Alexis here: I'm typing this for my grandpa who's dictating to me. He's one of my heroes and I think you'll see why (and how fortunate I am to be here). Everything not in italics in this AMA are his words.


UPDATE: 2 hours in and my grandpa is done interviewing for today. Keep asking and I promise I'll ask him over the phone and reply later this week or next. Thanks, everyone! Grandpa is officially a redditor.

The families of my parents were orphaned when the Turkish government cleansed the Armenian population in central Turkey during the Armenian genocide. My mother was one of the refugees that marched out -- many died including her brother and sister -- through Turkey to Aleppo, Syria. My father's parents were murdered, in his presence, when the Turks stormed his town. A soldier on horseback was about to kill him with a sword when his friend told him to stop, because he was too young, and as only child, my father was then taken to an orphanage in Turkey and left there.

He first came to the US around 1920 and later he found that my mother was living in Aleppo -- they had been next-door neighbors and he brought her to the United States and they married soon thereafter. They had 4 children, 3 girls and a boy. I had one older sister and two younger sisters. I was the second child.

If I learned anything from my parents, it was to take care of yourself and your own needs and your family needs and that the family was the most important part of growing up.

I was born on Jan 12, 1922 in Binghamton NY.

I left when I was about 17 or 18 for one year at the College of William and Mary. WWII started, so a group of us volunteered -- about a dozen -- and joined the US Army. I spent 33 months in the Army after my first year of college and was discharged (came in as a private and left as an air cadet just months away from a second lieutenant as a flight engineer on a B-29). I was scheduled to go to Okinawa (I believe) when President Truman gave the order to bomb Hiroshima + Nagasaki. When that happened, I was told I'd be discharged and went back to W&M to finish my undergraduate and then took three years of law school there.

Around 1951 I got a job with the Federal Trade Commission in Washington DC as an attorney. When we were hired we were told only 1/3 would be kept after about the 9th or 10th month and would fire 2/3 of the 100 lawyers hired by the end. I spent 21 years with the FTC initially doing investigation and later trial work. I left in 1972, I believe, and came to LA to live and got a job with Social Security as an administrative law judge, whose function was primarily to hear cases for applications of disability benefits. I worked as a judge in West LA for a year and subsequently for 9 years in Long Beach. After a decade as a Social Security law judge I opened my own practice in downtown LA at where I represented people who claimed disability under social security.

I've now been working out of my home in private practice since 1982.


I might mention that my older sister, Vera, was a school teacher for many years. Starting in the lower grades and moving to NYC where she was a professor at a college that trained people to be teachers. My second oldest sister, Elsa, was a dental hygienist for many years, and my youngest sister, Mary, was a psychologist who counseled drug addicts in NY -- she died early due to cancer. All family members try to help each other. My older sister loaned me money when I needed it to buy a house and get started in life and I paid her back.

Comments: 249 • Responses: 28  • Date: 

captain_darling133 karma

What do you think of Alexis' invention of Reddit?

kn0thing175 karma

Unbelievable is my first reaction bceause I never expected anyone in our family would create such a successful business or enterprise -- whatever you wanna call it -- that would grow and mature into what it is today.

Software_Engineer79 karma

I'm a 26 year old who moderates /r/personalfinance, a subreddit that has half a million subscribers. People often ask what Social Security benefits young people can expect in the future.

Should we expect to get nothing? Should we expect to get the same dollar amount as people today, just not adjusted for inflation?

kn0thing118 karma

I think social security will always be there as long as there will be a solvent government. I never really thought about retirement as such. Some people go through life thinking "when I reach age ## I'm gonna stop working" -- I never had such plans because I enjoyed my work. I'm not a creative person. I'm not an inventor. I'm just a plodder. I'm not perfect by any means, but I tried to save money as soon as I had a paycheck and invest it wisely. I give you that advice. It's obvious, but so few people do it.

ajmzn675 karma

As an Armenian and aspiring lawyer I want to thank you for doing this AMA!

Did you face any discrimination in the armed forces or in your career? I've met some Armenian judges your age who's parents forbade Armenian in the house in fear of having accents and being ridiculed.

kn0thing72 karma

Not in the Army. Never.

Now, in the career, when I worked for the FTC I thought I was treated fairly and had no problems.

Any of the work I did for my own practice, no, I don't think I was discriminated against for who I was -- it could've happened but it would not be a significant factor. If someone didn't like me and I didn't know the reason for it, I would not assume it was because of my being an Armenian. I just did the best I could under the circumstances.

tigranater60 karma

After your parents witnessed such horrifying atrocities to the Armenian people first-hand, how important was your Aremnian heritage to you through your childhood and later in life? Do you speak Armenian and have you been Armenia?

kn0thing74 karma

My heritage is important from the standpoint of what your parents teach you when you're growing up. A good constructive religious background gave me the foundation and conviction to live my life like a good Christian. I welcomed the American culture from the standpoint that we have people who are coming here from every part of the globe who are willing to forget the past and contribute to the present and lead the best life that they can under the circumstances that they find themselves. This country provides opportunity for everyone and anyone whether you are born here or born anywhere, it's what you do when you're willing to do the best you can to make life better for those around you - beginning with your own family and your neighbors and so on. We don't all have the same ability to accomplish our goals so in spite of our limitations we should do the best we can.

I went to Armenia in 2004 or 2005 for about a month and visited Yerevan and the adjoining areas and I enjoyed the visit because instead of relying on my imagination as to what Armenia might have looked like I had the opportunity to see the people and the land there.

They're hard working people who have to meet their needs in an area where the economy is not as good as it might be.

In respect to the language, I learned initially when my sister and I started in kindergarten that we didn't speak English sufficiently well to be in the classroom. My sister was sent home from kindergarten to learn english. English is now my first language, but I do use my limited Armenian. I cannot read, but I can speak in a limited way.

Ganjasorus_Rex34 karma

Is there any Armenian dish you recommend me trying? I'm not sure I've ever had Armenian food before.

kn0thing56 karma

I have a preference for shish kebab (khorovats). The Armenians prefer lamb over other meats like beef or chicken. When you grill meat over an open fire versus cooking over a stove I think it adds a certain flavor or character to the food. Space the meat out with chunks of onion, tomato, green pepper, things like that and cook it over an open flame.

ASovietSpy30 karma

What amazes you the most about the internet?

kn0thing47 karma

There's so much information about anything -- it's unbelievable. The fact that any individual can contribute information that will be seen on the internet by anyone gives such an opportunity for anyone who has the energy and the ability to use it to contribute something to someone else's life.

Doesn't matter what the subject matter is, it may have some value for somebody halfway around the globe and whether it's gonna be really productive or really important to anyone (in many cases it may not be important) but it's a wonderful way to communicate with different people all over the globe.

fortrines27 karma

Do you drive a lexus?

kn0thing78 karma

I have a Mazda 3 that I drive. I like it because it's small. And it's easy to get through traffic. Easier to find parking spaces, things like that.

Grandma chimes in to say "he wouldn't buy a Lexus because it's too expensive"

nfthjn23 karma

What is something you recommend everybody should do, once in their lifetime?

kn0thing54 karma

Don't be afraid to do any job that there is. If you want to do something once in a lifetime, I don't have the ability to tell you because I don't know. If you live a constructive and healthy life using all of your abilities -mental and physical or whatever- just do it. Live your life. That's what you should do at least once if not always. Live.

XeroInfinity20 karma

Thank you for the AMA!

I grew up with many Armenian friends. Many of them when younger and more zealous greatly disliked Turkish people as a whole, which I could understand why. However, as they matured and grew older, they lost that hatred, and instead focused that towards the government and other political powers, understanding that the people themselves are innocent.

How do you feel towards Turkish people? Do you think the Turkish government will eventually recognize the atrocities the same way the German government does today?

kn0thing29 karma

I love the Turkish people just as I would love any ethnic group. It's unfortunate that the Turks and Armenians lived in the same area for centuries without killing each other. The genocide that happened, happened, it's best to not dwell on it but to recognize.

I don't know will come to the Turkish government but the sooner it does the better because everyone else knows the truth. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about that because the past is the past, but the future is something I have control over. I think about bread & butter issues.

Paytsar11 karma

Hello Mr. Ohanian, was your family able to get any of your parents' stories about the Armenian Genocide documented (as interviews for future generations of your family to learn about their past)?

(Note to Alexis, thank you for your visit to UCLA, I hope you are still wearing the ASA shirt!)

kn0thing7 karma

No. It's a shame.

covercash11 karma

If you close your eyes and think of your childhood, what food comes to mind?

Do you have a recipe for that food that you could share with us?

Is there any specific story or memory associated with that food?

Alexis - step up your beard game buddy!

kn0thing31 karma

Chicken dinner on Sunday with rice pilaf. (His wife shouted from the kitchen "he doesn't eat chicken without rice pilaf) That was a really special dinner when I was growing up. In those days, a man with a small truck loaded with live chickens would come on Saturday and he would butcher them for the ladies who'd crowd around his truck. My mother and other housewives would have to get boiling hot water, remove the feathers from the chicken, and prepare the bird for Sunday chicken dinner. It's unlike today's supermarket.

I don't have a recipe. It's just roasted in the oven.

postExistence8 karma

Hi John! It's great seeing you here! You sure have a long list of accomplishments, and I'd be honored if I could ask you a few questions!

  1. Lots of attention goes towards the Holocaust, but little goes to points in history such as the Armenian genocide. Has this ever bothered you? Do you think there needs to be more disclosure on other genocides?

  2. I have heard that today in California the only way to get disability benefits from the state is to dispute your rejections, that all claims are initially rejected and only claims taken to court are fulfilled or recognized. What has your experience been with the system? Has it changed over the years since you joined in 1972?

  3. If you joined the FTC around 1951, that means you were around when Ralph Nader campaigned for seat belts in cars and when Prof. Clair Cameron Patterson campaigned to remove lead from gasoline! What were some of the most gratuitous abuses by companies you encountered during that time? Do you see any business-consumer related issues that need addressing today?

Thank you for sharing your story with us, and stay happy and healthy!

Edit: Hi Alexis!

kn0thing8 karma

  1. I think those matters should be publicized and recognized by the governments. We have a system under the UN today that should focus on things like that and tell the world what's going on. Looking back on the history of the UN and similar organizations in the past, at least a few times a year these matters must come up and are probably recognized by the people most affected. Those who have been affected by genocides certainly look for support from other ethnic groups + nationalities. Whether you're directly, indirectly or not at all affected, if you're a good human being you would want to do something useful to help those who have been affected.

  2. I don't know how accurate that is but the statistics are available through social security. The initial granting of disability applicants is a small percentage. The fact that the system has been in effect for so many years and it has to my knowledge not really improved as much as it should have means considerations should be given to how we can make the system work better. In mosts offices of the social security administration there is definitely bias and breakdowns.

  3. Price-fixing, I suppose. For a period when I was with the FTC, I worked on price-fixing cases affecting a number of different industries including steel, tuna-packing, and there were others that I don't remember. It was a matter of doing the necessary investigation to get the evidence from a particular industry or the companies in that industry in order to prove the case.

Leo47 karma

Hello from Downey - Most legit Armenian restaurant in Los Angeles to experience the food?

kn0thing18 karma

Carousel in Hollywood.

pnewell7 karma

What's one of your favorite 'wacky' cases?

kn0thing13 karma

I don't think I can pick out one case that was weird or wacky. At some point in representing clients over the years, I think I've met a great variety of people and since I focused on my job and tried to do the best I could in providing services to my clients I think the overwhelming majority were very goodhearted and good people. I didn't meet too many people that I would view in a harsh way. Everyone has there own limitations.

trollocity6 karma

Thank you very much for doing this AMA! You've been through more than just a world of experiences and it's very inspiring to see you still working hard doing something you enjoy.

How did your experiences serving your country shape you as an individual? Do you think your decision to enlist was ultimately a good choice for yourself?

As well, asking this is obligatory: Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or 1 horse-sized duck?

kn0thing20 karma

I think I matured in the 33mos that I was in the US Army. I'm very grateful for having the opportunity to have been in the Army. There was a certain amount of discipline and learning and training that I went through over which I had no control, I just did what I was told to do, to the best of my ability. I think that after that when I went to college, I was far more mature when I enlisted. With my kind of background, or any, I think the military is a great experience for any young man.

The experience I got there - learning and discipline - served me well for all my years.

I think I'd rather fight the small guys (laughing) because the big duck could stomp me one time and it'd be over.

andyourmothertoo6 karma

Hey John! Thanks for doing this AMA!

Just want to say that your grandson Alexis (Not Alex!) is a great motivation for myself and many others. He's inspired me to keep pushing forward and to never give up.

What advice do you have for a 26 year old trying to make something out of himself and just trying to figure out this game called life!?

Take care.

kn0thing10 karma

This is difficult to answer. But if you think about who you are and what you enjoying doing and do well, there may be more opportunities than you can consider right now. Start by doing something good for yourself. If you succeed, it doesn't matter how small, you don't know what that may lead to. It could turn into greater success for yourself, neighbors, and people in general.

Look for things that are undervalued or overlooked and put them to better use.

And live. Don't forget to live.

Frajer6 karma

Do you wish more people know about the Armenian genocide?

kn0thing13 karma

Well... not really. Although, if people were aware, I suppose it would get them thinking about other genocides. To talk about these things -- they're only useful from the standpoint of educating people. Put in simple terms: bad people do bad things to other people. Genocide will be with us no matter what people all you need are bad people or bad government to bad things.

missfulls5 karma

What advice would you give to an 18 year old? What advice would you give to an 18 year old who is thinking about going into law?

kn0thing21 karma

I would say go into law or any endeavor that you want but be sure that it's right for you. If your'e not happy doing the work that you're doing, change jobs, move on. If you're a lawyer you have great opportunity to specialize in many different fields of law and if you don't like any of them you can still go out into business, or farming, or whatever you want to do. Enjoy your day to day life. The main rule is that you should enjoy your work and then it doesn't become work it becomes enjoying your day. Don't be miserable at any job. If you don't like it, get out.

Be flexible. Listen more than you talk. Try to learn. Try to help yourself. Do the best that you can. Life is going to change. It's always changing.

justthisguyiknow5 karma

Do you prefer living on the East or West Coast? As someone who's experienced both over many years, what are the differences in people that you have perceived?

kn0thing15 karma

Oh, I love California.

People are the same everywhere. I never saw any big differences between people on the east or west or the towns in between that I've visited. I don't see great distinctions at all.

Grandma says she thinks people are friendlier back east.

secretary_g4 karma

Barev! What are your thoughts on the current higher education system which leaves many university graduates with thousands of dollars of student loan debt? Also, who are you cheering for in the World Cup?

kn0thing11 karma

If you can't pay the education bills, take the time off to work. I would never go into debt in big numbers like 50 or 100 thousand thinking when I walk out with my diploma. There's no question that college is too expensive. College was much cheaper for me, but I was also fortunate because after my three years of service, the GI Bill paid my 3 years of undergrad and 3 years of law school. That was a great help.

I also worked during college and on breaks in addition to that GI Bill. But there's no question that it paid the biggest part of my college expenses, which would have been very hard for my family.

I've heard a little bit about the soccer-whatever it is- I really don't have a choice but I would root for the United States over any other team.

Ignesias4 karma

I see a lot of people on SS disability, many of whom clearly are capable of working but choose not to, what does it take to get on disability? Also, do you think the system is good, or does it contribute to a wellfare state?

kn0thing38 karma

I think that by far it does more good than bad. By far. But any system that measures whether or not an individual is able to work fulltime - as it's defined in the Social Security Act - there will be instances when inaccurate decisions will be made by the agency. Human error, if nothing else, will cause that. If people feel that there are too many fakers who are not really disabled and can work then the definition for disability can be changed so that if you're able to earn a certain portion - not a fulltime wage- then you may not be considered 'disabled' under the social security act.

But by and large, the class of people who come to social security for disability benefits are individuals who worked with their body, their hands, their body strength -- once that's lost, or if there are mental impairments like depression -- it has a tremendous impact on their ability to work.

8bitremixguy3 karma

Thank you so much for doing this AMA!

If you could go back in time and give advice to yourself at 18 years of age, what would that advice be?

kn0thing6 karma

Hah. Umm, hard to say. I think I was fortunate enough not to be afraid of who I was and where I was gonna go. I lived one day at a time, or one year at a time. You just did the best you could under different circumstances. Whether it was full-time work, part-time work, school, the military, I tried to learn from anything and everything. I would take any kind of job. Those were the depression years, it was hard to come by a job for a lot of young people getting started.

CaptainMelon3 karma

What are your hopes for the future ?

Especially since you saw a lot, what do you think the next generation ( and our current generation ) should focus on?

kn0thing6 karma

That's a hard question for me to answer because it's hard to predict the future.

Looking backward and trying to compare, we know that there has been so much change particularly in the past fifty years. If you compare the internet today to life without it - there's tremendous change.

There are populations around the world that have been able to see information, respond to it, take action. They have been responsible for bringing out hopefully some improvement in their lives and their country.

licencevlease3 karma

How had the law most changed (for better or worse) since you started practicing?

kn0thing5 karma

Well, I think that there have been higher court decisions by the circuit courts and to some extent the supreme court that have resolved conflicts by the different district courts across the country that have made the law more uniform and perhaps more accurate that would guide lawyers + judges in making correct decisions in applications for disability.

I'm not really knowledgable about the law in general but I think that people are getting smarter all the time -- certainly learning from past mistakes and not to repeat em.

Veneta723 karma

I am fascinated by people who choose to work into old age. While this is not that unusual in the legal profession, why on earth do you continue to work? If I were 92, I'm sure I would have it down to napping, reading, and puttering in the garden. Also, do you have any hobbies?

kn0thing4 karma

Well, I work because that's what I've done most of my life. I've enjoyed it. And it keeps my mind sharp. If I didn't work, I'd have to think about what I would do with my time that would be constructive.

Do I have any hobbies? Well, I like to study the stock market because it's a challenge and something that I initially started investing in when I was a young man with my first job. It's stayed with me off and on. It's not a fulltime thing and a useful way to learn about how to save some of the money you earn and invest it to make more if you can.

In the past I've had minor hobbies, like stamp collecting and I enjoyed the horse races.

goldguy812 karma

Thanks for doing this AmA! My question is: What are your thoughts on the Chemical Warfare being used by the Syrian on its citizens currently? Do you believe it's a good idea or a bad idea to pursue stopping this?

Follow up question: How about the Russian Government invading Ukraine?

Seeing as you're father had experience first hand about similar accounts and your experience in the US Army, I'm interested what your thoughts are.

kn0thing11 karma

Talking about the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against its people and the tremendous number of people that have been killed there, whether it was chemical weapons or something else. If the UN or some world organization attempts to work on problems of that kind, we know from history, that they'll only have limited success.

The destructive people will always be there. It's up to the rest of us to try to help each other and maintain a degree of good government, good nations, good armies, and generally good people.

As for Russia, that on the face of it appears to be a larger country wanting to add more territory to its borders. If we had a forceful or powerful UN to resolve it, these are all mostly theoretical solutions. Inevitably someone is going to use an army to get their point of view across so who knows what will happen, but peace is all we can hope for.

redditor30001 karma

What was Alexis like as a child?

kn0thing9 karma

Like most children. He had good energy. And was interested in things around him. Inquisitive. He wanted to move around and do things. He was typical of most children, I guess.

fitterr1 karma

When you were a judge in Long Beach, did you ever encounter a defendant by the name of Calvin Broadus?

kn0thing3 karma