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New website previews documentary about an inheritance of the Genocide
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
So much good, so much evil. Just add water. (c)