Armenians in Fresno, CA
Although Fresno has lost its place as the largest Diaspora of Armenians in the US (Glendale, CA now contains the most Armenians), it will never lose its historical Armenian roots.
Early Days: Fresno's first Armenian roots can be traced back to 1881 when the Seropian brothers (Hagop, aka Jacob, Garabed, and Simon, half brothers Kevork, aka George, and Hovahaness, aka John) arrived from Massachusetts (Bulbulian 17). The Seropian's were also the first Armenians to start a business in Fresno—numerous businesses in fact. With adamant determination, the Seropians went through continued hardships, loosing business after business to building fires and poor management style. Their final, and most successful business, the Seropian Brothers Company (incorporated in 1908), eventually became one of the nation's largest dried fruit and nut businesses, only to be taken away from the family due to litigation and lawsuits brought on by competing packinghouses (Bulbulian 22-26).
Agriculture, specifically raisin growing, was the most prosperous industry which the early Armenian immigrants ventured into: first as farm laborers themselves and later on owning the land and companies which packed and distributed the fruits and vegetables. In 1894 Armenians owned 200 acres of farmland, by 1904 10,000 acres (Bulbulian 55), by 1902 Armenian raisin growers produced about 15% of the total crop (Bulbulian 57), and by 1906 Armenians owned 16,000 acres of the raisin growing farmland.
Fresno's Armenian population steadily increased, following the Ottoman Empire's genocide of the Armenians in 1915, to the point that Armenians became the largest minority population in Fresno County (Mirak 113). Armenia Town (aka Little Armenia) was in the making. Many Armenians fleeing the homeland settled on the eastern coast of the US, but eventually moved to Fresno for the myriad of opportunities, as well as the Mediterranean like weather which resembled what many were used to back home.
Today: Today Fresno's Armenian population is estimated at about 6,000 and about 10,000 for all of Fresno County (US Census 2000). A constant reminder of the Armenian people's contributions and presence in Fresno is the life-sized monument of David of Sassoon. This beautiful piece of public art was donated to the city by Armenians in 1970, and stands today on the corner of M St. and Tulare.
Fresno may be best known to many Armenians as the birthplace of William Saroyan—the great Armenian-American author. A number of Saroyan related organizations, such as the William Saroyan Society, are still based out of Fresno, and the Fresno Metropolitan Museum is home to a permanent exhibit of Saroyan's works and personal objects.
Additionally, Fresno is host to a number of other distinguished Armenian organizations and programs including the Armenian Studies program at California State University Fresno, All Things Armenian on KFSR 90.7 FM—the university funded radio station, and many others.
Beginning in 2006, the city of Fresno set out on a large-scale construction project that would include altering the landscape of what has come to be known as Old Armenian Town. The project consists of renovating some of the existing structures, moving some of the historical buildings to a different location for preservation purposes, as well as demolishing certain structures to clear way for new development. As of September 2007, this project was well under way, but with no definite deadline.
Since 2007 Fresno's Armenian Cultural Foundation has hosted the annual Grand Armenian Festival: Prpoor. The festival is an 800-year-old Armenian tradition of harvest celebration, similar to the American Thanksgiving, dating back to the old country. Taking place in September, the celebration brings together music, food, and of course prpoor, which is the molasses that forms when grape is brewed.
Mirak, Robert. Torn Between Two Lands: Armenians in America 1890 to World War I. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983.
US Bureau of the Census. QT-P13. Ancestry: 2000