Made the film Screamers, about genocide.
I grew up in Los Angeles with two identities - Armenian and American. Both sets of grandparents were survivors. So I knew who I was. I left the U.S. in 1979 to make films about human rights atrocities in other countries -- I've travelled to many countries in the world, trying to tell other people's stories. But it wasn't until this film that I could tell the story of my own people.
The denial of the Armenian genocide has motivated me in my work for as long as I can remember. It's not a conscious thing - it's just there, simmering under every story I've done about atrocities governments would like to keep hidden, truths people would seek to deny.
All of the Armenians I know are scarred by this event. We are children and grandchildren of survivors - how can we forget? Elie Wiesel says denial is the last stage of genocide. It is when the perpetrator seeks to become the victim and make the victim the perpetrator. That is why we can't rest until our own government stops speaking out of both sides of its mouth - our historical records can't say one thing, and our politicians another. We can not rewrite history. That's Orwellian.
I remember seeing a documentary about a war crime in Croatia. A grave was being dug up by forensic pathologists. It was very difficult to watch because the bodies had not completely decomposed. But it was compelling because the chief forensic pathologist said something I can never forget: dead men can't speak, but their bodies do not lie about their deaths. So how is it that the death of over a million people can be denied? Is it only the passage of time that allows such a monstrous atrocity, which was so well publicized at the time, to be forgotten?
System of a Down gave me the chance to tell this story. Their music, their passion - and the young people who follow them - have made this film possible. Their music is the music of life, of survival - it is saying, we are here. We remember.
The Armenian genocide wasn't the first in history - but it is the first that was within our collective memory. "Why do genocides continue in the 21st century?" asks one of our contributors. "Because those who perpetrated them in the 20th century got away it." That is the message. Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.