BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
Several months prior to my trip to Seattle, WA, I received an email about a painting exhibition in Fresno, CA featuring the works Seattle-based artist Marine Zuloyan.
I was quick to contact her, telling her about my plans to visit Seattle to learn about its Armenian community, and asked if she would help me meet the local Armenians there. She responded and said that she’s the wife of the presiding parish priest of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Seattle and that she would be happy to assist me.
Our correspondence continued until, on Saturday, June 17, I arrived in Seattle from Yerevan. The following day, I ordered an Uber taxi and arrived at the church as the liturgy was coming to a close.
That Sunday, on June 18, there were a few special activities taking place at the church. The first had to do with Father’s Day, and the second with recognizing the graduating class of 2023. It was also the last day of school for students of the Armenian language school, which is adjacent to the church.
After the mass, the Lady’s Society had prepared delectable snacks, and some sweets and fruit. There were about 50 to 60 people in attendance.
I had a chance to speak with a few members. Most of them were either from Armenia or from Baku, who had fled the violent pogroms, which were directed against ethnic Armenians by Azerbaijan in 1990s. Some of the Armenians from Baku could only speak Russian and English, but they had the desire to learn Armenian.
There were also a few Armenians from Iran. I met Aida Mansourian, who is originally from Julfa in Iran. She had moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Seattle only seven months earlier. In her short stay in Seattle, she was able to initiate a program to transcribe the liturgy over a screen in English and Russian.
I also met Levon, who is a deacon at the church. He had left Baku in 1989. He was very delighted that he would be able to enroll in adult Armenian language classes in September.
After the observance of the sacraments, I had a chance to meet with Rev. Vazgen Boyajyan and his wife Marine Zuloyan. The following is what I learned about the Apostolic Armenian Church of Seattle and its community.
In September of 2018 Rev. Boyajyan was appointed as the parish priest. Before coming to Seattle, he had served as a priest in Montreal, Canada. He arrived in Seattle with plenty of experience under his belt.
The Armenian Apostolic Parish of Seattle was established in 1981, with the blessing of Archbishop Vatché Hovsepian.
For nearly two decades, the Divine Liturgy (Holy Badarak) and the sacraments were administered, monthly, at the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church by visiting Armenian priests.
The Parish Council, which was established in 1983, undertook many initiatives and, in 1987, asked the growing list of the members to begin investing money into a fund to build a church.
A year after they launched this new initiative, the devastating 1988 Spitak earthquake happened in Armenia. Just like all the Armenians in the diaspora, the Armenians of Seattle also raised funds for the victims of the devastating earthquake.
In addition to raising funds for the victims, members of the parish decided to contact media outlets—both TV networks and newspapers—to raise awareness of the disaster among non-Armenians.
On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, on April 20, 1990, in the city of Olympia, Washington governor Booth Gardner recognized April 24 as Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day.
In July of 1999, after 16 years from the date that the parish council was founded, the building committee purchased 2.6 acres of land in the City of Redmond for $250K to build the church.
The construction of the church began in 2010 and lasted for nearly two years. The new church, with its traditional Armenian architectural style, was consecrated in January of 2012 and was named Holy Resurrection, symbolizing the rebirth of the Armenian community in Seattle.
In 2018, the Parish Council purchased a house, adjacent to the church, to serve as an educational, cultural, and social hub for the community. They named the new center “Armenian House.”
The Armenian language Sunday school, which was founded in 1987, continued its curriculum in the new building.
Rev. Boyajyan walked me to the building next door, where the school was nestled. Although it was the last day of the Armenian language school, the teachers were still hanging out inside and I had a chance to get some information from them about the school and their activities.
The school has 100 students, from ages four to 17. On that day, surprisingly, the entire staff, consisting of 16 teachers, were present.
I found the church community’s activities to be diverse and numerous. The following are the events that the “Armenian House,” in collaboration with the Ladies Society, has created:
- End of the school-year concert;
- Staging of plays;
- Poetry nights for adults;
- Celebration of traditional religious events, such as Easter, “Diarn-Indaraj” or “St. Vartanantz,” and more.
Other activities include summer camps and picnics on the grounds of the “Armenian House.” In addition, they have church dinners as well as the commemoration of the victims of the Armenian Genocide in April.
ACYO, the Armenian Church Youth Organization, has many members from ages 18 and up who are very active at the church.
In 2022, two years after Rev. Boyajyan had assumed his position, the parish simultaneously celebrated the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Apostolic parish and the 10th anniversary of the consecration of the Holy Resurrection Church.
The day after my visit, Rev. Boyajyan was set to fly to Armenia with the Western Diocese youth group, Christian Youth Mission Armenia. CYMA is a youth group founded by Western Primate Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, with a mission to travel to Armenia and learn about the history, culture and traditions of the country. They also help to construct schools, homes, and aid families impacted by the war.
This year, Rev. Boyajyan is accompanying 13 members from the CYMA youth group to Armenia. The group will be traveling with a few members of the Western Diocese. This time, the delegation will be building a kindergarten in Proshyan village.
Rev. Boyajyan, with his abiding commitment, for several years has participated in and organized similar humanitarian endeavors, starting when he was still serving in Canada. The fund for the construction of the kindergarten will be provided by a benefactor.
This concludes my observations of the parish of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which I found to be very vibrant and tight-knit. The estimated number of Armenians in Seattle is between 5,000 to 6,000.
Below is the information of a few businesses and a variety of groups within the Armenian Community in Seattle.
- Ladies Society: Heart of the church—organizes bake sales twice a year; serving coffee and snacks every Sunday after liturgy and for any other church events;
- Armenian Cultural Group: Organizes concerts and exhibition-fundraisers. In November 2022, a big exhibition of Armenian artists, painters and sculptors from Seattle was held. It was a very successful event;
- Lark musical group: Organizes concerts, other musical events, and performs with other communities for fundraisers;
- Armenian Church Youth Organization: Very active in church events, games, gatherings, fundraisers, and weekly bible study sessions;
- Junior ACYO: Sunday school students who volunteer and partake in events organized by the church and the Armenian school in Seattle;
- Parish Council: Lead council of church and school life. The council hosts all major events—galas, festivals, fundraisers, and more;
- Holy Resurrection Armenian School: The school has about 100 students enrolled;
- Parents Committee: A group associated with the Armenian school. They help organize projects for the school and focus their meetings on the school curriculum;
- Armenian House Committee: Taking care of the maintenance for the house;
- European Deli and Produce: A grocery store located in Everett and Bellevue, WA;
- European Grocery: A grocery store and restaurant, Bellevue, WA;
- Eraz Lavash: Bread producer—Federal Way, WA;
- Karin Dance Ensemble.