others. The problem lasted for many decades, finally abating in the 1950s.

After WWII, displaced Soviet Armenians came from Germany, and a natural population flow of Armenians from east to west in the US also contributed to growth.

Today, the number of Armenians in Fresno is thought to number 25-30,000.


  • 1881 - first Armenians move to Fresno
  • 1894 - large influx due to Hamidian Massacres
  • 1897 - First Armenian Presbyterian Church constructed
  • 1900 - Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church built, which burned in 1914 and was rebuilt in a new location in the heart of "Little Armenia".
  • 1901 - Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church
  • 1902 - Kaghakatsi (meaning Citizen) founded, renamed Nor Or (meaning New Day) in 1923.
  • 1908 - Asbarez (meaning Arena) newspaper founded.
  • 1957 - California Courier, which was California's first English-language newspaper.
  • 1970s - Establishment of Armenian Community School of Fresno and the Armenian Studies department at California State University Fresno.

Armenians from Fresno

Kirk Kerkorian, Raffi Hovannisian, Ross Bagdasarian, William Saroyan

See also


Armenians find reason to celebrate

Bee staff08/30/08 22:22:27

The Musa Dagh Commemoration Committee in Fresno held its annual picnic and celebration Saturday at the Fresno Police Association's training grounds.

This year marks the 93rd year of remembrance of stand off at Musa Dagh (Mountain of Moses). The mountain is located in the Southern part of what is today Turkey, near the Syrian border on the Gulf of Iskenderun in the Medeterrean. Six Armenian villages lived along the Mountain side. When Ottoman authorities gave them orders to evacuate, they decided to stay and resist the Turkish millitary forces rather than be victims of a death march. A novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, by Franz Werfel published in 1933 depicts this resistance by these brave Armenians.

The villagers, under siege by the Turks during the Armenian genocide, fought off the soldiers for 53 days before being saved by a French ship passing by on the Mediterranean Sea. The celebration Saturday began with the cooking of the Harissa, a lamb and whole wheat stew.

The event also included traditional music and dancing.

It continues today with church services at 10:30 a.m., a blessing of the Harissa and music until 3 p.m.

The picnic began in 1978 with a few families keeping the culture alive and now attracts between 800 and 1,000 people each year from as far away as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Canada.

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Recognition of Karabakh Independence

Azerbaijan Threatens Fresno County Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Fresno County

FRESNO-The Fresno County Board of Supervisors became the newest target of Azerbaijan's wrath after the local body passed a resolution recognizing the self-determination of the people of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and its independence last month.

The Fresno Bee reported Tuesday that Azerbaijan has officially written to the Board of Supervisors urging the body to rescind the April 23 resolution.

Fresno County became the first County in California to officially recognize the independence of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic (Artsakh).

On April 23, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution sponsored by Supervisor Andreas Borgeas that officially recognizes the Nagorno Karabakh Republic - a region historically and ethnically Armenian situated between Armenia and Azerbaijan - and also calls upon the California Legislature to grant official recognition.

The Permanent Representative of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic in the United States, Robert Avetisyan, commented at the time that "[w]e are grateful for [this] initiative, and hope that the adoption of this Resolution will set a deeper cooperation towards stability, as well as democratic and economic prosperity in our region." The Consul General of the Republic of Armenia in Los Angeles, Grigor Hovhannisian, commented that "[e]very step toward the recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is a step toward peace and friendly relations in the South Caucasus. I whole-heartedly welcome recognition efforts by community and elected officials, as a continuation of friendly relations and solidarity between the people of the Republic of Artsakh, the Republic of Armenia and Fresno, California."

"This fuels fighting between the communities," Azerbaijani Deputy Consul General Ramil Gurbanov, who is based in Los Angeles, told The Fresno Bee on Monday. It doesn't help achieve "a diplomatic and peaceful solution in the region."

"We stand with our Armenian friends, both in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh ... We will not be muscled by a well-funded lobbying effort by the Azerbaijanis," said Borgeas told the Fresno Bee, indicating that the Board of Supervisors will not budge from its earlier decision.

Following the passage of the resolution on April 23 Borgeas said, "I am thrilled to stand beside our Armenian friends - here, in Armenia and Artsakh - and hope Sacramento will also officially recognize the independence of NKR. While Fresno County is the first County in California to pass such a resolution, my goal is for this initiative to help inspire more recognition efforts throughout the state, country and eventually Washington, D.C."

"[T]his resolution by the Fresno County Board of Supervisors is timely, appropriate and significant," William Bairamian, Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee - Western Region commented at the time. State legislatures in Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have already passed similar resolutions.

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