Over a hundred Armenian college students, parents, and community activists, young and old flocked to UCLA’s Perloff Auditorium last Thursday, December 1st, curious and unsure of what to expect from the night’s feature “Grandma’s Tattoos”, a new documentary which tells the fate of Armenian women abducted and forced into prostitution after surviving the deportations and massacres of the Armenian genocide.
The event was a collaborative effort between the Armenian Students’ Association (ASA) at UCLA, the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), and Asbarez Newspaper. Also present at the screening was the film’s Armenian-Swedish director Suzanne Khardalian.
“Grandma’s Tattoos” is not your typical Armenian genocide documentary. “Most genocide documentaries take either a historical or political approach. ’Grandma’s Tattoos’ is different because it tells the story of genocide on a personal and individual level, which actually makes a stronger impact on the viewer,” says Mary Zaghikian, second year Political Science major and Cultural Director of the ASA at UCLA.
The film uncovers the mystery behind evil looking tattoos inked on Khardalian’s grandmother’s hands, taking the viewer on a journey from crowded Beirut streets to the barren graveyard that is the Der Zor desert. Khardalian eventually discovers the tattoos meant her grandmother was owned in a brothel, and lived life as a prostitute in the years after escaping death during the Genocide.
After 1915, thousands of young Armenian women were taken captive and forced into prostitution across Syria, the prostitution capital of the world at the time. Her grandmother’s story, and the story of countless other women remained untold because of the taboo-like nature surrounding their lives.
“This documentary succeeds in wrestling the veil off of one of the most inhuman and tragic aspects of the Genocide,” says Serouj Aprahamian, Executive Director of the AYF-WR. “The widespread abduction and forced prostitution of untold numbers of young Armenian women is another one of the many brutal acts committed in the attempt to annihilate our nation. We must raise awareness about such horrors, both to heal our own wounds as a community and to carry on the struggle to attain justice and end the cycle of genocide plaguing humanity.”
A vibrant and enlightening question and answer session, led by Khardalian, followed the screening. Members of the audience, many of whom were moved to tears during the film, expressed how shocked they were to have never heard of such a story and experiences.
The night ended on a profound note as many in the audience realized that their own grandparents had similar tattoos; the documentary had caused some to only just understand the meaning behind them.
“Grandma’s Tattoos”, by uncovering yet another dark and gruesome facet of the Genocide, demonstrates the ripple effect which can still be felt today, 95 years after the fact. The history, the memories, and the trauma leave a stain on our existence like the tattoos on Khardalian’s grandmothers hands. Though they are reminders of the evil humanity is capable of, they also attest to the power and perseverance of the human will to rebound from it all.
Founded in 1933, the Armenian Youth Federation is the largest and most influential Armenian-American youth organization in the United States working to advance the social, political, educational, and cultural awareness of Armenian-American youth.