Armenian Refugees in Scott County

In the news a century ago this January was the question of admitting survivors of the Armenian genocide into the United States. [1] These articles beg the question: Were there Armenian immigrants who settled in Davenport and Scott County in the 1920s? 

The FamilySearch Wiki page for “Armenia – Emigration and Immigration” points researchers to the Armenian Immigration Project, an online database gathering ship manifests, census records, military records, vital records and other resources that may be searched by location. The results of a query for “Iowa” show that the city of Bettendorf, especially, and also Davenport, had notably-sized populations of Armenians a century ago.

The ship manifests are especially helpful for establishing relationships, as they include the name of the individual that the traveler left in Turkey as well as the name of the individual they intended to join in the United States.

For example, Serkis Bedoian is the uncle Mariam Pidadjian leaves (with her six-year-old son Oanes) to join her husband Levon in in Davenport in late 1920; he is also the uncle to Mikael Saroian, who leaves in May 1921 to join his other uncle Leon Bedoian in Bettendorf.  Later, in September, Mikael’s wife Takoui then also names Serkis Bedoian is the uncle she leaves to join her husband. Although we cannot be sure the use of the word “uncle” was literal, these families were clearly connected in some way.

Another example is Kerverk Sarkissian and his wife Satenik leave cousin Avedis Sarkisian to join another cousin Art Tarpinian in Bettendorf in November 1921. In October of the following year, Avedis then leaves Turkey with relatives Arzad, Heo, and Krekor Sarkisian to join John Sarkisian at 624 State St. 

In 1923, Ohanes (John) Krikorian and wife Verkin join their friend Garabed Vartanian at 313 Gaines St. in Davenport.

This photograph comes from his naturalization record in Detroit, MI — another type of record indexed by the Armenian Immigration Project.

Those who received these immigrants were part of a local Armenian community that had been growing during the 19-teens. Sahog Derderian, Nichan Doghanian, Minas Karadjajan, and Asdour Zakarian, for example, were already settled in the area and were prepared to help relatives and friends arriving as a result of the Adana massacre of 1909 and the fallout from the Balkan Wars, 1913-14. Perhaps more research into these names will reveal more about the kinship networks that brought them to Scott County.

Another type of record available via the Armenian Immigration Project is the World War I draft registration cards: three Bedoians (mentioned earlier), Sambat (33), Leon (45), and Baldose (19) registered in September 1918.

The occupations listed in these men’s records show that the Armenian community was developing around employment at the Bettendorf Company. The 1920 US Census bears this out. Notice the number of people born in Armenia (single boardinghouse residents and family groups in the E. State St./Mississippi Blvd. area) working in the “car shops” or the “foundry” listed on this page:

The 1910 US Census, by contrast, shows very few Armenian-born Scott County residents: Charles Vartanian, age 75, was a servant for the Wilson McClelland family; Casper Sabasian, also 75 years old and also employed as a servant, worked for the Charles Shuler family.

While there is no other evidence of how or why these men came to live in Davenport, the experience of George Bogosian, recounted by him in a 14 Jan 1905 Daily Times article, suggests they may have survived an earlier period of violence: the Hamidian massacres of the 1890s.

Bogosian described his harrowing escape. He, his father, and two cousins fled into the mountains as they were forcibly marched from their home in Huacnik by Turkish soldiers. The soldiers shot as them as they ran, wounding one of his cousins. As he faltered, the soldiers caught up to the cousin and shot him between the eyes. He told of other atrocities he witnessed, including a slain infant and children thrown into fires as their parents watched in horror.

Bogosian could soon be found every day between 2 and 3 o’clock in the front windows of the Drake Furniture Store in Davenport, dressed in his “native Oriental costume” and demonstrating rug-weaving. [2]

Hopefully, Bogosian and the later Armenian immigrants that began new lives in Scott County met success as United States citizens.

Please let us know if you have traced your Armenian ancestors back to Davenport, Bettendorf, or the greater Quad-Cities area. We hope to further develop the portrait of the local community in the future!

(posted by Katie)

[1] Haskin, Frederic J., “Refugees Knock at Our Doors,” Davenport Democrat and Leader, January 1, 1923, page 6.

[2] “Daily Weaves Oriental Rugs,”Davenport Democrat and Leader, April 18, 1905, page 9.

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