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Cher, Kim Kardashian and Andre Agassi: Armenia’s A-list diaspora

Cher, Kim Kardashian and Andre Agassi: The Guardian introduces Armenia’s A-list diaspora

Armenians fleeing the 1915 genocide landed in countries across the world – and flourished. Here are 10 of their descendants who excelled in a variety of fields

Cher in concert at the Saddledome, Calgary, Canada.
Cher in concert at the Saddledome, Calgary, Canada. Photograph: Rex
The Armenian diaspora, estimated at 10 million, is three times the population ofArmenia itself, with migrants and their descendants sprinkled across the continents from Russia to the United States, UK, Lebanon and Australia.

As with many diasporas, Armenians have often flourished in their adopted homelands, contributing to business and sport, as well as cultural and political life. That diversity is reflected in 10 of the world’s most famous people of Armenian descent.

Cher The 68-year-old singer and actor was born Cherilyn Sarkisian, the child of an American mother and an Armenian-American father. The multi-award winner has revealed that for much of her life she did not feel strongly connected to her Armenian heritage. However, that changed when she travelled to Armenia on a humanitarian mission in 1993 while the country was at war with Azerbaijan. Last week she took to Twitter to share a “horror story” her grandmother had told her about the events in Armenia 100 years ago and urged the Turkish government to acknowledge them as genocide.

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West visit the memorial to the victims of genocide in Yerevan, Armenia.

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West visit the memorial to the victims of genocide in Yerevan, Armenia. Photograph: Hrant Khachatryan/AP

Kim Kardashian The 34-year-old reality television star and professional selfie-taker (a book of her selfies is released next month) is one of Armenia’s most famous descendants. Kardashian (officially Kardashian West, since she married the hip-hop star Kanye West last year) travelled to Armenia, the ancestral home of her late father, Robert, for the first time last week, where she met Hovik Abrahamyan, the prime minister, and laid flowers at the Armenian genocide memorial complex. Not one to make her cultural pilgrimages in secret, the trip was filmed for Keeping Up with the Kardashians, the family’s reality show. The visit has been praised for raising awareness of the anniversary of the genocide, something that Kardashian draws attention to each year. Her father was a defence lawyer in OJ Simpson’s 1995 murder trial.

Andre Agassi at Wimbledon.

Andre Agassi at Wimbledon. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

Andre Agassi The 44-year-old was born in Las Vegas to an American mother and an Iranian-born, Armenian father. The family’s surname was originally Agassian, but an ancestor changed it to Agassi to avoid persecution. Agassi, who won eight grand slam singles titles and is married to fellow tennis star Steffi Graf, has devoted himself to philanthropy since retiring from professional tennis in 2006.

French singer Charles Aznavour in 2009.

Charles Aznavour in 2009. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Charles Aznavour Dubbed France’s Frank Sinatra, Aznavour is a beloved French-Armenian singer, actor and public figure. The 90-year-old was born Shahnour Varinag Aznavourian to Armenian immigrants and his mother, Knar Baghdasarian, is a survivor of the 1915 genocide. Aznavour got his break at 22 when Edith Piaf heard him sing and asked him to accompany her on a tour of France and the US. Over the course of the 20th century, he released more than 100 records and appeared in more than 60 films. He was named entertainer of the century in 1998 by CNN and Time Online.

Sergei Lavrov glares at the press in Moscow.

Sergei Lavrov glares at the press in Moscow. Photograph: Ivan Sekretarev/AP

Sergei Lavrov Russia’s foreign minister since 2004, Lavrov was previously Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations for a decade. The 65-year-old was born in Moscow to an Armenian father and a Russian mother and has been quoted as saying: “I have Armenian blood in my veins.”

Kirk Kerkorian in 2008.

Kirk Kerkorian in 2008. Photograph: Nick Ut/AP

Kirk Kerkorian The world’s most prominent businessman of Armenian descent. The 97-year-old, who lives in California and is chief executive of Tracinda, is believed to be worth $4bn (£2.7bn). He once owned the film studio MGM and is credited with being the “father of the the mega-resort” for his influence on Las Vegas commerce. Kerkorian’s parents were Armenian immigrants and the billionaire has donated more than $1bn to projects in Armenia since the aftermath of the 1988 Spitak earthquake, which killed 25,000 people.

Alain Prost after winning the British grand prix in 1990.

Alain Prost after winning the British grand prix in 1990. Photograph: Daily Mail/REX Shutterstock/Daily Mail/REX Shutterstock

Alain Prost The four-time Formula One drivers’ champion held the record for most grand prix victories from 1987 until 2001, when he was beaten by Michael Schumacher. The 60-year-old French racing driver’s maternal grandparents are Armenian. His grandmother fled from the genocide to France, where she met her husband and gave birth to Marie-Rose Karatchian, Prost’s mother.

Serj Tankian of System of a Down performs in Inglewood, California, this month.

Serj Tankian of System of a Down performs in Inglewood, California, in April. Photograph: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Serj Tankian The lead singer of the metal band System of a Down, Tankian was born to Armenian parents in Lebanon and moved to Los Angeles at five. His grandfather is a survivor of the Armenian genocide. Tankian’s three bandmates are also of Armenian descent. The singer has campaigned for the events of 1915 in Armenia to be recognised as genocide, efforts for which he received the Armenian prime minister’s Memorial Order medal in 2011. In 2014, the band announced a tour to commemorate the centenary of the genocide, with a free concert on 23 April in the country’s capital, Yerevan.

Gollum, Andy Serkis's most famous role.

Gollum, Andy Serkis’s most famous role. Photograph: AP

Andy Serkis The 50-year-old actor is most famous for playing Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Serkis, who also starred as King Kong in Peter Jackson’s remake of the film and as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and its sequel, was born to a British mother and Armenian father. His father’s family’s original surname was Sarkisian, which an ancestor changed to Serkis.

David Dickinson, of Bargain Hunt fame.

David Dickinson, of Bargain Hunt fame. Photograph: James Stenson/BBC

David Dickinson The 73-year-old British antiques dealer and television presenter was born to an Armenian mother, Eugene Gulessarian, and then adopted as a baby by Jim and Joyce Dickinson. The host of Dickinson’s Real Deal and Bargain Hunt did not know he was adopted until he was 12 and never met his biological mother, though they corresponded until her death. In 2006, Dickinson participated in the BBC’s Who Do you Think you Are?, which led him to travel to Turkey, where his Armenian ancestors lived before they moved to Britain.

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