Vasken Kalayjian

Vasken Kalayjian

My heritage means having compassion: compassion towards my family’s suffering and the suffering of countless persons all over the world. It even means compassion toward the Turk, the Azeri, the Kurd, the perpetrators of the genocide against my people, for they bear a heavy burden as well.

I have a responsibility to live my life to the full in recognition of the gratitude I owe to my father and grandparents. Every day I have to respect the enormous hardship and sacrifices they went through. I try to give back to my family, community, nation and the world as much as I can. I am proud of raising two wonderful daughters, Lara and Sevan, and having a close relationship with them and all my family. I am proud of making the best of the God-given gifts I am fortunate to have, of donating my time and expertise to guide meaningful projects for non-profits such as Luys Education, of helping to create a contemporary brand for Armenia in 2015.

My father and my grandmother escaped from their town, Kilis, when the Turkish mayor warned them that the Ottoman Army was nearby, killing Armenians in neighboring Aintab (modern-day Gaziantep near Syrian border). He urged them to sneak away that evening and head to safety in Syria. My grandfather was in a battalion of Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman Army. They were sent to work camps, and when there was no more work the Turks massacred them. My grandfather was injured and left for dead under a pile of corpses.

When he awoke from unconsciousness he was the sole survivor in a sea of dead bodies.

Terrified and horrified he walked for days until he came across two Turkish soldiers bathing in a river. He took one of their rifles, killed them and then rode their horses across the desert to Aleppo. My other grandfather was a businessman who lost his home, his factory and his family. He came to Aleppo penniless, starving, traveling by night and hiding from the Turks during the day. In Syria he built a successful business from scratch, making carriages and then trucks and busses.

Eight years ago I visited Kilis, Turkey, where my father and grandmother escaped. I’d like to build a museum there to tell the story of the Armenians and express our thanks to the Turks of Kilis – and especially their mayor in 1915 – who helped my family get out before the Turkish Army came to kill them.