Armenian immigration

2011-01-29 08:31:27

Armenians first migrated to North America in large numbers following the massacres of 1894–95 at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. An attempted genocide during World War I (1914–18) led to another influx. Finally, the rise of Arab nationalism during the 1950s led to the emigration of tens of thousands of Armenians from Islamic countries throughout the Middle East. In the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 385,488 Americans claimed Armenian descent, while 40,505 did so in Canada. The early centers of Armenian settlement in the United States were New York City, Boston, and Fresno, California. Since 1970, the majority of Armenians settled in the Los Angeles area, making it the largest Armenian city outside their homeland, with a population of more than 200,000. Brantford, Ontario, was the largest Canadian settlement of Armenians prior to World War II (1939–45), though by 2000, almost half lived in Montreal and about one-third in Toronto.
The modern state of Armenia that emerged from the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 occupies 11,500 square miles of Southwest Asia between 38 and 42 degrees north latitude. The ancient kingdom was almost 10 times larger. Georgia lies to the north of modern Armenia; Azerbaijan, to the east; Iran, to the south; and Turkey, to the west. The land is mostly mountainous. In 2002, the population was estimated at 3,336,100, with over a third in the urban area of the capital city Yerevan. Ninety-three percent of the population is ethnically Armenian. Minority ethnic groups include Azeri, Russian, and Kurd. Armenian Orthodox is the principal religion of the country.
Armenians are an ancient people who have inhabited the Caucasus mountain area and eastern Anatolia (modern Turkey) for more than 2,500 years. Although various Armenian states exercised sovereignty in the ancient and medieval periods, the region was most often dominated by more powerful neighbors, including Persia, Rome, the Seljuk Turks, and the Ottoman Turks. As Christians, Armenians were subject to frequent persecution at the hands of Islamic governments. In the 1890s, an Ottoman attempt to rid the empire of this troublesome minority led to the murder of several hundred thousand Armenians and an international call for reforms. After Ottoman defeat in World War I, Armenia briefly declared a republic (1918). Fearing Turkish aggression, the country accepted the protection of the Soviets in 1920 and in 1922 joined with Georgia and Azerbaijan to form the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). In 1936, Armenia became an independent constituent republic of the USSR. In 1988, nearly 55,000 Armenians were killed in an earthquake that destroyed several cities. Since independence, in 1991, fighting between Armenia and largely Muslim Azerbaijan over the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh has kept political tensions high in the country.
Despite the fact that an Armenian farmer immigrated to Virginia as early as 1618, it is estimated that there were fewer than 70 Armenians in the United States prior to 1870. The first great migration came in the wake of the massacres of 1894–95. During the remainder of that decade, perhaps 100,000 Armenians immigrated to the United States. After the Turkish government killed more than a million Armenians during World War I, another 30,000 escaped to America before the restrictive Johnson-Reed Act (1924) effectively closed the door, reducing the annual quota to 150. Following World War II, the Displaced Persons Act (1948) enabled some 4,500 Armenians to come to the United States outside the quota. Finally, tens of thousands of Armenians who had been driven by Turkey into Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, and Syria following World War II immigrated during the 1950s. It is difficult to determine with precision the number of Armenians who have come to North America, because they emigrated from many Middle Eastern countries and often were counted on the basis of their immediately previous country of residence. Between 1960 and 1984, about 30,000 Armenians fled the USSR, most settling in the greater Los Angeles area. As Soviet control of its republics began to weaken in the late 1980s, thousands more immigrated to the United States. It has been estimated that more than 60,000 came during the 1980s. Following the initial turmoil surrounding Armenian independence in 1991, numbers gradually declined. Between 1994 and 2002, Armenian immigration to the United States averaged about 2,000 annually. This figure does not include Armenians from Turkey or Iran.
During the 1890s, a small number of Armenians settled on the western prairies of Canada, but a substantial community failed to develop. Around the turn of the century, a larger contingent of mainly entrepreneurs and factory workers settled in southern Ontario. By 1914 there were about 2,000 Armenians in Canada. Restrictions classifying Armenians as “Asiatics” effectively stopped immigration until the 1950s, though about 1,300 were admitted as refugees during the 1920s. Many were orphans sponsored by religious or charitable organizations. With the Immigration Act of 1952, Armenians were no longer classified as Asiatics and thus found immigration easier. The Canadian Armenian Congress sponsored hundreds of Armenian immigrants in the 1950s and 1960s, with most settling near their headquarters in Montreal. Only about 4 percent of Armenian Canadians immigrated after 1961, with 1,130 coming between 1991 and 2001.