Armenian Genocide Oral History Project

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... For nearly 40 years, UCLA professor Richard Hovannisian has overseen a project - the largest oral history project in the Armenian community - to interview survivors and record stories like Kadorian's.

Students in his course were each required to interview 10 survivors, recording their memories on audio cassette tapes.

Just before the 90th anniversary this year of the mass killings, commemorated on April 24, the 72-year-old professor reached a landmark: He digitized all 800 interviews conducted by his students over the last four decades.

Of the hundreds of people his students interviewed, Hovannisian believes no more than 25 are still alive.

"This is an important contribution to the preservation of history and the understanding of what occurred to the Armenian people under the cover of World War I," he said. "It's important especially in view of denial of genocide by the Turkish government. Fortunately, some Turkish scholars are now challenging the state, insisting there was ethnic cleansing."

... Life's work

The project has been a large part of Hovannisian's life's work. The shelves in his office are stacked with books on genocide, and there are boxes and boxes of cassettes, organized alphabetically - "Seropian-Stepanian," "Kizikian-Mandroian."

"It all started when we realized the last generation of Armenians born in the historic homeland is fast disappearing and taking with them invaluable information," he said.

In addition to providing a historical record of the atrocities, the interviews have sociological value, offering a glimpse into Armenian life, customs and rituals prior to 1915.

"They have a very idyllic and romanticized collective memory of life before the calamity. In relative terms they think back on their childhood of a protective extended family and excitement getting prepared for holidays," Hovannisian said. "By comparison, life (before the killings) was great."

The stories, while each unique, collectively reveal common truths, Hovannisian said.

Families were very quickly separated from the fathers, who were killed immediately. Women and children were put on death marches through the deserts of Syria.

For every survivor there was a story of a Turk or a Muslim who tried to intervene. And when people 400 miles apart have the same stories, it helps show it was an organized, premeditated operation against the Armenian people in the Turkish empire, Hovannisian said.

Students are now transcribing and translating the interviews in an expensive and time-consuming process. The ultimate goal is to collaborate with others who have video interviews of survivors throughout the world and to make them all available for research and to the public via mediums like the Internet.

... Priceless work

Hovannisian's work is invaluable both in honoring the generation that suffered and in supporting scholarship and research on the subject, Greenberg said.

"Anything is better than nothing. The challenge is for us to work together because the problem is not an Armenian problem or a Jewish problem or a Cambodian problem. It's a human problem," he said.

"The day is going to come where there will be no survivors alive from any genocide and once they're gone, their memory of the experience will leave with them if not for these interviews."

Excerpt from Tragic memories caught on tape (LA Daily News), by Naush Boghossian

AEF Grants $50,000 to UCLA Armenian Genocide Oral History Project

GLENDALE--The Armenian Educational Foundation (AEF) has announced that it will be granting $50,000 to the Armenian Genocide Oral History project at UCLA. This project was conducted at the UCLA History Department by Professor Richard G. Hovannisian in the early 1970's. As a part of the project, researchers interviewed and recorded the testimonies of Armenian genocide survivors who were then in their 70's and 80's. 1600 hours of interviews with more than 800 survivors were recorded on audiotapes that are now in need of modern preservation.

The AEF Board of Directors has allocated a $50,000 contribution to the preservation projec. The grant will be presented to Hovannisian, Chair of the Modern Armenian History Department at UCLA, in a special ceremony held at Brandview Collection, 109 E. Harvard St., Glendale, on Tuesday, November 3, 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM.

The UCLA Modern Armenian History Chair was established by the AEF in 1986, and since then, the AEF has been a supporter of its conferences and special projects. This recent grant will be used by Hovannisian to digitize and preserve the audiotapes of the Armenian genocide survivors' testimonies. Supporting this very important endeavor will contribute to the ongoing struggle to reaffirm the scope of the Armenian genocide and to defeat the forces of denial.

The Armenian Education Foundation, Inc. mission is the advancement of the Armenian heritage through support of education. Since 1950, the AEF has funded over $7,000,000 dollars in forms of scholarships, grants to educational institutions worldwide, and renovation of over 125 schools in Armenia, Karabagh, and Javakhk. The AEF is a non-profit 501c(3) organization with its main office in Glendale, California.

The public and the press are cordially invited to attend the ceremonies. For further information, please telephone the AEF office at (818)242-4154.

ASBAREZ Online [10-21-2005]