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The Immigrant Experience

For Armenians, history and religion

Outside of Armenia and Southern California, more ethnic Armenians live in the Belmont-Watertown area than any other location in the world. This is largely the work of two town elders, both of whom anchor the Armenian people and try to foster a sense of history and purpose.

In an unimposing and inconspicuous cluster of three brown-brick office buildings in Belmont is the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) building.

The NAASR building houses the largest collection of Armenian books in English anywhere in the world, including Harvard. With holdings ranging from the Armenian contribution to the Crusades to ancient Greek and Roman texts, NAASR's library serves countless educational, service, and research needs.

Behind the cozy and well-stocked reading room, there is a long, rectangular conference room with light brown paneling, vintage 1970s-style couches, golden window blinds and a square arrangement of tables. Adorning the walls are paintings and photographs reminding visitors that this organization and this room breathe history.

But no visit to NAASR would be complete without a few moments speaking with its chair.

A visionary, beneficent and scholarly, Manoog S. Young directs the National Board of NAASR, founded in 1955 in Belmont, Massachusetts. As an organization, NAASR is dedicated to the goal of advancing Armenian studies in the United States, and Young is one of its three charter members.

Young emits a serene, reflective demeanor as he recalls his almost four score years in America. Over the years, his knowledge of the history and experiences of many Armenian immigrants has made him the unofficial head of the Armenian American community in the Northeast.

As a physics and mathematics undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts, Young began his career in teaching.

"I liked teaching, but when I went to graduate school, I starting believing that I should pursue my interests in history and international relations instead of math and physics," Young said.

As a result, during his graduate school studies, Young took an extension school class at Harvard with Richard N. Frye, Aga Khan professor of Iranian, emeritus.

"Back then the classes cost $10 each," Young said, "and when I went to see Frye one Saturday for office hours, I overhead him talking about Armenian studies. We discussed things for a while, and eventually I persuaded him to come out to Belmont to give a speech to the entire Armenian community there."

Young said Frye didn't disappoint his listeners.

"After that meeting we got organized and began to investigate how we could further the knowledge of Armenian studies in the U.S. One of our first ideas was to endow a chair at Harvard that would specifically address our needs," Young said.

In 1955, then-President Nathan Marsh Pusey told NAASR that Harvard required $300,000 to endow a chair.

"Although President Pusey was very kind about everything, he and many people at Harvard didn't think we'd ever get the resources together to actually establish a position at the university," Young said.