Boston Globe: Armenians the most prominent group in Watertown

As Watertown was thrust into the national spotlight because of a violent gunfight and a daylong manhunt in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, members of the news media and analysts unfamiliar with the area searched for a way to describe the town that shares borders with both Boston and Cambridge.

Some called the town “sleepy,” and others described it as a bedroom community for commuters who flock to big cities nearby for work. Those who live in Greater Boston might know Watertown for its popular big-box stores such as Target and Best Buy, the retail shops in the Arsenal Mall, or its Registry of Motor Vehicles office. But people who live there know there is plenty more to Watertown, the Boston Globe writes.

It is a close-knit community of 32,000 sharing just 4 square miles, bounded by the Charles River for much of its southern edge, with strong working-class neighborhoods, reasonable housing costs, a large Armenian population, and a well-established cultural scene of restaurants, shops, and the arts.

Census figures show Watertown is home to a wide variety of ethnicities, including residents of Irish, Italian, French, English, German, Greek, Russian, Polish, Portugese, Arab, and African heritage.

But the most prominent group are Armenians. The US Census Bureau says there are between 1,700 and 3,000 Armenians in Watertown, but local Armenians think the population is larger. Their community’s identification with Watertown is strong, bolstered by the presence of the Armenian Library and Museum of America and several Armenian churches.

Many Armenians emigrated to America in the 20th century looking to escape persecution in their native land, and many settled in the Watertown area because jobs were often available at Hood Rubber Co., on the east side of town. The factory, founded in 1896, served as a major local employer for nearly 75 years, hiring as many as 10,000 laborers at its peak.

Now, a cluster of Armenian restaurants and shops near Coolidge Square is known as “Little Armenia,” while headquarters for national Armenian newspapers and organizations are located throughout town.

“They want to be able to walk down the street and hear their native language spoken, and also be able to walk to church and other places around town,” said Gary Lind-Sinanian, curator of the Armenian Library and Museum on Main Street. “There’s only one community that fits that profile, and that’s Watertown. It’s small and safe and people can walk to places, and it just has that feeling.”

Susan Pattie, the museum’s executive director, said although she moved to Watertown only six months ago, she sees a deep passion among residents for their hometown.

“It’s very touching to see generations of people so attached to Watertown,” Pattie said. “It’s a place where Armenians have settled and become American, and carry on their heritage from the past, but are also living in the present and creating this Armenian-American culture.”

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