Archbishop Leon Tourian was the
primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of
America, assassinated in New
York by his political opponents on Christmas Eve, 1933.
Tourian was born 1 January 1879 in Istanbul, Turkey.
appointment to New York in 1931, Tourian was archbishop of Smyrna, Vicar
Patriarch of Constantinople, and later a prelate in Greece, Bulgaria, and in
incident that resulted in a plot to assassinate the archbishop took
place on 1 July 1933, in a pavilion for the celebration of Armenian
Day at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago.
Tourian, upon his arrival to deliver an invocation, ordered the removal of the red, blue,
and orange Tricolor of Democratic
Republic of Armenia (1918 – 1920) from the stage before he would step
out on it.
archbishop's point of view, appearing beside this flag would
provoke the wrath of Armenia's Soviet government,
which was a serious concern, since the church's ultimate seat of
spiritual authority lay in the Holy See at Echmiadzin, within the borders of Soviet Armenia, and Catholicos of All Armenians felt
bound to keep peace with Soviet authorities.
However the members of the nationalist Armenian Revolutionary
(ARF), knowns as Dashnaks
for whom the flag was a sacred symbol of the Armenian nation, took
this as an act of treason. Tourian was soon attacked by 5 ARF members in
Two of the attackers were convicted. After
this incident Tourian hired a bodyguard
The conflict climaxed Dec. 24, 1933, when several men attacked
Archbishop Leon Tourian, in the Church of the Holy Cross, in the
Heights, Manhattan, at the start of the Christmas Eve service.
Tourian’s constant bodyguard, Kossof Gargodian, was sitting in the
back of the church certain that there would be no assault upon
Tourian in a holy place, on the day before Christmas.However, when
archbishop passed at the end of procession the fifth raw of the
pews from the rear, he was suddenly surrounded by a group of men in
such a fashion as to hide the actions of their companions. Two of
assailants stabbed Tourian with large butcher knives
, and once the archbishop fell,
the attackers scattered and mixed with the crowd. Two of assailants
were seized by the parishioners, beaten, and subsequently handed
over to the police.
The police soon apprehended the other 7 assailants, who were all
ARF members. On 14 July 1934, after the trial that lasted 5 weeks,
2 of them, Matios Leylegian and Nisham Sarkisian, were found guilty
of first degree murder, and another 7 of first degree manslaughter.
Leylegian and Sarkisian were sentenced to death, but Governor of New York Herbert Lehman
commuted the death sentences
to life imprisonment "on account of most unusual circumstances in
this case". The other seven were given prison terms of varying
lengths, from 10 to 20 years.
killing, American Armenians became split between local churches
affiliated with the Catholicosate of All Armenians, located in
Soviet Armenia, and those affiliated with the Catholicosate
of Cilicia, near Beirut, though the
liturgy has stayed the same.
Individual congregations became
either entirely Dashnak or anti-Dashnak in their membership, with
forcible expulsions and violent fights in some instances.
present there are two Armenian Apostolic Church structures in the