As the government of Turkey continues to deny that its predecessors perpetrated a genocide against the Christian population of Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians, story after story comes out as the official anniversary of the events approaches.
Apple founder Steve Jobs is one of these stories that is making its way into the mainstream media.
Steve Jobs’s birth parents weren’t Armenian, but he was raised in the shadow of that heritage by an adoptive mother whose family escaped the killings for safety in America in the 1910s. And Jobs, though he never spoke publicly about his ties, appeared to feel a deep connection with his family’s heritage and the historic bloodshed they experienced. He even spoke conversational Armenian.
In 1955, Clara Hagopian and Paul Jobs, a young couple who spent nearly a decade trying to have children of their own, adopted a Syrian-American baby and named him Steve. Steve Jobs never met his birth father and often spoke about the strong connection he shared with his adoptive family. “They were my parents 1,000 percent,” he told Walter Isaacson for his 2013 biography. “[My biological parents] were my sperm and egg bank. That’s not harsh, it’s just the way it was, a sperm bank thing, nothing more.”
Hagopian’s mother, Victoria Artinian, was born in the port city of Smyrna in the 1890s. Smyrna, an ancient biblical town and birthplace of Homer, had enjoyed relative calm until the early 1920s. Filled with diplomats and citizens of high social ranking, the world was shocked when, in 1922, the city was pillaged and burned to the ground. Images of fiery deaths and charred buildings were seared into the historical imagination. Ernest Hemingway’s “In Our Time,” which was written three years later, begins with an ode to the fated town: “The strange thing was, he said, how they screamed every night at midnight. I do not know why they screamed at that time.”
Artinian arrived in the United States on the Greek boat Megali Hellas in 1919, and soon after met Louis Hagopian. He had made the same trip seven years earlier, lucky to escape his hometown of Malatya. Mass murders began there in the late 1800s and a few years after Hagopian came to America, nearly the entire population of 20,000 Armenians living in Malatya was wiped out.
As the newlyweds settled down briefly in Newark, New Jersey, tens of thousands of genocide survivors were fleeing the killings and making their way to the United States. A web of Armenian refugees had begun to spread out across the world. They settled in major cities, from Aleppo to Newark, which is where Victoria and Louis Hagopian had a daughter named Clara in 1924.
A few years later the family moved to California. According to the 1930 U.S. Census, Clara was raised by her mother and elderly grandmother in San Francisco, where she met and married Paul Jobs, a freshly decommissioned Coast Guard mechanic, in 1946.
In 2007, Jobs and his family traveled around Turkey on a private yacht tour and spent 10 days visiting the country’s sites with guide Asil Tuncer. It went smoothly until the last day when the group visited the Hagia Sophia.
“What happened to all those Christians, suddenly gone like that?” Tuncer recalls Jobs asking him as they gazed at the minarets. Then, he reframed the question: “You, Muslims, what did you do to so many Christians? You subjected 1.5 million Armenians to genocide. Tell us, how did it happen?”