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Genocide Remembrance Month through art: Armenian cinema

April 24th, 1915, the extermination of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey) began. Now, even during April’s Genocide remembrance month, this event is difficult to look back on, especially as the crimes committed against the Armenian people are denied to this day.

Despite the ways that this genocide has been ignored and denied, art always flourishes within tragedy by confronting a pain head on and bringing with it a beauty. While an exorbitant amount of art was created during and after the genocide, Armenian cinema remains an unmatched art form. 

Embers (2012), directed by Tamara Stepanyan, is a documentary broken down in a conversation. The exceptional dialogue depicts the conversation between the new and old Armenian generations.

In Embers, we take a look into the daily life of the circle of Tamara Stepanyan’s deceased grandmother’s friends and witness as it slowly turns to a conversation between two generations of women.

The close friends discuss their political beliefs and ideologies, based in their Armenian experience during World War II. Over the course of the documentary, the subconscious feeling of loss for Stepanyan’s grandmother is consistent. Regardless of what else is being discussed, the mournful feeling is deeply present. At the same time, the mourning is also basked with appreciation of the astounding woman that is Stepanyan’s grandmother. 

While Embers is an influential piece of art in the unique intimacy that it reveals and the feelings in its audience that it generates, other pieces of art more immediately make their mark through their simple existence. The consequences of presenting a piece of art, when anger and controversy surrounds it in a social climate, can be just as powerful as the experience of digesting them. This is seen clearly in The Color of Pomegranates.

The director of The Color of Pomegranates (1969), Sergei Parajanov, has been frequently arrested in Soviet Russia due to the outspoken messages in his films, specifically the resistance the messages present to the Soviet regime. In The Color of Pomegranates, Parajanov depicts the life of the poet, and troubadour, Sayat Nova.

The film shows images of inspiration for Sayat Nova throughout his life such as rugs, Armenian folk life and Armenian fabrics. One scene that stands out is an image of a young boy laying on the ground while hundreds of books surround him, their pages flying open due to the wind.

This scene can be interpreted in many different ways, such as the pages of history being blown away, rewritten, or history simply being ignored and forgotten as the wind moves these words with such ease.

The film throughout highlights the incorporation of the horrors done to the Armenian people and the consequences of them, receiving much backlash in the climate it was received. In creating and releasing this film, Parajanov takes powerful stances on this painful history.

In another Armenian film, Komitas, audiences see an ode to the genius Soghomon Soghomonyan.

Although the film has limited speaking, it presents intense imagery that depicts the life Soghomonyan who earned the name of Komitas. It brings light to the tragedy that was his life, the death of his parents and being brought up by his grandmother; the horrors that he witnessed after being among the many Armenian intellectuals arrested in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 when the Armenian Genocide began. 

The images displayed are particularly disturbing when knowing the extent to which they are depicting the mental decline of Komitas.

Many scenes show elderly ladies holding their heads in their hands in distress. One scene shows an old woman on her knees, surrounded by desecrated grave stones and waving her arms in disbelief. Komitas’ mental anguish is depicted when the camera pans around a room filled with swarms of bugs crawling out of traditional Armenian instruments. One scene that stands out, would be Komitas laying in bed while a man in a suit is trying to convince him to leave with him.

At one point in the film, Komitas says the phrase, “art…it isn’t worth anything,” revealing the effect of the genocide’s aftermath on his artistic motivation.

As Armenian cinema shows, through these three films and more, the esteemed people of Armenia never fail to impress in all forms of art.

Armenian cinema shows a certain side of the creative mind, the same mind that witnessed and dealt with horrors of extreme trauma.

During this Genocide Remembrance month, it is imperative to not only focus on the highly important political aspect of preventing catastrophes, but also the artistic approach of showing the very real effects genocide has on not only the people suffered, but generations detached from the people who suffered. 

Arpa Shahnazarian is a freshman Mathematics and Economics double major and an Arts & Culture Reporter. Contact Arpa at