"The Armenian Colony of Detroit – In the Early Period"
(Taken from the 1931 Armenian Yearbook)
The history of the foundation of the Armenian colony of Detroit represents an age of almost 60 years. [i.e., in 1931]] According to testimony which has been given, the first Armenian was a Marsovantsi Armenian young lady named Esther-Nevart, who was brought to Detroit by missionaries. She became a physician and was married to an American. Dr. Esther, who did not know how to speak Armenian, occupied a prominent position in Detroit.
Those who followed her, whether with a family or alone, were: Krikor Chemberjian, Hovhannes and Dikran Malarian, Hovhannes Zinkian, the Nergararian brothers, Hovhannes Yazejian, Krikor Goshgarian, Hagop, Avedis and Haroutiun Nersesian, Setrag Najarian, Hovhannes Douroujalian, Dr. G. Boyajian, Mesrob Kurejian and gradually others.
Karekin Magarian came from New York City in the year 1900 and worked for a Syrian rug merchant, two years later he started his own business being the first Armenian rug merchant in the State of Michigan. And Baghdasar Sarkisian was the first to open a [Near-Eastern??] grocery store in this city. Levon Chemberjian was the first Armenian child born in Detroit.
When the famous automaker of this city, Henry Ford, announced the five-dollar workday in the year 1914, the Armenians came to Detroit from the eastern states of the U.S. in large numbers, with the hope of earning money in the course of a few years and returning to the Old Country, but the First World War, the Armenian Genocide and Massacre, buried the hopes of thousands under black ashes, and in those years the youth conclusively decided to stay here. They were gradually established in Highland Park, Delray, River Rouge, Dearborn, and later in Melvindale and Allen Park.
At present, it is possible to reckon Detroit as one of the major centers of Armenian population in America, where, including the nearby suburbs, a superficial Armenian population of 20 thousand lives. The community, which began to be organized around 1909 is composed (according to S. M. Dzotsigian, on page 163 of the 1931 Armenian Yearbook), mainly of Kharpertsies, Sepastatsies, Yozghatsies, and also of Armenian settlers from Kghi, Gesaria, Izmir, Yerznga, Evereg, Fenesse, Van, and many villages and cities of the provinces of Turkish Anatolia, and from the Caucasus.
The economic role of the Armenians of the community is at a beginner level - it is natural that the Armenian people want to have their own building, property, land, and wealth. In the years of the last decade, there have been among the Armenians notable doctors, rich people, factory owners, and other personalities who have reached worthy positions.
Dr. Kasabian (who is able to be counted as one of the first Armenian doctors to settle in America - he came to America in the year 1892, graduated with a medical degree in 1896 from Northwestern University of Evanston, Chicago, and came and established himself in Detroit in 1915) relates that in the years when he arrived there were scarcely three thousand Armenians to be found in the city. “Apart from me, there were two well-known doctors,” he says, Dr. Boyajian and Dr. Hampartzoum Der Garabedian. And Dr. Garabed Attarian was the first Armenian dentist in Detroit. He continues:
“When Dr. Avedis Kaye came to Detroit, he brought an overall enthusiasm and activity to the literary life of the community. Dr. Kaye became a well-known person in those years, as an able doctor, orator, and man involved in "azkayin" affairs.
He was an ardent defender of the Armenian Cause, for the realization of which he went to Cilicia after the First World War, to aid those who were struggling.
One of his wishes was to found a clinic, under his leadership, where it would be possible to help sick Armenians. But he did not accomplish his goal.”
Having a worthy place in memory is the “Yeridasartats Agoump” (Youth Club), which was organized in 1918 by the diligent efforts of the following patriotic nationalists:
- Dr. Nishan Jivelegian
- Karnig Solakian
- Levon Khachadourian
- William Manisajian
- Dr. Avedis Kaye
- Aram Aghababian
- Mihran Tashjian
- Mardig Nahigian
- Dr. M. Deirmengian
- Dr. Nishan Kasabian
The purpose of the club was to keep Armenian education, the love for the homeland, the language, and the traditions alive and ardent in the hearts of the Armenian community and newcomers. They had frequent lectures and meetings interested in "azkayin" questions. The contributions which they made in the most lively and ardent period of their existence, (to Kachaznouni, to General Antranik, to the earthquake victims,) were crowned with great success. With unreserved celebration and collective powers the 1500th anniversary of the Holy Translators was celebrated, and they aided all literary, theatrical, and cultural undertakings within the bounds of their ability. After the closing of the club in 1928, new organizations appeared, such as the “Young Ladies’ Union,” the “Collegiate Union,” etc., etc. The activities of the compatriotic societies received a new impetus following their pre-war educational plan - they tried not only to usefully aid their compatriots who were saved from the days of the Genocide, but also took care of the education of young students in countries abroad.
The Armenian events which have taken place in the course of fifty years, with their ups and downs and their tempestous periods, have served only one humble purpose in Detroit: that is, “To keep the existence of the Armenian Nation alive and to bequath our ethnic traditions to the future generation.”
-Translated from the "Houshamadyan Sourp Hovhannes Mgrdich Yegeghetsvo"