The lasting impact of the Armenian Genocide


Photo courtesy Jack McGuire

A photo of my great-grandparents Krikor and Astrid Papasian. Krikor married Astrid in Belgium after leaving behind his friends and family in order to survive the Armenian Genocide.

By Jack McGuire

For most of my life, I saw my Armenian background as a trivial part of my family history. My family and I often joked about how our very white family technically originated from Asia, and we loosely connected ourselves to celebrities with Armenian origins like the Kardashians, Cher and Food Network Chef Geoffrey Zacharian. But not until recently did I take time to consider the implications of my heritage.

Last November, Senator Lindsey Graham (SC-R) blocked a resolution that would have had the U.S. officially recognize the Armenian Genocide. This marked the third time Republican senators blocked the resolution under direction from the White House. Their motive was clear: to appease the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a staunch denier of the Armenian Genocide. How could our government refuse to recognize the systematic slaughter of an entire people? This blatant denial inspired me to research my heritage. I talked to my dad and my great uncle, I skimmed a few Wikipedia articles and I read the stories of survivors.

The Armenian Genocide took place from 1915-1917 when the Ottoman Empire killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians. There are 29 influential countries that recognize the genocide, but Turkey still disputes the death toll and argues that there were deaths on both sides. Despite virtually no evidence to support Turkey’sclaims, the U.S. government continues to yield to the Turkish government on this issue. Thankfully, Senator Bob Menendez (NJ-D) led the Senate to overcome objections from Republicans to pass a resolution Dec. 15 that recognizes the Armenian Genoicde. The passing of the resolution is a step forward, but it took far too long for the U.S. to recognize and legitimize the deaths of 1.5 million people. 

While legislators argued over whether or not it would be strategic to recognize this genocide, I did some research to find out what actually happened to my ancestors. I learned that the Ottoman Empire would force men into manual labor and starve them so they would die after a cruel, short, hard life. Ottoman forces burned Armenian towns to the ground. The Ottomans would drown Armenian women and children in the Black Sea, and the Ottoman government would hire physicians to poison Armenian civilians. 

My great-grandfather, Krikor Papasian, was living in Constantinople at the time. He was forced to leave his family — his parents and his brother — because the Turkish government would have killed him if he stayed. Krikor then hitchhiked through Europe, eventually making his way to the United States, where he worked as a glass blower. He soon opened a jewelry business in New York, and he helped his surviving family members immigrate to the U.S. He was lucky, and his brave decision to escape is one of the reasons why I’m here today. 

But others weren’t as lucky; many of my great-grandfather’s friends and family members were killed, brutally and needlessly. Our government had the opportunity to legitimize these deaths and hold the Turkish government responsible. Instead, it continuously failed to recognize that these people were murdered.

U.S. policymakers consistently ignored the tragedies inflicted upon my family. By only considering the U.S.’ strategic interests, they’ve rejected morality and demonstrated that they don’t care about the turmoil that my family and millions of other people experienced. It took 100 years for our government to react to this that’s unacceptable. Having learned what my great-grandfather and his family went through, I find it unbearable to watch policymakers bend the knee to hostile foreign powers and forget about justice.