University of Miami Race & Social Justice Law Review

Document Type



This article examines the trial transcript and judicial opinion in the 1924 naturalization trial of Tatos Cartozian, whose naturalization was opposed by the United States Department of Labor based on the assertion that as an Armenian he was not “white” and was therefore racially ineligible for naturalization under a law that limited eligibility for naturalization to “white persons” and other racial groups until 1952. The article situates the case within its legal and historical context then examines the arguments advanced by the Armenian defense during the trial as reflected in the transcript preserved by the National Archives and Records Administration, particularly the defense’s portrayal of Turks, Kurds, and Syrian Muslims as historical persecutors of Armenians in Asia Minor. The article argues that the persecutory agency in the defense’s trial narrative created a powerful sense of social solidarity with Americans by portraying Turkey as a common enemy of Americans and Armenians during the post-World War I era and examines the consequences of this rhetorical strategy. After examining the transcript, the article then examines how the judicial opinion responds to the defense’s rhetorical strategy and argues that although the opinion adopts the defense’s narrative, the opinion reflects an inability or refusal to clearly delineate the agency in the narrative, is marked by a style that suggests a broader resistance to narrativity, and remains silent on the Armenian genocide and diaspora at the center of the case, all of which suggest an uncomfortable relationship to the “historical interpretation” of race that had recently emerged as an interpretive strategy in the case law surrounding the naturalization Act. The article concludes by reflecting on the rhetorical strategy of unification against a common enemy found in Cartozian and elsewhere in the discourse regarding the racial prerequisite in the early Naturalization Act, what the strategy suggests about the function of narrative in naturalization discourse, and how the strategy helped to define American identity amid growing tensions between race, nationality, and religion in the early twentieth century.