GONZÁLEZ: Janice, thank you so much for being here with me. 

OKOOMIAN: Thanks for having me.

GONZÁLEZ: When you heard or read President Biden's announcement that he was stating that there was, in fact, a genocide in Armenia, what did you think? What did you feel when you heard that?

OKOOMIAN: Well, I felt that this was a long time in coming. You know, this genocide is woven very, very deeply into the psyches of all Armenians. And that includes not just the survivors who most of whom have passed on, but also their descendants, people like me, who carry the weight of this past on our shoulders. It was a pretty big deal for me, sort of emotionally. And he did this on April 24, which is the day that Armenians commemorate the Armenian Genocide, because that's the day in 1915, when 500 intellectuals and leaders were rounded up in Constantinople, and it was the very beginning of the Armenian genocide.

GONZÁLEZ: Growing up, what did you learn about the genocide? Like, how did your family talk to you about it? 

OKOOMIAN: Well, when I was very little, they didn't say anything about it, because they didn't want me to be, you know, harmed, I think, by that terrible knowledge. So, I don't have specific memories of like, when my parents sat me down and said, this is what happened. But I do know that my grandfather, whose sister perished in the genocide, went to his grave without telling us what happened to her, you know. And in 1915, 1920, there was no concept of post traumatic stress disorder. So the survivors mostly, many of them never said anything. And that takes a real toll on the psyche.

So to have the country that we live in now, those of us who, whose ancestors migrated to the United States to have our country affirm that what happens to us between 1915 and 1923 was in fact, not just random killings, not just for war but a planned program to exterminate an entire people – that's what a genocide is– you know, it's gratifying. And it and it feels like we're being, at long last, lifted up and supported by our nation.

GONZÁLEZ: Beyond, you know that gratification and the support, are there any, I guess material impacts of this announcement? Or is that gratification, that support, good enough?

OKOOMIAN: Because I teach about gender and race in the US, as well as my work on Armenian American literature, the lessons of something like the Armenian Genocide for Armenian Americans really have to carry us towards solidarity with the peoples in the United States who are suffering now. I am thinking about, you know, the Black Lives Matter movement and the way that the treatment of black peoples by law enforcement, it's a little bit like maybe that experience of, of the denial of the genocide, it's like, the powers that be are denying the reality. Not all of them, but some of them. And these are acts that even though we're not in a full blown genocide, right now, in the US, these are some of the kinds of, of tactics and characterizations of the racial other that are very similar. So I think that it's essential for us, Armenians and otherwise, to understand that, you know, if one group is in chains, no one is free.

GONZÁLEZ: Absolutely, yeah. It's even in the name of, like, Black Lives Matter, right? Like, that is a statement. And it's so similar to saying it was a genocide, right? Like, these lives mattered. And it's it's the same mentality or it's not. It's not raising up a life higher than another, but it's raising up a subjugated life to more of the plane of existence. 

OKOOMIAN: Right. And it all begins with telling the truth.

GONZÁLEZ: Janice Okoomian, thanks for speaking with us today.

OKOOMIAN: My pleasure.