Blog: Through Testimony

For Michael: Մենք հիշում ենք - We Remember

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 5:00pm -- deanna.pitre

Contributor: Karen Jungblut

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 5:00pm

For two full days in June 2010, while the camera was rolling in Thousand Oaks in the Hagopian’s living room, I had the privilege of being behind the camera while the late Jacob Michael Hagopian was in front of it -- the whole time.

Michael had graciously agreed to tell his personal life story on camera, and in particular speak about his life’s work as a documentary filmmaker. Colleagues, Ryan Fenton-Strauss and Zach Goode, the videographer team, and I spent two full days – early morning until evening – with him in his living room. Given Michael’s longstanding career as an Emmy nominated filmmaker, winning numerous awards, having had decades of tremendous experience and success in making documentaries and traveling the globe interviewing survivors of the Armenian genocide since the 70’s,  we felt quite intimidated in the beginning; we almost expected for Michael to give us directions throughout.

To our surprise, and I must say relief, that did not happen.

Michael, born in October of 1913 in Kharpet (today Harput, Turkey) then part of the Ottoman Empire, sat patiently for many hours and opened up about his family history and background. He described his earliest memories of playing at a German compound in Kharpert in the late 1910s, to seeing refugees. Then describing how he, his sister, his parents, and a grandmother survived the genocide, their journey in the early 1920s from Kharpert in a rented Model T car, not being able to take his dog with him, remembering looking out the window, watching his dog run after them, getting stuck on the way to Aleppo, then being helped by folks from a nearby Kurdish village and surviving typhus during their journey. These are just a few little nuggets of his incredible experience before he was even ten years old.

Michael and his family ultimately immigrated to the United States, where he settled in California. Educated at the University of California, Berkeley, Michael received his doctorate in international relations from Harvard University. He went on to teach at various universities, including Benares, India, but soon became interested in making films for teaching because he could not find many visual materials to support his own teaching. He traveled the world making films, and wherever he went to film, whether it was in India, China, or the Middle East, he also filmed or gathered visual materials that dealt with Armenia and/or Armenians. Preservation and documentation of Armenian culture and history was always very important to Michael.

In 1968, Michael received a phone call from a German, who had apparently been stationed in a medical corps in the Ottoman Empire in 1915/1916 and witnessed what happened to Armenians. Michael had not heard of this person before, but knew right away that this could be an important interview. Why? For Michael, it was because the caller said that he was German, and Germany was allied with the Ottoman Empire at the time, and thus could turn out to be an important witness to the events. And so Michael went out to rent a good camera with sound, and interviewed Armin T. Wegner in the same Hagopian living room 42 years prior to us interviewing Michael in 2010.

Wegner’s testimony ignited Michael’s interest to find out more from survivors of the genocide. Wegner was Michael’s first filmed genocide eyewitness interview. He followed it up with nearly 400 more interviews filmed on 16 mm film in 10 different countries and several languages over the next thirty years. The testimonies became part of the Armenian Film Foundation’s collection and 60 of these testimonies have been made viewable and searchable as of this week in the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive.

Six months after the interview in 2010, Michael passed. He was 97 years old. His legacy lives on and today, I am happy to report Michael that we are bringing the testimonies to the world, as you always hoped we would be able to do.

"Menk gnahatum enk dzez yev dzer jankere yev hargank enk matutsum bolor Hayots tseghaspanutyan veraproghnerin, inchpes nayev bolor nrants ovker zohvetsin tseghaspanutyan hetevankov.

Menk hishum enk."

Մենք գնահատում ենք ձեզ և ձեր ջանքերը և հարգանք ենք մատուցում բոլոր Հայոց ցեղասպանության վերապրողներին, ինչպես նաև բոլոր նրանց ովքեր զոհվեցին ցեղասպանության հետևանքով:

Մենք հիշում ենք:

We honor you and your efforts and pay tribute to all those who survived the genocide as well as those who lost their lives because of it. We Remember.

Posts are contributed by individual authors. The opinions are solely the authors’ and are not necessarily a reflection of the views of USC Shoah Foundation.

About Karen Jungblut

Karen Jungblut, USC Shoah Foundation's director of research and documentation, oversees scholarship and research activities. With the Institute since 1996, Karen has led an international and multilingual staff to successfully catalog and index the archive and has been instrumental in developing the indexing and cataloging methodology and software applications. Karen received an MA in Political Science from the Freie Universität Berlin and a BA in History and International Affairs from Hunter College, New York. 

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