By Katherine Stephens
Gordon College News Service
February 18, 2014
(This story was published Feb. 20, 2014, in the print and online editions of The Gloucester Times.)
GLOUCESTER—If Nubar Alexanian, a Gloucester resident, was to ask someone in a local coffee shop about the Armenian genocide of 1915, he might get a confused look and embarrassed shake of the head. But if Nubar was to walk into a coffee shop in Istanbul, Turkey, and mention the genocide to the barista, he could end up in hand cuffs.
Both situations—ignorance and Turkish denial—are why Nubar, 63, and his daughter Abby, 25, decided to make a documentary called “Journey to Armenia” about their own personal and familial connections to the 1915 genocide. The Cape Ann Forum will premiere a 15-minute sample of the documentary on Feb. 23 at the Cape Ann Community Cinema in Gloucester from 7 PM to 8:30 PM, including a question and answer time with Nubar and Abby. The full 60-minute film should be released in February 2015..
“The stories aren’t being told and that’s why we’re doing this movie,” said Nubar, a second generation Armenian in the United States. “It was my daughter who asked me to go to Armenia with her. I had never thought about going before, because I’m American and the genocide was in the past. Then I realized I didn’t even know anything about it. Both sets of my grandparents fled the genocide, but they never talked about it.”
After 100 years and three generations of silence, Nubar and Abby began research, family interviews, preliminary filming, promotion and fundraising before embarking on their trip to eastern Turkey in May 2012. They traveled over 2,600 miles in three weeks, and Nubar says every village they stopped in smelled like his grandmother’s kitchen.
“The trip was life-changing for sure,” said Abby. “It was really amazing to see where our family had walked every day, but then so sad to know that they are no longer walking there today.”
An estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed in the 1915 massacre that Nabur says Turkey still denies to this day. Yet, ninety-five percent of Armenians in the United States are descended from those who fled during the genocide. Even now, it is illegal to denigrate “Turkishness,” and associating the Turks with the genocide is considered denigrating there. The effect of the Turkish denial on Armenians is another reason the father/daughter duo set out to make the film.
“Scholars say denial is the final act of genocide,” said Nubar. “The first act is the killing of the people, and the final act is the killing of the memory of the people. Armenians are still experiencing and feeling the effects of this trauma.”
Nubar and Abby are planning on taking a second trip back to eastern Turkey to gather final footage for the third act of the film. However, financial constraints have been the biggest roadblock as they try to complete it by February of 2015 for the 100 year anniversary.
“The question we talk about the most right now is where we are going to get the money from,” said Abby. “The movie would definitely change if we don’t get to go back, but we have a deadline, and we want to make it no matter what.”
With potential grants and fundraisers, the two are hoping for the best.
“We’re in a position to educate people, and I see the movie as being a step towards genocide prevention,” said Abby. “If we don’t talk about it, then we can’t prevent it in the future. I don’t want anyone to go through what my family and so many families have gone through.”
The Alexanian family has lived on Cape Ann since 1971, but Nubar grew up in an Armenian community in Worcester, MA. After a prolific career as a photojournalist, Nubar transitioned into documentary filmmaking six years ago and eventually began his own production company, called Walker Creek Media, specifically for the creation of the film, “Journey to Armenia.” Abby works as a children’s advocate for abused women and children in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“Taking the trip and making this film was one of the biggest things to happen in my life and to do it with my daughter was incredible,” said Nubar. “This journey was about filling in the hole that was inside me, and Abby was my guide in this trip and saw me change fundamentally.”
Cape Ann Forum: Journey to Armenia
February 23, 7 PM – 8:30 PM
Cape Ann Community Cinema
21 Main St., Gloucester, MA