Garin Hovannisian is a product of what might be called Armenian-American aristocracy. His great-grandfather Kaspar stood helplessly by while his pregnant mother and infant brother were killed by the Turks in 1915, escaped to Ellis Island in 1920, and built an agricultural/real estate empire in California. His grandfather Richard, professor of history at UCLA, is an authority on the Armenian genocide. His father Raffi, a successful Los Angeles attorney, returned to Armenia after the collapse of the Soviet empire, served as foreign minister in the first independent republic, and is a likely reform candidate for Armenia’s presidency in the next elections.
The history of the Hovanissian clan--from privation and death amidst the ruins of the Ottoman empire to survival and prosperity in America--is neither unfamiliar nor especially unusual among diaspora Armenians. But the family’s continuing interest in their ancestral homeland--and Raffi Hovanissian’s literal return to active participation in its politics--is not only unusual but significant: At a difficult moment in Armenia’s post-Soviet history, he might well represent the best hope for its struggling, pro-American, free-market democracy.
During the past two decades tiny, landlocked, Christian Armenia—surrounded by historic antagonists and burgeoning radical Islam--has been well served by the efforts of diaspora Armenians, especially Americans, in building a civil society and market economy from scratch. And the role of the Hovanissians has been especially critical. Skillfully combining Armenia’s story with his own, Garin Hovanissian, a graduate of UCLA and Columbia and a WEEKLY STANDARD intern during 2007, has written a thoughtful, thorough, and eloquent account of his family’s history as it has moved between two worlds, connected by the fetters of tragedy and the threads of faith, identity, and troubled memory.
Family of Shadows: A Century of Murder, Memory and the Armenian American Dream by Garin K. Hovanissian, Harper, 304pp., $27.99