Rare, moving images of survivors of the Armenian Genocide were shown in Bologna, Italy as part of the city’s 29th “Cinema Ritrovato” (Rediscovered Cinema) festival last week, after the footage was discovered by chance at the US Library of Congress, according to AFP.
The silent film, which dates from 1923, was buried away and forgotten in the Library of Congress before it was discovered by Mariann Lewinsky, one of the festival’s curators, who came upon the film by “a miracle”. It includes images of children packed onto boats leaving Turkey and lines of refugees trudging along roads.
The film is being shown as part of a selection intended to honor Armenian cinema a century after the beginning of the Armenian Genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks.
Also being featured during the festival are “Namus” (Honor), a 1925 work by Hamo Beknazarian that is considered to be the first Armenian film ever made, “Sayat Nova” (The Color of Pomegranates) a 1969 film by Sergei Paradjanov, and “Nahapet”, Henrik Malyan’s 1980 film about a genocide survivor.
Other rare documentary images include a five-minute film shot by the French army of Armenian refugees in camps at Port Said in Egypt.
But the jewel of the festival are the four minutes of “Armenia, Cradle of Humanity” shot in Turkey soon after the end of the genocide—a time thought previously to have only been recorded in still images such as those of German photographer Armin T. Wegner.
Lewinsky found the film by chance as she clicked through the internet data base of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF). Who shot the film and how it got to the Oregon Historical Society before being deposited in the US Library of Congress is a mystery, says the Swiss researcher.
“I sent an email to my colleagues in the library and they told me, ‘Yes we have something, but we don’t know what.’ I insisted a bit and asked if I could come and see the condition of the film.”
Lewinsky was quickly sent some photos and a telephone contact number. Having obtained the reel, she quickly was able to dated it to 1923.
“The images were extraordinary, boats full of children, trains.”
Lewinsky’s first thought was that the people shown in the film could have been displaced Greeks—a theory that was dropped when she recognized a well-known Istanbul palace in the background of one shot.
Colleagues confirmed that, after the end of World War I, British forces assembled Armenian orphans in the building for evacuation.
“It is a miracle,” Lewinsky said.
A century on, Lewinsky believes a new Turkey is emerging in which Kurds, Greeks, Armenians and ethnic Turks are moving towards “moments of reconciliation”.
Films like “Armenia, Cradle of Humanity” can only help this process, she says, invoking her hope that it could be shown at a small silent film festival in Istanbul in the near future.