SUMMARY OF A SURVEY ON COLLECTIONS OF VIDEO AND AUDIO RECORDED TESTIMONIES OF SURVIVORS OF THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE [1]

Gerard J. Libaridian [2]

The following summary intends to provide an overview of the existing audio and video recordings of Armenian genocide survivors’ testimonies or other oral testimonies on related topics.[3] It aims to provide a guide for those who want to conduct research on the Armenian genocide or to issues relating to the genocide through oral testimonies. The author recognizes that this survey is not complete, but hopes that the survey will be expanded as more institutions, organizations and individuals come forward with collections of recordings that have not been included in the results presented below. Those who have in their possession additional video and audio testimonies and would like them to be added to this summary survey or would like to suggest any other changes should contact Professor Gerard J. Libaridian at libaridian@comcast.net. It is also the hope of this author that an institution will take on the organization and digitization of these collections for purposes of preservation and greater accessibility for researchers.

The information in this report is based on a simple questionnaire, for the most part, [see Survey Questionnaire] but also initial inquiries by email or by telephone to some 75 institutions/organizations and individuals. As the sample questionnaire will indicate, the responses contain far more detailed information than the reader will find in this Summary. It is hoped that an undertaking in the future by someone other than this researcher or some organization can make further use of the additional data which I have yet to share fully.[4] I have in my possession the questionnaires that were filled by organizations and individuals that contain much more information and detail than I could include here. Should an institution, organization or individual decide to take this research a step further and do something more than just the reporting, I will happily consider providing the additional, full data.

I. Existing Collections of Interviews

I have tracked down 43 institutions/organizations and individuals that have video and audio recordings of genocide survivors. Of them 9 institutions/organizations have video and film collections, while 16 of them have audio collections. Among the individuals, 8 have video and film collections, and 10 have audio collections. This survey indicates that there are at least 5,539 video and audio recordings of which 3,300 are audio and the rest are video.   

A. Number of Collections

Institutions/
Organizations
IndividualsTotal
Video/Film9817
Audio161026
Total251843

B. Number of Interviews

Institutions/
Organizations
IndividualsTotal
DigitizedDigitizedDigitized
Video/Film1,6911,2155484302,2391,645
Audio1,4029901,8981,3393,3002,329
Total3,0932,2052,4461,7695,5393,974

Of these collections, the Zoryan Institute houses the largest video collection, counting close to 800. These interviews were done mostly in the 1980s but continued into the 1990s. They were conducted on the basis of an extensive questionnaire that covered not only the accounts of the eyewitnesses of the massacres and deportations but also of life prior to the war years and after the war, in the diaspora. The team of the Zoryan based at the Institute headquarters, at that time in Cambridge, Massachusetts, traveled and trained teams of interviewers elsewhere, including one from what was still Soviet Armenia. These videotapes have now been digitized and are available to researchers on site, in Toronto, Canada, where the Institute’s main office has been moved to from Cambridge, Massachusetts.[5]

Incidentally, the Genocide Survivors’ Oral History project gave birth to a second oral history project: the video recording of the experiences of Armenians then residing in the US who joined the Legion d’Orient/Legion arménienne of the French army to fight in WWI against the Ottoman forces. Some 1,100 Armenians from the US participated in that volunteer army of just over 5,000. The Zoryan Institute managed to videotape interviews with 26 or 27 of the 29 then still living and able to recollect experiences. It is assumed that this group of videotapes has been absorbed in the main collection of survivor testimonies.

II. An Overview of the Interviews

The interviews were conducted in nine different languages, twelve different countries and over the span of six decades. Such statistics indicate that a great variation can be found among the interviews and collections particularly depending on when, by whom and how the interviews were conducted. Many of the interviews were not based on guiding questionnaires and were conducted on a free narration basis. There are also differences in questionnaires when such were used. In some cases, they were limited to the years of the massacres and deportations, in other cases the questions covered pre-genocide and post-genocide years, making more significant from the anthropological and sociological perspectives.

Usually the length of interviews varies from less than an hour to many hours, depending often on the survivor. In the case of the testimonies collected by Verjine Svazlian, the interviews are much shorter: from one or two paragraphs, when printed, to 8 to 10 pages. Similarly, the audiotapes of survivors interviewed in connection with their photographs (Nazik Armenakian and Ara Oshagan) or photo collections (Project SAVE), the taped interviews do not exceed one hour. The training, preparation and professionalism of the interviewer is also an important factor in the length of the interview but also in the eliciting of details and double-checking of offered data.

A. Languages Used (in order of frequency)

  • Armenian (Overwhelming)
  • English, Turkish
  • French
  • Spanish
  • Arabic, Kurdish, German, Russian

TOTAL: 9 Languages

B. Countries that have audio/visual testimony collections (in order of number of collections)

  • US, Canada
  • Armenia
  • France, Turkey, Germany, Lebanon, Syria, Greece, Australia, Uruguay, Argentina

TOTAL: 12 Countries

C. Countries where interviews were done (in order of frequency )

  • US
  • Armenia
  • Canada
  • Turkey
  • Germany
  • Syria, Lebanon, France, Argentina, Australia

TOTAL: 10 Countries

D. Dates of interviews by decade (by frequency)

  • 1980s
  • 1970s and 1990s
  • 1960s and 2000s
  • 1950

E. Funding Sources

  • Overwhelmingly individual collectors and community institutions/organizations
  • Very few government or government-sponsored foundations

F. Location of interviewees (by order of frequency)

  • US (overwhelming)
  • Armenia
  • Germany, France
  • Turkey
  • Syria, Lebanon, Greece, Australia, Argentina, Uruguay

III. Guide to Reading the Survey Summary Chart

The total collections of 43 institutions/organizations and individuals take into consideration some collections that have complete or some parts deposited in other collections. In such cases the collection is listed under the original collector’s name (such as Prof. Richard Hovannisian’s collection of over 1,000 audio testimonies that is listed under his name; Hovannisian has deposited a copy at the Shoah Foundation at USC, although the figures provided by the Shoah Foundation is slightly less from that provided by Professor Hovannisian. If a collection is no longer available/accessible at the original collector’s site, such as the Alvin Bedrosian Collection, it is counted where the collection is now deposited, in this case under the Zohrab Center in New York.)

This total number does not include 9 whose collections have been integrated totally in others. (See Table III in Summary Chart) Thirteen additional collections of audio and video tapes that have not focused on the genocide itself but on topics, such as music, photography, testimonies by second and third generations, etc., are listed separately but not included in the total counts. (See Table IV in Summary Chart)

As the reader will note, the questionnaire ends with an item on suggestions of other institutions/organizations/individuals that might have collections. (See Table V) Questionnaires were sent or an initial inquiry was made to all names/addresses that were suggested. That explains why in some cases we have in the listings some collections that have negligible numbers. The purpose of the exercise is to assure readers that all suggestions of names were followed through. Furthermore, there were 15 suggested names who someone thought to have had such collections and upon an initial inquiry proved not to have any. The Survey Summary Chart includes a separate listing (See Table V) of such names, also for the same purpose of reassuring readers that all leads were followed. The total number of institutions/organizations and individuals contacted is 75.

As the Survey Summary Chart shows, in a few cases the listing of some collections refers to the information available in Donald and Lorna Miller’s pioneering study Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide first published in 1993.[6] For a variety of reasons, it has not been possible for this researcher to pursue some of the items contained in the list provided by the Millers. In such cases the Survey Summary Chart makes it clear that the information used is from the volume by the Millers and not obtained directly.

Some of the numbers of the interviews obtained or extrapolated need to be checked further. There has clearly been a generational change since the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s when most of the testimonies were recorded and often guardians of collections cannot remember or do not have any records regarding the collections, theirs or those transferred to their institutions from other collectors. The most significant number in this listing is that of the Svazlian tapes transferred to the Genocide Museum of Armenia, where a detailed inventory of audio and video tapes is still ongoing.

IV. Beyond the Survey

There is no doubt that there are other institutions/organizations but especially individuals that may have collections, probably small ones that this researcher was unable to locate. Certainly, there must be hundreds of interviews, audio or video, done in families and kept there; this researcher did not try and did not have the resources to cover this category. But I would gladly provide the questionnaire and add to this survey the collections of individuals/institutions/organization who may contact me upon reading this survey.

We might also take note of other projects that are distantly related to our topic—partly discussed in the report or none at all—and consist of visual materials, such as Project SAVE (Watertown, Mass.), a major photographic collection related Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and post-Genocide issues, and Noric Dilanchian’s (Australia) little known digital photo library in Adobe Lightroom, with currently well over 6,000 Armenia-related historical images, maps, and substantial metadata for each. The AGBU Nubar Library in Paris holds a collection of photographs from before and after the genocide. Some of the photographs have been made available online. The Houshamadyan Project in the past few years has also made available a rich collection of photographs.

Finally, it is worth noting that some of these collections were made or used for projects beyond the value of the testimonies as such. In addition to published narratives by Donald and Lorna Miller and Verjine Svazlian (See below), from the 1970s on a number of documentary films were produced utilizing these testimonies.[7] Most recently, the Zoryan Institute announced a project to develop animated features based on survivor testimonies. The first of these, a rendering of Aurora Mardiganian’s memoirs, is in production by Bars Media Documentary Film Studio and directed by Inna Sahakyan, to be released in 2020. Photographic narratives have also been produced most notably by Nazik Armenakyan (Yerevan) and Ara Oshagan (Los Angeles).[8] There certainly are other films and photographic narratives of which this author is not aware that could be added to this initial list.        

Obviously, the number of survivor testimonies in print and manuscript form far outnumber those recorded on video and audio. Testimonies in print can be found in the Armenian press beginning in 1916, in compatriotic union newsletters and volumes, published memoirs of individuals and, most probably unpublished manuscripts sitting in drawers or forever lost. As mentioned above, Donald and Lorna Miller and Verjine Svazlian have published collections of testimonies. The National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) has compiled a list of compatriotic union volumes. The Nubar Library and the National Archives of Armenia maintain a very large collection of testimonies in manuscript form [9]; the Nubar Library has the most significant such collection, gathered mostly between 1918 and 1930s by Aram Andonian, who was the director of the Nubar Library between 1928 and 1951. Collections of written testimonies can also be found in Yerevan at the Matenadaran (Mesrop Mashtots Research Institute of Ancient Manuscripts), the Armenian Genocide Museum and the National Library of Armenia. A new effort to collect all printed testimonies has been initiated in France, the ARAM project.

This project did not attempt to make an inventory of a number of audio/visual materials that are relevant to the larger issue of Genocide documentation. For example, the survey does not include:

  1. Survivor testimonies that are part of radio produced programs usually on Genocide Day anniversaries, in Armenia and elsewhere.
  2. Genocide era films that might exist in various state archives or have been used in various documentaries produced worldwide on various occasions by a number of individuals and companies.
  3. Photo collections of the genocidal process, similarly to be found in state archives, private collections and possibly elsewhere.

These, and probably other sources, are essential in general for as complete a documentation of the Genocide as possible. But these categories were outside the scope of research and of the capabilities of this researcher.

V. Comments on the Preservation and Accessibility to Recorded Testimonies

Unless digitized, audio or video tapes recorded before the 2000s are in grave danger of being corrupted and, for all practical purposes, of being useless. The majority of these tapes seem to have been digitized, but not all. This is particularly true for privately held collections.

Some collections have been impossible to locate, although they are listed in the book by the Millers. These are usually projects undertaken ad hoc by individuals or groups for whom the project was motivated by a sense of duty rather than an integral part of an individual’s work or an organization’s primary mission. Many collections are impossible or difficult to access for a variety of reasons.

Unless interviews are transcribed on a Word or similar program, in most cases the collections are not searchable. Thematic research across collections will generally require to have to watch/listen to all the tapes.


[1] I presented an initial, shorter version of this paper titled “The Video (and audio) Testimonies on the Armenian Genocide” at the conference Comparative Lenses: Video Testimonies of Survivors and Eyewitnesses on Genocide and Mass Violence on June 6-7, 2019 at the American University of Paris (AUP). The conference was organized by AUP’s George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention, in addition to Yahad-in Unum, University of Southern California (USC) Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research, and the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) Nubar Library.

[2] This researcher is most grateful to all those who contributed by filling out the questionnaires or otherwise providing data relevant to their holdings. My special thanks to Boris Adjemian of the Nubar Library, Paris; Manuk Avedikyan of the Shoah Foundation-USC; and Noric Dilanchian of Sydney, Australia, for their extensive and most useful comments and suggestions throughout the execution of the project.

[3] The only previous attempt to produce numbers of audio and video interviews with survivors of the Armenian Genocide known to this researcher was made by Donald and Lorna Miller, in their book Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide, which was first published in 1993. (Donald Earl Miller and Lorna Touryan Mille, Survivors: an oral history of the Armenian genocide, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). The numbers of testimonies estimated by the authors at that time are 1,640 for audio, and 834 for video. One significant difference between the numbers offered by the Millers and this researcher for videos is that the former did not include close to 400 testimonies recorded on film (rather than video) by J. Michael Hagopian. These films are now at the Armenian Film Foundation, with copies at the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation. (http://www.armenianfilm.org/drupal/armenian-genocide-digitization-project) Also, some interviewing continued in the 1990s, even later. Third, the scope of research was wider in this latter case and an attempt was made to obtain information directly, whenever possible.

[4] In the process of collecting these data, I shared the summary results with those who contributed to the data and asked all to check and double check the data it contains and comment on the contents of this summary. I received a number of corrections, additions, clarifications and suggestions. The end result is this report.

[5] I must add that the Genocide Survivors’ Oral History project was not in the original plan of the Institute, which was supposed to focus on the Diaspora and Soviet Armenia. Nonetheless, very soon it became clear that as a documentation center the Institute could not avoid the topic, especially since there was overwhelming support for it.

[6] Donald Earl Miller and Lorna Touryan Miller, Survivors: an oral history of the Armenian genocide, (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1993).

[7] This author is aware of the following: J. Michael Hagopian, The Forgotten Genocide (Thousand Oaks, CA, 1976) and The Armenian Case (Thousand Oaks, CA, 1975); Shahane Bekarian, Children of a Genocide (Australia, 2017); Apo Abraham Torosyan, Discovering My Father’s Village: (Edincik) (Danvers, MA, 2003); Pea Holmquist and Suzanne Khardalian, I Hate Dogs/Back to Ararat: A forgotten genocide (Sweden, 2005); Ted Bogosian, An Armenian Journey (Chicago, 1989); Carlos Antaramian, Los Armenios en la Merced (Mexico, 2012); Isabel Kaprielian-Churchill, Rose’s Triumph: The Story of An Armenian Refugee Girl (Canada, 1990) and The Georgetown Boys: Armenian Orphans in Canada (Canada, 1987);  Dorothy Craig Manoukian, Georgetown Boys (Canada, 1987).

[8] Nazik Armenakyan, Verapratsner (Yerevan: 4 Plus Documentary Photography Center, 2015).

[9] Since 2012 the National Archives of Armenia has published some of the manuscript testimonies in a three-volume publication. See Amatuni Virabyan and Gohar Avagyan, eds., Hayots tseghaspanutyune Osmanyan Turkiayum: Verapratsneri vkayutyunner: Pastatghteri zhoghovatsu: Volumes 1-3  (Yerevan: Hayastani Azgayin Arkhiv, 2012); Amatuni Virabyan and Gohar Avagyan, eds, Armenian Genocide by Ottoman Turkey, 1915: testimony of survivors, collection of documents, translated by Levon Baghdasaryan (Yerevan: Zangak Publishing House, 2013).

© 2019 Gerard Libaridian All Rights Reserved