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Still, with two similar stores on the very same street, and a few more within a mile, it seemed as if the market for lahmejunes might be saturated. Not at all, said Mrs. Chauushian, explaining the subtle differences among the stores’ offerings. “You see, we’re from Istanbul, so we’re not going to have the same taste as something you’d get at Massis Bakery or Arax Market, which is owned by a Lebanese.”

Armenian fare has taken on some of the characteristics of the diaspora’s host countries. And here in Watertown, sometimes called Little Armenia, the popularity of Armenian cuisine has impacted cooking from other traditions.

For instance, at Jasmine Persian Cuisine, a small, casual restaurant across the street from Sevan Bakery, there were several Armenian items on the menu. “Even though we’re a Persian restaurant, I have to have Armenian food on the menu, because that’s what’s popular here,” said Jasmine’s owner, Alex Zarifian, who, though himself Armenian, would prefer to showcase more Persian food. “But Armenian food is what sells.”

English settlers founded Watertown in 1630, 10 years after the landing at Plymouth Rock, making it the oldest inland settlement in the 13 original colonies. But the first record of an Armenian coming to the country predated Plymouth by two years. Records survive from 1618 indicating that “Martin ye [the] Armenian” was a member of the Jamestown colony founded in 1607.

Martin aside, Armenians first came to the United States in large numbers in the late 19th century, with a significant wave following the 1894 and 1896 massacres in Armenia. By 1914, there were about 16,000 Armenians in New York, mostly in New York City, and 14,000 in Massachusetts, mostly in the Boston area. Today, more than half of the United States’ one million Armenian-Americans live in California, but the oldest communities remain on the East Coast.

Those who came to the Boston area originally settled in the city’s South End, a working-class neighborhood that had accommodated earlier waves of Irish and Italian immigrants. Armenians began moving to Watertown in 1898 to work at the new Hood Rubber Plant. More jobs were to be had at a new armory. For its size, Watertown boasted an impressive industrial economy, producing sails, chocolate and lace. Factories in Watertown produced the first paper bags and rubber bicycle tires.

At first “it was mostly Armenian men who came to America to earn money, leaving their wives and families behind,” said Gary Lind-Sinanian, curator of Watertown’s Armenian Library and Museum of America. “But after the Armenian genocide of 1915, those who survived came with their families.”

In later years, as the factories closed, many Armenian-Americans, especially the wealthy, moved out of Watertown. But new immigrants replenished their numbers.

“You had a big wave of immigration with the genocide, but there were later waves, too,” said Joan Goodheart, a retired Wellesley College anthropologist who has studied Armenians since she moved to Watertown 30 years ago. “During the Lebanese civil war [1975-1990], many Armenians left and we saw an influx here. And after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we got another wave of Armenians who had lived there.”

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Tags: Cultural Identity Armenian Catholic Church Multiculturalism Assimilation