As Interviewed by Melina Takvorian, March 11, 2015

Hagop: In His Own Words

All my grandparents were impacted by the genocide… but once in a while my grandmother would start talking about it. And when she did, I would notice lots of pain in her face and her voice. She would cry sometimes, and that bothered me. She would tell us the story of her childhood, and what she went through, and how her family was killed, and how my grandfather’s family was killed.

I think she was about seven-years-old when the genocide started. Her parents died when she was two-years-old (before the genocide). She grew up as an orphan, and during the genocide she was deported, along with the other Armenians from her town.

She wound up on this march, where basically they got people out of their houses and forced them to march to the desert. She said that there were people dying on the way. Some people were starving because they weren’t allowed to eat. Women and girls were raped. My grandmother always used to say one thing that always bothered me, and still does even today: “If I ever told you what was done to me, you wouldn’t be able to take it, it’s so bad.” If we didn’t eat something on our plates she’d say, “You don’t understand--we used to eat anything, like a blade of grass or whatever we could find. It was just something to eat because we were starving.”

Luckily, she wasn’t taken as a slave as many others were. She was taken into an orphanage, and she grew up there. A lot of Armenians grew up as orphans. You know how people trace their roots? We can’t really do that very well because all we know of our ancestors begins with my grandmother’s generation.

When I was growing up, there were always protests. Armenians were trying to make people aware of what happened in 1915. A lot of people don’t understand why Armenians would care about this so many years later. I think it’s maybe a little bit like Native Americans. Where we came from -- it was our homeland, and there’s nothing left of it.

I remember the Turkish government would sponsor tours of Turkish cultural groups, and they would seem to take place on April 24th because they wanted to counter any bad publicity from the genocide awareness protests. They still do.

I used to attend those protests. My parents didn’t really like that I was involved with them, and my grandmother didn’t like that I was involved with them either because she didn’t want me to be worried about all that had taken place. She used to say that it was all in the past: “We’re here now, in America, and we’re Christians, and so we don't hold grudges. We don’t hate, we forgive, and we turn the other cheek.”

One time, after I moved here to Texas, the Turkish Prime Minister was going to come to Houston on (again) April 24th, and give a speech. Houston and some city in Turkey were going to be sister cities, and I sent an email to some folks saying, “Hey, we should organize a protest.” What happened was, the email had somehow gotten in the hands of Turkish people living inside of Turkey. They had started faxing and emailing the CEO of the company where I worked, demanding that I be fired. It was a big campaign, and I got in some trouble at work. It’s really interesting how after all those years since the genocide, and even after moving all the way to Texas, the Turks could still have some influence over my life. Really! People in Turkey! But, this genocide happened and even though I didn’t feel I had the right to remember it, I still had to stand up for my grandmother and for those who suffered.

Do you think, obviously Turkey and the US are allies, so do you think that has a role in him [President Obama] not saying it’s genocide?

Yeah, absolutely. Because for each country that has recognized the genocide, (France, Switzerland, Spain, Argentina, Greece, to name a few) Turkey has created a huge protest the moment it has been accepted. Turkey threatens to cut off trade or relations.
This year are you going to do the march on the capital?


Do you think the march will be a little push or at least a sign for Texas to recognize the genocide?

No, I think Texas will continue to ignore it. We had one such march before, by the way, and nothing changed. Also, after I organized that march, people threatened me again. For example, there was this one guy, who was a special forces fighter in the Turkish army, who could kick my ass, if he wanted. He lived here in Austin. He happened to work out in the same gym as I. And, what happened is, when he noticed me talking to people in the gym, he would approach them and ask, “Who is that guy? What’s his name? You tell him I’m going to get him; you tell him that we recognize him.” He was threatening me! It’s funny -- the few times when I have been really vocal, or very visible about the genocide, either people started trying to get me fired or started threatening me.

Even today, Turkey has no diplomatic relations with Armenia, so there is no trade. There is a closed border, and there are no ambassadors. Even enemy countries sometimes exchange ambassadors! It’s not Armenians --who were the victims of genocide -- saying, “We’re not going to trade with you,” or “We’re not going to talk to you,” or “We’re not going to have an ambassador with you.” It’s them -- the Turks -- saying those things. So, Turks assert that Armenians hate them. But, who hates who? A lot of times they say Armenians hate Turks. No, we’re just trying to get along! Armenia is very poor and small with no natural resources. It’s landlocked. It’s totally dependent; it’s no threat to anyone.

A few years back the Turkish president said, “If Armenia is not careful we’ll teach it the lessons of 1915.” So, notice: at the same time they deny that there was a genocide, they refer to the lessons of 1915! Think about, if I were to hit you and then tell you, “I didn’t hit you! But you know what? You deserved it! But, I didn’t hit you! But, you know what? You deserved it!” What does that mean? It means, “I hit you” and “I blame you.”

When my grandmother got older, she started to have memories of all that happened to her during the genocide. She would say, “They’re coming! They’re coming! The bullets…!” She’d be scared and she would get in her bed, under her covers. She’d say, “The Turks are coming! Hide me!” Now, if you see your grandmother -- who you love so much -- like that, the genocide becomes real to you, and it can’t leave you easily. This is my history. This is my family’s history. This is my grandmother’s history. And, everyone has the right to talk about their own history.