On December 24, 1931, Archbishop Leon Tourian of the Armenian Apostolic Church was murdered. Tourian was starting his Christmas Eve service at the Church of the Holy Cross in Washington Heights, Manhattan when he was attacked.
Tourian had drawn the ire of the Armenian independence movement two years earlier when he was appointed the Archbishop of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America. He had been preparing to lead a service at the worlds fair in Chicago when he demanded that the flag of the now defunct First Republic of Armenia be removed from the stage. The Armenian State had been absorbed into the Soviet Union and was now under the thumb of Moscow. From the archbishop’s point of view, appearing beside this flag would provoke the wrath of the Soviet government, which was a serious concern, since the church’s ultimate seat of spiritual authority lay within the borders of Soviet Armenia. Tourian felt it was best to keep peace with the Soviet authorities.
Members of the Armenian Revolutionary Front (ARF) were outraged by this seeming betrayal to the idea of a free Armenia. Members of ARF attacked the Archbishop in Massachusetts shortly after this incident. Tourian hired a bodyguard and kept a wary eye out for further assaults. However, neither the Archbishop nor his bodyguard thought that an attack would come at Christmas mass.
Tourian was to lead the service at The Church of the Holy Cross on West 187th Street near St Nicholas Avenue. As he led the procession up to the alter, 9 men leapt from their pews and attacked the cleric. Butcher’s knives were produced by two of the men, and soon Tourian lay on the floor of the church dying.
Parishioners were able to hold two of the men until the NYPD arrived. Cops later grabbed the other 7 perps. All 9 were put on trial with the two stabbers being found guilty of murder and the other 7 received manslaughter convictions. The controversy and attack split the Armenian Church. The nationalists split off to form their own church structure. This split still exists today.
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