NEW YORK (100Lives) — Forbes magazine calls Alexis Ohanian “Mayor of the Internet,” and has included him in its “30 Under 30” list as an important figure in the technology industry for two years in a row. Wired magazine featured him as a “Champion of Innovation” in 2013.
“I ended up being born in Brooklyn, but I could’ve been born in Yerevan, or probably somewhere in Western Armenia. I want my knowledge to help as many people as possible, but especially my fellow Armenians,” Alexis says.
Alexis Ohanian, the 32-year-old cofounder of Reddit.com, one of the world’s top 100 websites, created the site together with his college roommate ten years ago. Reddit is a kind of online bulletin board and community platform that allows users to curate content: registered members can submit posts, links, etc while other users vote submissions up or down, thus determining their placement and ranking on the page. Different topics are organized into “subreddits” that include movies, books, news, food and others.
Ohanian has other successful projects under his belt as well: in 2010 he helped launch the travel website Hipmunk.com, and later the same year he founded Das Kapital Capital – a company focused on startup financing and consulting. Breadpig.com, which Alexis launched in 2008, sells geeky items and gives the proceeds mainly to charity.
Alexis considers himself “a lucky guy” because he once got the education that helped him become self-educated. “One of the rewarding aspects of this industry is that everyone, actually, has free access to the knowledge generated here. I chose to know everything, and perhaps that was the greatest investment for me.”
In 2013 Alexis published a book titled “Without Their Permission” for young entrepreneurs who have faith in the future of the Internet as a source of entertainment, profit and support.
Alexis in Armenia
Alexis Ohanian first visited Armenia with the Kiva Microfunds non-profit organization. “I always wanted to connect with the homeland, but I finally got that chance in 2010 when I decided to leave Reddit to volunteer in Armenia with Kiva for four months,” he says.
Alexis teamed up with several like-minded people in Armenia and organized the first TEDx Yerevan where famous people share ideas on how to make the world a better place to live in.
“My father never traveled to Armenia before my first visit, and actually I had no idea about Armenia, perhaps with the only exception of Armenian cuisine. I have a lot of Armenian friends who returned from Armenia and they all told me that their visit to Armenia changed their lives. When I first saw Ararat, I took a quick photo and sent it to my father. I know that image has become a cliché. Anyway, it does inspire,” Alexis recalls.
The last of the Ohanians
“In the United States, Ohanian is not a common Armenian name. The thing is that in this country it’s great to be an Armenian-American, but you don’t need to interact with many other Armenians. If you live in Los Angeles, it is different, but in other parts there is little interaction,” says Chris Ohanian, Alexis’s father.
Chris Ohanian was born and raised in San Francisco, California. His mother Elizabeth Der-Krikorian’s family was one of the many deported families that left Bitlis for Marseille, France. Later Elizabeth travelled to the United States where she met and married Alexis’s grandfather, John Ohanian.
“My parents were Armenians and I recognized but I didn’t learn the Armenian language. My mother and father would speak Armenian to each other, but mostly as a language that my sister and I couldn’t understand,” Chris Ohanian recalls with a smile. “There was not much conversation about the Genocide in our family. But it’s interesting that as my father got older – somehow older people start to talk about things they didn’t talk about – he began talking about his father.”
Alexis’s grandfather John Ohanian’s family came from Kharput (Kharberd, present-day Elazig, Turkey). John’s parents were orphans of the Genocide. His mother Manzar was in a march through the Syrian deserts. She lost her parents and siblings and ended up in Aleppo.
“Turks came to Kharput. They shot Avedis’s father and they shot his mother and then they were going to shoot him. But there were two Turks on horseback and one of them said to the other, ‘He is just a boy, leave him!’ and Avedis ended up in an orphanage. And then somehow he came to America and settled down in Binghamton, which is in upstate New York, with a large Armenian community,” says Chris Ohanian.
Avedis was the only one to survive from the Ohanians. He moved to the United States in the 1920s. In one of the many local Armenian newspapers, he read that Manzar, the daughter of their neighbors in Kharput, was in Aleppo. He found her and took her to the United States. They got married and had four children: Vera, John, Elsa and Mary. For 32 years, Avedis worked in a shoe factory. Eventually, he bought a small apartment building and made a living as a landlord.
“My grandfather Avedis never learned English, all he spoke was Armenian. But he knew how to work hard and make money. He was so proud to work there six days a week, make good money, and support his wife and four children. We lived in San Francisco. He would come for a long visit to California, in 1959-1961, for some two or three months. He was a sweet man, but there was not a lot of communication between us. He died in his mid-seventies,” Chris Ohanian recalls.
“When Alexis was born, I can remember how excited Aunt Vera was and how she kept wondering why exactly that day and what it might possibly symbolize. Then we understood that we should see it as a revival,” Chris Ohanian says. “Aunt Vera made a family tree on a piece of paper. I have it at home and I’ll give it to Alexis.”
“Being Armenian means triumph to me. Every one of us who succeeds is a triumph in the face of Genocide – they failed to annihilate us, failed to silence us, and we will continue to thrive worldwide. It makes me very proud,” Alexis says.