University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


Coming to America

The Perilous Musa Dagh Rescue of Armenians off the Syrian Coast

Musa Dagh RescueAllies rescue Armenian women and children from the Syrian coast and transfer them to a French naval cruiser, 1915. (See page 21) Many of the Armenians, who managed to escape, never returned to their former homes, fearing continued oppression. They emigrated to any country that would allow them entry.

Coming to America - Learning to be American

Why do they come? Oppresion; political and religious freedoms denied. Massacres; men gathered and killed without provocation. Starvation; women and children starved to death. Expulsion; forcibly driven out of their homes and country. Who we are: a nation of nations - immigrants all.

Display of shipLeft: This wall displays the ship leaving Beirut harbor in 1920 (Project Save), and travel and naturalization documents from the Tellalian archives

Immigrants Must Make Choices

The first Armenian immigrant goes back to the 1607 Jamestown, Virginia colony when, "Martin ye Armenian introduced the cultivation of silkworm" into the New World and became its first naturalized citizen.


Assimilation............A drastic break with the past and losing the old ways. When in Rome do as the Romans do.
Acculturation.........Add to and modify the existing culture.
Self-segregation ....Uprooted newcomers, feeling their ways are not accepted, create their own groupings. Existing support systems such as ethnic churches and schools help to preserve their language and culture. Proximity to the familiar is comforting and being accepted is no problem.

Contribution or Burden?

Immigrants have been a vital part of U.S. history. Between 1790 and 1970 immigrants accounted for 50 % of population growth. In the 1900's, they provided the workforce required by expanding industries in N.Y.C. Currently, ethnic groupings have become "a basis for asserting claims against the government." Some groups are even pressured to organize ethnically in order to seek political favors for their homeland.

Garabed Tellalian Escaped in 1911

Garabed Tellalian had raised funds for the Armenian Revolutionary Federation while living in Buenos Aires, and received this donation receipt, dated June 13, 1916, from the A.R.F. "We received from the Armenian Voluntary Group a contribution from comrade Garabed Tellalian, the treasurer of the Fund Raising Committee to aid the Armenian volunteers (Armenian soldiers), the sum of $361.30 from the weekly dues and gifts of the four months from February to May." Signed Hay Heghapoghagan Tashnaksootyun, Buenos Aires, Active Comm. Treasurer, K. Solkarian.
On June 5, 1916, Garabed Tellalian was issued an Argentinean passport, through the efforts of the Armenian Religious Community in Buenos Aires, for his final destination, the United States. Garabed had left the turmoil in Kayseri for Izmir in 1909. In Izmir he perfected his talents and became an expert in oriental rug repairs. In 1911, after bribing a policeman to allow him to board a ship, he headed for Buenos Aires. Docking first in Athens, then Brindisi, he reached the safety of Argentina, where for the next five years he made a living as a shoemaker. (Shipping czar Aristotle Onassis had traveled the same route after escaping from Kayseri, Turkey.)
This rare Armenian passport, dated January 15, 1921, was issued to Gohar Tellalian, Garabed's mother, during the two years of Armenian Independence.

Top: Armenian, French and Russian appear on 100 ruble paper currency issued in 1919.

Bottom Left: Note the instructions on the back section of the passport: "not allowed to land at any British port."

Bottom Right: Inspection card and steamship tag issued to Haiganoush Yemenedjian, the future bride of Garabed.