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MIDDLE EASTERN IMMIGRANTS TO UTAH

By Robert F. Zeidner
The Middle Eastern peoples who have settled in Utah include Syrians, Assyrians, Lebanese, Armenians, Egyptians, Iranians, Palestinian Arabs, Iraqis, Jordanians, Turks, and Libyans. The early immigrants were almost all members of various Christian denominations, but Moslems have assumed an increasing proportion among recent additions to Utah's Middle Eastern population. Historically, during the time of much of the Middle Eastern immigration to Utah (between 1890 and 1918), two Islamic states encompassed the entire area of the Middle East: Iran (Persia) and the Ottoman Empire which included Turkey. Therefore, the immigrants were often referred to as "Persians," "Ottomans," and "Turks." A more meaningful way to classify the Middle Eastern immigrants is to separate them into three groups: The Syro-Lebanese; the Armenians; and post-World War II emigrants from Middle Eastern countries.

The first identified Syro-Lebanese immigrant to Utah was Brahim (Abraham) Howa, who, like many other Syro-Lebanese immigrants to the United States, was a peddler. Howa specialized in carpets and jewelry. He arrived in Carbon County about 1896 and tried his hand at both mining and farming, later becoming a successful businessman in the county. Following the practice of immigrant groups in Utah and throughout the United States, Howa arranged for members of his family--three brothers and a sister--to come to Utah along with their families. They as well as many other Lebanese immigrants came to the United States by way of Mexico in order to avoid the ordeal and possible difficulties with immigration authorities at Ellis Island. One niece, Sarah George, had been betrothed in Lebanon to John Attey, whom she joined in Utah. They were married in the Salt Lake Cathedral of the Madeleine and then established their home on the west side of Salt Lake City by Greek Town. The Lebanese had extensive interaction with the Greek immigrants. They established businesses in Greek Town; peddled jewelry, lace, linens, cloth, and bedspreads throughout Utah; and secured employment at the Bingham Copper Mine and at the Utah Fire Clay Company.

Another early immigrant family from Lebanon was the Maloufs. The family established several flourishing businesses in Richfield and then moved to Salt Lake City, where they founded the Western Garment Manufacturing Company, which became a nationally known women's garment manufacturing and sales firm under the name "Mode O'Day." Some children of the immigrants attended colleges and universities, becoming doctors and professors, while others remained in the field of business.

Whereas the Syro-Lebanese immigrants were voluntary immigrants from their native land, the Armenians, especially those subject to the Ottoman throne, were impelled to emigrate in large numbers to other parts of the Middle East, Europe, and the Western Hemisphere during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A long series of bloody Armenian massacres, believed to have been instigated by Sultan Abdul Hamid II, commenced throughout the Ottoman Empire in 1894, causing a mass exodus of Armenians, primarily to Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. A Mormon missionary, F.F. Hintze, arrived in Zara in 1888 and converted a small group of Armenians to the Mormon faith. Beginning about 1897, Armenian converts came to Utah because of their new religion. Other Armenians came to Utah to work on the railroad or for the Utah Copper Company.

More recent Middle Eastern immigrants have come primarily because of the state's institutions of higher education. Iran has enjoyed the consultative services of agronomists at Utah State University since 1939. This relationship generated a stream of Iranian students to all of the institutions of higher education in northern Utah. In Egypt, the strains of overpopulation finally moved the government to encourage emigration in the mid-1960s. Professional people and administrators who had studied in Europe and America began to respond to employment opportunities here. After the creation of the state of Israel, the United States government allowed special immigration quotas to displaced Palestinian Arabs, and a modest number of them settled in the Salt Lake area.

The staff and faculty of the University of Utah probably boast the largest Middle Eastern work force in the state. The university is home to the Middle East Center, which through its courses, publications, and excellent faculty is one of the nation's leading centers for the study of the Middle East. Directors of the center have included Professor Khosrow Mostofi, an Iranian immigrant holding a doctoral degree from the University of Utah, and Aziz S. Atiya, Distinguished Professor of History, who emigrated from the Coptic Christian community of Egypt.

As Utah continues to expand its contacts with the Middle East, it is expected that residents of that region will continue to contribute to Utah's diversity.