The pioneers of Armenian immigration to the United States were young high school graduates who, beginning in 1834, arrived in small numbers in search of higher education at American universities. Larger groups began arriving in the 1880s and 1890s to escape Ottoman Turkish oppression, especially the massacres of 1895-96. The influx of Armenian immigrants to the New World reached its peak in the aftermath of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, when large numbers of Armenians living in Turkey were systematically persecuted, deported and exterminated by the Ottoman regime.
Beginning in the 1950s and continuing through the 1980s, another wave of Armenian immigrants—originating from such countries as Lebanon, Iran and Iraq—came to America, a result of the rising political unrest in the Middle East. Immigration from Armenia itself was rare during that country’s period under Soviet domination, but this has reversed in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the establishment of a free and independent Republic of Armenia.
The first Armenian Church was built in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1891 (pictured above). The first Armenian clergyman had arrived earlier, in response to a petition by 300 Armenian residents of the city. By 1897, as the number of Armenian immigrants grew, there were six clergymen serving the Armenian Church in America. With the exception of Worcester, services were held in non-Armenian sanctuaries, notably Episcopalian churches. The Armenian Church of America was established officially by Catholicos Mkrtich Khrimian in 1898.
There are about one million Armenians in the United States and Canada today. The Church has two dioceses in the U.S: the Eastern Diocese—known officially as the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America—has jurisdiction over all of the United States except California, Washington, Nevada and Arizona. The Western Diocese, consisting of the above western states, was constituted in 1928. There are 63 organized and mission parishes in the Eastern Diocese. A third diocese governs all of Canada.
The head of the Eastern Diocese is the Primate—currently Very Rev. Fr. Mesrob Parsamyan—who is elected by clerical and lay representatives of the parishes at the Diocesan Assembly, which meets annually. The Primate is president of the Diocesan Council, consisting of lay and clerical members, which governs the affairs of the Diocese.
The Primate also presides over St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York City. The Cathedral, consecrated in April 1968 by the late Catholicos Vasken I, resembles the world’s first cruciform church, the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin, built in the 4th century near Yerevan, Armenia. In 2018, St. Vartan Cathedral celebrated its 50th Anniversary.
Adjacent to the St. Vartan Cathedral is the three-story Gulbenkian Cultural Center and Diocesan House. The complex includes a cultural center, museum, library, religious and language departments, office and meeting rooms and various other facilities. The center also contains the Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium, as well as the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center, a research facility dedicated to scholarship and the dissemination of information about Armenian-related topics.
Major centers of Armenian population in the United States include the greater New York area; Boston and its environs; Worcester, MA; Detroit, MI; Chicago, IL; Philadelphia, PA; Los Angeles, CA; and Fresno, CA. Substantial and expanding communities exist in Texas, and Florida.
Former Primates of the Eastern Diocese
Very Rev. Fr. Mesrob Parsamyan 2022-present
His Grace Bishop Daniel Findikyan 2018 – 2022
His Eminence Archbishop Khajag Barsamian 1990 – 2018
His Eminence Archbishop Torgom Manoogian 1966 – 1990
Archbishop Sion Manoogian 1958 – 1966
Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan 1944 – 1953
Archbishop Karekin Hovsepian 1939 – 1944
Very Rev. Fr. Mampre Calfayan, Locum-Tenens 1934 – 1939
Archbishop Ghevont Tourian 1931 – 1933
Diocese governed by Diocesan Council 1930 – 1931
Rev. Fr. Haroutune Sarkissian, Locum-Tenens 1930
Rev. Fr. Serovpe Nershabouh, Locum-Tenens 1928 – 1930
Archbishop Tirayr Hovhannesian 1921 – 1928
Bishop Papken Gueleserian, Locum-Tenens 1920 – 1921
Bishop Khoren Mouradpegian, Patriarchal Legate 1920
Very Rev. Fr. Shahe Kasparian, Locum-Tenens 1917 – 1920
Very Rev. Fr. Arsen Vehouni 1913 – 1917
Archbishop Kevork Utujian, Patriarchal Legate 1913
Archbishop Yeznik Abahouni 1908
Very Rev. Fr. Boghos Kaftanian, Locum-Tenens 1906 – 1908
Bishop Hovsep Sarajian 1898 – 1906