Listen to 30 Voices from the Armenian Genocide
To view the entire Armenian Genocide Testimony Collection, log into the Visual History Archive Online to explore the full-length eyewitness testimonies.
The testimony clip series "30 Voices from the Armenian Genocide", was produced to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and the first integration of full-length Armenian Genocide testimonies into the Visual History Archive. To help put the testimony clips into perspective, each one is introduced by experts in the field of the Armenian Genocide. The presenters also recommend additional resources for those who would like to learn more. The 30 testimony clips are just a sample of some of the stories from the full-length testimonies viewable in the Visual History Archive.
Day 1 of 30 Days of Testimony: 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.
Day 1 of 30 Days of Testimony: 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 testimony of Jirair Suchiasian.
Professor Richard Hovannisian provides commentary for the testimony clip of Jirair Suchiasian.
Day 3 of 30 Days of Testimony: Richard Hovannisian on the testimony of Alice Shipley
Prof. Richard Hovannisian on the life and testimony of Alice Muggerditchian Shipley. This is the third testimony in the Armenian Genocide Testimony series.
Day 4 of 30 Days of Testimony: Richard Hovannisian on the testimony of Arshag Dickranian
Prof. Richard Hovannisian describes the life of Armenian Genocide survivor Ashrag Dickranian. This is the fourth testimony in the Armenian Genocide Testimony clip series.
Day 5 of 30 Days of Testimony: Richard Hovannisian on the testimony of Elise Hagopian Taft
Prof. Richard Hovannisian describes the life of Armenian Genocide survivor Elsie Hagopian Taft. This is the fifth testimony in the Armenian Genocide Testimony clip series.
Day 6 of 30 Days of Testimony: Hrag Yedalian on the testimony of Lemyel Amirian
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).
Day 7 of 30 Days of Testimony: Robert Melson on the testimony of Richard Ashton
After the disastrous Balkan wars of 1912-13, the Turks lost most of their European possessions. To dilute the Armenian presence and create a homogenous Turkish and Muslim population that would unequivocally support the Turkish state, the Young Turks decided on a policy of resettling Muslim refugees from the Balkan wars in Armenian areas and deporting the indigenous population. These early measures led to the impoverishment and death of thousands; then came the First World War with Turkey taking the side of Germany against Russia and its allies. It is in this context that the massacres in the province of Van, which were an early phase in the Armenian Genocide of 1915 can be understood.
The war on the Russian front started badly for the Turks. Led by Enver Pasha, the Minister of War, and one of the three major leaders of the Young Turks, they suffered a major defeat at Sarikamish in the winter of 1915. The Turks blamed their defeat on Armenian irregulars who were active on the Russian front. For their part, the Russians pushed on into Anatolia, making their way to the province of Van. The province and the town of Van—both were majority Armenian--were strategically important because they were gateways to Russia, Persia, and the rest of Anatolia.
In Van, Cevdet Bey, brother-in-law of Enver Pasha, had been governor since February 1915. He was known for being ruthless with Armenians and other Christians since the start of the war. Fearing the Russian advance and an Armenian rising, he initiated a search for weapons and demanded that Armenian leaders produce 4000 recruits for the Army. The Armenians demurred, fearing for the lives of the men. In the winter and early spring of 1915 Cevdet took increasingly violent measures against Armenians throughout the province. Then on April 19, 1915, following an incident, the Turks attacked the Armenian quarter of the city.
Fearing the worst, and encouraged by the advance of Russian forces, the Armenians had prepared to resist. Although outnumbered and outgunned, they fought with courage born out of desperation. They were able to hold off the Turkish seizure of their quarter until Russian and Russian Armenian forces liberated the district on May 21, 1915. But this was a false dawn because by July 30 Russian forces were forced to retreat and Van was once again occupied by the Turks. Many of the Armenian inhabitants of Van fled to Transcaucasia, the rest were deported and massacred as the area was re-occupied by Ottoman forces.
Author: Robert Melson, Professor Emeritus Political Science Purdue University
Suggestions for Futher Reading:
Day 8 of 30 Days of Testimony: Barlow Der Mergderchian on the testimony of Arra Avakian
The noted Armenian hero General Antranig Ozanian, was born on February 25, 1865, and died on August 31, 1927. He spent the final years of his life living quietly with his wife in Fresno, California.
General Antranig was the most well-known of Armenian freedom fighters in the twentieth century, and his exploits are remembered by Armenians throughout the world. General Antranig is buried today at the Yerablur cemetery in Yerevan, Armenia.
Arra Avakian was a long-time resident of Fresno and one of the founders of the Armenian Assembly. He has written numerous articles on Armenian history and culture.
Additional Resources: General Andranik and the Armenian Revolutionary Movement
Day 9 of 30 Days of Testimony: Michelle Tusan on the testimony of Urlich Temper
Historians continue to debate the extent of German responsibility for the Armenian Genocide in 1915. The Ottoman Empire was an ally of Germany during WWI (1914- 1918). During the war, Germany was blamed for the Armenian Genocide. Historian Arnold Toynbee in his widely read pamphlet Armenian Atrocities published in 1915 “indicted” Germany for what he called a “shameful and terrible page of modern history” in Armenia.
This interview considers German culpability for the Armenian Genocide by claiming that states always act in their own interests and not out of any moral obligation to defend human rights. Therefore, Germany did not do anything to stop the Genocide because it went against the more important goal of winning the war. Historian Donald Bloxham has argued that although Germany did play a significant role in the massacres that “the German role should still be seen in a comparative, interactive context with those of the other Great Powers.” Rather than focus on Germany, Bloxham suggests, scholars should understand German culpability alongside the ultimate failure of American and European Powers to stop the Genocide.
Author: Michelle Tusan is Professor of History at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and author of Smyrna’s Ashes: Humanitarianism, Genocide and the Birth of the Middle East
Day 10 of 30 Days of Testimony: Jerry Papazian on the testimony of Sam Kadorian
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
Day 11 of 30 Days of Testimony: Rubina Peroomian on the testimony of Alice Shipley
Alice Muggerditchian Shipley was 11 years old when in autumn of 1914 Turkey entered the war alongside Germany against the Allied Powers, and the atrocities against Armenians began. The Ottoman government took advantage of the war years to realize its premeditated and systematically implemented annihilation of the Armenian population. In this short clip, Alice describes the horrors of the first few months before her family was forced to take the route of deportation out of Harpout (Kharbert).
The clubfooted paperboy was shouting victories of the Turkish army, and it only meant that Turkish soldiers, following Armenian conscripts out of the city, forced them to dig trenches and then killed the boys and threw them there. This was the beginning of the grand scheme: the Armenian soldiers were being disarmed, put to hard labor, tortured, and murdered. The paperboy came shouting again, Alice remembers in her memoir. Thousands of weapons have been confiscated, he shouted, and the Armenian plot of uprising against the government have been aborted. This next stage of the plan, perfidiously accomplished, aimed at disarming the populace with the most brutal means to paralyze any attempt of self-defense. Then the Armenian notables of Harpout, as Alice describes, were arrested and murdered. This stage of the annihilation of Armenian leadership and intelligentsia had begun in Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) to spread all over the Empire.
With the Armenian leadership gone and the able bodied men liquidated, the caravans of deportees consisted mainly of women, children, and old men. Alice witnessed the brutality by which the gendarmes were treating the deportees who left their houses to the Turkish mob to loot or move in. Armenian deportees walked for weeks in the most deplorable conditions. Very few reached the Syrian Desert, the camps of final solution. The rest had perished on the road. The Turkish plan of extermination was successfully implemented.
Alice’s family survived what is defined today the Armenian Genocide. Not very many did.
Further reading: Alice Muggerditchian Shipley, We Walked then Ran (1983).
Author: Rubina Peroomian holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures from UCLA. She has been a lecturer of Armenian language and literature as well as Armenian history and the Armenian Question at UCLA, University of La Verne, and Glendale College. Currently, she is an Associate Researcher at the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA.
Day 12 of 30 Days of Testimony: Vartkes Yeghiayan on Henry Morgenthau III
Born into an affluent German Jewish family, Henry Morgenthau, Sr. was raised in New York, where he attended school and received his training as an attorney at Columbia. An early supporter of Woodrow Wilson, Morgenthau was tapped by the then newly-elected president to become the United States Ambassador for the Ottoman Empire. Though he did not have any formal training as a diplomat and even initially rejected the position, Morgenthau came around to the idea after speaking with Rabbi Stephen Wise, who encouraged him to accept the post in the belief that he could help see to the welfare of the empire’s Jewish community. His early reservations notwithstanding, Morgenthau, once settled, showed a keen interest in Ottoman affairs and devoted considerable attention to the plight of the Christian Armenian population, whose status as an oppressed minority in the empire resonated with and reminded him much of the conditions Jews faced in Eastern Europe.
It was perhaps through no small coincidence, then, that Ambassador Morgenthau emerged during the height of World War I to become the Armenians’ most prominent and passionate defender. As reports containing accounts of atrocities, forced marches, and mass looting of Armenians began to accumulate at the embassy during the spring of 1915, Morgenthau moved to intercede on the Armenians’ behalf. He remonstrated and held numerous meetings with the Turkish officials responsible for the genocide, including its foremost architect, Interior Minister Talât Pasha. Faced with stonewall denial and indifference, Morgenthau was led to the inescapable conclusion that what was unfolding was nothing short of “a campaign of race extermination.” Undaunted and despite a lack of support from his government, he attempted to save as many Armenian lives as was possible at the time, promoted awareness of the events in the press back home and helped to raise tens of millions of dollars in relief for Armenian victims. “Our people will never forget these massacres,” he vowed to Talât. Despite his resignation from his post in 1916, the indefatigable Morgenthau continued in his relief efforts and activism, giving a powerful voice to those who had none.
Authors: Vartkes Yeghiayan, Esq. and Armen Manuk-Khaloyan, Yeghiayan Associates office historian.
Day 13 of 30 Days of Testimony: Henry Theriault on the testimony Vahram Moorkian
Vahram Morookian describes an experience that in some ways was typical and in at least one way unusual for the Armenian Genocide. He was from Everek, a town in central Turkey near the well-known center of Kayseri. The Armenian population of his town was deported, which was the common form the genocide took in the months and years after the early 1915 extermination of the 250,000 Armenian men in the Ottoman army and the national Armenian political, cultural, and religious leadership beginning April 24, 1915. With most potential defenders and organizers removed, the deportations meant to destroy the remainder of the victim population proceeded, village by village, town by town across Turkey during the summer of 1915. Armenians were force-marched under dire conditions, for weeks and months, toward Der-Zor in the Syrian Desert, where most of those surviving the caravans were killed outright or died of starvation, thirst, or disease.
As in many cases, Armenians were given very little notice before they were deported, and had their possessions taken. An interesting difference is that Mr. Morookian’s father was also deported, because typically men and “military age” boys, that is, boys from about 12 up, were separated from the other Armenians prior to the march and killed, often out of sight so that their families would believe that they were being taken to be reunited with them and thus be more likely to accept being deported. That his father survived three months appears quite exceptional. Mr. Morookian’s other experiences also resonate with countless accounts by eyewitnesses and other survivors. Horrible physical and mental conditions were imposed through the deportation marches – lack of adequate food, water, clothing, and shelter, as well as great anxiety and trauma at witnessing murders and other deaths, rapes, and so on. Sexual violence against and kidnapping of girls and women was pervasive, and Mr. Morookian’s sister was one of tens of thousands of girls and women who suffered this fate. His narrative suggests he never saw her again, so we cannot be sure about what happened to her, but one of the following outcomes is likely: She was abused and killed in the months after being abducted, she was held by her captors or sold by them as a slave for domestic service or sexual exploitation, or she was forcibly Islamicized into the family of her captors or compelled to become a wife in the family.
Of special note is Mr. Morookian’s satisfaction that he has managed to build a good life for himself, with a family, despite the fact that the genocide perpetrators tried to prevent any Armenian victims ever again from having such a life. Not so much revenge, this is a kind of celebration of survival.
Author: Henry Theriault is Professor in and Chair of the Philosophy Department of Worcester State University, in Massachusetts. His research and teaching specialty is genocide and human rights, especially reparative justice for genocide, victim-perpetrator relations, genocide denial, and mass violence against women and girls.
Day 14 of 30 Days of Testimony: Anthony Silde on Aurora Mardiganian
Aurora Mardiganian speaks here as a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. But from 1918-1920, she was also the face of the Genocide to literally millions of Americans and to others throughout the world. Her tragic, horrific story was told through a 1918 semi-autobiographical book, Ravished Armenia, and a 1919 screen adaptation, also known as Auction of Souls. With the immediacy of a newsreel, the human side to the Genocide was brought to the screen. Working with Near East Relief and with the support of the wealthiest and the most prominent members of New York society, Aurora and her film helped raise some $117 million (the equivalent of $2 billion today) for the relief of Armenian suffering.
Andy Warhol promises us all fifteen minutes of fame. For Aurora such altruistic glory lasted somewhat longer — some two years. And then she was forgotten. She died alone, a lost Armenian soul, her mortal reminds unclaimed by either relative or friend (of which she should have had millions in the Armenian community), and she is buried in Los Angeles in an unmarked grave.
Her memory lives on today thanks to various projects that do not benefit Aurora herself. To a large extent, she represents the hundreds of thousands of dead and lost Armenian victims of the Genocide. She also is a victim. She sacrificed herself for a charitable cause and for the profit of others. She survives as a reminder of just how easy it is to be forgotten and tossed aside as the world moves on and forgets the horrors and tragedies of the past.
As a non-Armenian, I am proud that I was able to meet and talk to Aurora about her film, and that I have been able to discuss her work, to reprint the original book, and, for the first time, publish the entire film script in Ravished Armenia and the Story of Aurora Mardiganian (University Press of Mississippi, 2014).
Author and film historian Anthony Slide, who has been described by Lillian Gish as “our pre-eminent historian of the silent film.”
Day 15 of 30 Days of Testimony: Taner Akcam on the testimony Nium Sukkar
When Michael Hagopian made his first classic acclaimed documentary on the Armenian Genocide in 1975, nominated for two Emmys, he titled the film “The Forgotten Genocide.” Since then decades have passed and hundreds of publications in a variety of languages have been written on the subject. The Armenian Genocide has now taken its rightfully important place within the field of genocide studies. It is not a “forgotten genocide” anymore, despite the existence of a denialist State - Turkey, which has developed denialism into an Industry. Even though the Armenian Genocide is now studied by scholars, researchers and students around the world there are still challenges and problems that must be confronted head on including the lack of recognition within the international community. The Armenian Genocide Testimony Collection at USC Shoah Foundation is an important milestone in the long journey and will help to close the circle that Michael Hapogian started in 1975. The hundreds of video testimonies including Nium Sukkar’s, an Arab eyewitness to the atrocities at Deir ez-Zor, will continue to inform the world on what happened 100 years ago.
In addition to the eyewitness testimonies they are many informative web-sites, valuable books and other documentation on this subject, which all play a vital role in curtailing denial. Any reference to the topic should start with publications by Vahakn Dadrian, who deserved to be called the founder of our research field, and Richard Hovannisian, a leading expert on the Armenian Genocide. Their contributions must be respected especially. For more information on the history of the Armenian Genocide, I suggest starting with Raymond Kevorkian’s The Armenian Genocide: A Complete History and my two books A Shameful Act and The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity.
Author: Taner Akçam, Kaloosdian/Mugar Professor, Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University
Day 16 of 30 Days of Testimony: Jennifer Dixon on the testimony of Haig Baronian
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Day 17 of 30 Days of Testimony: Barbara Merguerian on the testimony of Dirouhi Haigas
Dirouhi Haigas was a young Turkish-Armenian girl of 7 when she and her family were abruptly uprooted from their home and deported on foot to the southern desert. A native of Konya, Turkey, she had lived an idyllic life up to that time with her parents, grandparents, aunt, and uncles. Her father was in the family business as a leather merchant, and her uncles were amateur musicians who loved nothing more than to get together with friends and relatives to enjoy folk music and dancing. This life came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of World War I. In the middle of a Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1915, church bells rang out unexpectedly, calling Armenians to the church square, where they were told that they were to be deported within the next two weeks and allowed to take with them only what they could carry. Soon after, the family was forced to leave their ancestral home, never to return.
Dirouhi’s experience was similar to that of most of the 1.5 Armenian victims of the Armenian Genocide. The difference is that Konya is located in the center of Anatolia, far from the war zone to the east where most of the Turkish Armenians lived and where the Turkish Government claimed the exigencies of war as an excuse for their actions. There was no fighting in the Konya area, the Armenians posed no threat, and the deportations were clearly part of the Turkish Government’s brutal policy to eliminate its Armenian population.
Author: Barbara Merguerian, PhD, Director of the Armenian Women’s Archives of the Armenian International Women’s Association. www.aiwainternational.org
Day 18 of 30 Days of Testimony: Edna Friedberg on the testimony of Haigas Bonapart
The murder of extended families, the targeting of community leaders, the critical role of eyewitnesses--each of these factors surfaces in Haigas Bonapart’s interview. These tactics are all too familiar to those of us who study the crime of genocide and the strategies employed by its perpetrators. By destroying communal ties and eliminating those individuals who might rally a group in self-defense, civilians under systematic assault are made much more vulnerable to isolation and mass violence.
Mr. Bonapart also underscores the power of a single voice when he describes a pharmacist from his community. This man managed to survive a massacre and bring both witness and warning to other Armenians who had been told that their fate would be deportation, not death. Survival is in itself a form of resistance. It is through the memories of survivors and their willingness to share stories of their trauma that the historical record is given detail, credibility, and humanity.
The origins of the term “genocide” rest, in part, in the events of 1915-16 in Anatolia. Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin highlighted early exposure to the history of Ottoman attacks against Armenians, anti-Semitic pogroms, and other cases of targeted violence as key to his beliefs about the need for the protection of groups under international law. Inspired by the murder of his own family during the Holocaust, Lemkin tirelessly championed this legal concept until it was codified in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948.
Author: Edna Friedberg, Ph.D., Historian, Levine Institute for Holocaust Education United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Day 19 of 30 Days of Testimony: Richard Hovannisian on the testimony of Levon Giridlian
Levon Giridlian was born in Ottoman Empire, in Kayseri (Armenian: Kesaria) in the region of Cappadocia. Kayseri had once been a major Christian center, as attested by the numerous chapels hewn into the mountainous terrain. Although not a part of the historic Armenian highlands to the east, the county of Kayseri at the end of the nineteenth century had about 70,000 Armenian inhabitants, active in agriculture, the crafts and trades, and, among them, a significant number of regional and international merchants.
As Armenians sought greater civil rights and security in the rapidly declining Ottoman Empire, they came to be regarded as a threat by the ruling sultan and dominant Muslim society, which regarded Christians and Jews as second-class citizens. Tensions grew in the 1890s, leading to widespread massacres of Armenians, beginning in the port city of Trabzon in October 1895 and then spreading to numerous Armenian towns and villages for the next several months, claiming the lives of more than 100,000 Armenians and causing enormous economic losses through plunder and intentional destruction.
Levon Giridlian recounts the massacre in Kesaria in November 1895 and cites it as the cause for leaving his home and family and immigrating to the United States. He confirms what many other survivors have written or stated; that is, that the massacres began after Friday prayers and sermons in the mosques, whereupon the mob burst into the Armenian quarters, killing and looting. The violence lasted from a few hours to several days and is regarded as one of the ominous precursors to the Armenian Genocide twenty years later, in 1915.
Author: Richard Hovannisian is one of the leading experts on the Armenian Genocide who founded the Armenian Studies program at UCLA and is now an adjunct professor at USC, advising USC Shoah Foundation on its Armenian Genocide testimony collection.
Day 20 of 30 Days of Testimony: Ara Sanjian on the testimony of Wolfdieter Bihl
Wolf Dieter Bihl is a famous Austrian historian, with a number of published works on Austria-Hungary and the First World War. In this clip, he is touching upon two important issues pertaining to the history of the Armenian Genocide. The first is his assertion that representatives of the allies of the Ottoman Empire during the war, i.e. that other Central Powers, and Germany and Austria-Hungary in particular, reported extensively in their internal, confidential correspondence that what the Young Turk government was up to was actually a determined attempt to exterminate the Armenian race. Secondly, he adds that Germany and Austria-Hungary exercised very limited pressure on their Ottoman allies so as to force the latter to abandon their murderous policies. The reason, says Bihl, were the military, economic and strategic connections Germany and Austria-Hungary had with the Ottomans. Realizing that the extermination of Armenians was a high priority for the wartime Ottoman government, both Germany and Austria-Hungary were not prepared to anger the Ottomans to the extent that the latter might abandon their wartime alliance. The Germans and Austro-Hungarians also reasoned that the Ottoman ministers, Enver and Talât, two of the chief architects of the Armenian Genocide, were at the same time the only ‘true friends’ of Germany and Austria-Hungary in the upper echelons of the Ottoman political hierarchy. Therefore, the German and Austro-Hungarian intervention with the Ottoman authorities was confined to raising the issue mildly during internal discussions and to assisting in some of the relief efforts of that period.
Author: Ara Sanjian is Associate Professor of Armenian and Modern Middle Eastern History and the Director of the Armenian Research Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
For a select bibliography (up to the year 2011) on the German involvement in the Armenian Genocide, see: <http://www.zoryaninstitute.org/bibliographies/Select%20Bibliography%20on%20German%20Involvement.pdf>. See also Wolfgang Gust, The Armenian Genocide: Evidences from the German Foreign Office Archives (2014). The Armenia-related Austrian documentation of the period 1872-1936 was published in twelve volumes in 1995 by Artem Ohandjanian. He also the author of 1915: Irrefutable Evidence: The Austrian Documents on the Armenian Genocide (2004).
Day 21 of 30 Days of Testimony: Marc Mamigonian on the testimony of Harotune Aivazian
This brief clip reveals a number of significant points about the early stage of the Armenian Genocide (spring-summer 1915) in many areas. The first is that although one reads in memoirs and accounts of Armenians who were expecting “something bad to happen,” many, if not most, Armenian villagers believed that they were going to be relocated in a peaceful manner. Consequently, they tended to submit and to believe what they were told—that they were being temporarily moved and that their goods and properties would be safeguarded until their return. The fact that almost all of the able-bodied men had been drafted into military service or otherwise separated from their families facilitated this process as women, children, and the elderly were left vulnerable.
The second point is that among the local Turks who were part of the process there was widespread awareness that what was presented as “merely” deportation was in fact genocidal. This is reflected in the Turkish muleteer’s remark to Haroutune Ayvazian’s mother that she and her children would be going to a “certain death.” What motivated this man to defy orders, to risk his own safety, and tell an Armenian woman what was likely to befall her and her family? A sense of honor, or altruism, or shame? One can never know, but it was thanks to such actions that many Armenians were able to escape the “certain death” that more than a million would meet during the Armenian Genocide.
Author: Marc A. Mamigonian is the Director of Academic Affairs of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR).
Day 22 of 30 Days of Testimony: Eric Bogosian on the testimony of Mihran Andonian
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
Day 23 of 30 Days of Testimony: Wolf Gruner on the testimony of Israel Charny
“Get angry about it”, the conclusion of this clip, presents one of Israel Charny’s most important messages. In his book, How can we commit the unthinkable?, Charny, born in 1931 in Brooklyn, New York, psychologist and one of the early genocide scholars, had warned that most events of genocide are marked by massive indifference and inactivity of the people.[i] But he does not call for a state intervention to stop mass murder, rather for every individual to intervene with much earlier forms of persecution and discrimination against certain groups, as those might lead to genocide as the ultimate antidemocratic, human rights crime, as Charny calls it. For the scholar, the political, economic and social process of genocide starts with what he calls the “cultural genocide.” This idea can be traced back to first and broad definition of genocide provided by Raphael Lemkin in 1944. While the UN Genocide Convention adopted in 1948 did not include such terms, both, Lemkin and Charny equally saw the destruction of the historical tradition, religious expression and/or cultural cohesion of a group as an important step on the path to mass murder. Charny as a scholar, who most of his life taught in Israel, has openly made a stand against the denial of the Holocaust, but equally against the Armenian genocide. He cofounded the International Association of Genocide Scholars in 1994 and authored and coedited influential books on the topic of genocide.
Author: Wolf Gruner, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Shapell-Guerin Chair in Jewish Studies and Professor of History and Director, USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research.
[i] Israel Charny, How can we commit the unthinkable?: Genocide, the human cancer, Westview Press 1982, p. 284.
Adam Strom on the testimony of Harotune Aivazian
In the spring of 1915, the Young Turk regime of the Ottoman began a genocide against its Armenian population under the cover of World War I. This minute-long excerpt features survivor Haroutune Aivazian. He describes the horror his mother faced when a town crier in Marash, a city in Cilcia in South West Anatolia, called for the Armenians of the community to gather in a square just outside of the town for deportation. As his mother prepared for the journey, a local Turkish man warned the family that deportation meant death. He advised them to tell any soldiers that came looking for them that they should explain that they could not leave because Aivazian’s father was serving in the Turkish military. Aivazian credits his survival to that intervention.
After heading the townsman’s advice, Aivazian sought the protection of German missionaries who sheltered him in their orphanage.
Author: Adam Strom, Chief Officer for Content Development, Facing History and Ourselves
Facing History and Ourselves has created a resource book on the Armenian Genocide called Crimes Against Humanity and Civilization: The Genocide of the Armenians it is available for a purchase or a free download.
Additional classroom resources including video, readings for the classroom, and lesson plans can be found at www.facinghistory.org/armeniangenocide
There is also a mini documentary of the Armenian Genocide with Armenian Genocide scholar Richard Hovannisian that provides an overview of this important history.
Day 25 of 30 Days of Testimony: Karen Jungblut on the testimony of Michael Hagopian
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.
Day 26 of 30 Days of Testimony: Lorna Miller on the testimony of Harry Krikor 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.
Father Guerguerian survived the deportation, or death marches, became orphaned and was cared for in an orphanage in Damascus, Syria. His experience of the genocide compelled him to devote his life to gathering documentary evidence of the Genocide from multiple countries in their original Ottoman Turkish language. In order to do this, he taught himself Turkish and translated original documents with their official government seal.
With this first hand evidence, he is later faced personally with the theological question of forgiveness when the person who killed his family members acknowledges his guilt. As a clergyman he has to weigh his personal feelings with his belief in a God who forgives.
My father who was a Protestant minister also wrestled throughout his life with the issue of whether to forgive those who killed seven of his nine family members. He frequently would say, “As a Christian I must forgive but as a human being it is difficult.”
Father Guerguerian brilliantly gives the priestly response to his perpetrator. Rather than saying, “I forgive you,” he says to this man, “God bless you, God forgive you,” go to Mecca and ask God to forgive you, thereby placing the initiative on the person who killed his family.
Author: Lorna Touryan Miller is the child of two survivors of the Armenian Genocide. She has spent many years interviewing Armenian and later Rwandan Genocide survivors. She is co-author with her husband, Professor Donald E. Miller of two books on Armenian-related topics: Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide (University of California Press, 1993) and Armenia: Portraits of Survival and Hope (University of California Press, 2003). She and Don are currently writing a book on the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda.
Day 27 of 30 Days of Testimony: Donald Miller on the testimony of Harry Kurkjian
In this short clip Harry Kurkjian recalls Armenians who were about to be killed crying out in despair, “Where are you God?” “Why are you punishing us?” As the first nation to convert to Christianity in 301 AD, the events of 1915 raised a fundamental theological problem for Armenians. If God is good and all-powerful, why was he not intervening on their behalf? The problem of theodicy, as theologians refer to it, is an issue that surfaces in nearly every genocide, driving some people to completely abandon faith in God. Indeed, the “God is Dead” movement arose after the Holocaust as Jewish theologians struggled with this problem of God’s goodness and the deaths of six million Jews.
Genocide raises profound philosophical questions of meaning and these are echoed in Harry Kurkjian’s memory that Armenians were also asking if God was punishing them for some reason. How else could a Christian reconcile the slaughter of Armenians with belief in God? Nevertheless, in the face of seeming theological contradictions, Kurkjian says that he witnessed a priest offering potential victims the Eucharist (communion) before they were to be killed. While Kurkjian does not explore this issue in his interview, subsequent generations of Armenians have referred to victims of the genocide as “martyrs” since in some instances they had the option of not being deported if they were willing to convert to Islam. Currently, the identity of Armenians continues to be enmeshed with the Church and, especially, the Apostolic or Orthodox wing of Christianity.
Author: Donald E. Miller is Professor of Religion at USC and Director of USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture. He is the author with his wife, Lorna Touryan Miller, of two books on Armenian-related topics: Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide (University of California Press, 1993) and Armenia: Portraits of Survival and Hope (University of California Press, 2003). Donald and Lorna are currently writing a book on the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda.
Day 28 of 30 Days of Testimony: Chris Bohjalian on the testimony of Elsie Taft
In some ways, the one minute we spend with Elsie Hagopian Taft – 56 seconds, to be precise – is a wrenching primer on the Armenian Genocide. It is a poignant and powerful evocation of an innermost ring of Dante’s inferno, and a courageous explanation of why the Armenian Genocide matters today.
There is the chilling foreshadow of the Holocaust: “The worst place I can remember. The people were separated into two groups,” Elsie recalls. The Armenian Auschwitz, Der-el-Zor, is the final destination for those who can’t work. There is the dehumanization and the cavalier disregard for human life. There are the burning bodies.
As we know, there is a direct link between the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, the Cambodian killing fields, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur. (As I once heard a scholar observe, impunity begets impunity.)
Elise’s story matters because Turkey does not acknowledge the Genocide.
Her story matters because – to quote Pope Francis in his April 2015 Mass in which he courageously called the slaughter “genocide” – “concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding.” It is a psychic trauma, and the cure begins with recognition.
And her story matters because the world is a better place when we stand up against violence and villainy; when we put righteousness before realpolitik; and when we honor our ancestors whose voices were forever stilled. As Elie Wiesel said, “To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
Author: Chris Bohjalian, New York Times Bestselling Author of "The Sandcastle Girls” http://www.chrisbohjalian.com/
Day 29 of 30 Days of Testimony: Carla Garpedian on the testimony of Almas Boghosian
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
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.