Born in the village of Khorgom, situated on the shores of Lake Van. It is not known exactly when he was born: it was sometime between 1902 and 1905. (In later years Gorky was vague about even the date of his birth, changing it from year to year.) In 1910 his father emigrated to America to avoid the draft, leaving his family behind in the town of Van.
In 1915 Gorky fled Lake Van during the Armenian Genocide and escaped with his mother and his three sisters into Russian-controlled territory. In the aftermath of the genocide, Gorky's mother died of starvation in Yerevan in 1919. Arriving in America in 1920, the 16-year old Gorky was reunited with his father, but they never grew close. At age 31, Gorky married. In the process of reinventing his identity, he changed his name to "Arshile Gorky", even telling people he was a relative of the Russian writer Maxim Gorky.