An Armenian Grandmother and Persistence

I recently meet with Ara Kouchakdjian. His family’s story is incredible. it’s about grit and courage. So, I asked Ara to write a guest post. Here it is:

All of us who work in early stage companies have learned the importance of persistence.  For some, we learned it from a sports coach, for others it was a mentor.  For me, it was a frail lady who was less than five feet tall and likely never weighed much more than 100 pounds, my maternal grandmother.

Always kind hearted, always the optimist, her gentleness may have made it easy for some to miss her strength.  Her view of any challenge was that it was a solvable problem, and the solution was nothing more than (translated from the Armenian) “Seeing from where you will enter and from where you will depart.”

Prior to me being born, she had been through a lot.  Born to a family of grain merchants, and educated at the American College in Smyrna, Turkey, she had been through more than her share of challenges. These included:

  • Surviving the anti-Armenian pogroms of 1909.
  • Surviving the genocide of the Armenians by the Ottoman Turks between in the 1915-1918.
  • Surviving the burning of Smyrna in 1922, that led to the death of many of her siblings.
  • Making Oriental rugs in sweatshop conditions for many years (I remember that she had the smoothest fingers I’ve ever seen; I doubt she had fingerprints).
  • Dealing with the Nazi occupation of Romania.
  • Surviving the Allied bombings of Ploesti, Romania. Ploesti was a critical target for the Allied forces, as the town had oil refineries.
  • Seeing the Nazi occupation replaced by Russian Communists
  • Losing her husband during communist occupation and keeping her family together while dealing with constant gall bladder issues.
  • Leading her family from Romania to Lebanon without much more than the clothes on their backs.
  • Arriving in Lebanon just in time for the first Lebanese Civil War.
  • Making it through a number of illnesses and surgeries after finally coming to America.

Through all of these challenges, she kept her optimism and her determination.  For me, that frail, old lady was an unbelievable inspiration.

So what’s the lesson here, for those of us who work with the challenges of early stage companies?  It’s not about how hard she had it compared to us.  Each person’s challenges are unique; comparisons are subjective.  The real point here is that we all have challenges.  If we are willing to confront those challenges, it’s all about “Seeing from where you will enter and from where you will depart.”

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