Possibly Joe Jundanian’s high school graduation photograph (Armeniansofwhitinsville.org)

WATERTOWN — On June 16, Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archive delved into the world of Whitinsville, a small town in central Massachusetts with one of the oldest Armenian communities in the state. This presentation was cosponsored by the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research and the Armenian Cultural Center.

Armenians of Whitinsville (armeniansofwhitinsville.org), a digital archive that documents the history of Armenians in this town, was represented by Greg Jundanian and Lisa Misakian, two of the handful of co-founders of the project.

The Jundanian family: Krikor, Verkin, Catherine, Joe Jundanian in the dark clothes, and his brother Harry in white (Tom had yet to be born; circa 1917-1919, Armeniansofwhitinsville.org)

“The Jundanian family, originally from Parchanj, a town located in the Kharpert province of the Armenia plateau, immigrated to the United States before 1915 settled and in Whitinsville in the 1920s. Misakian’s family has roots in Whitinsville since the 1880s, when her grandfather first arrived from Parchanj.

Arto Vaun, the Executive Director of Project SAVE, explained how Whitinsville is a part of the Armenian diasporan experience while Jundanian and Misakian shared their recent documentation work.

The archive developed out of conversations between Jundanian and Jeff Kalousdian in spring 2021. They proposed it to the Whitinsville community through the local Surp Asdvadzadzin Armenian Church’s electronic newsletter, which introduced Misakian to the project.

The wedding celebration of Lisa Misakian’s parents Archie and Helen Misakian included the customary “theft” of household items from the bride’s home conducted by members of the groom’s family the night before the wedding during the henna party celebrations. This photo shows groomsmen Leo Tosoonian, Peter Bedrosian and Archie’s sister-in-law Azadouhi Misakian dancing with the ironing board. Jim Malcus is dancing with a movie camera, and Eshak Mooradian has the framed portrait of the Altoonian children held aloft. The bridal party is dancing around the “thieves.” (Armeniansofwhitinsville.org)

Jundanian explained the mission of the archive, declaring “It is a digital archive that pays respects to those before us. It is about the past but also about putting together something for future generations.” The project is similar to that of a houshamadyan, or an Armenian memory book that compatriotic societies used to publish on their places of origin after the Armenian Genocide, and it has gained further support since it first started. Its financial sponsor is the American Cultural Association of America. Although the archive project has no official affiliation with Soorp Asdvadzadzin, it is also supported by the church. The church announces the project’s activities on its weekly Friday electronic bulletin using its national email list, promotes the project on Sundays when possible, provides contact information in order for the project to arrange interviews, and offers photos and articles pertaining to the church for the website’s use.

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Other members of the group’s archival team include Whitinsville resident Jeff Kalousdian, Mark Arslan from the Armenian Immigration Project, website designer Nick Boyajian, and Nicole Tarverdian, who helps organize the site’s recipe page. Project SAVE is a source of inspiration, and as the Whitinsville project only keeps digital copies, Jundanian advises the people the team works with to turn their original photographs over to Project SAVE once they are ready to do so. As a result, there is some overlap between the two archives.

Soorp Asdvadzadzin Armenian Apostolic Church of Whitinsville Consecration photos from the Whitin Spindle, 1957, Archbishop Khoren Paroyian officiating (Armeniansofwhitinsville.org).

The family information section, one of the primary categories of the website, is organized by last name, with subfolders holding photographs, documents, memory objects, recipes and recordings attributed to that particular family. Sometimes documents present themselves that may surprise their owners. For instance, Jundanian found a name change record that shows how his father, born as Eliazor Krikor Jundanian, changed his name to Joseph George Jundanian.

Misakian recalls that she found a distant relative while translating a document. She remembers seeing the last name Misakian on the document and contacted the family to see if there was a connection, and there was.

The community section of the website documents Whitinsville’s early history, church life, businesses, social life, schools, civic life, and even published books. The recipe section has about 200-300 recipes, both Armenian and other dishes, documented in the archive. A recordings section provides interviews done with family members or songs they sang. For example, Jundanian has a recording of his grandmother, Verkin, singing a song called Anush Karoun.

From Kharpert to Massachusetts

After an introduction of the project and its contents for the webinar, Misakian dived into the history of the town, and where its residents hail from. Like Worcester, a majority of the Armenians from Whitinsville have roots in Kharpert. However, more specifically, a majority of the Armenians from Whitinsville came from the village of Pazmashen, 9 miles west of Kharpert city. According to a chapter translated into English from the original Armenian-language book Kharpert and Her Golden Plain, by Vahe Haig, Pazmashen means a dwelling place with many buildings. The Armenians there were farmers, artisans, businessmen and constructors.

The village was known for being well lighted at night despite its remote location in the Kharpert plain. This was due to a technique developed by pressing flaxseed and using its oil as a source for illumination. Pazmashen natives were commonly called tsitdzakh, or oil sellers, because they’d wandered around villages yelling “Oil, hey, oil!” and selling their products. The Armenian Genocide reduced the village’s population of 4,500 – 5000 to 300 orphans and widows. However, many men from Pazmashen immigrated to the States prior to the genocide, specifically to Whitinsville.

Armenians first arrived in Whitinsville in the 1880s, seeking opportunities to work. In the early days, many of the Armenians were concentrated in New Village’s C and D streets, as well as in East Street, Willow Street, Spring Street and Elm Street. The main employer was Whitin Machine Works, one of the largest textile machinery works in the world at the time.

Early Armenian-Americans at the Whitin Machine Work (March, 1922 Spindle Magazine)

The first extant census that documents the number of Armenians in Whitinsville was in 1900, when 106 Armenians, of the 7,000 Americans, were registered in the town. Between 1910 and 1920, the town’s population grew by almost 1,400. One-third of this growth was composed by Armenians. By the mid-1920s, Armenian social clubs and businesses were already running. Then on November 24, 1957, Soorp Asdvadzadzin, named after the historic church in Pazmashen, was. Today, the town has a population of 16,000, and the archival team hopes to catalog the experiences of many more of those who have roots in the town.

Record of Joe Jundanian changing his name when he was 21 (Armeniansofwhitinsville.org)

Moving Forward

Jundanian felt strongly that developing this and similar website projects are positive influences for society, declaring, “Storytelling amplifies empathy and the world can always use a little bit more of that.”

Jundanian and Misakian noted that while the foundation has been set for the archive, help is always needed and welcome. If people would like to assist in the project, they recommend signing up for the newsletter, identifying your family if they are descendants from Whitinsville, volunteering translating, transcribing or interviewing, and donating if you can.

Misakian expressed how projects like these are worth all the work it takes to get involved, and credits her team, and volunteers for contributing to maintaining the archive. She hopes it can be an example for future refugee communities who want to establish their own archival projects.

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