A conversation with my fellow Armenian Americans: The “Titanic Syndrome”

It was around 8:00 a.m. Worries, imagined and real, had kept me from getting any sleep the night before. I had to get out of the house for a walk. I needed air. I needed to clear my head, before dealing with the normal workday stresses.  

As I walked, the crisp autumn air reminded me of an aging West-Indian handyman who used to work at an apartment building I lived in a long time ago. When you asked him how he was, his response was always, “Thank God I feel the breeze.” I thought him wise. That morning, I was thankful for the cool breeze, but my mind kept racing. Under the dazzling morning sun, against the clear blue sky, the trees had put on an amazing display of colors. I love the Northeast in the fall, but that is not what this is about.

The gravestone of the author’s late uncle in the Armenian village of Armavir

When I came back from my walk, I had received a text message from my cousin in Los Angeles. She had sent photos of my late uncle’s gravestone in the village of Armavir, Armenia. My uncle passed away two months ago in a nursing home in Burbank, CA, alone, of COVID-19. My relatives in Armavir had already readied my uncle’s gravesite and headstone to receive his ashes. My uncle was a good man. To him, giving the shirt off his back was not just an expression; it was his way of life, especially when it came to Armenia. I am much indebted to my cousin and my relatives in Armenia for honoring his wishes and his memory, but that is not what I am writing about either.

I often hear from educated, intelligent people that the pandemic is a hoax. I tell them about my uncle. I tell them about my cousin, the same one who sent me the text message. She had lost her husband to the coronavirus a few weeks back. I tell them about my closest friend’s mother who succumbed to the virus in the uncertain and fearful days in April, as well as a dear friend who met the same fate around the same time. 

These are painful times. The last thing one wants to hear from a leader is the statement: “It is what it is.”

By now, you have likely guessed my purpose. For the conscientious folks in this country, affrontery to logic, common sense and decency has been piling on with an unrelenting pace:  senseless xenophobia and unspeakable maltreatment of immigrants and asylum seekers, discrediting of free press, erosion of the foundations of democracy and civic life, continued acts of police brutality, racists killings and vigilantism, cozying up to white supremacists and dissemination of baseless conspiracy theories, fanning the flames of bigotry and intolerance,  sowing seeds of hatred and division, voter suppression and undermining of fair electoral processes, abrogation of international treaties and alienation of strategic allies, admiration for and support of despots and dictators around the world, gutting of environmental laws and the denial of science…

Then the pandemic struck. What more can one say to best express the mishandling of the response to the coronavirus? Was it gross ineptitude and negligence? Was it the shirking of responsibility and shifting of blame? What could explain the painful fact that we have one of the highest infection and fatality rates in the world? Was the resulting economic downturn, with millions unemployed and without a safety net, a fait accompli?   

For us Armenians, one more calamity was yet to strike. Strike it did, when Azerbaijan launched its war of aggression in Artsakh, aided and abetted by Turkey, a NATO member, with sophisticated weapons supplied by Israel, a staunch ally of the US. Once again, Armenians find themselves fighting for their very survival and in an unequal war of attrition. There is hardly any word from the US administration. Should we be surprised?

The elections are only two weeks away. I am old enough to know that no politician, political party or political platform can have all the answers to the structural issues that face the United States and the world in this juncture. I also know that where the current US administration now stands, internally and internationally, especially with its purported neutral stance on the Artsakh war, is not the result of coincidence or haphazard policy. It is the consequence of an ideological bent, a vision, as to what this country is and should be about, and where its real interests lie.  While it might appear as dramatic, it is my opinion that this particular brand of thinking suffers from the “Titanic Syndrome.” The people of this country, and much of the world, are the passengers. The ship must be righted and set on a divergent course before it hits the iceberg. Every US citizen, especially American Armenians, must keep this in mind, as we cast our votes this November. 

Vahak Khajekian

Vahak Khajekian

Vahak Khajekian is an Iranian-born architect. He lives in Connecticut and works in New York City.


  1. Dear Vahak,
    What is the alternative.
    Like the two sons in the bible.They all promised to recognise the genocide, but did not do it,one now did not promise but may do it.
    Email me regarding a project.

  2. I’m sure if you Armenians actually consistently mailed letters and contacted the president (VP Pence, the administration, or his family, or perhaps others such as Kanye for example), he would actually do something. For example, there is a Whitehouse petition website. Instead, you write articles and complain, and then vote based on your emotions. Congress stands at better chances for assistance to and recognition of Artsakh, as seen with the genocide recognition bills. Presidents such as Reagan and Obama have stated it was genocide, yet what came of it? What would happen if the current president said it was genocide? Nothing, to be honest, except media “fact” checks by liberal/leftist “journalism” like TYT. I’m sure if Biden were elected, his opinion would also have little impact. I would make my vote based on other aspects, such as corruption and economics. If you vote based on one or a small amount of issues without examining the whole picture, then you’re a fool. To give him due credit, President Trump has been harsh on Turkey in the past, such as sanctions and rhetoric. Turkey should be kicked out of NATO, and should have been, in fact, a long time ago; had it not been for the cold war, or missiles in Cuba, and Russia today, things may have been different. Lobbying with the military, and other nations such as Greece and Israel may also help persuade US and US-ally opinion. If Trump is re-elected (and there’s a possibility that he will be), Armenians need to be persistent and patient, and most importantly, relentless. Eventually with enough persuasion in letters, petitions, tweets, emails, etc., he will change his mind, as he serves the people. And try to side with conservatives/Republicans as well. Alienating and slandering half the country won’t help at this time of hyperpolarization.

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