Armenian Library and Museum of America
ALMA houses the most extensive collection of Armenian artifacts in North America, with over 20,000 items, 18,000 books, 5,000 coins, 3,000 textiles, 930 rare books, 800 oral histories and 170 Armenian oriental rugs. The building includes Bedoukian Hall, the main exhibit gallery, as well as several smaller side galleries, the research library, a contemporary art gallery, studio space, offices, meeting rooms, and climate-controlled vaults for the storage of rare and delicate pieces.
Over the centuries, the people of Armenia have faced countless challenges. And while some have been more dramatic, none has been more critical than the challenge faced right now by the one million people of Armenian descent who live in the United States. This challenge involves preserving our past, not only for ourselves, but also for generations to come. For without a deep understanding of where we have come from, we can never truly understand why we are here or where we are going.
Out of this respect for the past, the Armenian Library and Museum of America was born. But ALMA is more than just a storehouse of ancient artifacts. It's a living museum where our children can come to discover their roots and where people of all ethnic backgrounds can see how the story of the Armenian people plays a vital part within the rich cultural symphony that is America.
Armenian Library and Museum of America, Inc.
65 Main Street
Watertown, MA 02472
The Armenian heritage is unique. We’re rich in history, rich in art and culture, rich in love of family and people. Though a small people, we have inherited a truly precious heritage from our forefathers, and we are endowed with the responsibility to pass it along to our own children. The word “museum” or tankaran originally meant “treasure house”, a fitting name for ALMA, for we are a treasure house of our heritage. The Armenian Library and Museum of America is not simply an impressive collection, it serves a unique purpose in the Armenian community. Quite literally, there is nothing else like it anywhere in the world. With over 20,000 artifacts and 22,000 books, ALMA is the largest ethnic museum in Massachusetts. ALMA showcases 15 exhibits annually and presents a wide range of cultural and educational programs which attract thousands of visitors.
Friday, Saturday, Sunday 1-5pm
In David Foster Wallace's acclaimed novel Infinite Jest, the character "Poor Tony" spends a period of time living in the ALMA's men's restroom.
Boston Globe, MA Aug 24 2005
Watertown museum preserves the history and culture of Armenia By Mark Pratt, Associated Press Writer | August 24, 2005
WATERTOWN, Mass. --Armenia has been conquered by the Romans, Greeks, Persians, Ottoman Turks and Russians.
"It is a rough and bloody history," said Gary Lind-Sinanian, curator of the Armenian Library and Museum of America in Watertown.
The largest Armenian museum in the U.S. preserves and promotes the distinct and vibrant culture of the Armenian people, who have survived and thrived despite their sad history.
It houses a collection of 20,000 artifacts, and continually changing displays of ornate Bibles, Gospels and prayer books; colorful rugs, clothing and textiles; antique musical instruments; ancient coins from the time before Christ; dazzling jewelry and more.
"This museum is ethnic wealth and history accumulated in one place," executive director Berj Chekijian said.
Founded in 1971 in the basement of a church in Belmont, the museum moved to its current location in busy Watertown Square in 1990. It now draws about 7,000 visitors annually.
The Boston suburb has long been a center of Armenian immigration. Of Watertown's 34,000 residents, more than 20 percent can claim Armenian descent, by Lind-Sinanian's estimate.
In all, there are roughly 90,000 people of Armenian descent in greater Boston, and about 1 million in the United States.
But it's not necessary to have Armenian blood to appreciate the museum. The sheer beauty of the jewelry, rugs and textiles have universal appeal, and the museum also explains Armenians' contributions to U.S. and world history.
In 301 A.D., Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as its official state religion.
Through Oct. 30, it features an exhibit called "Monks, Merchants and Missionaries: The Bible in the Armenian Tradition." There are ornate and colorful hand-transcribed and decorated Gospels and prayer books, including one that dates to 1207 and was in the same family for 39 generations before being donated to the museum.
"The book was said to have healing properties," Lind-Sinanian said. "People with sick relatives would travel miles to rub bread on the cover, then bring the bread back for their sick relatives to eat."
The museum's one permanent exhibit explores the genocide of Armenians by the Turks. By some estimates, more than 1 million Armenians were killed between 1915 and 1922. To this day, the Turkish government denies the genocide.
But to those who would deny it, Lind-Sinanian waves his hand at the photographs of emaciated children, of Armenian men dangling from gallows as Turkish troops stand at attention, and says "Go read some of the firsthand accounts, listen to the oral histories. I've actually had Turkish visitors to the museum look at this exhibit and say 'I'm sorry.'"
The museum also highlights prominent Armenian-Americans, including Dr. Jack Kevorkian, best known for being an advocate of doctor-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. But Kevorkian, currently serving a 10- to 25-year sentence in a Michigan prison for giving a fatal injection to a terminally ill patient, is also a writer, artist and composer, and the museum has samples of that work.
His paintings deal mainly with death -- including an iris growing through the eye socket of a human skull -- which many visitors find disturbing.
Moses Hadji Gulesian, a Boston coppersmith, is credited with saving the USS Constitution. When the Navy wanted to haul the warship into Boston Harbor to use for target practice, Gulesian recognized its historical significance and offered to buy it. It's now one of Boston's top tourist attractions.
"He essentially embarrassed the Navy into saving it," Lind-Sinanian said.
Doreen Adams of Duxbury grew up in Watertown and is three-quarters Armenian, but she'd never been to the museum until earlier this month.
"There is so much here, the beautiful jewelry, the art, but I was particularly drawn to the exhibit about the Armenian genocide, because my grandmother used to talk about that," she said.
Adams also learned a possible explanation for her Armenian grandmother's marriage to a Turk. During the genocide, the young, unmarried women of some Armenian villages would offer themselves to the Turkish troops for marriage, and in exchange, the Turks would spare the village.
"There is so much to learn here," Adams said.
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Elsewhere, and completely unrelated unless you tie the two together by having museum in common, the Armenian Library and Museum of America in a suburb of Boston is fighting off the estate of right-to-die activist Dr. Jack Kevorkian over 17 works of art the recently deceased doctor had painted. The AP reports that the family wants to include the pieces in an auction next week of the doctor's effects and estimates the paintings, many of which "depict death or dying and could provoke or disturb viewers" are worth somewhere between $2.5 and $3.5 million (one of the paintings was made "with a pint of his own blood"). The counter-argument argues that the pieces were donated specifically to the museum, where they have hung since 1999. The family debates that, saying Kevorkian only lent the art to the museum temporarily while he was serving a lengthy prison sentence for assisting in a patient's suicide.