Iraqi-Armenian featured at Tarleton Speaker Series today


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

STEPHENVILLE, Texas — Arakssi Arshakian will share events that shaped her life as an Iraqi-Armenian as part of the Tarleton State University’s Diversity Speaker Series at 7:30 p.m. today in Room 109 of the Nursing Building in Stephenville.

The title of her talk is “The Armenian Genocide & Armenians in Iraq.”

In 1915 Armenia suffered a genocide under the Ottoman Empire in which 1.5 million Armenians died in the Syrian Desert, forcing survivors to flee to Arab countries. Her grandmother, 5 years old at the time, was a survivor.

After losing her own family, her grandmother and was taken to the Syrian Desert where she was raised by a Turkish family. She married an Armenian who had a similar history, moved to Iraq and settled in Baghdad.

“Because of the Armenian genocide, we see Armenians scattered all over the world and whichever country they took as a home. They had a shared goal to keep the Armenian heritage and pass it on to next generations,” Arshakian said.

Growing up in Baghdad before the invasion, Arshakian was allowed to practice her faith publicly and practice the Armenian culture and traditions.

The American invasion of Iraq, however, divided her life into what she calls two eras.

“After the invasion and for the first time, I experienced what it is like to be a minority living under fear,” she said. “Life changed on most levels; from not feeling safe, to experiencing hardship living day to day life with lack of resources like water, electricity and gas.”

During the upheaval caused by the war, she moved to the United States to further her education, but was discouraged from returning.

“I loved every aspect of my academic experience and cultural exposure,” she said. “While preparing to go back home, I was warned by my family not to return for safety issues. This decision resulted in a whole new journey of trying to figure out my life in a new country without my family. I have not seen my family in Iraq since I left. It’s been 10 years and still counting.”

Arshakian works at Oklahoma State University as an academic program coordinator in the Department of Agricultural Economics. She received her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Baghdad and a master’s degree in international studies from OSU.

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