How and when did the first Armenians arrive in the state of Colorado?
The first Armenian family, Touris and Lillian Sarkisian, came to Colorado in 1890. Mr. Sarkisian was advised to move from the East Coast to Colorado for the dry and clean air. After settling in Colorado, he practiced medicine for thirty years. The family founded Sarkisian Oriental Rugs, a landmark institution in Denver, in 1891. Other early arrivals included the Narcissian family, who emigrated to Colorado in 1928 from Detroit. In 1957, Sarkis and Pearl Safarian moved to Colorado from Detroit to escape its cold climate. Missing the Armenian community back home, Pearl searched the phonebook for people with Armenian surnames, and as she discovered other Armenians they began to meet in each other’s homes.
By 1979, it became obvious that there were enough Armenians to establish an organization. Their goal was to bring together the Armenian community in a shared understanding of Armenian history, culture, language and customs. The first organizational meeting was held at Boulder’s railroad station. There was an overwhelming attendance and response, therefore the Armenians of Colorado (AOC) was founded. The first Board of Directors drafted By-Laws that were adopted in 1981. The AOC was incorporated in 1982, and granted non-profit status in 1984.
One of the organization’s founding goals was to create awareness about Armenians and their rich culture and history. As AOC’s first major accomplishment, in 1981, the first proclamation recognizing the Armenian Genocide of 1915 was signed by Governor Richard Lamm. The following year the Lamm administration authorized and inaugurated the Armenian Genocide Memorial Garden, where a memorial plaque and tree still stand. Today, the community meets at the memorial every April to commemorate the 1.5 million Armenians lost during the genocide. In 2015, a memorial Khachkar was added to the garden to mark the centennial of the genocide.
Today, the Armenian community has grown from a few individuals to five thousand strong, as Armenians have come from all over the world to join the vibrant Colorado community.