My grandfather once explained the laws of supply and demand to me. He had been a businessman, excelling in many different trades with an old world business sense that cannot be taught in a classroom. When I was seven, maybe eight years old, I walked into my grandparents’ living room and saw my grandfather seated with his chin tipped down onto his chest, quietly weeping. I called his name, but he didn’t respond—he was somewhere else. I looked over my shoulder at the television and was confronted for the first time with those black and white images fading on and off the screen: emaciated children, stacked human heads, naked leather-and-bone corpses with limbs bent at odd angles. I would grow up to memorize these images and their significance as they reappeared once a year at school assemblies, protests, and lectures.
But at that age, I could not understand why these frightening stills made my grandfather break down. My grandfather: a man who exerted more energy than I did at my Saturday morning soccer games and cheerfully flexed a bicep and insisted that I hold on and let my 65 pound body swing off the ground. I asked him not to cry.
I followed him out of the living room, into the brown-carpeted dining area. Sitting at the glass and iron table, the kind which so many Armenian families seem to have a penchant for, he told me that he was born in Gesaria and that meant business is in his blood—the same blood that runs through me. He pulled grapefruits and oranges out of the tabletop bowl and used them as props in his lecture. He explained a few principles of business and economics and seemed pleased with my ability to understand. I, in turn, was pleased with my ability to distract my grandfather from his emotional turmoil.
When my father picked me up that evening and asked how I had behaved, my grandfather told him that he was very proud of me—I’m expected to excel in business one day. While that afternoon didn’t set me on the path toward thriving as a businessperson, it was the first moment when my Armenian identity began to take shape. I also learned that there are elements of our story that can make grown men cry.