A Thread:

So I have another Beirut story to tell. It has to do with a question I often get: "what got you into history?" The answer I give lately is "I'm Armenian, I didn't get a choice." As a descendant of genocide survivors, history haunts me. I just made it into a career.
I can't remember *not* having historical awareness-- I suspect this is a diaspora thing and a genocide survivor thing, broadly stated. It was just always there. I knew that my people used to live somewhere that they were driven from. I knew we had our own language and food.
I knew there were places we had and that we lost, but I didn't quite know why.

And I remember the elders talking in vague terms about "the year of exile" or "the Great Crime," in particular.
But I remember the day that that all resolved into gut-churning clarity, early after we moved to Beirut.

I must've been in second grade. Even then, I loved being in libraries, and reading books too big for me.
The library at school was in a ground floor. It was dark, with high, small windows, bars over them, lots of concrete-- it was also one of the bomb shelters during the civil war. So it was easy to get lost in dimly lit stacks among old, dusty books.
And I remember being eye level with one of the lower shelves in the Armenian history section, and seeing a big, heavy book whose title I can't remember, but which included one of the words for "genocide."
It had what I recognize in hindsight as some of the famous photos from the Genocide of 1915, the ones shot by German Second Lieutenant Armin T. Wegner: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armin_Weg…
I didn't read much of it-- I just leafed through it. And I remember, even at that age, having this moment of gut-churning realization of what this meant. What this was. Why this mattered. How fucked up it was that the perpetrators were never held to account.
I was already interested in history-- World War II warbirds were an interest, for instance, since even before that. But that encounter with that book crystallized the stories I'd heard, showed me how I was a part of history, and grabbed me so hard, I couldn't help but care.
I'm not a historian of Armenia. That's not where my passion is, nor where my professional credentials now lie-- I am, ultimately, a historian of Japanese and US military history.
But it was that visceral moment of seeing how I was inseparable from history, how frighteningly close it was,, how it was there and weighed on everything whether I cared or not, that got me to care about interprpeting the past.

All I did was make it into a career.
And all of that happened in Beirut, when I was knee high to a grasshopper.

I hope, as I sit here decades later, I've done right by little second-grade Nyri.

Thanks for reading, friend.


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