‘ORPHANS OF THE GENOCIDE’ RECOUNTS TRAGIC STORY OF ARMENIANS IN TURKEY
Miami Herald, FL
Dec 11 2013
By Glenn Garvin
Most Americans can’t even find Armenia on a map (hint: sandwiched
between Turkey on the west and Azerbaijan on the east), much less
recite any of its history. But it was in this tiny, tormented country
that the blueprint for the most awful invention of the 20th century,
genocide, was sketched out 100 years ago. Orphans of the Genocide,
a documentary airing Thursday, is a melancholy recitation of a story
that should be more widely known.
It’s not an easy story to tell. Rooted in the ancient religious
conflicts that erupt periodically where Europe and the West grind
up against Asia and the East, the murder of something over a million
Armenians at the outbreak of World War I occurred before the age of
And the complexity of the genocide’s origins doesn’t help. Christian
Armenia had for centuries been a bone in the throat of Islamic Turkey
and its Ottoman rulers’ imperial ambitions. But what caused the Turks
to start slaughtering the Armenians at that particular moment remains
obscure, lost in the maze of geopolitical maneuvering that plunged
Europe into World War I.
What’s clear is that, despite Turkish denials that continue to this
day, they did start the slaughter, first wiping out the men who might
have been capable of resistance, then, more leisurely, stamping out
the women and children who survived. When it was all over, somewhere
between half and three-quarters of Armenia’s population was composed
of corpses. Their grisly legacy was the word genocide – literally
the killing of an entire people, coined by historians to describe
what the Turks did.
Orphans director Bared Maronian, a former staff producer at WPBT-PBS
2 and himself of Armenian descent, mostly avoids the political side of
the equation – not necessarily a wise decision, for his film sometimes
feels a bit untethered. And the massacres of men that started the
genocide are barely mentioned in passing.
It’s the systematic obliteration of the survivors of the initial
carnage, the defenseless Armenian women and children, that interests
him most. And he has done a magnificent job of tracking down old
photos and newsreel footage of the time, giving his film a profound
power well beyond that of a collection of talking heads.
Like cattle, the women and children were herded barefoot into the
desert and driven east toward a barren region known as Der Zore.
Pretty girls rubbed their faces with mud in futile hope of avoiding
the epidemic of rape. The refugees died in such profusion that, even
today, shallow excavations inevitably turn up a litter of human bones.
The few children who didn’t perish were sent to “Turkification centers”
where they were assigned a new language, religion and names, and then
moved on to threadbare orphanages. Life inside the orphanages was hard;
outside, it was brief. Kids over 14, considered poor candidates for
Turkification, were hunted down like feral dogs.
The language used to tell these stories is restrained, even bland. It
doesn’t matter. How can you not be thunderstruck with horror to gaze
at a hundred kids in an orphanage, some pensive and some smiling,
when you know that all of them were dead in a matter of weeks?
The most powerful single image is of an Armenian woman, nearing the
end of her trek to Der Zore, one small child clinging to her skirts,
another on her back, and a swaddled infant in her arms. Their eyes
are hunted, and haunted, and they look unaccountably familiar. And
then you realize you’ve seen them before, in Auschwitz, in Cambodia,
in Rwanda, anywhere that the demons in men’s hearts break free.
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress