Woman filmmaker reveals secret slavery of Armenian women
Armenian filmmaker Suzanne Khardalian has done much to reveal the horrors of the White genocide under the Ottoman government’s systematic decimination of Armenian citizens that began before World War I and lasted until the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1923.
Originally stretching across a large region that now includes 38 separate countries from Sudan to Israel, Jordan to Russia, the Ottoman Empire saw the rise of extremism in the political party called the Committee of Unity and Progress (CUP) lead by what was known as the ‘Young Turks’ in 1913. Party members sided against Russia with Germany during World War I. During this time a systematic program to ‘rid’ the region of Christian Armenians as well as ethnic Muslim Armenians ensued. Part of the crimes against humanity aimed to destroy Armenians who sided with Russia during World War I.
It is estimated by Armenians around the world today that over one and a half million people perished during the years in the Ottoman Empire that spanned 1915 to 1923. This figure is still not recognized though by the Republic of Turkey who continues to be at bureaucratic odds with any global stories linking the mention of genocide to Turkey. They also state a ‘more accurate’ death toll is closer to 300,000. In 1913 those known as the ‘Young Turks’ took over the region now known as Turkey via a government coup-de-tat, From 1919-1920 they were charged with crimes that linked them directly to propaganda, mass murder and atrocity.
“…Everybody thinks that the way to deal with it is just to forget it. If you forget it it will go away, and of course it doesn’t go away,” said Khardalian during a January 2011 interview with the independent Armenian publication Ianyan mag. The irony of Khardalian’s efforts to document the Armenian genocide is that she didn’t realize until quite recently, close to home, her own grandmother was one of the genocide’s personal victims.
In mapping a subject that has been taboo among many Armenian families, Khardalian’s new film documentary, “Grandma’s Tattoos,” turns the camera on herself, her extended family and her late grandmother whose face and fingers were marked with mysterious blue Turkish tattoos. Khardalian’s 1988 documentary “Back to Ararat” was the first feature length documentary on the subject. Several subsequent films have peered into the lives of survivors in Gaza.
“Grandma Khanoum,” as the family called her, was a grim woman whose only pleasure in life was listening to the 1940s Arab pop star and music celebrity Farid al-Atrash, as he sang his romantic songs on the radio. Her husband, Grandma Khanoum had married in her attempt in part to escape exploitation by Turkish men, hated her infatuation with the singer. “We never understood that this was grandma’s way of looking for love and affection,” Khardalian realizes as she begins to wonder about her grandmother’s past.
Living today in Sweden and but raised in Beirut, filmmaker Suzanne Khardalian admits that as a girl she did not like Grandma Khanoum. With her “suffocating presence” she paced hauntingly up and down the stairs of their apartment building in the Armenian quarter of Beirut.
One worrisome trait of Grandma Khanoum was that she was not affectionate and didn’t like to be touched, shares Khardalian.
The subject of the Armenian genocide is an important global one but the driving question of the film focuses with determination on its women: What happened to Grandma Khanoum? What is her secret? As Khardalian seeks to find answers, her grandmother’s story becomes emblematic of a much larger and insidious silence.