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.”