Between 1915 and 1919, conditions in the Ottoman Empire resulted in a vast humanitarian crisis for Armenians. Among the deportations and mass killings, tens of thousands of children found themselves without parents, shelter, and food and water. Almost immediately after reports of violence hit American and international news agencies, a broad movement to raise funds and bring relief to the war torn area began. The American Red Cross and later the International Red Cross were the first to bring relief efforts to parts of Armenia. The American government responded by forming the Near East Relief organization and the American Committee on Armenian Atrocities.
Wealthy and connected philanthropists secured millions of dollars to ensure help to displaced Armenians. Additionally, the Near East Relief organized orphanages all across the region. Among the important priorities were reclaiming females from Turk families that either adopted or enslaved them, training the children for self support, setting up schools and demonstration centers to train them for occupations, and relocating administrations to help find permanent communities in the area and abroad. All told, these groups and efforts of individuals are credited with saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of Armenian orphans.
Primary Source Learning Activities
Documentary Interviews from the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University
"Survive, Remember, Thrive" - was filmed and edited by the Buffalo Documentary Project in 2020 & 2021, and is the first film in the shortform video series "Survive, Remember, Thrive: Armenian Traditions in Western New York". In this film, learn about the Armenian community in Niagara Falls through the lived experiences of Ani Avdoian, Dawn Sakalian, and Kathy Peller.
Learn about the history of the Armenian community in Niagara Falls (NY) and the connection to Oakwood Cemetery, through the memories and lived experiences of Robert “Butch” Kazeangin Jr.
Learn about the meanings and memories of making Armenian paklava from Laurice Ghougasian, who learned to make paklava from her mother through a recipe passed down by her grandmother.
Learn about sewing, traditional Armenian dresses, and working as a seamstress from Ophelia Adjemian, who immigrated to Niagara Falls from Yerevan, Armenia in 1996 where she learned to sew and use different types of sewing machines and knitting machine.
Hear from Mary Movesian as she talks about learning needlework in Armenia, the specific challenges in each form, and examples of the different things she’s created over the years: from crocheted king-size blankets and knit-hats and scarves, to lace doilies and embroidered pillowcases.
Learn about choereg (an Armenian sweet bread), the unique taste and aroma of mahlab (mahleb), and the importance of maintaining Armenian traditions for future generations from Lisa Ohanessian Mies & Lori Ohanessian Hurtgam, who learned to make choereg from their grandmother Barbara Aloian.
Learn about the Mooradian Rug Company, one of the longest continuing Armenian family-owned businesses in Western New York, from Tony Mooradian Jr., Mike Petrosian, and Tom Mooradian. Asides from restaurants and property ownership, carpet and flooring was another common industry for Armenian business owners in Western New York, with other local family-owned stores including David Tiftickjian & Sons (1892) and Markarian Rugs (1921).
Learn from longtime carpenter Arthur Garabedian about growing up in the Armenian community in Niagara Falls, teaching carpentry at the renowned Trott Vocational School in Niagara Falls (NY), and his work on local community projects, including the front doors of St. Sarkis Armenian Church, which prominently feature a unique interpretation of the Armenian cross.
Learn about the role of rice pilaf in Armenian households and community events, and cooking together at St. Hagop Armenian Apostolic Church's kitchen, from Rachele Aversa and Sonya Gregian, two longtime members of the Armenian community in Niagara Falls.