Jak Chakhalian

Jak Chakhalian

Sometimes in order to highlight the importance of every individual, regardless of his or her race or nationality, I say: “If you have nothing to be proud of, be proud of your nation.” Having said this, for me the importance of being Armenian came from the Genocide survival stories of our family, which were mentioned from time to time when we all got together on weekends at my grandparents' small apartment in Tbilisi, Georgia. We shared food, sang and danced, argued about politics and cracked jokes. Occasionally, a very old relative would show up and tell us kids some strange and dark stories about 1915.

In addition, in high school I became very interested in ancient history, and the name of Armenia and stories of Armenians started popping up here and there along with stories of Persians, Assyrians, Romans and Greeks. All of a sudden I started feeling how “old” I am and how connected my Armenian ancestry is to the very cradle of Western civilization. And then I realized that Armenians are among the very few ancient nations remaining today and we are all connected. If you take one human life, the whole branch of human history and human achievement falls apart forever.

I am a professor of physics now, and I usually do not use the word “proud” for anything personal. I’m just happy to do what I love most – to teach students and learn about the miracles of nature. And I am very happy to see my extended family being happy, safe and growing in many countries.

My grandpa Sitrak and grandma Siranush escaped the Genocide. Grandpa never told us his story, but here is the story of my grandma’s survival. Her last name was Mkrtichian, she was born in 1910 in the city of Van. In 1915 her whole family of 12, including her father, mother, grandparents and seven siblings tried to flee the city to escape from the Turks.

Siranush and Sitrak

They were caught on the road and all killed, except for my grandma Siranush. She was just five years old when it happened in front of her eyes. She told us that after a while, some foreigner picked her up and brought her to a ship. She was told that she, with many other very young kids on that ship, would be traveling to America. On the way something happened (she had no idea what) and they ended up in the city of Sukhumi, Abkhazia. She was taken to an orphanage there, where she grew up.

How can I extend my gratitude to someone I owe my life to!? There are no words for what you have done, you didn’t just save a single person — my grandmother Siranush — but you also saved my father, and thus me too. If it weren’t for you and what you have done, this branch of life would be gone forever. And if I could connect my heart and my mind to those people, I would say to them: "My love goes to you!”