The Peoples of Utah, ed. by Helen Z. Papanikolas, © 1976
“From Babylon to Babylon: Immigration from the Middle East,” pp. 385–408
by Robert F. Zeidner
Syria has always been an inhospitable place to live in and a splendid place to leave.
…Philip K. Hitti
The Middle Eastern peoples who settled in Utah–and in the entire nation–represent a congeries of the state’s smallest immigrant elements in terms of absolute numbers.1 Although the Syro-Lebanese and Armenians, who began to land on American shores during the late 1880s, comprise the great bulk of Utah’s Middle Eastern ethnic mixture, recent years have seen the arrivals of modest numbers of Egyptians, Iranians, Palestinian Arabs, Iraqis, Jordanians, and even a few Turks and Libyans. The early immigrants were almost all adherents of various Christian denominations, but Moslems have assumed an increasing proportion among recent additions to our Middle Eastern population. Nevertheless, the Christian element remains by far the dominant group of the two.
Throughout the period of maximum emigration from the Middle East (1890-1918), two Islamic states encompassed the entire area: Iran (Persia) and the Ottoman Empire. Hence, immigrants from the region frequently found themselves identified here, in terms of national origin, as “Persians” and “Ottomans” (or “Turks”) respectively. However, aside from nation of residence, the issue of ethnic identification, and of group loyalties, throughout the Middle East has long revolved about the twin axes of religion and mother tongue. Thus, several “Persian” immigrants of the early 1920s might more properly be identified as “Assyrians”–Syriac-speaking members of the long-oppressed Nestorian communities of northwest Iran and northern Iraq. In view of the harsh treatment they often experienced at the hands of their nomadic Moslem neighbors during the late nineteenth century, these people cling tenaciously to their Assyrian identity; and they continue to emigrate to this date. Similar cycles of oppression and emigration launched the exodus of masses of Armenians and Christian “Syrians” during the same period. Whereas the United States has admitted over a quarter million of these two peoples, even larger numbers emigrated to Latin America, especially to Brazil and Argentina.
Despite popular American notions ascribing a general “sameness” to all Middle Eastern peoples, the various cultural units of that region are very much aware of their respective differences. (The Millet system, wherein each faith maintained its own laws, courts, schools, welfare agencies, and systems of taxation contributed to this awareness.)2 This is especially true of those elements that began to migrate to the New World during the late nineteenth century: the Christian Lebanese and the Armenians, who are still arriving in United States ports in modest numbers. All of the peoples native to the Middle East have long displayed a fierce attachment to faith, family, cultural tradition, and their home soil. Therefore, despite the great upheavals suffered by many peoples, particularly the Christian minorities, of the area during the nineteenth century, emigration remained relatively subdued in terms of absolute numbers. Moreover, restrictive policies on emigration among the states of the region and limited immigration quotas set for their nationals by the United States combined to discourage migrations of the scale witnessed in Europe throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century. Further, the Middle East as a whole has not suffered the strains of overpopulation and consequent pressures on the available arable land, with the obvious exceptions of Egypt and Lebanon, until recent times.
On the other hand, two relatively small but distinctive ethnic units of Middle Eastern society, the Armenians and the Christian Lebanese, have demonstrated over a period of centuries a readiness to emigrate in the face of adverse living conditions at home, or of opportunities for self-improvement abroad. A diaspora of both peoples had already commenced well before the launching of the great European exodus to the Western Hemisphere. Armenian merchants and tradesmen had founded colonies from London to Bombay by the turn of the seventeenth century; and Muhammad Ali Pasha, in the course of his founding of the modern Egyptian state, imported thousands of Christian Lebanese and Armenian clerks and petty officials during the early decades of the nineteenth century.3
An early attachment to western educational traditions among the urban elements of both peoples, reinforced throughout the nineteenth century by continuous infusions of western Christian missionaries among their urban and rural segments, plus high rates of literacy and a flair for learning western languages, especially French and English, facilitated the mobility of both the Lebanese and the Armenians. Significant numbers of both groups, by virtue of education and linguistic versatility, found employment and even dual citizenship among the western commercial firms that burgeoned throughout the Middle East during the nineteenth century.4 Thus, the stage was set for large overseas migrations among the Armenians and Lebanese when strife broke out between them and their neighbors in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Although the Christians of Lebanon comprise one of the major ethnic groups of the Middle East to emigrate to this country and elsewhere commencing in the late 1 880s, a great deal of confusion regarding national origins persists among such immigrants, and among United States immigration and census officials as well. Much of this confusion stems from the late arrival of Lebanon within the society of independent nations (1943). More specifically, many of the Lebanese settled in the United States and elsewhere were identified upon arrival in their new homelands as “Syrians.” Many such immigrants continue to this day to think of themselves as such–whereas their native land was, in fact, Lebanon. United States immigration and census statistics persist in reflecting a far larger “foreign stock” of Syrian origin than justified by current realities.
The full “Syrian” immigration statistics will never be known, because many Syro-Lebanese entered this country sub rosa, via Vera Cruz and a surreptitious northward crossing of the Rio Grande River. These were principally diseased persons and victims of horror tales of Ellis Island, told by steamship agents in Beirut, Naples, and Marseilles, plus a substantial number of people already refused entry for a variety of reasons at eastern port cities.5
An eminent Syro-Lebanese scholar, himself an immigrant to this nation, records a loss of one-quarter (one hundred thousand) of the entire population of autonomous Lebanon through emigration between the years 1900 and 1914;6 the Christians of the coast, the south, and the Beqaa must have departed in even greater numbers. Almost all of the many Lebanese families in Utah interviewed by the writer hail from the latter regions, more specifically from the vicinities of Zable in the Beqaa and of Saida and Sur on the southern coast. However, a few did emigrate from the slopes above Beirut and from modern Syria proper.
Peasants and, to a lesser degree, petty artisans and clerks, formed the great bulk of Syro-Lebanese emigrants in terms of numbers. Young males held a heavy majority among those bound for the New World, and many of them harbored initial intentions of returning to the Levant with their savings. Thus, many–if not most–left wives and children behind in the care of the extended family. On the other hand, a few years of the “good life” on these shores, plus the general devastation of the Levant by the Young Turks during the First World War,7 sufficed to make permanent Americans of most of the “Syrian” immigrants. An extraordinary talent for adaptation among the Syro-Lebanese, born of centuries of politico-economic vicissitude and constant association with diverse peoples in their native land, greatly facilitated their cultural absorption in the United States and elsewhere. This trend was especially true of those who, like their brothers in Utah, did not congregate in the large “Syrian” ghettos of New York, Boston, Patterson, Detroit, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Chicago. The ghetto-dwellers usually managed to import their respective churches–and even their Arabic presses–and thus maintained a modicum of their former culture on this continent, so much so that New York, in 1905, saw a brief outbreak of “Syrian” intra-communal violence of the sort long since deemed endemic among the varied ethnic elements of the Levant.8
“Syrians” Admitted to and Departed from the United States, 1899-1924
Year”Syrians” Admitted”Syrians” Departed
1899 3708/2446 Unknown
Compiled from Ferenczi, International Migrations, pp. 432-43, 498.
As suggested above, the vast majority of Syro-Lebanese immigrants settled in areas east of the Mississippi River and north of the Ohio River.9 Nonetheless, the modern Levantines remain the cultural heirs of their Phoenician forebears insofar as commerce is concerned, and business or employment opportunities have impelled them to migrate widely throughout this continent. One can find a “Syrian” colony, however small, in every American city boasting a population of 500,000 or more. Although most of the Levantines who settled in New England and the Atlantic Seaboard found work in the textile mills of those regions, many, if not most, of those who migrated south and west started their new lives as peddlers of “notions”–souvenirs of the Holy Lands, laces, embroidered linens, and silk goods (especially lingerie and kimonos).
Many of the native housewives of rural America first learned of the existence of these luxuries through the door-to-door visits of wandering “Syrian” merchants. Blessed with world-famous business acumen, these peddlers soon discovered that access to American housewives in the sale of “personal” goods was generally more open to women than to men and they began to employ their own womenfolk in this role. Moreover, many a male peddler, who had hoped to return to the Levant eventually, sent for or acquired a mate in the homeland. Hence, the web of migrant “Syrian” involvement in America slowly grew taut, and dreams of seeing the motherland again gradually receded with the establishment of families here. In the meantime, Syro-Lebanese frugality generated capital among the peddlers, and many of them opened dry goods and grocery stores, particularly in the Midwest and the West. Probably the most successful of such ventures was that of the Farah family of El Paso, Texas.
Even a decision to settle permanently in New York, Texas, or Utah, however, did not signal a clean break with the Levant. The ties of kith and kin remain strong among Syro-Lebanese immigrants, even into the second generation of the native-born. Hence, the initial waves of “Syrians” to surge upon American shores, having decided to remain here rather than to return, began to import relatives of both sexes. The modest resources of immigrant families imposed severe limits to the numbers of persons they could sponsor for emigration, and many family members preferred to remain in the home country. As a result many Levantine-Americans retain a strong attachment to their native towns and villages to this day. Philip K. Hitti has portrayed this attachment in simple but vivid terms in citing the many Lebanese villages renovated or expanded, especially after the depredations of the First World War, through the massive cash remissions of concerned expatriates.10 Moreover, like their Greek counterparts, many Levantine immigrants have visited their former homes and taken their American-born children to meet “Syrian” cousins and grandparents. Some naturalized Syro-Lebanese here even retain dual citizenship, a status actively encouraged by the government of Lebanon.11
Like most immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean basin, the Middle Easterners in this hemisphere have tended to flock to and remain in the large cities of their new homelands. On the other hand, relatively few of the latter group have undertaken heavy labor as a means of family support. As already suggested, most Levantine stock sought employment in the manufacture or sale of textiles. This is hardly surprising in view of the extent to which spinning and weaving are still known and practiced in rural Middle Eastern households. Textile work, or sales, appealed to many unskilled and frequently illiterate immigrants who might otherwise have found only the most menial positions in heavy industry.12
A marked departure from this trend, however, was blazed by the earliest Syro-Lebanese to settle in Utah. The very first of these identified by the author, Brahim (Abraham) Howa, having arrived in Carbon County as a peddler of carpets and jewelry about 1896, tried his hand at both mining and farming. He conformed with other immigrant Levantine patterns in sponsoring the immigration to Utah of three brothers and a sister. Their descendants here have adhered to the general urbanizing trend and gradually migrated to Price, Provo, and Salt Lake City.13
Brahim Howa’s niece, Sarah George, came from Dibbel, Lebanon, in 1907 with her uncle John Howa and his wife, landing in Mexico and traveling from Texas to Utah. Sarah was thirteen years old and had been betrothed in Lebanon to sixteen-year-old John Attey, already in Utah. John and his father painted boxcars in the railyards, later managed an ice cream shop, and worked at the Garfield smelter and in a brickyard. Sixty-eight years later Sarah Attey said:
Yes, I wanted to come to America. Streets paved with gold, everyone said. I was so homesick when I come. I cried all the time for my parents and home. My father had a farm. He raised melons, grapes, silkworms. Two years after, I married my husband in the Salt Lake Catholic Cathedral. We had big dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house. Roast lamb, pilaf, dolmas [meat and rice wrapped in grape leaves], chicken, honey pastries. Dancing, music.
We lived on the west side, by Greek Town, with Lebanese neighbors. You know, when you are far from home, you want to be with your people. Lebanese Town it was called. Three Lebanese were very successful. Bonos Shool had a grocery store in Greek Town, on Second South. George Katter and Kalil Fadel also, dry goods, stores. George Katter got men jobs at Bingham copper mine.
Lebanese men peddled, sold lot of jewelry to Greeks. They peddled lace, linens, cloth, bedspreads all over Utah. They bought from New York stores. Lebanese men in some labor jobs made ten cents an hour for ten hours a day. That’s why some Lebanese women took in boarders. They had to.
When the Greeks had weddings and baptisms in their first church on Fourth South, we used to go there to watch them dance in the churchyard. Namedays [saints’ feast days] were big holidays for us, but Easter was the great holiday of the year.14
Other early arrivals among the Levantine settlers in Utah, the Malouf family of Salt Lake City and Logan, first entered a variety of mercantile ventures in and around Richfield before gravitating to Provo, Salt Lake City, Ogden, and Logan. The Maloufs constitute a classic example of the products of Syro-Lebanese frugality, commercial shrewdness, and passion for education in a milieu of opportunity. Although their earliest arrivals were virtually illiterate, in a single generation they established several flourishing businesses in Richfield, before moving to Salt Lake City to found the Western Garment Manufacturing Company, subsequently developed by Anees B. Malouf and his kin as the nationally known Mode O’Day, a women’s garment manufacturing and sales firm. Meanwhile, both physicians and university professors of note, not to mention the current leadership of Mode O’Day, have emerged from the ranks of the first and second generations of the native-born Maloufs of Utah.15 Similarly, both the Howa and Sheya families of Carbon County have produced conspicuously successful members among the professions–again reflecting the trend toward urban migration among the Syro-Lebanese of Utah’s central counties.16
Later arrivals, those who came to Utah after 1905, seem to have concentrated in Salt Lake and Weber counties and comprise the bulk of the state’s current “Syrian” element. Although a substantial number among them started life here as peddlers of clothing and notions in the mining and farming communities of northern Utah, perhaps even more males eventually took up labor at the Utah Fire Clay Company, formerly located at 1078 South First West in Salt Lake City. And, in consequence, a miniscule Little Syria blossomed during the 1920s and 1930s in the vicinity of the residences and stores centered on Third South and Fifth West. Among the most prominent members of this colony the late Gibran (George) Katter, who arrived as a peddler in 1901, founded the Salt Lake Grocery and Dry Goods Company (now defunct) and opened a boardinghouse for miners in Bingham Canyon. His involvement with labor recruitment for the Utah Copper Company continued until his death in late 1937. His marriage to the former Mary Elizabeth Hussoun Boyer in 1915 marked one of the major social events among the entire foreign-born community of Salt Lake City for that year. Extensive news coverage of this occasion presents a vivid description of all-night Lebanese dancing, music, and food. The entire neighborhood was invited as were all of the local police.17
Although both Syro-Lebanese immigrants and their United States-born children have demonstrated a strong preference for marrying among their own kind, to include religion, in all districts of Utah, the degree to which the traditions of the homeland have been preserved in home life varies sharply between the relatively large colonies of Salt Lake City and Ogden on one hand, and the dispersed elements of the rest of Utah on the other. As one might expect, “Syrian” lifestyles prevail far more among the former group than among the latter. Were it not for their surnames, one would scarcely recognize the children of the latter group as first-generation native-born. Most of them profess to know little Arabic, and, in consequence, they speak flawless Utah folk-English. Many of the first generation native-born among the former group still reveal traces of a “Syrian” accent when speaking English, and, perhaps more significant, they cling tenaciously to the values and customs peculiar to their forebears. The author has encountered here a sprinkling of such individuals who appear to have strayed less from the lifestyle of late nineteenth-century “Syria” than relatively recent arrivals from that area or the current inhabitants of the region. One finds among the children of the Salt Lake City enclave of Levantine immigrants many who continue to serve “Syrian” dishes at home and who can play the oud, the def, or the tabla–or dance the dabke to the strains of these ancient musical instruments.18
Whereas Hitti has anguished at considerable length over the clannishness and individualism of his countrymen and the consequent lack of cohesion among them,19 Levantine fraternal associations, newspapers, and churches founded in America have served to enhance and preserve the memory of native customs and traditions among United States–born offspring. Since the Syro-Lebanese immigrants found themselves engulfed everywhere amidst other, larger ethnic elements, they derived much comfort and a sense of solidarity from their own organizations. The sole entity of this sort formed in Utah to date is the Phoenician Lodge of Salt Lake City, originally chartered in 1936 as The United Syrian-American Society. Membership, since the inception of the club, has varied between thirty and forty persons and includes several residing in Ogden and Provo. The major social events of the association, however, frequently command attendance by as many as ninety from the Levantine community.20
Despite their small numbers and their reputation for adaptability, the Levantine settlers of Utah have endured the full range of nativistic hostility and bigotry shared by immigrant Italians, Greeks, Blacks, and other “swarthy” peoples at the hands of the culturally dominant Anglo-Saxon majority of the population. Thus, bitter memories of cries of “dago” and “greaser” and “nigger” still linger among the Middle Eastern residents of Salt Lake City and Ogden; and, under the pressures of such treatment, much of the mutual distrust and suspicion that divided the various religious sects in the motherland has gradually vanished, and sectarian mobility and intermarriage has ensued among Christians. A few Levantines have even entered the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Although the Maronites (who use the Syriac liturgy, are governed by the patriarch of Antioch, and acknowledge the Roman pope as supreme) boast the largest sectarian membership of the “Syrian” Christian groups, the entire Maronite population of Utah is not sufficient to warrant the importation of a priest of that denomination; and the Utah Maronites have merged with the local Roman Catholic diocese. Nor have the Greek Orthodox or the Protestant Levantines banded together to form their own ecclesiastical communities. Like the Maronites, they too have joined local churches of their respective faiths.21 Again, due to the modest size of the “Syrian” element in Utah, no Arabic publications have emerged here nor any media of any sort or language directed at Middle Eastern peoples. The only attempt to perpetuate local knowledge of the Arabic language uncovered by the writer, other than informal instruction in the home, was undertaken six years ago by Michael S. Allam, formerly a young schoolteacher in southern Lebanon, when he voluntarily conducted classes in Salt Lake City. This instruction lasted for only a few months. Allam remains the chief link in correspondence between many Levantine residents of Utah and their relatives in the motherland. He is frequently asked by the former to translate their messages into the Arabic language and script and to read and translate letters from the latter.
Other than their remarkable achievements here in the spheres of business and the professions, Levantine immigrants and their children have accrued a most enviable reputation for respect for law and order. Even during the violent strike at the Utah Fire Clay Company in 1910, the “Syrian” laborers there emerged without mention in either the newspapers or the police “blotters” of the time.22 Further, as a dramatic indication of the continuing strength of family ties, one finds that divorce among Utah Levantines is extremely rare. Their traditional respect for their women and their elders, moreover, seems undiminished by their long residence in Utah. However, a steady trend toward migration to the Pacific Coast and elsewhere, increasing intermarriage, and other inevitable forces of cultural absorption even now foretell the eventual extinction of the Syro-Lebanese Utahns as a communal entity. In the meantime, the impact of their coming here upon the lives of many outside their own ranks stands out far more significantly than mere demographic data would suggest.
Unlike the “Syrians,” the Armenians of the Middle East, and particularly those subject to the Ottoman throne, were impelled to emigrate in large numbers to Egypt, Western Europe, Russia, the Balkans, and the Western Hemisphere during the late nineteenth century as an urgent matter of immediate survival. A long series of bloody Armenian massacres, widely believed to have been instigated by Sultan Abdul Hamid II, commenced throughout the Ottoman Empire in 1894. The causes of these assaults, initially launched only against the defenseless Gregorian, or Apostolic, sect are far too complex to merit analysis here.23
The chief incentive behind the initial waves of Armenian immigrants of all faiths to America in the 1 890s centered on personal safety and survival. Although the massacres of 1894-96 did not recur at a significant level until 1909, a haunting fear of recurrence among all Armenians of the Middle East sustained a steady flow of departures from that region until the outbreak of the First World War. However, the final agony of the “Armenian Question” did not commence until the year 1915, when the Young Turk regime, fearful of Armenian collaboration with invading Russian armies in eastern Asia Minor, decided upon a massive evacuation of all Armenians from that area to the vicinity of Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria, on the surface, a reasonable and relatively harmiess measure for any state in time of war. The implementation of this scheme proved cynical and inhumane beyond description. At least one Armenian immigrant of Salt Lake City, Mary B. Ouzounian, survived this bloody ordeal; and, although she was a child at the time of the march, the many atrocities she witnessed, including the loss of her parents, remain boldly etched in her memory.24
The slaughter of 1915 marked the high tide of Armenian suffering, but the termination of the war did not bring security to those who resided in Turkish Cilicia and the trans-Caucasian provinces of Russia. The population of Turkey today exceeds thirty-six million people; the Armenians of all sects remaining there total less than one hundred thousand, most of whom now live in Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara. In short, World War I and subsequent, ancillary struggles totally uprooted the entire Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire.25
The majority of the Ottoman Armenians who survived these events settled in Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt where significant numbers of their compatriots had long before established thriving commercial colonies. In 1945 Albert H. Hourani, a noted authority on Middle Eastern minority peoples, estimated the Armenians of the Levant at almost one hundred twenty thousand in Syria and nearly sixty-nine thousand in Lebanon, almost 5 percent of the total population in each case. The greatest concentrations of them are still found in Aleppo and Beirut. However, a paroxysm of anti-Christian sentiment throughout Syria in the wake of the founding of Israel and the first Arab-Israeli war heralded the start of a constant flow of Armenians from the former city to the latter. This migration continues to this day and lies at the source of most Armenian movement to the United States in recent decades.26
Like the “Syrians,” most of the Armenians admitted to this country have settled east of the Mississippi River and north of the Ohio River, and in California, particularly in the farming community around Fresno. And again, similar to trends set by the Levantines, Armenian immigrants have concentrated in the greatest numbers in the cities of New England and the Atlantic Seaboard, where most found work in the manufacture of leather goods (especially shoes) and textiles.27 Also, Armenian merchants, like their Levantine contemporaries, engaged in the importation and sale of carpets and other costly fabrics. Yet again like the “Syrians,” some Armenians have entered this land by way of Mexico–having been refused admittance to eastern ports due to diseases (usually trachoma) or a lack of proof of means of financial support.
Thanks to the development of a relatively superior system of education within the Gregorian communities of Turkey and Russia during the latter half of the nineteenth century, plus the general concentration of efforts among western missionaries on the rural Armenians of the Middle East, the literacy rate among Armeman immigrants compared favorably to American standards; and newly arrived Armenians enjoyed relatively rapid and painless advancement here in employment. A national reputation for industriousness enhanced this process considerably.
Nevertheless, an enduring propensity for clannishness and haggling for prices in the marketplace, also peculiar to the Levantine immigrants, exposed the Armenians to the usual nativistic patterns of suspicion and hostility.28 Armenian clannishness, stemming as in the case of the Syro-Lebanese from the restrictions of sectarian communal life in the Middle East, remains strong among the Gregorian and Catholic ghettos of New York, Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, Jersey City, and San Francisco. True again to the fashions set by Levantine settlers, the larger Armenian colonies have reinforced their old lifestyle in importing both their presses and their native churches; and they have formed many fraternal, philanthropic, and scholastic associations, some on an international scale.
However, an apparent passion for business, the professions (especially medicine), and the arts among the more affluent ranks of Armenians is steadily breaking down old barriers; and the relentless forces of cultural assimilation, including migration from the ghetto and intermarriage, have spawned at least two generations of utterly acculturated Armeno-Americans.29 This marks the extent of similarities in trends set to date by America’s major groups of immigrants from the Middle East, particularly so in the case of those in Utah.
A recent ethno-historical survey of the employment records of the Utah Copper Company for the period 1910-20 revealed almost one hundred fifty Armenian laborers’ names and terms of service. Few of these surnames can be found today in the telephone directories of the major communities of this state. One is thus forced to conclude that these Armenians, most of them railroaders by trade, migrated from Utah toward the close of the First World War, barring, of course, the distinct possibility that some died here without male offspring or had anglicized their surnames, such as: Krikorian to Gregory, Hagopian to Jacobson.30 Current Utah telephone directories did yield slightly over one hundred Armenian surnames, over one-half of which fall in Salt Lake and Weber counties. Interviews among the forty-four families of Armenian extraction located by the author in Salt Lake County have produced few trends in arrival dates and employment preferences. In keeping with national patterns, however, Utah Armenians are well represented in education and medicine, far out of proportion to their modest numbers in this state. Contrary to the general trend set among the Syro-Lebanese population, the Armenian immigrants of Utah, like those of the entire nation, hail from all walks of life in the old country: urban and rural, rich and poor, highly educated and scarcely literate.
Without access to the worksheets and individual questionnaires compiled during the 1960 census of population, it is impossible even to estimate the current Armenian “foreign stock” of this state.31 Although native speakers of Arabic (and their children) became a matter of record in that census, no other Middle Eastern language warranted mention. The omission of Armenian-speakers from the inventory of “foreign stock” in 1960 obviously suggests that the number of such persons discovered fell considerably below the ninety-four Arabic-speakers recorded. That a substantial segment of Armenian immigrants claim Turkish, rather than Armenian, as their native tongue may help to explain this void. The sole hint available regarding the size of the Armenian community of Utah comes from the census of 1920, which records the Armenian foreign-born element of this state at eighty persons. The Armenian colony is too small and available data on dates of arrival here, trends in employment, and places of residence too disparate to permit generalization by the writer. One must therefore conclude tentatively that most of the non-Mormon Armenians came here from the northeastern states and California in response to unique opportunities for self-improvement or to join relatives.
On the positive side of the ledger, however, a great deal of information is available through church records and personal journals on local Armenians of the Mormon faith.32 Slightly over one-half of all the Armenians identified in Utah by the author are Latter-day Saints, and their ancestors started to arrive here from the vicinity of Sivas in central Anatolia about 1897. Other Mormon families began the long trek to Utah from Aintab (the Gazi Antep of modern Turkey) in southern Asia Minor about the same time. About twenty such families had arrived here by the outbreak of the First World War. The war not only put a stop to Mormon missionary work in Anatolia but drove the Mormons out of both Sivas and Aintab into the Levant, whence they have been emigrating in a slow but steady rivulet since the war. Some who arrived in recent years had awaited an immigration quota in Aleppo or Beirut for over twenty years.
One of the earliest arrivals from the Sivas area, Hagop Thomas Gagosian, has left a brief, fascinating journal of his odyssey that begins:
I Hagop Thomas (Tumas) Gagosian, son of Tumas and Marrow Sherinian Gagosian, was horn an Armenian in the town of Zara, State of Sivas, Country of Turkey–on January 25, 1868. I lived in Zara until I was 45 years old, then emmigrated [sic] to the United States of America. We had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints so were anxious to come to America, the land of our dreams.
Years of penury and thwarted planning preceded the arrival of Hagop Gagosian to Utah. As a boy he was hired out to a farmer to get stacks of wheat ready for threshing. “This plank was too heavy for a fourteen-year-old boy to handle alone. I hurt my back and have been bothered with it all my life.” He was later apprenticed to a barber, a distant relative of his mother.
So, I started on my career of learning how to cut hair, to pull teeth, as well as how to prepare and serve Turkish coffee, all for one Krush a day (4 cents in American money) and my board and room. It was also my job to sleep at the barbershop, clean it up after hours and serve as a watchman…
While working as a plasterer several years later, Gagosian heard of F.F. Hintze of Holladay, Utah, who chose “to go to Constantinople as a Mormon missionary to do good instead of staying home to face punishment as a polygamist because he felt he could not desert any of his [three] wives.” From Constantinople, Hintze came to Zara. “The Mormon church started in Zara 6 of October, in 1888.” Gagosian was baptized against his wife’s wishes by Nisham K. Sherinian, May 27, 1894, in the river Zara.
It took Gagosian three years to reach Utah to see if “there really was a prophet at the head of the church with two Councilors and twelve Apostles like in Christ’s Church of olden days.” Armenians had extreme problems with obtaining passports and Gagosian’s membership in an anti-Turkish party added danger to his efforts. Leaving his wife with three children, and a bakery to run, Gagosian “started walking like an American hobo,” with a borrowed lira [the equivalent of five American dollars] and a rug on which to sleep. While he worked his way to the sea for a few cents a day, sleeping in stables, and sailing on to Cyprus, the first wave of Armenian massacres swept through Anatolia.
After incredible misery in Egypt, France, and London, Gagosian arrived in Salt Lake City on July 10, 1897, in time for the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in Utah. Six months later he was told that he must accompany F.F. Hintze and Anthon Lund “to the Old country to buy land in Jerusalem on which to colonize the Armenian Mormons.” Gagosian had destroyed his passport to keep from ever returning. “Oh, my! How I did resist. I had just reached the Holy Land, now they wanted me to go back.”
It was twelve years before he returned to America, “a free country, away from Turkish bondage.” From Salt Lake City he and his family traveled to Saint George where their eldest daughter, Nimzar, lived. She had married John T. Woodbury, a Mormon missionary to Turkey, a year earlier.
In Saint George, Gagosian worked as a laborer on the construction of Dixie College. From there he moved to Nevada to farm, then to Nephi and to Price, with hard work and many setbacks in each place. His faith in his American religion never altered, although,
I am sorry to say that all of us that emegrated [sic] to Utah started changing. We began getting weaker in our beliefs…We, that loved each other so much, now started to he like the people around us. Even though we were poor before we came to America, we were rich in our faith and we were contented with each others love. What happened to us? What changed us? I cannot truly explain hut I pray that the Lord be with us and help us to live to the end in faith.
Hagop Gagosian died five years after his son Ferdinand took him to Salt Lake City in 1947 for the one hundredth anniversary celebration of the Mormon pioneers. “It was a rare priviledge [sic] and a great celebration,” he said.
Another early arrival from the Sivas area, Herond Nishan Sheranian, became a prominent ophthalmologist in Salt Lake City where he founded both a hospital and a clinic before moving to Los Angeles in 1933. And Col. Kerrigan M. Manookin, a Utah immigrant from Adana in Turkish Cilicia, commanded the U.S. Army Proving Ground at Dugway during the Second World War.
Dr. Sheranian said, in Odyssey of an Armenian Doctor:
Mother was considered to be the most expert of all rug weavers in all of Sivas County in Turkish Armenia which was then the center of the rug weaving industry…she sheared her own wool, made her own yarn, chose her own patterns, made her own colors…Apostle Lorenzo Snow of the [Latter-day Saints] Church wrote her a letter of gratitude for a large rug she wove and presented as a gift to the Temple in Salt Lake City, December 13, 1899.33
Despite the leveling influence of the church, Mormon Armenian immigrants have married among themselves to an intense degree–especially so among the children and grandchildren of the first settlers. Among the more recent arrivals and the third generation of the earlier settlers, marriage outside the Armenian community has become commonplace. The sacrifices endured by all in the course of coming to Utah are most impressive; many have exchanged lucrative businesses in the old country for the most menial sort of work in Salt Lake City. The devotion of this small community is a great credit to their church.
In the past twenty-five years, small colonies of Iranians, Egyptians, and Palestinian Arabs, many of them Moslems, have bloomed in the larger urban communities of this state. However, in all cases the numbers of immigrants involved remains too modest to merit mention in the census of 1960 or 1970. Iran has enjoyed the consultative services of agronomists at Utah State University since 1939. This relationship has generated a burgeoning stream of Iranian students to all of the institutions of higher education in northern Utah, and an increasing number of graduates forsake their former homeland each year.34 In Egypt, on the other hand, the strains of overpopulation finally moved the government to encourage emigration in the mid-i 960s. Thus, many professional people and administrators who had seen higher education in Europe and America began to respond to employment opportunities here. The United States government, since the creation of Israel, has allowed special immigration quotas to displaced Palestinian Arabs, and a modest number of them have settled in Utah, most of them in Salt Lake County.35
The staff and faculty of the University of Utah probably boast the largest Middle Eastern work force in the state. A survey of the staff and faculty portion of the campus directory reveals many Middle Eastern names, spread throughout every college and major staff agency. Finally, the university claims one of the few Middle East centers founded in recent years among American institutions of higher learning.36 Although the Middle Eastern ethnic faculty of the center is quite small, they spark some of the major social events today among the entire Middle Eastern community of Utah and, through courses, publications, and public appearances, contribute to American understanding of the Middle Eastern peoples.
1 The 1910 Census reflects the entire Middle Eastern population of Utah as merely “Turkey in Asia” or “Turkey in Europe” with a net strength of only 361 foreign-born (215 from Asia), comprising a mere 0.5 percent of the total foreign-horn element of Utah. When combined with their 36 offspring as the Middle Eastern “foreign white stock” of Utah, however, they encompassed only 0.2 percent of that same total. These percentages closely match nationwide trends for the same census. The above source sets the foreign-born from all of Turkey in Utah for the previous census (1900) at a mere 18 persons. The 1910 Census reveals the following county distribution of the Middle Eastern-born of Utah: Salt Lake 229, Carbon 31, Weber 30, Utah 30, Summit 15, Sevier 8, Uintah 7, Juab 6, Morgan 2, and 1 each for Grand, Wasatch, and Washington.
Although failing to record any speakers of Armenian or Turkish, the 1960 Census does set Utah speakers of Arabic at 1960: 94( all urban). 1940: 100, 1930: 144, 1920: 162, 1910: 118. Thus, if all the above statistics are accurate, it seems reasonable to assume that the hulk of the state’s SyroLebanese immigrants arrived in Utah between 1900 and 1920. The 1920 Census confirms the presence of eighty foreign-born Armenians in Utah.
2 For further details on the Millet System, plus identification, population, distribution, and doctrinal differences of the various sects contained within it, see: Sir Harry Luke, The New Turkey and the Old(London, 1955), pp. 66-101; A.H. Hourani, Syria and Lebanon (London and New York, 1954), pp. 121-45, 386; George Haddad, Fifty Years of Modern Lebanon (Beirut, 1950), pp. 10-19; Harvey H. Smith et a!., Area Handbook for Lebanon (Washington. D.C., 1969), pp. 45-57, 59-65, 123-33, 159-79; Richard F. Nyrop et al., Area Handbook for Syria (Washington, D.C., 1971), pp. 55-100; Philip K. Hitti, The Syrians in America (New York, 1924), pp. 35-43. The author is particularly indebted to Professor Hitti and the last cited work for much of the content of the Syro-Lebanese portion of this chapter.
3 Abstracts of the Egyptian census, contained in: Edward Lane, The Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (New York, 1963), p. 23; and J.C. McCoan, Egypt (New York, 1900), p. 23, estimate 5,000 “Syrians” and 2,000 Armenians for the census of 1847-48 and 7,000 “Syrians” and 10,000 Armenians for the census of 1859, respectively. Also see: Philip K. Hitti, Lebanon in History (New York, 1967), pp. 473-74.
4 This is not to claim that the Syro-Lebanese who came to America were an educated group. On the contrary, they were more often illiterate than not, because most of them were from the peasant class.
5 U.S., Commissioner-General of Immigration, Annual Report for 1903, pp. 86, 88-89; and Lawrence Guy Brown, Immigration: Cultural Conflicts and Social Adjustments (New York and London, 1933), pp. 194-95. The former source alleges that a constant stream of 500 “Syrians” per month sailed to Mexico for ultimate destinations in the United States.
Ottoman Nationals Admitted to the United States, 1881-96.
YearTurkey in AsiaTurkey in Europe (total/males)(total/males) 18815/572/54 188615/14176/132 18912488/1774265/224 18964139/2915169/118
Compiled from Imre Ferenczi, ed., International Migrations (New York, 1969), vol. 1, Statistics, pp. 418-31.
6 Hitti, Lebanon in History, p. 474.
7 For accounts of the devastation suffered by the “Syrians” during the war, see: Hitti, Lebanon in History, pp. 483-86; Zeine N. Zeine, The Emergence of Arab Nationalism (Beirut, 1966), pp. 23-40; George Haddad, Fifty Years of Modern Lebanon (Beirut, 1950), pp. 46-50; Salom Rizk, Syrian Yankee (Garden City, N.Y., 1943), pp. 1-47; and George Antonius, The Arab Awakening (Beirut, 1955), pp. 185-91, 202. Additional data on “Syrian” emigration from the Levant are available in: Hitti, Lebanon in History, pp. 47-77; Haddad, Fifty Years, pp. 10, 18-19, 134-36, 163; Smith, Area Handbook, pp. 47-48; Elie Adib Salem, Modernization without Revolution: Lebanon’s Experience (Bloomington, Ind., 1973), pp. 27-29, 44-45, 139; and Hitti, Syrians in America, pp. 47-61. Subsequent to the completion of this chapter, an entire issue of ARAMCO World Magazine 26 (MarchApril 1975), was devoted to Arab immigrants in America.
8 Hitti, Syrians in America, pp. 84-85.
9 Ibid., p. 64, presents a valuable map depicting the distribution of “Syrian” immigrants throughout the United States in the year 1919. However. this map reflects no such immigrants in Utah, nor in any of the Intermountain states.
10 Hitti, Lebanon in History, pp. 474-76. Haddad, Fifty Years, p. 136, states that the expatriate remissions of 1924 exceeded the value of all Lebanese exports for that year.
11 George Grassmuck and Kamal Salibi, Reformed Administration in Lebanon (Beirut, 1964), pp. 43-44. According to this source, the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains a benevolent surveillance over expatriates and assists them in protecting their interests (e.g., real property) in the homeland. However, under U.S. law dual citizenships are not recognized.
12 Hitti, Syrians in America, pp. 69-73; on p. 67 of his work, he has compiled a list of the nation’s fourteen largest “Syrian” urban colonies with estimated populations.
13 Interview with Joseph P. Howa, June 25, 1974, Salt Lake City.
14 Interview with Sarah Attey, April 29, 1975, Salt Lake City.
15 Interview with Dr. Phelon J. Malouf, December 3, 1974, Salt Lake City.
16 Most of what follows is a synthesis of many interviews with Utahns of Lebanese extraction. To cite all of them would prove tedious to both reader and writer. Nonetheless, the author wishes to acknowledge the valuable assistance and keen perception of the following persons who were interviewed at length: Interview with George Haddad, August 2, 1974; interview with John L. and Helen S. Anton, September 16, 1974; and interview with Michael S. Allam, September 23, 1974.
17 Interview with Helen F. Jones (nee Katter) and Frieda Katter, August 10, 1974, Salt Lake City. Salt Lake Tribune, December 20, 1915, and December 4, 1937.
18 Respectively, the forerunner of the lute, the tambourine, and the bongo-drum. The dabke, national folk dance of Lebanon, is a communal activity wherein the performers form a line, side-by-side, hold hands, and follow the movements of a leader.
19 Hitti, Lebanon in History, pp. 476-80; Hitti, Syrians in America, pp. 23-24, 94-97.
20 Hitti, Syrians in America, appendices A-F, pp. 125-35, lists “Syrian” churches of all denominations and publications extant in the United States as of 1924. He discusses fraternal organizations on p. 90, citing a few in Boston and New York.
21 The author’s estimate of the present sectarian composition of the Levantine community of Utah is 70 percent Maronite, 10 percent Greek Orthodox, 10 percent Protestant, 5 percent Mormon, and 5 percent Moslem.
22 Hitti, Syrians in America, pp. 82-87, displays obvious pride in this aspect of the “Syrian” experience in America.
23 For a detailed exposition of this issue, with extensive bibliographic notes, see the author’s forthcoming article, “Britain and the Launching of the Armenian Question,” in The International Journal of Middle East Studies 7 (April 1976).
24 Interview with Mary B. Ouzounian, July 3, 29, 31, 1974, Salt Lake City.
25 For a moderate Turkish view of the Armenian problem, see: Ahmet Emin (Yalman), Turkey in the World War (New Haven, 1930), pp. 212-23. The views of an Ottoman apologist, who played a major role in the Armensan evacuation, are offered in: Djemal Pasha, Memories of a Turkish Statesman: 1913-1919 (New York, 1922), pp. 241-02. The western liberal view of the issue, to include many alleged eyewitness accounts of the atrocities of 1915, is probably best presented by Arnold J. Toynhee, The Armenian Atrocities: The Murder of a Nation (London, 1915). The Armenian Review of Boston, produced by the large Armenian colony there, although often lacking in objectivity, has printed many articles on the issue as seen from the Armenian point of view. Armenians Admitted to and Departed from the United States, 1899-1924 YearArmenians AdmittedArmenians Departed (total/males) 1899674/471Unknown 19041745/1315″ 19093108/2601464 19147785/65331117 1919285/1961 19242940/122616
Compiled from Ferenczi, International Migrations, pp. 432-43, 498.
26 For an exhaustive study of the Armenian community in the Levant, consult: Avedis K. Sanjian, The Armenian Communities in Syria under Ottoman Domination (Cambridge, Mass., 1965). Richard C. Hovannisian, “The Ebb and Flow of the Armenian Minority in the Arab Middle East,” Middle East Journal 28 (Winter 1974): 19-32, examines post-Ottoman developments.
27 The Fresno area comprises the sole significant Armenian farming community in the United States. Niles Carpenter, Immigrants and their Children: 1920 (Washington, D.C., 1927), pp. 364-84, presents tables to reflect the national distribution of our Armenian colonies per the census of 1920.
28 Emory S. Bogardus, Immigration and Race Attitudes (New York, 1928), pp. 14, 25, 53-54, 196.
29 Jeremiah W. Jenks and W. Jett Lauck, The Immigration Problem: A Study of American Immigration Conditions and Needs (New York and London, 1917), in Table 5 (Occupations abroad), pp. 493-501, presents data concerning the former vocations of Armenian (and “Syrian”) immigrants. In Table 9 (Industrial distribution of immigrant wage earners), pp. 516-19, they offer similar data after immigration.
30 It is equally possible that native male Utahns, returning from military service in World War I, claimed the jobs formerly held by these transient Armenians or that the latter departed this country for the newly established Armenian republic in trans-Caucasia. After World War II Armenians emigrated from all over the world to the Armenian SSR in response to Soviet blandishments.
31 The 1960 Census is more useful, for purposes of comparison, than that of 1970, because the Arabic-speaking, foreign-born element of Utah dropped sharply from 94 to 50 persons during this interval. Also the 1960 Census offers similar data from past censuses (1910-40), and the 1970 Census does not.
32 See: Viola Woodbury Kelsey, “Diary of Hagop Thomas (Tumas) Gagosian,” trans. F.H. Gagosian (Price, Utah, 1961); Reuben Ouzounsan untitled autobiography (Salt Lake City, n.d.); and Herond Nishan Sheranian, Odyssey of an Armenian Doctor (Los Angeles, 1970). Historical sketches of Mormon missionary efforts in the Middle East are available in: Kate B. Carter ed., Heart Throbs of the West, 12 vols. (Salt Lake City, 1939-51), 4: 295-300; and Abraham Hindoian, “A short history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Middle East,” trans. Joseph Jacobs (Salt Lake City: nd.).33 P. 487.
34 For a history of this relationship, see: Gwen H. Haws, ed., Iran and Utah State University: Half a Century of Friendship and a Decade of Contacts (Logan, Utah, 1963). The Melcomian and Simonian families of Salt Lake City emigrated from Iran which continues to host large Armenian colonies in Isfahan and Tehran. Ardeshir Zahedi, Iranian ambassador to the United States and himself a graduate of Utah State University, during an address before celebrants of the Iranian New Year in Salt Lake City, on March 22, 1974, estimated the Iranian student population of Utah then at over five hundred men and women.
35 Interview with Dr. Fikri Gahin, October 7, 1974, Salt Lake City.
36 The center is directed by Professor Khosrow Mostofi, an Iranian immigrant holding a doctoral degree from the University of Utah. The previous director, Distinguished Professor of History Aziz S. Atiya, emigrated from the Coptic Christian community of Egypt.