Photo of Harry Hagopian

Photo credit: CBCEW

MANY decades ago, when my bones were less creaky and when I was a happy-go-lucky young lad with hardly any serious responsibilities, I used to sit next to my maternal grandfather and listen intently to his nostalgic stories. I was very fond of my granddad – médzbaba in Armenian – and I also respected him tremendously.

My granddad had experienced the Armenian genocide of 1915 when he fled Ottoman Turkey as a boy. He had witnessed the murder of many of his family members fleeing the country of their birth and heading for safer climes. But what safer climes? Having settled in Palestine via Beirut, he and his family – my mum being one member of this family – were once more forced to flee West Jerusalem upon the creation of the State of Israel.

They eventually headed to East Jerusalem which was under Jordanian rule until 1967. So from the unspeakable horrors of the Armenian genocide, he and his family experienced once more the Palestinian Nakba (or great catastrophe). And once more, he lost his home and business, as it didn’t make one iota of difference in either case that he was Armenian: his ethnicity and that of his/my family scarcely mattered here. What mattered is that he and his family were the other in their identity and society in the eyes of Turks and Israelis, and so they were subjected to these horrors of murder, spoliation and loss.

As I grew up, I absorbed like a fresh sponge the stories of these two chapters of a twisted history from my granddad. And the irony is that many decades later, I still witness the same agonies visited regularly upon Armenians and Palestinians alike. Look at Nagorno-Karabakh, at parts of the Republic of Armenia under threat from Azerbaijan, or at the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Look also at Gaza and at the West Bank of Palestine, and readers could perhaps fathom why some deep wounds fester for so long. How can such wounds heal when justice is denied and constantly re-interpreted or sanitised in order to justify violence, discrimination, injustice and colonisation?

Today (24 April 2024), Armenians worldwide celebrate the 109th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. My grandfather’s words come back to haunt me. The whole Armenian Diaspora re-visits this yellowed page of history when well over one million Armenians perished because the Young Turks wanted them gone – just as some Israeli politicians want Palestinians gone too. So I bow my head down in front of the Armenian sacrifices of my forebears that allowed me to live a decent and ordinary life today. Literary giants, priests, businessmen, artists, lawyers and politicians who were Armenian died – no, they were massacred and at times slaughtered – because of their ethnic identity and at times because of their Christian faith. Sad, is it not, that countries like Israel and the UK refuse to understand and recognise the pain of the other and always turn to look the other way for political and economic interests.

But here is my Armenian big ‘but’. One hundred and nine years is part of history. Despite my own ‘genetic’ and ‘cultural’ wounds, I look forward and not backward. What matters to me today is the future well-being of the Republic of Armenia in the South Caucasus, just as what matters for me is the future of Palestine. Both face ethnic cleansing today. Therefore, what truly defines my vision is the future, with the past serving as a stern lesson. Good luck Armenia! Good luck Palestine! And a loving word to médzbaba who became a refugee twice in his life and yet managed to become one of the most successful businessmen in Jordan in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Hope must remain unquenchable; hope is the future.


© Harry Hagopian is an international lawyer, an ecumenical adviser on MENA issue, an alternative dispute resolution facilitator, and a second-track negotiator for the historic churches in Jerusalem. His website is and his You-Tube channel can be found here. He is an Ekklesia associate. His book Keeping Faith With Hope: The Challenge of Israel–Palestine is available here. His recent Ekklesia columns can be found here, and archived ones here.