Tigran Paskevichyan: “We have tried to restore history through films”

Hayern Aysor’s correspondent sat down for an interview with journalist and screenwriter Tigran Paskevichyan.

Hayern Aysor: Mr. Paskevichyan, over the past years, you have been deeply involved in the study of repatriation. What made you get involved?

Tigran Paskevichyan: People often ask me that question. They also ask if I have undertaken such a project because my family is a family of repatriates. I was not born into a family of repatriates, but I grew up with relatives, family friends and classmates. Over time, they disappeared. I knew where they were going, but I didn’t know where they came from, when they came and how they came. One day, as I was flipping through the pages of my daughter’s history textbook, I saw that the 1946-48 Great Repatriation was presented in only one sentence. After this, my colleagues and I decided to produce a documentary film devoted to repatriation. We started exploring the topic, and it is safe to say that this topic had not been in the focus of historiographers of Soviet Armenia and the independent Armenia.

Hayern Aysor: I know that you have produced three films devoted to repatriation. Could you please provide details?

Tigran Paskevichyan: As I already said, in the beginning, we had planned to produce one film, but the topic was so extensive that we had to divide the film into three parts. In 2011, we produced the film “My Unfamiliar Homeland”, which is the first film of the “Back to Square One” project. It presents immigration as it is and with a political background, that is, the years between 1945 and 1949. The second film is entitled “Oh, Homeland, Cold and Sweet!”, which is about the political repressions against repatriates between the years 1946 and 1956 and the exile that took place on 14 June 1949. The third film is entitled “Last Dream or Game Over”, which presents the trends of emigration of repatriates starting from 1956. In addition to the second film, in the Altay territory of the Russian Federation, we produced the documentary film “Rules of Biography” in which the local Russians, Germans and people of other nationalities remember the Armenians in exile. Thus, we produced three to four films instead of one.

It is safe to say that the films have four layers. They are based on eyewitness accounts that are confirmed or specified by historians from Armenia, as well as Diaspora Armenian historians and historians from Russia. We have referred to rich archives, including the notes of eyewitnesses and films devoted to the events of the time taken from the film libraries in Armenia and Russia.

The project was carried out by Versus Studio, which has been producing documentary films and programs for nearly 20 years now.

Hayern Aysor: Have the films been a success? Have they been shown in countries besides Armenia?

Tigran Paskevichyan: There have been over three dozens of screenings in Yerevan and Armenia’s provinces. The films have also been shown to Armenians in the United States of America, France and Canada, and the screenings have been followed by heated discussions. As a result of research on the major sections of history, the films have drawn the attention of the University of Michigan, the University of Arizona, the universities of Novosibirsk, Irkutsk and Barnaul, the Paris Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALCO) and have become a subject for discussions during academic meetings. The film “My Unfamiliar Homeland” was also screened during the “Consequences of Migration During WWII” Russian-French conference held at Memorial Center in Moscow. To this day, we receive invitations from various academic and educational institutions. For instance, in April, the film “Rules of Biography” will be shown during the Iofe readings, which are held in Saint Petersburg and serve as a reputable international platform for sociological discussions.

Hayern Aysor: What message did you want to get across through these films?

Tigran Paskevichyan: We never set the objective to make a call or convey a message. Our goal is to retell history through the combination of eyewitness accounts and archival materials to make the history as credible as possible. Over the past eight years, we have had over 100 interviews with former immigrants and their descendants. Those interviews feature historically credible episodes, subjective notions and emotional outbursts.

By filtering the rational and comparing it with the facts and academic materials in the archives, we have tried to restore history. Since the mid-20th century, the application of oral history has become an overriding method in world historiography, and perhaps this is the reason why our products spark the interest of academic centers and universities.

Hayern Aysor: There is a website (www.hayrenadardz.org). Why was it launched?

Tigran Paskevichyan: We gathered a tremendous amount of materials, and it is clear that all of those materials could not be included in the films since the films were not long. To make the materials public property, we decided to launch a website and post the materials on the Internet. We received invaluable support from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. The website has been running for three years, but we need additional support to update the website, create certain sections and provide English translations.

Hayern Aysor: Aren’t you considering the production of a film devoted to the best examples of repatriation?

Tigran Paskevichyan: You know, repatriation is an endless topic. After the screenings in Armenia and abroad, people have been recommending, urging or demanding sequels. Yes, we must definitely produce a film about repatriates who did not leave Armenia during the Soviet era and considered Armenia their final destination. It is worth presenting the immigration between 1962 and 1964 and the following years which, in accordance with the state documents kept in the archives, was very different from the previous immigration processes in terms of organization. It is necessary to talk about the families that settled in Armenia following Armenia’s declaration of independence. The immigration of Syrian-Armenians is a specific topic and is considerably different in terms of the complexity and diversity of issues. It is also important to address the issue of generations of emigrants in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s — something that has always been an important matter during the discussions that have followed the screenings of our films in the Diaspora. For most of the repatriates who have emigrated, their children’s future is the main reason for emigration, but today, they are facing the risk of assimilation. So, it is also very important to observe the lives of their generations. We talked about all this during a recent meeting with Minister of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia Hranush Hakobyan, and I think the Minister agreed that such issues should be discussed through documentary films. The only thing left to do is to find resources and implement the projects.

Hayern Aysor: During the 6th Armenia-Diaspora Pan-Armenian Conference organized by the RA Ministry of Diaspora, RA President Serzh Sargsyan declared that all efforts would be made to make sure Armenia has a population of at least 4,000,000 by the year 2040. What do you have to say about this?

Tigran Paskevichyan: It is a kind wish, but to achieve it, I think it is necessary to create a healthy atmosphere for discussions. In one of the interviews, a woman who repatriated from Egypt in 1948 and moved to the United States in the 1970s said that she would need “a very good reason” to return to Armenia again. This reason can’t be presented through a motto. This has to be formulated through discussions. A very good reason is also important for Armenians living in Armenia.

Interview by Gevorg Chichyan

P.S.:  Hayern Aysor presents the links to the trailers for the films “MY UNFAMILIAR HOMELAND” and “OH, HOMELAND, COLD AND SWEET”, the discs of which are available at Abril Bookstore in Glendale, California.



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