‘I’m the Great Grandson of Refugees Who Fled the Armenian Genocide’ says Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian

Alexis Ohanian (Photo: Gerard Gaskin)
Alexis Ohanian (Photo: Gerard Gaskin)

Alexis Ohanian (Photo: Gerard Gaskin)

SAN FRANCISCO (The Verge)—Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit and the son of an undocumented US immigrant, says President Donald Trump’s immigration ban is both “deeply un-American” and “potentially unconstitutional.” Ohanian expressed his views in an open letter to the Reddit community posted to the official Reddit blog.

The tech industry figure describes himself as not only the son of an undocumented German immigrant, but also “the great grandson of refugees who fled the Armenian Genocide.” Ohanian says welcoming both groups — immigrants and refugees — is America’s “unfair advantage,” quoting a startup term for besting the competition. “Without them, there’s no me, and there’s no Reddit. We are Americans,” he writes. “Let’s not forget that we’ve thrived as a nation because we’ve been a beacon for the courageous — the tired, the poor, the tempest-tossed.”

The letter in its entirety can be read below.

“After two weeks abroad, I was looking forward to returning to the U.S. this weekend, but as I got off the plane at LAX on Sunday, I wasn’t sure what country I was coming back to.

President Trump’s recent executive order is not only potentially unconstitutional, but deeply un-American. We are a nation of immigrants, after all. In the tech world, we often talk about a startup’s “unfair advantage” that allows it to beat competitors. Welcoming immigrants and refugees has been our country’s unfair advantage, and coming from an immigrant family has been mine as an entrepreneur.

As many of you know, I am the son of an undocumented immigrant from Germany and the great grandson of refugees who fled the Armenian Genocide.

A little over a century ago, a Turkish soldier decided my great grandfather was too young to kill after cutting down his parents in front of him; instead of turning the sword on the boy, the soldier sent him to an orphanage. Many Armenians, including my great grandmother, found sanctuary in Aleppo, Syria—before the two reconnected and found their way to Ellis Island. Thankfully they weren’t retained, rather they found this message:

‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’

My great grandfather didn’t speak much English, but he worked hard, and was able to get a job at Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company in Binghamton, New York. That was his family’s golden door. And though he and my great grandmother had four children, all born in the U.S., immigration continued to reshape their family, generation after generation. The one son they had—my grandfather (here’s his AMA)—volunteered to serve in the Second World War and married a French-Armenian immigrant. And my mother, a native of Hamburg, Germany, decided to leave her friends, family, and education behind after falling in love with my father, who was born in San Francisco.

She got a work visa as an au pair in the U.S., uprooting her entire life for love in a foreign land. After she and my father married, she received a green card, which she kept for over a decade until she became a citizen. I grew up speaking German, but she insisted I focus on my English in order to be successful. She eventually got her citizenship and I’ll never forget her swearing in ceremony.

If you’ve never seen people taking the pledge of allegiance for the first time as U.S. Citizens, it will move you: a room full of people who can really appreciate what I was lucky enough to grow up with, simply by being born in Brooklyn. It thrills me to write reference letters for enterprising founders who are looking to get visas to start their companies here, to create value and jobs for these United States.

My forebears were brave refugees who found a home in this country. I’ve always been proud to live in a country that said yes to these shell-shocked immigrants from a strange land, that created a path for a woman who wanted only to work hard and start a family here.

Without them, there’s no me, and there’s no Reddit. We are Americans. Let’s not forget that we’ve thrived as a nation because we’ve been a beacon for the courageous—the tired, the poor, the tempest-tossed.

Right now, Lady Liberty’s lamp is dimming, which is why it’s more important than ever that we speak out and show up to support all those for whom it shines—past, present, and future. I ask you to do this however you see fit, whether it’s calling your representative (this works, it’s how we defeated SOPA + PIPA), marching in protest, donating to the ACLU, or voting, of course, and not just for Presidential elections.

Our platform, like our country, thrives the more people and communities we have within it. Reddit, Inc. will continue to welcome all citizens of the world to our digital community and our office.


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    • Sandra said:

      They were fleeing the Turks! While the rest of the so called Muslim countries took all our refugees in and gave us a home. They allowed us to have our churches, schools, cultural centers, organizations, events, etc. Armenians as a community thrived in these countries.

      • Claudia said:

        But shhhh We can’t say that.
        The TRUTH is Politically Incorrect.
        We live in a world of double standards and Hypocrisy.

    • Hripsimeh said:

      Your use of the word “they” implies to me that you are not Armenian. WE know what we were fleeing. There are countless ingredients, which combined, create a genocide. Armenians’ Christianity was part of what made it easy to view us as “other,” and as a result, expendable, and less than. But it is not so simple a story as Muslims killing Christians. The same way that Turkey’s Muslim majority was easily moved against a Christian minority, America’s religious majority is now seeing an unfamiliar religion as less than, and other.

      Do NOT co-opt our genocide to further your hate, when if you saw me on the street, you would assume you saw a Muslim.

  1. Serop said:

    Thats very nicley said Alexis, but unfortunately you have no idea the agenda behind islamic immigration
    Visit parts of Germany , France, Holland, Sweden, UK and other parts of the world with large islamic immigration and you find that they dont assimilate, they do not embrace the Democratic values they sough out as immigfrants, they abhore our Christian Western values & culture and within years of settling into Majority Christian nations, their mosques will rise, their demands for Islamic sharia law and they will do all they can to convert their nwe Homelands into the oppressive & vilont Islamic nations they fled from
    Don’t believe me, just visit Sweden & Germany or France & UK and see how they are aggressively trying to implement their agenda

  2. ML said:

    Irrelevant story. Someone needs to educated this “poor” guy about the necessity of protecting the homeland.

  3. Noyemy said:

    I was borne in Syria.The first generation of Armenians after the genocide.My grand parents were survivors of the genocide fled Thrkey and settled in Latakia.I dreamed of coming to USA as a child.I was given the opportunity to come on student visa in 1970.It was the happiest day of my life.It was not easy being a woman not knowing the unknown to make the journey.I never felt as an outsider.I am married to an American Of German descent a doctor.We have three children.This could not have happened if I was labeled Syrian from a terrorist country.Fourty seven years later no body is going to kick me out.I am a proud American citizen whose son served in Iraq Mr President.What did you and your sons do for this country.

    • ML said:

      Our President is making America save and there are tons of terrorists in Syria, like it you or not, and we don’t want them be here and destroy our beautiful country. Don’t you want to have a peaceful life for your family?

    • Teodor Akileas said:

      Sorry but “serving” in Irak is not a compliment and it makes you partner in this crime aginst humanity.

  4. Antoine S. Terjanian said:

    Thank you Asbarez for sharing this information. This young man (Alexis Ohanian) has a great heart in addition to having a great intellect.
    I would like to add to the information you published that he came to Armenia in early 2010 as a volunteer working to promote KIVA loans to Armenian entrepreneurs. He also published a beautiful piece on his blog on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Genocide last year.
    Cheers to you Alexis!

    • ML said:

      That is especially surprising to see from him this nonsense. I hope he will correct his stand soon!

  5. Tracy Keeney said:

    While I do not approve of Trump’s executive order, and while I applaud the article and it’s intent, I’m a little confused by it. How was your mother an “undocumented German immigrant” if she came here on a work visa and naturalized? And how was your great-grandfather undocumented if he came in through Ellis Island? Anyone coming through Ellis Island was documented, not only by the ship company where they came from, in this case France, but also by the port authority. They were issued a number and a certificate of arrival.
    These are GOVERNMENT documents.
    Alexis, if you accurately portrayed the information about your family in the article, then I think you may be mistaken, and they were not undocumented. I happen to be the founder of the Armenian Genealogy group on Facebook. I would be happy to find their documentation for you.

    • Claudia said:

      Hi Tracy!
      I was at the Genealogy Conference in NJ early June.
      Thank you for all the information you gather. Your presentation was very touching, and seeing your grandparents photographs reminded me of my precious grandparents , Armenian survivors from Musa Dagh.

      You are right: ALL Ellis Island immigrants and refugees at the time WERE LAWFUL, LEGAL and DOCUMENTED. Ohanian here is just trying to carry the liberals bucket …. Sigh. It is absolutely misleading for him to say that Ellis Island refugees/immigrants were “undocumented”. One would think a millionaire would do some research BEFORE writing such letter.

  6. Natalie Windham said:

    You cannot destroy what God has blessed. Armenians & Jews are proof of that.
    When will we learn to not destroy; but instead, seek the blessing?