San Antonians forever linked to genocide victims

Armenian-Americans discuss family history

SAN ANTONIO – Marc Cross’s face may be familiar to San Antonians, but his family's story probably isn't.

Cross jokes with San Antonio Spurs legend George Gervin during car commercials, but his family's history, and the history of a small group of San Antonians, includes starvation, persecution and survival.

During World War I, the Ottoman Empire tried to wipe out the Armenian people.

"It's not ancient history; it just feels like this is part of our heritage," Cross said.

In an office above the car dealer’s showroom, three men dealing with their past, Marc Cross, David Akopian and Haig Panoyan, are proud Armenian-Americans.

"Being an Armenian means you are a survivor," Panoyan said.

They’re Armenian-Americans haunted and inspired by what their grandparents went through to survive. Forces of the Ottoman Empire killed 1.5 million Armenians. Christian Armenians were declared traitors. Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters were slaughtered.

Marc Cross keeps a picture of him and his grandfather in his office as a reminder.

"That picture… it's got to be one of my favorite things in life," Cross said.

Cross’s grandfather's brother and parents were killed. He somehow made it to Ellis Island.

"If he can survive that, I can survive whatever obstacles I have," Cross said.

"They were out to destroy the entire Armenian people, and they officially started that on April 24, 1915," Panoyan said.

The genocide is a piece of history Armenians are determined to not let fade away. Cross commemorated the 100th anniversary of the genocide last year on the dealership’s I-35 digital billboard. A memorial for the victims of genocide stands in Armenia.

Some governments are coming to formally recognize what happened. The pope, the German parliament, the French government, all recently called it a genocide. However, the Turkish government has not. It's not even in Turkish history books. The United States government also refuses to call it a genocide.

The three men said they think, even 101 years later, making peace with the past is important, for the Turks as well as for the Armenians.

"It's about what we are today, not what happened in the past," David Akopian said.

"The fact itself, that we exist, is a victory for us. And we are very proud and happy for that," Panoyan said.

"For 59 years, this has been part of my life.These stories have been passed to me. This is just part of being an Armenian-American," Cross said.

About the Author: