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To celebrate Armenian Cultural Month, St. John Armenian Church of Milwaukee, WI, will host An Evening of Classical Opera and Armenian Folk Songs, featuring Yeghishe Manucharyan (Tenor, Metropolitan Opera) and Victoria Avetisyan (Mezzo – Soprano, Boston Opera)

Repertoire Includes



Metropolitan Opera tenor Yeghishe Manucharyan and Boston Opera mezzo-soprano Victoria Avetisyan will sing together for the first time in Milwaukee. The married couple will perform words and melodies familiar to opera lovers, including work by Verdi, Mozart and Puccini. But they will also take their Milwaukee audience to a less familiar place by singing folk songs from their native Armenia.

The young performers have already made an impression in the U.S. with concerts at the Kennedy Center, the San Diego Opera and Carnegie Hall, among many other venues adding South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center to their resumes with this performance.

Tickets: general admission $25.

For reservations click here

For Address & Directions click here

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Milwaukee Armenian Fest 2022

A scene from Armenian Dance Company of Chicago’s performance at Taste of Armenia in Evanston, IL

The celebration has been a Milwaukee tradition since the 1930s. Each summer Milwaukee Armenian Fest brings its heritage and its fun to those who want to learn about the culture and food of the Armenian Community.

Armenian Fest returns on Sunday, July 17, 2022, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the grounds of St. John the Baptist Armenian Orthodox church, 7825 W. Layton Ave, Greenfield, WI.

Our community invites you to sample the food and music and leave with part of Armenia in your heart.

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By David Luhrssen

(Milwaukee, Wis.) On Sunday, November 7, St. John the Baptist Armenian Church celebrated its 79th anniversary with Divine Liturgy followed by a banquet and program. The Diocesan Vicar of the Eastern Diocese, Very Rev. Fr. Simeon Odabashian, was the guest celebrant. Assisting in the services was the parish’s current pastor, Rev. Fr. Guregh Hambardzumyan and his predecessor, Rev. Fr. Nareg Keutelian.

St. John was founded in 1942 in nearby West Allis, Wis., one of several industrial cities in the Midwest where Armenians found work and new lives after the massacres of the 1890s and the Armenian Genocide that followed. In 1970 the parish moved to the Milwaukee suburb of Greenfield and conducted worship and other activities in a newly constructed cultural hall. In 1986 St. John’s sanctuary, designed by architect Harold Baylerian according to Armenian tradition, was consecrated by Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, assisted by the parish’s pastor, Rev. Fr. Tateos Abdalian.

At the November 7 program, Fr. Simeon recalled his long association with St. John, which began with a visit as a teenager in the 1970s. At that time, liturgy was conducted on the stage in the cultural hall by the late Very Rev. Fr. Shnork Kasparian. Fr. Simeon was present at the 1986 consecration and as a seminarian, assisted Fr. Tateos with Holy Week services.

The program’s keynote address by Fr. Guregh stressed the challenges that the founders of St. John had to overcome in “a place that bore no relation or resemblance to the land they came from.” The Armenian immigrants found work for themselves and bright prospects for their children but felt a void “that could only be filled by the construction of a new church.” In the decades since the parish was established, St. John has been “a safe haven and a gathering place” for Armenians, a place for spiritual and emotional regeneration, an extension of the Motherland, “a living breathing structure” where people worshiped, mourned, rejoiced and remembered who they were and from where they came, Fr. Guregh said.

In appreciation for his years of service at St. John as a deacon and later a priest, Fr. Nareg was presented with a clay khatchkar from Armenia. He recalled a conversation at the 1986 consecration with a skeptic who said in 25 years, there would be no Armenian community in the Milwaukee area. Thirty-five years later, St. John’s culture hall was crowded for the anniversary celebration and included many participants who weren’t born when the church was consecrated.

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By David Luhrssen

(Milwaukee, Wis.) The physicians gave photographer Hrair Hawk Khatcherian only 10 days to live. As Khatcherian told the audience at his Oct. 24 slide show and talk at St. John the Baptist Armenian Church, he made a vow: if he survived lung cancer, he would travel to every country in the world with at least one Armenian church and take pictures. “I wish I had just offered madagh,” he joked. Although keeping his promise proved to be a larger than anticipated investment in time and money, the Canadian Armenian traveled to 48 nations for the photos he chose to include in his 2013 book, One Church, One Nation.

Genocide Memorial Courtyard at St. John Armenian Church of Milwaukee

Khatcherian devoted most of his presentation as part of Armenian Cultural Month observance at St. John in Milwaukee, to his latest book, Khatchkar. Beautifully produced and photographed, the 500-page coffee table book an impressive document of Armenian religious stone carvings. Included are not only the khachkars that dot the Armenian countryside but bas-reliefs in churches and monasteries displaying events from the life of Christ and iconic images of Jesus and Mary the Mother of God.

With many visual juxtapositions, Khatchkar is designed to reveal common themes across different media by contrasting images of stone carvings with illuminated manuscripts, metalwork and fabric. Many of the khachkars he photographed were difficult to access. He clambered along slippery cliffs, stepped carefully through a Soviet-era minefield, braved the threat of Azeri snipers and ventured into the vicinity of Mount Ararat without alerting soldiers at a nearby Turkish army base. Several khachkars he photographed rise to 16 feet in height. Another difficulty involved photographing khachkars with natural light sufficient to reveal their detailed carvings. Because they face east, the best time of day for capturing the standing stones is between noon and 2 p.m.

Khatcherian photographed khachkars in Armenia, Artsakh, the Crimea, Iran, Lebanon, Georgia, Turkey and the Holy Land. “It took 26 years and 100 trips to Armenia and Artsakh,” he said, describing a search that revealed khachkars in their diversity was well as commonality and their fate. They remain objects of reverence in Armenia. However, in Kurdish regions khachkars were used as building materials, many have been deliberately defaced in Turkey and others were bulldozed by the Azeris. Several khachkars photographed by Khatcherian were evacuated from Artsakh to Etchmiadzin at the close of the 2020 war.

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Saturday, April 10, 2021 @ 10:00 am

The Eastern Diocese is pleased to announce that Diocesan Primate Bishop Daniel will ordain Deacon Albert Hambardzumyan to the Holy Order of Priesthood, on Friday and Saturday, April 9 and 10, 2021.

The Service of Calling to the Priesthood and Ordination and Consecration will take place at St. John the Baptist Armenian Church of Milwaukee, WI, where Dn. Albert has been serving as the Deacon-in-Charge since October. Very Rev. Fr. Norayr Kazazian will serve as Dn. Albert’s sponsoring priest, and Dr. Garo Garibian as his ordination godfather.

A native of Yerevan, Dn. Albert Hambardzumyan is a 2019 graduate of St. Nersess Seminary, who served a pastoral internship at the St. Hagop Church of Pinellas Park, FL, before his assignment to Milwaukee. He and his wife Sylva have an infant son.

“About thirteen years ago, I embarked on the journey to priesthood and now the time is finally approaching for my priestly ordination,” said Dn. Albert. “During these past years, I have been blessed to study in Jerusalem and at St. Nersess and St. Vladimir’s seminaries, where I have served in many capacities including deacon and choir director. Now God is calling me to take on my shoulders His responsive and sweet yoke and serve Him and our Holy Church as a priest.”

A celebratory banquet will take place after the service on Saturday. Following his ordination, the new priest will spend 40 days in seclusion and prayer at St. Nersess Seminary before returning to St. John Church as its new pastor.

Click on the following links to:

  • LEARN MORE about Dn. Albert’s ordination.
  • RESERVE for the banquet on Saturday, April 10.
  • WATCH the ordination live on the St. John Church Facebook page.

Dn. Albert Hambardzumyan will be the third priest ordained by the hand of Bishop Daniel since the latter was consecrated to the episcopal rank in 2019.

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The Untold Story of How the YMCA Saved Lives During the Genocide

By David Luhrssen




(MIlwaukee, Wis.) During the beleaguered years of the First Armenian Republic (1918-1920), two Americans traveled the length of the country in a rickety motorcar over unpaved roads on a mission to aid the refugees. They may have saved as many as 100,000 lives and left behind a priceless documentary record of the Genocide.


On Sunday, April 7, Dr. Rouben Adalian, Director of the Armenian National Institute in Washington DC, spoke at St. John the Baptist Armenian Church about those two Americans, John Elder and James Arroll. They were YMCA volunteers, initially sent to Russia to boost morale in America’s World War I ally. With the rise of the Bolsheviks, Elder and Arroll found themselves in Russian Armenia. The challenges they faced were catastrophic in scale.


From May through October 1918, Elder and Arroll witnessed the carnage as Turkish forces drove across the border into the fragile Armenian Republic. The YMCA volunteers organized relief in Armenia as part of an overall American effort to aid millions of hungry and displaced people across Europe and the Near East, yet Elder and Arroll had fewer assets at their disposal than their counterparts in Belgium and other countries. For many months they were the only Americans in Armenia and served as their country’s unofficial representatives to the republic. The resources they worked with were slender. They established an orphanage consisting of nothing more than an empty room without beds or furnishings of any kind, only a roof to keep out the rain.


Elder and Arroll were also responsible for a trove of photographs showing the ravaged faces and emaciated bodies of refugees, the mass graves and the decimated towns left by the retreating Turks. One especially chilling image, displayed by Adalian in PowerPoint, shows a woman picking a dirt field looking for scraps of food.


Elder and Arroll’s work was long forgotten until Adalian, who earned a Ph.D in history under Richard Hovannisian, pieced together their story. However, as he conceded, many things remain unknown about the pair of humanitarian adventurers who played a decisive but unsung role in assisting Armenia during a time of great peril.

Click to access american_relief.pdf

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(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)


Birth of Varoujan Khedeshian
(April 7, 1937)


Varoujan Khedeshian was one of the most innovative directors of Armenian theater in the Diaspora during the second half of the twentieth century.

He was born on April 7, 1937, in Aley (Lebanon). At the age of sixteen, he debuted in the Hamazkayin “Kaspar Ipekian” dramatic troupe, directed by Georges Sarkissian, another famous name of Diasporan theater.

In 1960 he went to London to study at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. He graduated in 1965 and returned to Lebanon, where he joined the Hamazkayin “Levon Shant” dramatic troupe. Two years later, he founded the “Theatre 67” dramatic troupe, which had a very important role in the Lebanese Armenian community until the beginning of the civil war in 1975. Khedeshian was noted for staging works from the Armenian and international repertoire that went outside the mold of tradition, introducing the audience to contemporary works by playwrights like Arthur Miller, Peter Weiss, Edward Albee, and Neil Simon. He would maintain this approach when he took over the direction of the “Kaspar Ipekian” from 1989-2000. He translated a total of 22 plays from English into Armenian.

Some of the works he directed included, along with “Ancient Gods” and “The Emperor” (Levon Shant), “By the Road of Heaven” and “Up to Where?” (Hagop Oshagan), “Alafranca,” “The Oriental Dentist,” and “Brother Balthazar” (Hagop Baronian), “The Piper of the Mountains of Armenia” (Hamasdegh), world-famous works like “The Merchant of Venice” (William Shakespeare), “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (Edward Albee), “Marat/Sade” (Peter Weiss), “The Crucible,” “View from the Bridge,” “The Price,” and “All My Sons” (Arthur Miller), “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” and “Barefoot in the Park” (Neil Simon), “The Master Builder” (Henrik Ibsen), “Romulus the Great” (Friedrich Dürrenmatt), “The Venetian Twins” (Carlo Goldoni), “The Caretaker” (Harold Pinter).

From 1979-1987 Khedeshian staged five dramatic performances in Armenia, both in Yerevan and Leninakan (now Gyumri), and received the “Bedros Atamian” medal in 1987, becoming the first Diasporan Armenian who earned this award during the Soviet period.

His decades-long theatrical activity earned him multiple accolades and several distinctions late in life. In 2000 he was decorated with the “St. Mesrob Mashdots” order of the Holy See of Cilicia by Catholicos Aram I and the Hamazkayin order by the Central Executive Board of this organization. In 2008 the Ministry of Culture of Armenia awarded him its gold medal, and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II bestowed upon him the “St. Sahag-St. Mesrob” medal of the Armenian Church. Meanwhile, in 2004 he had received the order of the Institute of Arts of Lebanese University, where he had taught dramatic art from 1971-1999.

Varoujan Khedeshian passed away on December 28, 2015, in Beirut, at the age of sixty-eight.

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Milwaukee Armenian Fest

By David Luhrssen


On July 22, St. John the Baptist Armenian Church in Greenfield, WI, held Milwaukee’s annual Armenian Fest. The festival has grown in recent years from its origins as a church-family picnic into a regionally recognized event that draws attention from the local news media and has gained a large non-Armenian audience.

The lack of leftover food from this year’s Armenian Fest is an indicator that 2018 was the event’s most successful year to date.

Armenian Fest’s main attraction remains the food. The offerings are almost entirely homemade from old family recipes and include pilaf, boreg, sarma, yalanjee, hummus and desserts such as paklava and borma as well as beef and chicken shish-kabobs grilled over an open fire. But the festival also kept the crowd engaged with live music by Chicago’s Hye Vibes, Racine’s Stepan Froonjian and performances by Chicago’s  Hamazkayin Sardarabad Dancers. Armenian wine, beer, preserves and honey were sold along with books, CDs and t-shirts.

Armenian Fest has become the Milwaukee Armenian community’s opportunity to give southeastern Wisconsin a taste of Armenian food, culture and hospitality.

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By David Luhrssen


(South Milwaukee, WI) On Sunday, June 17, over 85 Armenians from Southeast Wisconsin gathered for Outdoor Divine Liturgy and a madagh (memorial) meal at Holy Resurrection Armenian Cemetery in South Milwaukee. The date, Father’s Day, was chosen as an occasion for remembering the founding fathers of the cemetery as well as family members buried there. It also coincided with the 70th anniversary of the cemetery’s consecration.

South Milwaukee played an important role in the history of Armenian immigration to the U.S. As an industrial suburb of Milwaukee, South Milwaukee was one of the first destinations for Armenians fleeing the massacres of the 1890s because of the enormous need for factory workers at Bucyrus Eerie, one of America’s largest manufacturers of mining machinery before its purchase in recent years by Caterpillar. The first wave of immigrants was joined after World War I by an influx of Genocide survivors. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church was the site where visiting Armenian priests conducted liturgy in South Milwaukee until 1924, when the growing community established Holy Resurrection Armenian Church. The city’s Armenians were buried in St. Mark’s cemetery until 1948, when the community purchased the plot of land adjacent to St. Mark’s cemetery, that became one of only a handful of Armenian cemeteries in the U.S.

“Those early immigrants realized the sense of loss of homeland and family—they somehow knew that their physical bodies could never go back,” said Armen Hajinian, deacon at Holy Resurrection and president of the cemetery board. “Walking through the headstones you’ll read ‘Born in Armenia’ and see their names or phrases written in Armenian. It is one last attempt at reclamation of their losses.”

The June 17 liturgy was celebrated by Very Rev. Fr. Simeon Odabashian, Vicar of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church. He was assisted by Rev. Fr. Sahak Kaishian of Holy Resurrection and Rev. Fr. Nareg Keutelian of St. John the Baptist Church of Greenfield, along with deacons and choir from both churches. In his homily, the Vicar confessed that he had never previously performed liturgy in a cemetery, but upon reflection, realized that Christian worship began, in a sense, in a cemetery at the empty tomb of Jesus on the first Easter Sunday.

Afterward, he conducted a requiem for all souls buried in the cemetery, including Very Rev. Fr. Soukias Kalfaian, pastor of Holy Resurrection’s parish for many years, and performed the blessing of the madagh, provided by Mr. Mark Keishian, a longtime parishioner of Holy Resurrection.

During the Madagh luncheon on the cemetery grounds, the Mayor of South Milwaukee, Mr. Erik Brooks recounted the great contributions the early Armenian settlers made to the city and commended their descendants for continuing in their forefathers’ footsteps.

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Dawn Anahid MacKeen on ‘The Hundred-Year Walk’ at Milwaukee-Armenian Cultural Event

By David Luhrssen


(Greenfield, Wis.) Dawn Anahid MacKeen grew up hearing her mother’s stories about her grandfather, Stepan Miskjian, a Genocide survivor who immigrated to America. “As a child, I was repulsed by some of those stories,” she said, speaking at St. John the Baptist Armenian Church at a Sept. 17 event ahead of Armenian Cultural Month in October.


If sometimes repulsed, she was always curious. “’It’s all in here!’ my mother said, pointing to a pair of small booklets, in Armenian, published by my grandfather in the 1960s.” This led to the discovery of a cache of his notebooks, meticulously penned in grandfather’s careful handwriting, setting down his life from before and through the Genocide.


Grandfather’s writings became the basis for MacKeen’s book, The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey. Called a “must read” by the New York Post, The Hundred-Year Walk reframes his memoirs and recounts her own journey to Turkey and Syria in 2007. She retraced his steps from his hometown in Adabazar (now Adapazari), east of Istanbul, to the Syrian city of Raqqua on the Euphrates River. Having escaped his death march through the Syrian desert, he was given sanctuary by a Bedouin leader, Sheik Hammud al-Aekleh, who sympathized with the plight of the Armenians.


Like her grandfather, MacKeen has a gift for reporting. An award-winning investigative journalist, her work appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and Smart Money. She put her career on hold to write The Hundred-Year Walk, expecting to devote two years to the undertaking. In the end, the project required 10 years to complete. She devoured published and unpublished accounts of the Genocide and traveled to Armenian libraries in Paris and Vienna. Her journey to the Near East occurred at a time, not so long ago, when Turkey sometimes seemed on the verge of opening up to the world and Syria was a stable nation. Many of the places she visited, including the Genocide Memorial at Deir Zor, have since been destroyed.


MacKeen’s greatest joy was in locating the descendants of the sheikh who protected her grandfather. “Raqqa later became the capital for ISIS, but then, it was a harmonious place of many religions and ethnicities,” she said. “I received great hospitality and couldn’t help but think of the ripple effect of one kind act—because of the sheikh, my family survived.” According to MacKeen, many of the sheikh’s descendants have fled the Syrian civil war and become refugees in Europe.


“My grandfather’s account is an important testimony to a crime against humanity,” she concluded. “His words are my family’s heirloom. I inherited his story along with the responsibility of telling it.”


MacKeen’s talk and the lively questions and answers that followed capped a busy day at St. John. The Exaltation of the Cross, a feast day on the Armenian liturgical calendar, was celebrated by the traditional Blessing of the Four Corners of the World service and the distribution of basil. St. John added a new member to its community with the baptism of Ava Torosian, daughter of Jeff and Jennifer Torosian. A luncheon hosted by family members followed the baptism and gave the visiting speaker a sense for the genuine fellowship found at St. John.

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