Today marks the 97th anniversary of the devastating Armenian genocide which killed thousands of innocent people. But now the voices and images of the survivors are to be digitised for the world to see, thanks to the Shoah Foundation Institute and the USC Institute of Armenian Studies Leadership Council.
The Shoah Foundation is an institution founded by filmmaker Stephen Spielberg. The foundation previously brought together an archive of testimonies from World War II holocaust survivors to create a living history memorial. Now the organisation are looking to do a similar project with the 400 interviews and images of Armenian genocide survivors captured by Armenian filmmaker J. Michael Hagopian.
Hagopian – who survived the genocide – managed to record hundreds of devastating testimonies from witnesses and survivors. One survivor remembers seeing babies snatched from their mother’s arms by Turkish soldiers before being thrown into the air and caught by a bayonet at the end of a rifle. Others remember the systematic torture of intellectuals and bloodied bodies floating down a river.
The whole of his archive of Armenian genocide interviews will soon be made available to the public and universities all across the world.
To escape the Turkish soldiers, Hagopian’s mother hid him in a well when his village of Kharberd in Western Armenia was terrorised. He later migrated to the USA and became a filmmaker.
Carla Garapedian worked with Hagopian and is currently leading the Armenian Film Foundation who are set to digitalise the archives. She believes that it is a huge step forward in terms of educating the public. She hopes that digitalising these testimonies will help the public see the genocide from the point of view of Armenian survivors and witnesses.
She said: ‘In understanding the genocide in that comparative way, we may be able to prevent it.’
According to Stephen Smith, executive director for the Shoah Foundation Institute, the aim of these visual memories and testimonies is to ‘strengthen evidence that such atrocities occurred and show how crimes against humanity are born out of bigotry, prejudice, and intolerance if gone unnoticed’.
And clearly this particular instance of mass killing has gone unnoticed for almost 100 years. The Armenian genocide – in which 1.5 million Armenians were killed – seems to have been put on the back shelf compared to the awareness raising of the Nazi holocaust.
And in 1939 Hitler proved this point exactly. He posed the question: ‘Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?’
Even President Obama stopped short of calling it a genocide and called it ‘one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century’ at a memorial service today. He has been heavily criticised by American-Armenians because as candidate for president, Obama vowed to recognise the genocide once in office.
But thanks to the Shoah Foundation and Hagopian’s archives, hopefully now the world will have a new understanding of this event which is considered the first genocide of the 20th century.