Armenian Genocide

Introduction to the Armenian Genocide Collection

Language: English

In April 2010, USC Shoah Foundation signed a historic agreement with filmmaker Dr. J. Michael Hagopian, his wife Antoinette and the Armenian Film Foundation.

The agreement paved the way for the preservation and dissemination of the largest collection of filmed interviews of survivors and witnesses of the Armenian Genocide, the first genocide of the twentieth century.

The interviews were conducted by the late Hagopian, who recorded them on 16 mm film between 1975 and 2005 for a series of documentaries.

Hagopian, who passed away in December of 2010 at age 97, ultimately produced 17 films about Armenians and the Armenian Genocide. In the partnership with the Institute, Hagopian agreed to turn over raw footage of nearly 400 interviews so they could be integrated into the Visual History Archive.

With the help of AFF chairman Gerald Papazian and AFF board member Carla Garapedian, USC Shoah Foundation has been digitizing and indexing the interviews to make them searchable as testimonies in the Visual History Archive. Sixty were made available in April of 2015; the rest are in development.

About the testimony collection

The Armenian Film Foundation’s film archive contains nearly 400 interviews of Armenian Genocide survivors and witnesses who are now deceased. The interviews were conducted in 10 countries, primarily in English and Armenian—some in rare Armenian dialects—though other interview languages include Arabic, Greek, Spanish, French, Kurdish, Turkish, German, and Russian.

The interviewees were between the ages of eight and 29 at the time of the genocide. Geographic locations discussed in their testimonies include the following cities and towns of Anatolia (mainly Eastern Turkey): Adabazar, Eskisehir, Konia, Sivas, Kharpert, Urfa, Aintab, Marash, Malatia, Dickranagerd, Erzeroum, Van, Bitlis, Der Zor, Smyrna, Erzingan, Musa Dagh, Kessab, Aleppo, Shabin Karahisar, Guren, Sepastia, Banderma, Yozgat, Everek, Hadjin, Zeitoun, Amassia, and Kutahya.

About the Armenian Film Foundation

The Armenian Film Foundation was established in 1979 as a non-profit, educational, and cultural organization dedicated to the documentation in motion pictures of Armenian heritage and life. Its goals are to inspire pride in and to create worldwide recognition of the Armenian people and their contributions, and to preserve the visual and personal histories of survivors and witnesses of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

Dr. J. Michael Hagopian, co-founder of the Armenian Film Foundation, released 17 documentary films on Armenian heritage, culture, and history, including an epic trilogy on the Armenian Genocide comprised of Voices from the Lake, Germany and the Secret Genocide, and The River Ran Red. Recognizing the pressing need to record the experiences of Armenians who were subject to the genocide, Dr. Hagopian began conducting film interviews with survivors and witnesses in 1968.

As aging survivors and witnesses of the genocide began dying in large numbers, the Armenian Film Foundation embarked on a massive project to interview those who remained. When the project commenced in 1982, an estimated 2,500 potential interviewees were still alive. Fifteen percent of these were subsequently interviewed, and their testimonies documented on 16mm film by the Armenian Film Foundation, which retains the original footage, sound tapes, record books, and relevant photographs, as well as other documentation that may have been provided by the interviewees.

About Dr. J. Michael Hagopian

Born in 1913 to an Armenian family in Kharpert-Mezreh, Dr. Hagopian was a genocide survivor who dedicated his life to the visual documentation of the Turkish extermination of up to 1.5 million Armenians in 1915. In all, his work encompassed nearly 400 interviews of survivors and witnesses of the Armenian Genocide and 40 years of research.

Dr. Hagopian held a doctorate in international relations from Harvard University and an undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He also did two years of graduate work in cinema at the University of Southern California. He taught political science and economics at the University of California, Los Angeles; American University of Beirut, Lebanon; Banaras Hindu University, India; and Oregon State University. Dr. Hagopian was Chair of the Board of Directors of the Armenian Film Foundation and producer/director of many award-winning documentary films. As president of Atlantis Productions, he also engaged in the research, writing, and production of educational and documentary films for instructional and informational use in the classroom and on television.

“Victimization and genocide perpetrated and denied in one part of the world can become the breeding ground for greater crimes against humanity in another part of the world,” Dr. Hagopian once said. “I have felt that it was my responsibility to educate and inform, so that history won’t be repeated.”

He has written, directed, and produced more than 70 educational and documentary films, which collectively have won over 160 national and international awards, including two Emmy nominations for the writing and production of “The Forgotten Genocide,” the first full-length feature film on the Armenian Genocide. “Germany and the Secret Genocide” received the coveted First Place Golden Camera Award in the History Category from the 2004 U.S. International Film and Video Festival, the largest festival of its kind. “The River Ran Red” was voted Best International Historical Documentary by the New York International Film & Video Festival in 2009, and it won second place in the History and Biography categories at the 2009 U.S. International Film and Video Festival. Several of Dr. Hagopian’s films were produced under grants from the U.S. Office of Education and the Ethnic Heritage Program, the MacArthur Foundation, California Endowment for the Humanities, and California State Department of Education.

Dr. Hagopian himself was the recipient of numerous honors, including Jewish World Watch’s “I Witness” Award for dedicating his professional life to chronicling the history of the Armenian people and commemorating victims of the Armenian Genocide. The Armenian National Committee honored him as Man of the Year in 2000.

Regarding the agreement with the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, Dr. Hagopian said, “We believe this agreement is the beginning of a long-term partnership with the world-renowned USC Shoah Foundation that will promote the study and prevention of future genocides. Inclusion of these filmed genocide survivor interviews—a ‘national treasure’ of the Armenian people—side by side with testimonies of Holocaust survivors, in an archive that can be accessed and searched around the world, will finally help us fulfill our mission of disseminating these eyewitness accounts worldwide.”

On Friday, December 10, 2010, Dr. J. Michael Hagopian passed away; he was 97 years old.

The Institute is seeking funds to complete this project. To support this work, please contact Dornsife Advancement at (213) 740-4990 or