By Hagop Vartivarian
ENGLEWOOD, N.J. – In 1916, a small group of Armenian Americans leaders took an oath at the Bingham House Hotel of Philadelphia to serve their nation and church. At this moment, the fraternity of the Knights of Vartan was born. It was a protest against the Ottoman Turks, who at that moment were engaged in perpetrating a genocide against the Armenian people in their very homeland.
Rev. Haigag Khazoyan, after consulting with Bishop Papken Guleserian and other Armenian leaders, realized the time had come to try to rally the Armenian people. A consultative meeting took place on February 28, 1916 in the Worcester, Massachusetts, home of Rev. Garabed Manavian, at which were present Guleserian, Khazoyan, Rev. Khachadour Benneyan, Rev. Antranig A. Bedigian, Mihran Kalayjian, Prof. Mardiros Ananigian (a member of the Ramgavar Party), Prof. Haroutiun Dadourian, Prof. Vahan Babasinian, Karekin M. Giragosian, Garabed Pushman, and Nazaret Gumushgerdan.
The meeting decided that a new organization was necessary to defend Armenian national values and traditions, especially the Armenian language, religion and literature. A committee was formed to study similar non-Armenian fraternal organizations and learn from their experiences and structures. Bishop Guleserian headed the committee, which soon produced a preliminary set of bylaws.
On May 27, 1916, the 12 founders assembled at Bingham House around Bishop Guleserian, a friend of the Ramgavar Party and established the new organization. Afterwards, they were joined by Fr. Hayg Adadourian, Mardiros Baghdasarian, Dr. Antranig Aivazian, Ramgavar activist Diradour Dikijian, Dr. Dikran Kabakjian, Dr. Garabed Kalusdian and Mihran Karageusian.
Its first executive was formed by Fr. Haigag Khazoyan as Grand Commander, Fr. Mihran Kalayjian, Assistant Grand Commander, Bishop Papken Guleserian, Senior Chaplain, and members Fr. Hayg Adadourian, Fr. Garabed Manavian, Fr. Khachadour Benneyan, Prof. Dadourian, Dr. Dikran Kabakjian and Dr. Garabed Kalousdian. These executive members served a three-year session. Lodges were quickly formed in centers with Armenian population such as, first of all, Boston, and then Worcester, New York, Philadelphia, Troy, Chicago, New Haven, Washington, DC, Fresno and Los Angeles.