Hidden Histories

The Armenian Genocide, Philadelphia & the Knights of Vartan

Wednesday, 5/21/08
Next to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, stands a 22 foot high monument, dedicated on April 24, 1976, as a tribute to the spirit and sacrifice of the Armenian people, designed to remind Philadelphians of the 'Day of Infamy,' or April 24, 1915, which is associated with the genocide and massacres carried out against the Armenians by Turkey, which occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In 1915 alone, some two-thirds of the Armenian population of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, were murdered, well over a million individuals, a people and culture that existed far back into antiquity. Severed heads, mounds of bones and skulls, starvation & rape, forced evacuations, separation of families, destruction of homes & villages, forced conversions to the invader's religion, etc., characteristics often associated with many 'genocides' of the past and present, were all commonplace attributes during this atrocity, which has very recently returned to the forefront for recognition or denial, from Turkey, to the halls of Congress.

Significantly, it was at the 'Bingham House Hotel' in center city Philadelphia, on 1026-1044 Market Street, where on May 27, 1916, members of the 'Armenian-American' community of the city, created the heritage organization, known as the 'Knights of Vartan,' in response to the atrocities being committed by the Turks against the Armenian people and culture at that time.

Though not Armenian, I nevertheless, carry on my key chain, a medallion of 'Vartan the Great,' or Vartan Mamigonian, commemorating this nobleman who served as 'commander-in-chief' of all the Armenian Christian forces, in 451 A.D., against the invading Persian Army, who were attempting to crush the oldest Christian nation in existence, and force them to convert to the Zoroastrian faith. Though he would be killed at the 'Battle of Vartanantz' on June 2nd, his heroism became a symbol and personification of Armenian ethnicity.

Like so many other subjects discussed at this blog, 'The Historical Society of Pennsylvania' has a rich collection of publications, manuscripts and materials, relative to the 'Armenian Genocide' and Armenian culture & history in general, including portions of the personal library, of 'His Beatitude Archbishop Torkom Manoogian-96th Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem,' who at one time served as the "pastorate of the Holy Trinity Armenian Church in North Philadelphia."

Among other items, the Historical Society has the 'Citizens Permanent Relief Committee Papers', for 1885-1899, which includes primary source material on the 'Armenian massacres in 1896,' as well as the Herbert Welsh Collection, which are papers of the Executive Secretary of the 'Philadelphia Committee for Armenian Relief,' containing correspondence between local & national politicians, civic & ecclesiastical leaders, both in the Philadelphia area and elsewhere, concerning the Armenian massacres, from 1916 to 1924.

The Herbert Welsh Collection also contains correspondence documenting the genocidal atrocities committed against the Armenian people, from 1896 to 1924.

Regrettably, 'genocides' are still in the news even today, and though many are familiar in history with the 'Jewish Holocaust' of WWII, too few are aware of the 'Armenian Genocide' which would eventually bring thousands of Armenians to America, a culture & people, though numerically a minority, have contributed significantly to American society & history in the modern world.