Torosyan Speaks to Art, Genocide and Memory

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By Andy Turpin
Mirror-Spectator Staff

WATERTOWN, Mass. — Documentary filmmaker, visual artist and Armenian Genocide lecturer Apo Torosyan is no stranger to genocidal violence. As a teenager in 1950s Turkey he and his family were victims of anti-Armenian pogroms and riots organized by the Turkish state.

Born in 1942 to an Armenian father and Greek mother in Istanbul, Torosyan graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul in 1968, immigrating to the US the same year.

After thirty years in the Boston area working as a commercial and gallery visual artist Torosyan transitioned in 2003 to a career in independent documentary filmmaking and editing, setting up his own studio in his residence.

To date Torosyan has made seven documentary films, four of which are oral history films and recordings of Armenian Genocide survivors and Armenian/Greek survivors of the anti-Christian massacres that continued into Turkey’s Republic period through the 1920s and 30s [“Edincik,” 2003, “Witnesses,” 2005, “Voices,” 2007 and “The Morgenthau Story,” 2008].

Within the past twenty years, however, Torosyan has also begun giving lectures at various schools, universities and public forums educating citizens about the history of events and Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide.

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His visual art presentation, “The Bread Series,” which debuted in 1993 features stale Middle-Eastern bread displayed in scenes that signify and express the Genocide death marches of Armenian starvation through the Syrian desert of Der Zor in 1915 at the hands of their Turkish perpetrators.

A short film, also called “The Bread Series” accompanies the exhibit in which Torosyan states that he chose bread as the central theme of his Genocide exploration because, “the bread, which is the staff of life, was taken away from my ancestors. It represents victims of oppression. They died in starvation, including my grandparents.”

After creating documentary films that chronicle Genocide and pogrom survivors in Greece and his father’s former village in Turkey, the namesake of “Discovering My Father’s Village: Edincik,” Torosyan is finally turning in his art to create a film about his own story of survival in an as yet untitled upcoming documentary film project.

“I’m in a transition period preparing a subject which I witnessed myself. It happened in Istanbul and in Smyrna (Izmir) on September 6-7, 1955,” Torosyan said of the project.

In the meantime, Torosyan expresses the essence and anguish behind his visual art and films by enjoying the numerous speaking engagements in which he tells his own story of survival, screens his films and educates a largely under-informed public about the Armenian Genocide.

“I’ve presented this research in lectures before, most of which are tailored to non-Armenian youth,” Torosyan said of his talks.

He added, “There is much more awareness than ever before [about the Armenian Genocide] but it’s limited on the education level to the universities and students don’t properly know the history beyond the view of their own governments.”

Torosyan takes this fact in stride, noting, “Only recently in the US have we recognized the killing of Native Americans as a genocide. I make known in my presentation that the killing of Native Americans was rewarded by our own US government.”

But as the first generation of Armenian-Americans passes away, the survivor generation of the Genocide, Torosyan said the second generation of survivors and the survivors of the later anti-Christian massacres of the 1920s-1950s take on a new role in the preservation of the historical memory of the Genocide and those anti-Armenian events in Turkish history.

“The second generation is very important, too, because we heard the truth from real survivors. Some scholars don’t believe in doing oral histories but I’m a firm believer in it and have made films recording these histories,” Torosyan stated.

Today Torosyan is an active and energetic speaker when it comes to presenting on the Armenian Genocide and his films. He recounted, “I recently returned from Boardman, Ohio in March for a presentation on this subject (the Armenian Genocide). I wish I had done this more 30 years ago.”

As Marshall McLuhan said in “Understanding Media,” “The medium is the message.” Torosyan, too, takes that sentiment to heart in the digital age and has posted all seven of his films on his website, www.aramaifilms.com and YouTube for the general public to have free access to better educate themselves about the Armenian Genocide.

“A short documentary has more impact than anything I’ve ever known. In forty-five minutes, a hundred thousand people can see your film, even if it’s just on local TV,” Torosyan said.

As a firm believer in free speech Torosyan is a big fan of people being able to view his films on YouTube and comment on their content. “Bad comments can be ok, that’s normal,” he said. “If you get no comments, that’s bad. That means not enough people are seeing it.”

In today’s world Torosyan said of the globe’s power structures that, “Governments are really corporations and have no consciences. But I’m grateful to be in America where at least I can speak up and say that. I’m very rebellious in my views about Turkey and the truth of the Armenian Genocide.”
Torosyan is an idealist-at-large and though a staunch proponent of US and Turkish Genocide recognition, he related the real issues at stake run deeper.

“Even if Turkey recognized the Armenian Genocide,” he said. “I would still continue to talk about the Armenian Genocide. It should not be forgotten. My message is hope, not hate. Hope for humanity that we can learn to stop killing each other.”

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