In 1915 a million people were brought through what is now Turkey and walked to their deaths near Deir-al-Zour in modern Syria. One hundred years on, only a handful of survivors remain to tell the stories of the Armenian genocide, which they witnessed.
by Diana Markosian
A hundred years after the Armenian genocide, filmmaker Diana Markosian found two survivors who witnessed deportation, death, and denial of the events of 1915. Together they journeyed back to the past.
I was never interested in pursuing work on the Armenian genocide. When I started this project, it was still just a vague historical narrative. I knew that, in 1915, the Ottomans initiated a policy of deportation and mass murder to destroy their Armenian population. And that, by the First World War’s end, more than a million people were eliminated from what is now modern-day Turkey. But I had no idea of the personal toll the genocide exacted on my own family, or the sense of connection I would slowly come to feel through making this piece.
I am Armenian, but I was born in Moscow and raised in America. For most of my life, I struggled with my Armenian identity, partly because of the history one inherits. It is something I understood but never fully embraced. Then a year ago, I happened to be in Armenia when a foundation approached me, requesting help in finding the remaining genocide survivors. I pursued voter registrations online to see who was born before 1915, and then traveled cross-country to find them. That’s how I met Movses and Yepraksia — who lived past their hundredth year.
When I met them, they shared with me memories of their early homes. Movses was born in the village of Kebusie in Musa Dagh Mountain not far from the Syrian border. Yepraksia lived in a small village near Kars on the Armenian border. They hadn’t seen their home since escaping a century ago. I wanted in some way reunite each of the survivors with their homeland. I decided to travel back Turkey to re-trace their last memories.
When I told the survivors I would be visiting their native land, each one asked me to fulfill a wish. Movses, from Musa Dagh, drew a map of his village, and asked me to find his church and leave his portrait on the footsteps of what are now ruins. He hadn’t seen his home in 98 years. In his village, I found everything he had described to me: the sheep, the fruit he remembered eating, and the sea. I even found the ruins of what was once his church. Yepraksia, from a small village in Kars, asked me to help her find her older brother who she separated from after 1915.
Once I returned to Armenia, I created billboard-sized images of the survivors’ homelands as a way of bridging the past and present. All these years later, upon delivering the image, the survivors grabbed on, as if by holding the image close they would be taken back to a place they called home many years ago. This is a story of home — everything they had, everything they lost. And what they have found again.
Assistant Producer: Vahe Hakobyan
Sound Recordist: Harutyun Mangasaryan
Field Producer: Arevik Avanesyan
Colourist: Boyd Nagle
Video Editor: Andy Kemp
Filmed, Produced and Directed by Diana Markosian
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