10 Interesting Experiences in the Armenian Genocide Testimony Collection
Testimonies in the Armenian Genocide Collection can be a great tool in the fight for Turkish recognition of the genocide on a social level. After spending nearly nine months working this collection, the interpersonal nature created between the viewer and interviewee (mainly survivors) seems to be significant. That inter-personality brings to mind a statement that Turkish-Armenian lawyer and author Fethiye Çetin said in 2012 when in Yerevan, Armenia for a public talk. She stated that when one talks of their family story, no one on the receiving end can deny or discredit what another's grandparents went through - there is always a general respect toward the interpersonal and to the experience of one's elders.
As the indexer for USC Shoah Foundation’s Armenian Genocide Testimony Collection, I have to listen carefully to hundreds of testimonies assigning keywords to each minute so that these stories will be accessible in the Visual History Archive. Now just in time for the 101st anniversary of the Armenian Genocide USC Shoah Foundation integrated an additional 155 indexed testimonies into the Archive. I thought this would be a fitting time to highlight some of the most interesting aspects of the 245 testimonies that will be available in the Visual History Archive Online.
- Yezidi Testimonies
The collection contains a handful of testimonies from Yezidis survivors who fled Ottoman military incursions in 1918 against Armenian military units in the modern provinces of Kars and Iğdır (both in modern-day Turkey). The interviews are rare due to the lack of awareness and knowledge of the Yezidi experiences during the period. Considering the recent Genocide perpetrated against Yezidis by ISIS forces in the summer of 2013 in Sinjar, Iraq, these interviews give light to an earlier persecution about 100 years ago.
- Father Krikor “Kreiger” Guerguerian
In this brief clip Father Krikor Guerguerian is faced with a theological question that has challenged many survivors of the Armenian Genocide. The perpetrator confesses to him that he killed his father, three brothers and confiscated their house and garden and asks Guerguerian for forgiveness.
A Catholic Armenian priest who survived the Armenian Genocide as a child in Gurun, Turkey. Later in his life, he took it upon himself to investigate the perpetrators of the Genocide, becoming the first to methodologically research the topic. His interview consists of his historical documents and his journey to find them. He discusses an experience he had with a Turkish man who had killed his family members and confiscated their property when he visited his birthplace of Gurun later in his life.
- Yevnigue Salibian
Born in Aintab (Gaziantep), Turkey in 1914, Yevnigue left Aintab in 1920 when French Armed Forces fled leaving the city to Kemalist troops. Her life story is one of struggle, immigration, and strong faith in Syria, Lebanon and in the US. She was among the few remaining survivors left to interview by the Armenian Film Foundation in 2014. She passed away in 2015.
- Vahram Papazyan
Papazyan was the among the first two athletes to represent the Ottoman Empire in athletics in the Olympics. Papazyan and his teammate Mgrdich Migiryan (both Armenians) participated in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. He discusses his experience at the games and relationship with US Olympian Jim Thorpe. His testimony explains the political environment of the 1912 Olympics from an Armenian perspective. He later was involved in the formation of the Armenian General Athletic Union and Scouts (Homenetmen) in Constantinople in 1918 and published his memoirs with the title of “Ser, Ser, Ser” (Love, Love, Love) in 1962.
- The Greek Experience
Filmmaker and Armenian Film Foundation co-founder, J. Michael Hagopian travelled to Greece to conduct interviews with Greeks from Turkey. Many of the Greeks interviewed were among the great population exchange of 1922-23 between Greece and Turkey – approximately 1.5 million Greeks in Turkey were exchanged for 500 thousand Turks from Greece. Many of the interviewees were asked what they witnessed of the Armenian Genocide and especially their shared experience during the Great Fire in Smyrna (Izmir) in 1922.
- Great Fire of Smyrna (Izmir) – September, 1922
Elsie Taft recalls the Great Fire of Smyna (Izmir) in September 1922 and how she was saved by American sailors.
The Fire came after the last battle of Greco-Turkish War where Kemalist Turkish Armed forces defeated the Greek Army who had controlled parts of Western Anatolia since 1919. The city was put to flames following the Turkish victory of the city and its Greek and Armenian residents were subjected to brutal treatment. Many interviewees in the collection tell of their experiences during the Fire (i.e. Aghavnie Der Sarkissian, Elise Taft, Antigone Raphael, and others). Some survivors had survived the Armenian Genocide and were able to find safe haven in Izmir, only to be kicked out again.
- Resistance fighters
Lemyel Amirian touches on the power of courage. The Armenians of Van and the surrounding regions took extraordinary measures to defend themselves – and, like Mr. Amirian, fortunately, many survived to share their stories.
During the Armenian Genocide there were many examples of resistance toward Ottoman persecution. Examples of local resistance, like the infamous 40 days of Musa Dagh and Van or Armenian soldiers in the Russian Army are well represented in the collection. Serpouhi Elmassian recounts the attempted arrest and escape of her famous revolutionary brother Murad Khrimian (Sepastatsi Murad) and her subsequent forced march into the Syrian Desert. Lemyel Amirian very vividly describes scenes from a lesser known attempt at self-defense in the town of Shatakh (Çatak) south of Lake Van and their flight to North-Eastern Iran.
- Koko Mazloumian
The Mazloumian brothers opened the Baron Hotel in Aleppo, Syria back in 1909 and it served as one of the central gathering spots for government officials and international celebrities and continues to function today in the war zone of Aleppo. Koko Mazloumian, the son of one the brothers and a previous owner, recounts how the hotel was used by Ottoman Government officials during WWI and how the Mazloumian Brothers would aid Armenian refugees through their close ties to the state. The most notable Armenians they hid in the hotel were Armenian journalist Aram Andonian and Parliamentarian Krikor Zohrab.
- Testimony from Syria
J. Michael Hagopian travelled to Syria in the late spring of 1988 to conduct interviews of Armenian survivors and descendants from Aleppo and Qamishli. He was also able to find many Arabs who aided Armenians during the Genocide and a few Islamified Armenians. In light of the current Syrian Civil War, these interviews are a glimpse to the memory of the violent past told at the very places similar atrocities are occurring today.
- Alice Muggerditchian Shipley
Alice Shipley discusses the deportation of her family during the Armenian Genocide. This testimony clip is featured in the new IWitness activity, Information Quest – The Armenian Genocide.
Shipley’s father Thomas Muggerditchian who served as the British vice-consul in Diyarbakir – describes her family’s story attempting to stay alive in Kharpert (Harput) until finally deciding to escape through the mountains of Dersim and into Russian controlled Erzincan. She wrote a book of her memoirs in 1983 titled “We Walked, Then Ran”. At the time of their escape, her father was still in Diyarbakir and a report he wrote to the American government about the massacres in Diyarbakir were recently published in 2013 titled “The Diyarbekir Massacres and Kurdish Atrocities”.
Discover your own interesting facts and experiences by watching testimony from the Armenian Genocide collection available in the Visual History Archive Online.