Armenian Genocide

The Armenian Genocide testimony collections include several categories of individuals linked directly or indirectly to the calamity. The vast majority are Armenian Genocide survivors, while others are Armenian descendants (second and third generation), scholars, rescuers and aid providers, foreign witnesses, and Yezidi survivors, as well as Arab and Greek eyewitnesses. The interviews were recorded in 10 languages in 13 countries.

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About the Collection

The VHA currently contains 602 interviews relating to the Armenian Genocide. Over three hundred of them were recorded between 1975 and 2005 by filmmaker J. Michael Hagopian and the Armenian Film Foundation. They were recorded in 13 different countries and in ten different languages including: Arabic, English, Armenian and Turkish. Richard Hovannisian's oral history collection was added to the Visual History Archive in 2018.

Brief Historical Background

In 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War, joining the Central Powers. The Young Turks believed that entering the war would solve the problems of the Empire. However, serious losses in the war with Russia resulted in the Ottoman authorities blaming the Armenians for their ethnic kin in Russia fighting against them. By the winter of 1914-1915, measures to destroy the entire Armenian population, including men, women, and children were being prepared.

On April 24, 1915, the Committe for Union and Progress (CUP), the leading nationalist party of The Young Turks, arrested over 200 Armenian representatives in government, teachers, writers, religious leaders, and other intellectuals in Constantinople (Istanbul) and executed most of them. Ottoman Armenian men who had previously been conscripted into the Ottoman armies were disarmed and murdered. This date is often considered the day in which the intentions of the Armenian Genocide were realized and is commemorated annually by Armenians worldwide.

Beginning in 1915, coded telegraph messages, sent by leading CUP officials, ordered the deportation of the Armenian people from all over the empire to “relocation centers.” Most men and teenage boys were separated from these deportation caravans and killed soon after. The women and children were forced to walk for weeks on difficult terrain away from major roads without any food or shelter. During the deportations, many died or were killed, while others were kidnapped or raped. Their final destination was the Syrian Desert where Armenian deportees were massacred or eventually died due to starvation and fatigue. In certain areas, Armenians took up desperate armed resistance to protect themselves from massacre and deportation. While the owners were absent, Armenian homes, businesses, churches, along with private properties were looted, legally confiscated or destroyed by the local population and government.

Those who survived had different fates. Conversion to Islam was generally not an option, but there were many cases of Armenian women and children becoming Islamized through adoption or kidnapping by Turks, Kurds or Arabs. Some survivors took refuge in orphanages set up by American and European missionaries; those who survived the deportations ended up in refugee camps throughout the Middle East, others saved by their neighbors made it further West, or managed to take refuge among Armenians in Istanbul and Izmir, where, because of the presence of foreign diplomats, no mass killings had taken place. As a result, the Armenian community spread around the world.

Aftermath

At the end of World War I, the CUP functionaries and government officials were tried in military tribunals. Though the main perpetrators were found to be guilty and sentenced to death, their sentence was never carried out. At the time, the annihilation of the Armenians was known as a “crime against humanity.” In 1944, Raphael Lemkin, who had studied the 20th Century massacres of Armenians and witnessed the extermination of the European Jewish population, would coin the term “genocide” in order to define the attempt to destroy an entire people. The Armenian Genocide is denied by the Turkish government today, and is illegal to be spoken about as such in Turkey.

 

Richard Hovannisian on the Armenian Genocide Testimony Collection

Professor Richard Hovannisian explains the emotion expressed in the eyewitness testimonies to the Armenian Genocide is what sets the Armenian Genocide Testimony Collection at USC Shoah Foundation apart from other written and audio testimony collections.

  • Richard Hovannisian on the Armenian Genocide Testimony Collection

    Language: English

    Professor Richard Hovannisian explains the emotion expressed in the eyewitness testimonies to the Armenian Genocide is what sets the Armenian Genocide Testimony Collection at USC Shoah Foundation apart from other written and audio testimony collections.

  • Hrag Yedalian on the testimony of Lemyel Amirian

    Language: English

    Over the last several years, I’ve had the distinct privilege to work with the recorded materials collected by the late Dr. J Michael Hagopian. A survivor of the Armenian Genocide himself, Michael had the foresight to capture the voices of those who witnessed the atrocities first hand.  Later this month, the USC Shoah Foundation will make a group of 60 of these interviews available through the Visual History Archive, ensuring that these recollections will be preserved in perpetuity, for future generations.  Michael would have certainly been proud to witness this accomplishment. I always found him to be a man of conviction – a courageous individual who wanted to expose the world to the truth.

    Mr. 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. Now, these interviews will be made publically available online all across the globe, and I am hopeful that it will be a source of courage for all those who view them.  Sadly, a hundred years after the fact, denial and distortion is still commonplace. However, with a little bit of courage, I am certain that the Republic of Turkey can take steps towards coming to terms with the historical record and correcting the wrongs of the past.  It is only then that healing will occur.

    Hrag Yedalian, program administrator of Audiovisual Collections, oversees the USC Shoah Foundation’s Armenian Genocide collection. He has previously worked in state and local government and for various nonprofit groups. Hrag graduated with high honors from UC Berkeley with a BA in History and then went on to study film and video editing at the American Film Institute Conservatory (AFI).

  • Jerry Papazian on the testimony of Sam Kadorian

    Language: English

    Sam Kadorian was born in 1907 in Hussenig, a small village in the province of Kharpert, in the eastern plains of Anatolia. He survived the Genocide in 1915 at the age of 8 when the Turkish gendarmes grabbed all the young boys of the village ages 5 to 10 and threw them into a pile on the sandy beach of the shores of the Euphrates River and starting jabbing them with their swords and bayonets. Fortunately, they only nipped his cheek and his grandmother later found him and nursed him back to health. The families of the other boys were not as fortunate as they were forced to dig graves to bury their children and grandchildren, or ended up just pushing them into the Euphrates River, where their bodies floated away.

    I met Sam years ago and remember him fondly, as my maternal great grandparents came from Hussenig. My great grandfather Krekor Vaznaian had 10 brothers and sisters, some of whom left Hussenig for the dream of the New World, while others remained. In 1896, he married Kohar Movsesian of Hussenig and traveled alone to Boston where he hoped to make his fortune and return to his new bride. Instead, Kohar joined him in the United States and the two eventually settled in Los Angeles in the late 1920s, after short stays in St. Paul, Minnesota, Fresno and Sacramento.  Krekor never learned the details of the fate of the members of his family who stayed in Hussenig, though none were as fortunate as Sam Kadorian.

    Author: Jerry Papazian Chairman, Armenian Film Foundation
     

    For more information about Hussenig, I recommend the book Hussenig – The origin, history and destruction of an Armenian town, by Marderos Deranian

  • Jennifer Dixon on the testimony of Haig Baronian

    Language: English

    Haig Baronian’s testimony touches on two important and interrelated dimensions of the Armenian Genocide: the gendered nature of forms and patterns of violence, and the Islamization and incorporation of Armenian women and children into Muslim households and society.

    Patterns of violence and persecution in the Armenian Genocide differed according to gender and age. While Ottoman Armenian men were initially conscripted into the Ottoman army, they were disarmed and placed in labor battalions in March 1915. After some time, most of these men were massacred. When the deportations began, Armenian men who had not been conscripted, along with boys older than about age twelve, were typically killed before the remaining Armenian population of a town or village was deported. Consequently, most of the deportees were women and children. Along the deportation routes, many groups of deportees were massacred at specific points, while others died from violence, starvation, and disease. In addition, many girls and women were raped, and perhaps as many as 200,000 Armenian women and children were forcibly Islamized and incorporated into Muslim families. Finally, although several hundred thousand Armenians managed to survive the deportation marches, most of which ended in the Syrian Desert; many subsequently died from starvation, disease, exposure to the elements, and a second wave of organized massacres in 1916.

    After the war, international and Armenian efforts attempted to locate Islamized Armenians and orphans, reunite surviving family members, and reconstruct the Armenian nation. In spite of these efforts, the fates of many children who were left behind, given away, or abducted are unknown, and many Islamized Armenian women remained with their Muslim children and families. As a result, it is estimated that in Turkey today, there could be two to three million descendants of these Islamized Armenians. In the past decade, scholars have begun to explore these gendered aspects of the genocide, while the descendants of these Islamized Armenians in Turkey today has become a topic of discussion and research.

    Author: Jennifer M. Dixon, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Villanova University

    Academic website: https://sites.google.com/site/jennifermargaretdixon/

     

     

    Suggestions for further reading

     

    Taner Akçam, The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleaning in the Ottoman Empire (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2012).

    Ayşe Gül Altınay, “Gendered silences, gendered memories: New memory work on Islamized Armenians in Turkey,” Eurozine (February 2014)

    Ayşe Gül Altınay and Fethiye Çetin, The Grandchildren: The Hidden Legacy of “Lost” Armenians in Turkey, Maureen Freely, trans. (New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 2014).

    Matthias Bjørnlund, “‘A Fate Worse than Dying’: Sexual Violence during the Armenian Genocide,” in Dagmar Herzog, ed., Brutality and Desire: War and Sexuality in Europe’s Twentieth Century (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), pp. 16-58.

    Donald Bloxham, “The Armenian Genocide of 1915-1916: Cumulative Radicalization and the Development of a Destruction Policy,” Past & Present, no. 181 (November 2003), pp. 141-91.

    Fethiye Çetin, My Grandmother: A Memoir, Maureen Freely, trans. (London: Verso, 2008).

    Katharine Derderian, “Common Fate, Different Experience: Gender-Specific Aspects of the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1917,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies, vol. 19, no. 1 (Spring 2005), pp. 1-25.

    Lerna Ekmekcioglu, “A Climate for Abduction, a Climate for Redemption: The Politics of Inclusion during and after the Armenian Genocide,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 55, no. 3 (2013), pp. 522-53.

    Raymond Kévorkian, The Armenian Genocide: A Complete History (London: I.B. Tauris & Co., Ltd., 2011).

    Michael Mann, The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 111-79.

    Eliz Sanasarian, “Gender Discrimination in the Genocidal Process: A Preliminary Study of the Armenian Genocide,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies, vol. 4, no. 4 (1989), pp. 449-61.

    Ara Sarafian, “The Absorption of Armenian Women and Children into Muslim Households as a Structural Component of the Armenian Genocide,” in Omer Bartov and Phyllis Mack, eds., In God’s Name: Genocide and Religion in the Twentieth Century (New York: Berghahn Books, 2001), pp. 209-21.

    Vahram L. Shemmassian, “The Reclamation of Captive Armenian Genocide Survivors in Syria and Lebanon at the End of World War I,” Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies, vol. 15 (2006), pp. 113-40.

    Vahé Tachjian, “Gender, Nationalism, Exclusion: The Reintegration Process of Female Survivors of the Armenian Genocide,” Nations and Nationalisms, vol. 15, no. 1 (2009), pp. 60-80.

    Uğur Ümit Üngör, The Making of Modern Turkey: Nation and State in Eastern Anatolia, 1913-1950 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

    Uğur Ümit Üngör, “Orphans, Converts, and Prostitutes: Social Consequences of War and Persecution in the Ottoman Empire, 1914-1923,” War in History, vol. 19, no. 2 (2012), pp. 173-92.

    Keith David Watenpaugh, “The League of Nations’ Rescue of Armenian Genocide Survivors and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism, 1920-1927,” American Historical Review, vol. 115, no. 5 (December 2010), pp. 1315-39.

    Keith David Watenpaugh, “‘Are There Any Children For Sale?’: Genocide and the Transfer of Armenian Children (1915-1922),” Journal of Human Rights, vol. 12, no. 3 (2013), pp. 283-95.

     

  • Eric Bogosian on the testimony of Mihran Andonian

    Language: English

    Mihran Andonian is describing an experience that was common during the Armenian Genocide.  Some Armenian mothers, certain that they would not survive the death marches into the desert, let their children be taken by Muslims (Turks, Arabs, Kurds), hoping to guarantee survival. Other Armenian mothers on the caravans died while still with their children leaving these orphans to fend for themselves. Indeed, thousands of Armenian children were left homeless by the end of World War I and were either taken in by locals or rounded up by missionaries and brought to orphanages. In addition, thousands of children, boys and girls, were forcibly kidnapped from the deportation caravans and incorporated into Muslim society as slaves, adoptees, child brides or concubines.  When the war ended, missionaries and others made it their duty to locate and retrieve these children and return them to their extended families or to orphanages. Some of the children, particularly females, having born children of their own to their Muslim captors, refused to leave their new families. Thus it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the Republic of Turkey have grandmothers [or great-grandmothers] who were born Christian Armenian. 

    Mihran Andonian is an example of boy who was taken in as slave labor (by an Arab) only to be freed by an Armenian who understood the situation.

    Author: Eric Bogosian author of “Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot that Avenged the Armenian Genocide” https://www.facebook.com/OperationNemesis

  • Karen Jungblut on the testimony of Michael Hagopian

    Language: English

    In 1968, filmmaker J. Michael Hagopian received a phone call as he describes in this clip, 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 USC Shoah Foundation interviewing Michael in 2010.

    The testimony that Wegner gave, ignited Michael’s interest to find out more from survivors of the genocide; Wegner became 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.

    Author: Karen Jungblut, USC Shoah Foundation Director of Research and Documentation

    April 24, 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

     

  • Carla Garpedian on the testimony of Almas Boghosian

    Language: English

    Michael Hagopian conducted almost all of the interviews in the Armenian Genocide Testimony collection.  After he died in December 2010, the Armenian Film Foundation received a request to interview Almas Boghosian, in Whitinsville, Massachusetts. Her granddaughter Taline had interviewed her in 2000, but her family wanted Almas to be interviewed again for this collection. I called a cameraman I knew from my previous work with the BBC and we went to Almas’ house, and met Almas’ grandson Bruce Boghosian and his wife, Laura.  

    Almas was in good spirits, although she had a cough and her hearing aid battery was weak.  So I had to speak loudly during the interview.  Afterwards, Bruce and Laura told me the 2000 interview was more complete, although in comparing the two interview transcripts, the story is essentially the same.

    Almas was born in Hussenig, a village in the Kharpert region of Turkey in either 1906 or 1907. In 1915 Almas, her mother and two sisters, were marched towards the Syrian Desert.  When her mother was very weak, she gave Almas to a Turkish shopkeeper, who lived in Suar, not far from Der Zoir city. Almas says she lived a couple of years with this family.  

    Almas had a two-year old sister who died on her mother’s back, on the death march. Another sister, Maritza, begged to survive.  She visited Almas while she was living with the Turkish family. Maritza told Almas that their mother died within a day of giving Almas away to the Turkish family.   

    In the 2000 interview, Almas says, “Every day my sister was sitting there looking at our house, hungry, nothing to eat.  Once in a while I took her something to eat.  One morning, I got up.  I didn’t see her.  I asked a kid, ‘was there a girl there?’  They say that they put about 10 to 20 kids in a boat, and right in the middle of the river they turned the boat over.  And one was my sister, my older sister.”

    The government decreed that anyone who had an Armenian child had to give that child to the state.  Almas was taken to Aleppo (Halebo). Any child who wasn’t adopted would be taken out in a boat, Almas said, and thrown in the water and Almas saw this actually happen. “They tipped the thing and they all die there.”  

    She says that the older son of her adopted father came to the house one day and saw a five-year-old Armenian child begging near the house.  “He carried the kid in his hand and throw him in the water.”

    She describes the knives and daggers used by the Turks.  “Most of the time those daggers that that they have it, long daggers, knife …. when massacre go, they start killing with that dagger.  The women saying, ‘please kill me with bullet.’  Bullet.  ‘Bullet cost money, this is free.’”  That was the Turkish answer.

    I asked her about a comment she made in her 2000 interview, that while in Der Zor, “We were playing with heads, as balls.”  “Yeah, well, as I say, I could make bigger story of my life.  And the orphanage and the Turkish house and the massacre.”

    While Almas was at the orphanage, a woman recognized her because of a scar on her face, which many Hussenig children had.   It’s possible that this was a mark left behind by disease – we don’t know.  She contacted Almas’ aunt in America.  Money was sent -- and Almas came to America in 1922, on the ship Britannica, landing in Providence, Rhode Island.

    When the interview finished, Mark told me he didn’t know anything like this had happened.  He was very moved by Almas’ story.   He thanked me for being a part of recording it.  I was grateful, too – that Almas could share her story with us, and that I could hear it.  She died one year later, in July 9, 2012.

    Author: Dr. Carla Garapedian has led the project to digitize the Armenian genocide testimonies from

    The Armenian Film Foundation.  She is a filmmaker and former anchor for BBC World news. 

  • Stephen Smith on the testimony of Armin Wegner

    Language: English

    100 Days to Inspire Respect

    In every genocide, in spite of the horror of human killing and the danger that poses, there are remarkable people that come to the fore.  Armin T. Wegner was in the German Sanitary Corps and was posted to Eastern Turkey during WWI.  There he was witness to the genocide of the Armenian people. Seeing the devastating consequences of the deportations he documented the genocide in photographs, keeping meticulous notes at great personal risk.

    Wegner was arrested for his covert documentation, but was able to smuggle his photographs back to Germany. These photographs were later used in German Court as evidence that genocide had indeed taken place in Eastern Anatolia against the Armenian people.

    Wegner became a tireless advocate for human rights and was one of the first, and only, German citizens to be outspoken against the Nazi persecution of the Jews as early as April 1933, when he wrote an open letter to Adolf Hitler. He spent time in seven concentration camps for his outspoken opposition to the Nazis.  He was awarded Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1967.

    Armin T. Wegner continued his work advocating for the Armenian people until his death.  A friend of J Michael Hagopian, he encouraged Hagopian to use his art as a documentary film maker to ensure the witnesses of the Armenian Genocide were documented on film. The interview recorded in 1967 with Armin T. Wegner, was one of the first that Hagopian collected and documents one of the twentieth century’s greatest advocates for genocide prevention. Wegner demonstrated that it was possible to be an ordinary citizen and at the same time be an effective voice for the benefit of humanity.

    Armin T. Wegner has been my role model for much of my career.  It is an honor to be able to introduce this clip, which places his voice in the public domain for the very first time, Exactly 100 years after he began his life's work as a witness to genocide.

    Author: Stephen Smith, Andrew J. and Erna Finci Viterbi Executive Director at USC Shoah Foundation.

  • Richard Hovannisian on the testimony of Arshag Dickranian

    Language: English

    Prof. Richard Hovannisian describes the life of Armenian Genocide survivor Ashrag Dickranian. This is the fourth testimony in the Armenian Genocide Testimony clip series.

Armenian Film Foundation Collection
The Armenian Film Foundation’s film archive contains 333 interviews with more than 380 interviewees Armenian Genocide survivors, descendants, witnesses, scholars and other types of experiences. Interviews were conducted and recorded throughout the world 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. Most of the interviews were conducted by Hagopian, who recorded them on 16 mm film between 1972 and 2005 for a series of documentaries. About half a dozen interviews were also conducted by Carla Garapedian after 2011.
Richard G. Hovannisian Armenian Genocide Oral History Collection
The Richard G. Hovannisian Armenian Genocide Oral History Collection contains more than 1,000 interviews of Armenian Genocide survivors and descendants. They primarily consist of full-life histories which illuminate Ottoman-Armenian life, the Genocide and post-Genocide era, and the diaspora experience. Survivors are from all over the Ottoman Empire and also many interviewees from the former Russian and Persian empires. Testimonies are mostly in Armenian and English, with some in Turkish and Spanish.