Film Essays & Articles >> Genocide in Me & My Son Shall Be Armenian
The Genocide in Me, by Araz Artinian, and My Son Shall Be Armenian, by Hagop Goudsouzian: The Passing of the Torch to Very Able Armenian Filmmakers Who Tackle the Genocide Story Head On, Very Personally and Universally at the Same Time
By Bedros Afeyan
Immensely successful documentaries have been released, both from Montreal, Quebec, Canada where two Armenian film makers have chronicled very personal journeys into the Hell of the Past, stoked by the future, informed by the peaceful surroundings of the calm that is Canada itself. Two Armenian filmmakers who are the children of immigrants (as it happens Egyptian Armenian immigrants, like the rather more famous, Atom Egoyan, the maker of Ararat, before them) have taken the camera, faced their pasts and decided to chronicle their internal journeys of understanding and acceptance of the horrors of the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks, its continual denial, and its unrelenting influence on generation upon generation of the Armenian progeny of the survivors.
My Son Shall Be Armenian (by Hagop Goudsouzian) and The Genocide in Me (by Araz Artinian) are two heroic efforts narrated in English and in French. Yet there is also pure Armenian heard in the trembling throats of nonagenarians in Armenia and in America, giving personal testimonies, recounting their frightful memories, their nightmares lived before the age of ten, their destinies uncertain and uprooted from rational reality, their outlook remarkable for all that. These survivors together with the witnesses to their stories, together with the loving cameras of these two filmmakers, sing the sad songs of a people brought to the steps of extinction almost a hundred years ago, yet vital and vigorous, if only in pockets, but challenging the odds, nevertheless, to stand up once again, in the shadow of Mount Ararat, on both sides of its splendor, dancing folk dances without the specter of a bloody scimitar or a barbaric war monger to shoe them away from their lands.
Goudsouzian has a dream, to let his son feel Armenian and know all that this entails. His stated goal in making this movie even, is to pass on his father’s dreams and aspirations to his son, whom he has named Arudz, or Lion.
Artinian is scaling this mountain driven by a different mission. She is younger than Hagop and her father is a famous community activist in Montreal. Not only has he been the editor of the Horizon Armenian weekly newspaper, he is one of the founders of the Sourp Hagop (K-12) Armenian school. Her father is a political activist dedicated to the cause of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, an intellectual, a writer, a community spokesman, a man who works as an architect by day and runs from meeting to meeting at night in the club house next to Sourp Hagop church in Montreal pursuing a community’s needs tirelessly and selflessly. For a daughter growing up in a house with a missing dad more often than not, this has caused strains and tensions to develop. Neither Araz nor her mother approve of the extent to which Vrej Armen has given his life to the Armenian cause. The Genocide in Me, is an attempt by Araz to come to grips with her father’s obsession. To understand its origins and its validity, she spends four years interviewing survivors, visiting ancient Armenia, what is now known as Eastern Turkey, camera in hand, fresh out of film school, Araz mixes family photographs and 8 mm film with her own footage, interviewing her father, asking the tough questions and laying bare the reality of the burden this unfinished Genocide bears on the souls of Armenians today.
She is best at the panorama of details she is able to draw from every scene. For instance, she shows using an “in your face” element what it is like in Turkey today with false propaganda and convenient lies brewed with the sweet coffee and fake hospitality. The made up stories to justify the forced deportations and massacres are an outrage to hear. Yet they seem to satisfy the local tour guides. There is also Vrej Armen’s reality back in Egypt, growing up as a boy, with a mother whose intense wish it was to address the calamity that had befallen her people. Her parents were married in 1915 in Egypt as the Armenian genocide itself began in earnest in Turkey. Vrej Armen takes this torch and brings it to Montreal as a young boy and fifty years later must submit to the critical eye of a talented, father-starved, intense daughter’s scrutiny accompanied with the big absorbing eye of the camera which often reveals more than any subject would like to see exposed. Araz’s work is authentic, dead serious, humorous and lyrical all at the same time. Araz is a documentary filmmaker par excellence. She loves her art form and excels at exploiting its inexhaustible nuances. Yet she has the conviction to turn the camera inward and let her dirty little secrets come out. Whether it is dating odars (non Armenians) or Turks even, or her self-doubt about her true identity and role in society, she lets it all hang out. The audience can judge for itself what aspects to identify with and which to ignore or dismiss. The Genocide in Me is the genuine article. It is neither exaggerated nor sugar coated. It is raw and alive with the pulsing heart of a young woman who believes in her artistic cause and its universal appeal. Here, Araz is brutally honest and extremely effective. You will love this 54 minute movie so make it a point to see it as soon as you can. For more details visit the web site:
Hagop Goudsouzian’s work, My Son Shall Be Armenian, is equally glorious in ambition and execution. Here you have a half dozen Montreal Armenians, ready to go to Der Zor and revisit where their ancestors where buried, in the Syrian desert, but at the last minute are banned from going! Syria feels uncomfortable with respect to its northern neighbor. Allowing filming and digging up of past realities should best be left undone… Goudsouzian decides to take his crew of young Armenian Canadians searching for answers to Armenia instead, in the dead of winter, and interview nonagenarian survivors of the Genocide and visit the cemeteries and villages they can, to see what the reality is for Armenians in Armenia on the ground today. This is a grand journey meticulously filmed and edited to bring out the humor and crises that the stories themselves contain. The men and women from Montreal who are at various stages of assimilation, having various levels of grasp over their identities, learn, see, observe, share and experience, together with the audience and the guiding voice of Goudsouzian always leading the way, always prodding the narrative forward from scene to scene, bedroom to bedroom, where broken ancient voices are the highlights. The scarred, wrinkled, warped faces of Genocide survivors and their Spartan memories, coming alive, as they explain and reason, wonder and curse, pray and hope that an end will be found to this national saga. The French speaking Montrealers learn and absorb these stories, the scenes in Armenia, the villages and the destitution, yet the triumph of the human spirit to survive, to go on… The nobility of the project is as clear as the silent smiles the young generation of truth seekers and the older, beaten down, yet proud witnesses to one of the most atrocious chapters of human history share across the camera’s steady stare.
My Son Shall Be Armenian, is humorous whenever our visitors come into contact with natives and whenever services are to be rendered. They search for ancestral names on tombstones with an urgency that belies the fact that finding what they are looking for is beyond the realm of the possible. And yet they fight through the snowy paths, hopeful, cheerful, buoyant. This “diaspora Armenian meets the native” picture is very delicately woven into the story of personal testimonials of nonagenarians and the constant voiceover commentary of the filmmaker who is ever so vigilant to steer you towards the right conclusion and the right observation. On the other hand, the half dozen Canadians along for the exploratory trip in Armenia are very compelling characters. They bring a youth and freshness to the continually evolving story of the Armenian diaspora, less isolated from the homeland by politics these days, but still culturally divided with many material and spiritual challenges left to overcome. More information about this 81 minute documentary including ways to obtain a copy can be found at the web site:
Odars and Armenians alike will see much of what makes up the Armenian character in these two movies. By their authenticity and documentary mastery, Goudsouzian and Artinian make Armenianness a reality. Our past and our present are beautifully intermixed and contextualized. Both films make our struggle for the future a little less difficult by showing us pathways and long arches of what is becoming of our world, what is possible and what seems inevitable. May future generations learn from these precious cries of the heart and take on the challenges facing the homeland and the diasoporan communities to survive and thrive as Armenian cocoons, incorruptible and undying like the grace of a crane, the aroma of an apricot, in the shadow of a series of medieval cross stones exuding the sounds of wedding feasts past, poured into the stone by history’s forced marches, sworn to retell the tale again one day, when the stones themselves are returned to their rightful owners.
Araz’s and Hagop’s cameras show us these witness cross stones just long enough for us to begin to hear the messages hidden within the delicate lace carvings on their surfaces as if the grooves of ancient LP’s to be spun to life, to life, to communal and colossal rebirths with time, with faith, with humor, and through rightful justice where man’s inhumanity to man is replaced with remorse, repentance, reparations and eventual fraternal forgiveness.
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