The Genocide in Me
Discovery Documentary: Third generation survivor offers unique view of Genocide
By Gayane Abrahamyan
“This film, ‘The Genocide in Me’, is about my need to free myself from the pressures, the burden imposed by history. I need to understand. I want to discover where my father’s national obsession comes from. That kind of obsession can only be born from loss and denial.”
“The Genocide in Me” by Canadian Armenian director Araz Artinian had its Yerevan premiere last night at Moscow Cinema, where it will run through the weekend. The film was awarded a special prize of the Golden Apricot Film Festival this year, and, with her award earnings Artinian chose to rent the cinema to screen her 53-minute documentary.
The film is an attempt toward self-discovery, and to find relief for the filmmaker’s third-generation Genocide wounds.
“I’d really like to discover who I am, to face the future without my parents’ pressure, but I still arrive at one point. That is the reason I decided to make a film, to pass our collective memory over to the next generation,” says Artinian, 32, at the beginning of the film.
The idea for the film started in 2001, when Artinian began a series of video interviews with Genocide survivors for a project that became “Twenty Voices”. (The interviews are included on a separate DVD, in the commercial marketing of the film, and can also be found at http://www.twentyvoices.com ).
“It was very important to archive documents about them, because they were all above 92 and they wouldn’t live forever,” says Artinian. In fact, some of the survivors died before seeing the release of the DVD.
To make the documentary, Artinian received grants from SODEK, Canada Council for the Arts, Quebec Arts Council and sponsorship from several Armenian private sponsors.
Her solicitation was met with a common question:
Why is an Armenian born in Canada three generations after the Genocide unable to live her life without looking back?
“I told them it still affects us and the first thing that came to my mind was the mixed marriages that are not allowed because of the question of identity, and unity that is seen as the solution for the Armenian cause,” says Artinian.
The film begins with Artinian’s memories of a teenage experience that foretold the beginning of her journey for identity.
“When I was 17 I met a guy who was not an Armenian. When he called me the first time, my father told me he should not call me any more, because I was not allowed to get married to a non-Armenian,” she narrates. “I realized then that being an Armenian is more than being oneself.”
Filmgoers at the opening praised “The Genocide in Me”, as a rare look at how Diaspora -- especially Artinian’s generation – is affected by the Genocide.
Artinian, however, is now average Diaspora young adult. She comes from a family led by a soldier of Genocide recognition, Vrej-Armen Artinian, who, in intimate father-daughter interviews, is touchingly characterized for his role as a journalist and as founder of an Armenian school in the Artinian hometown of Montreal.
To find the reason for her father’s obsession and to understand him, the director-daughter left for New York and Boston to meet the Genocide survivors. She then traveled to Turkey to see all she had been struggling for and the river she was named after.
Mixed into her own commentary is the unadorned and often unsettling monologues of some of the Genocide survivors.
During her trip to Turkey, Artinian encounter a Turkish tour guide whose explanation of the Genocide is the party line of his nation: That the Armenians of 1915-18 got caught up in a conflict in which the Russians are to blame.
“I was very much interested in the way they told the story of Eastern Turkey to the tourists, and chose to visit Turkey with a group,” says Artinian. “I asked no questions at the beginning; I just once asked how many Armenians lived there and he asked if I meant the number at the moment or before. I said I meant before the Genocide.”
“If we say the word ‘genocide’, we should mention it was done by both sides. Initially the Armenians began to implement a plan to get rid of the Muslims and only then the Turkish government started defending itself,” says the Turk, who later plays duduk and teaches Armenian dances to the tourists.
Opposing to the Turkish interpretation of history, the author presents reality through the survivors’ stories; the elderly people, who lost their childhood and the parents on the way of refuge, who still see the bodies and the bones of the massacred and the starving, say they can forgive the Turks if the latter confess. The confession, they believed, would console them and would heal the Armenian wounds.
And the director seems to have found an answer for herself: “One thing is clear: in spite of the Genocide I want to be Armenian, and I want to be free.”
“The Genocide in Me”, Artinian’s second film (following “Surviving on the Richter Scale”, about the Spitak earthquake) has won several international awards including:
Staten Island Film Festival 2006: Best International Feature Yorkton Short Film and Video Festival 2006: Finalist for the Golden Apricot for Best Armenian Documentary, Les Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois (Montreal, 2006): Finalist for the Pierre and Yolande Perrault Prize (Best emerging documentary director) and for the Ruth and Alex Dworkin Prize for Tolerance (Montreal, 2006), Armenian Music Awards 2006 (Hollywood): The Genocide Recognition Award for Armenian Festival for the Commemoration of the 90th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide (Moncton, 2005).
Copies of the DVD are available for online order at http://www.twentyvoices.com
Understanding Heritage: New website previews documentary about an inheritance of the Genocide
By John Hughes
There is a point in Araz Artinian’s upcoming documentary when the filmmaker is visiting an Armenian church that is deteriorating in Turkey.
Narrating a story that has been the theme of her 31 years in a family of Armenian activists, Artinian says she must sit in the ruins, so that she can feel what her father has been fighting for, for so many years.
“The Genocide in Me” is a four-year project that represents three generations’ lifetimes and is an attempt by a Diaspora daughter to understand why much of her life has been shaped by her father, Vrej-Armen Artinian’s unceasing campaign for the world to recognize that his ancestors and so many more were victims of genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. (Artinian was born in Canada, her parents in Egypt.)
The filmmaker took her camera to Turkey to find out what her father was fighting for. The documentary – about an hour in length – is still in editing, and is scheduled for release in September. It is an insightful look into the effects of ethnic passion impressed upon a young and inquisitive mind.
Meanwhile, today (April 24), she has opened www.twentyvoices.com, a website that uses information and materials from her research, in commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the Genocide. The site holds 175 images, 30 musical pieces and video from the upcoming documentary.
Artinian, who was head researcher on the film “Ararat”, and who won six international film festival awards for her own 1999 documentary “Surviving on the Richter Scale” (about post-earthquake Gyumri), underscores the title of her latest work in the very dialogue she engages around her family table, and in home movies of her childhood.
Most compelling, however, are interviews sprinkled throughout the film with survivors of the 1915-18 Genocide whom the Montreal-based Artinian met with in their homes in North America.
Using tight face shots that fill the frame, the horrors of 90 years ago are strikingly told by survivors, some of whom have died since being interviewed for the film.
It is information from those interviews that is the heart of www.twentyvoices.com.
On the site, visitors find information about the survivors, including an active menu that includes locator maps of where the “voices” originated, and even music that came from their villages.
Artinian’s great grandparents were survivors of the 1894-97 massacres that took the lives of her great-great grandparents.
Grandparents on her mother’s side survived the 1915 killings.
“I had met them once when I was very young,” Artinian told ArmeniaNow, “so I haven’t directly heard first hand testimonies within my family. But I can say that the Genocide (especially the Turkish denial) has always been the hottest topic at home. Mom would sometimes tell us stories from her grandmother and mother. Her father never talked about it.”
Artinian’s own father, however, talked plenty about it, including this past week as a participant in an international conference held in Yerevan.
How big an impact does the issue of recognition have on a Diaspora child in such a household?
“When you hear the word ‘recognition’ every time your family gets together every weekend, and when you go to the washroom for whatever reason and see the same word on the Armenian daily, weekly, monthly, yearly newspapers and magazines that are piled up on the main storage of the toilet, you start believing that this is a big part of your daily life and a permanent need in the lives of Armenians,” Artinian says. “It totally overpowers you. It becomes a religion.”
The activist’s daughter wanted to know what inspired the “religion”. And so she turned her camera on her family and herself. One interview with her father, in which she asks him how he'd react if she married a non-Armenian, is especially provocative. And, while the concept of the film itself might hint of self-indulgence, the style in which Artinian has written, directed, filmed and narrated “The Genocide In Me” saves it from being a “vanity” project and manages to have universal appeal for any of us who might ever ask: “Why am I who I am?”
Essentially, the documentary is the story of a people who are being lost, and of a person who is finding herself.
The project has received funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, from the Quebec Arts Council, from SODEC and from private sponsorship.
And, like her father’s passion to travel the world to champion the cause of recognition, the daughter poured herself into her project, selling jewelry in a bazaar and working in a fitness center to underwrite her art.
“With this film I feel compelled to tell the Armenian story, which is also my story,” Artinian says.
Growing up in a family where recognition is a thread that weaves family history, she says: “you know that the Genocide is not only something that happened in 1915. You know that you are a remnant of a very ancient civilization which today is struggling to keep its national identity alive on foreign lands. You feel your people's struggle on your skin every day.”