Haytoug Preview: The Psychological Impact of the Armenian Genocide

Artwork by Annie Magdesyan
Artwork by Annie Magdesyan

Artwork by Annie Magdesyan

Didn’t your genocide happen a century ago?

Why do Armenians still care when it was so long ago?

Why can’t you just get over it and move on?


Throughout my life, I have been at the receiving end of many variations of such questions. As a minority, as a child of the Armenian Diaspora, as a descendant of genocide survivors, how do I respond? In my youth, I assumed that educating “odars” about the Armenian genocide would suffice. However, this strategy would often backfire, as I would be confronted with the obvious: I was describing an event that occurred one hundred years ago. An event that I am far removed from, both geographically and generationally. Yet, I continue to be deeply impacted by the events of the Armenian Genocide. How does one explain the amalgamation of emotions – grief and joy, pride and despair, hopelessness and perseverance – we have inherited? How does one describe the physical pain felt deep in the heart, upon learning of the barbaric tortures, rapes, and murders of one’s ancestors? Finally, how does one describe that desperate and frantic need for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide of 1915?

The exposure to trauma by the survivors of genocide does not end with them alone, but is passed down to their children and subsequent generations. This legacy of trauma from the Armenian genocide continues to haunt our generation, and will continue to impact the lives of future generations of Armenians. This phenomenon is often referred to as the intergenerational transmission of trauma. The adverse consequences of the traumatic events endured by the victimized group, including symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, can carry on for several generations [1]. The traumatic past may be communicated to following generations through empathic connectivity fostered through rituals. The emotional exchange that occurs during ritual observances, including religious observances, cultivates strong empathy and a shared knowledge of the trauma history [2]. The Armenian community is rich with such rituals and traditions, and with each event, we consciously or subconsciously pay tribute to the 1.5 million lives lost. We celebrate weddings, but somehow, our beautiful and elaborate weddings become slightly more joyful when the unity is between two Armenians. Our children are baptized and are proudly proclaimed Christians. Each joyous ritual carries a significant subtext: keep the memory of your ancestors’ alive, fight the “jermag chart,” perpetuate our people, remain Armenian for we are few…. but we sure are mighty.

Trauma may also be transmitted through survivor narratives; even when one is not directly related to a survivor, but is merely a member of the survivor group. However, silence too, plays a significant role in the transmission of trauma. A lack of open discussion about the traumatic experience is a form of communication that functions in an intricate manner. One’s innate imperative to warn succeeding generations of impending danger is compromised by the warning itself, as the warning itself has a potential to harm due to its terrifying nature [3]. For example, a genocide survivor may choose not speak of the experienced trauma in order to shield subsequent generations from the horrors associated with the events, but communicates trauma through actions and behaviors. While many Armenians have collected detailed accounts of their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ experiences during the Armenian Genocide, including stories of escape from persecution and death, many are left with questions. When asked about their knowledge of their grandparents’ experiences, many third generation survivors of the genocide proclaim that this topic was not openly discussed in the home. In fact, many grandchildren of survivors maintain that they learned about the Armenian genocide within the safe confines of Armenian schools or Armenian organizations. The past generations’ silence permeates one’s subconscious as an evident and undeniable indication of a poignant and mournful past.

Furthermore, descendants of genocide survivors may continue to experience the anguish related to the collective victimization. The transmission of trauma from one generation to the next promotes the group’s sense of re-victimization (and ultimately, re-traumatization), especially when the historical trauma is transmitted to subsequent generations as a social construct representing the unjust and cruel intentions of the perpetrating group [4]. The intentions of the Young Turks is indisputable; in their efforts to wipe out an entire race, the Young Turks, led by the malevolent triumvirate, deemed the Armenians as subhuman and stripped them of their basic human rights. The dehumanizing tactics utilized by these perpetrators infused sentiments of shame, guilt, anger, sadness, and fear within the psyche of each survivor. These sentiments continue to be stirred within the collective psyche of our generation.

The consequences of the Armenian Genocide are visible within the Armenian community. Armenians have adapted to centuries of oppression and opposition, and this adaptation has developed into a significant aspect of the Armenian Ethnic identity. When a group of people are shamed through dehumanization, they develop a strong desire for revenge [5]. Therefore, Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide continues to perpetuate psychological victimization and persecution. When a generation is unable to restore equality, it becomes the legacy of subsequent generations. Armenians continue to be re-victimized by the Turkish denial of the facts surrounding events that conspired in April of 1915. Consequently, we seek vindication for our ancestors, and our individual and collective histories. The Sisyphean fate of the Armenians, the ongoing struggle for recognition and justice, appears to be embedded in our DNA.

Why can’t we just get over the genocide? Because we are born with a metaphorical scar. The psychological impact of the genocide subsists within our generation, and manifests itself in ways we are unable to explain, or even understand. We continue to reiterate historical facts, but often overlook the psychological implications of this massive trauma. The denial of the Armenian genocide does not only rebuff historical facts, but rejects our ancestors’ persecution and suffering at the hands of the Turks. Consequently, our inherited trauma is also discounted. Why can’t we just give up and move on? Because fortunately, we have also inherited our ancestors’ strength, resilience, and determination.

Yehuda, R. (2002). Review: Post-traumatic stress disorder. New England Medical Journal, 346, 108-114.

Jacobs, J. (2011). The cross-generational transmission of trauma: Ritual and emotion among survivors of the holocaust. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 40, 342-361.

Giladi, L. & Bell, T.S. (2013). Protective factors for intergeneration transmission of trauma among second and third generation holocaust survivors. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Practice, Research, and Policy, 5, 384-391.

Casoni, D., & Brunet, L. (2002). The psychodynamics of terrorism, Canadian Journal of Psychoanalysis, 10, 1, 5-24.

Volka, V.D., Ast, G., & Greer, W. (2002). The Third Reich in the Unconscious: Transgenerational Transmission and its Consequences. New York: Brunner Routledge.


Haytoug is published by the Armenian Youth Federation Western US and distributed free of charge within the community. The opinions expressed in Haytoug are not solely and necessarily the opinions of the Armenian Youth Federation. Haytoug encourages all Armenian youth to express their thoughts in this publication. Financial contributions may be made to the following address:

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