By Hagop Vartivarian
NEW YORK — Gratitude to the United States. Yes, gratitude.
This was the message of the “pilgrimage” which the St. Thomas Armenian Church of New Jersey organized. The goal was to go and bow one’s head before the roll of names of those immigrant Armenians who after the Genocide passed through New York’s famous place of first landing to enter the New World. The Armenians of Kharpert, Dikranagerd, Van, Moush and Cilicia came to find their relatives who survived the massacres and then settled in Boston, New Jersey, Providence, New York and Worcester.
Despite an uncertain future, they suffered and overcame all difficulties to build their new homes, and at least were able to recreate their Armenian families on this side of the Atlantic.
The first and last names of each person, Armenian or non-Armenian (Irish, Italian, German, and so on), who passed through this portal is recorded on the walls of the Ellis Island garden. Here are the Vartanians and Sahagians, the Krikorians, and here too is Penyamin and Azniv, Kohar and Aghavni…thousands of Armenian names remain indelibly inscribed on these iron walls. Here, facing the Statue of Liberty, they remain, our first American-Armenians. They came to this country and through the sweat of their brows honorably earned their livelihoods and supported their Armenian families. It is they who in every Armenian-populated town of this country erected the sanctuaries of our faith so that they could speak in Armenian with their Armenian God. It was they who published our Armenian newspapers so that they would not forget their native tongue. The newspapers became their Armenian schools. And from their earnings they were able to participate in every campaign to support the Armenian orphans of the Middle East, the struggle for the liberation of Cilicia, and the Armenia which had become independent.
In this way was born the Armenian-American community, which turned into a blessing for Soviet Armenia, our Mother Church and the efforts at preserving national identity in the diaspora. Our benefactors sprung forth from their midst and created educational centers and Armenian institutions everywhere.