Dr. J. Michael Hagopian

The Armenian Film Foundation Survivor Testimonies Available on USC Shoah Visual History Archive


A legacy of excellence in documentary filmmaking on Armenian heritage and the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

This story is contributed by Christine Vartanian Datian to The Armenian Mirror-Spectator Newspaper. Special thanks to Armenian Film Foundation Board of Directors Member Hratch Karakachian, CPA, ESQ for his contributions to this story.

ENCINO, Calif. — The Armenian Film Foundation (http://www.armenianfilm.org/drupal/) was established in 1979 as a non-profit, educational and cultural organization dedicated to the documentation and preservation of Armenian heritage in multi-media formats. Its primary aim “continues to be to inspire pride in, and world-wide recognition of, the Armenian people and their contributions to society, thereby fostering human dignity and enhancing understanding and goodwill between present and future generations of Armenians and other cultures.”

A key focus of the Armenian Film Foundation has been the interviews of the survivors of and witnesses to the Armenian Genocide. Its co-founder, Dr. J. Michael Hagopian, was born in Kharpert-Mezreh in 1913, located in the Turkish Ottoman Empire. He survived the Genocide because his mother hid him in a well behind the family home. His father was spared because he was an important medical doctor, and the family left Turkey for Boston in 1922, eventually settling in Fresno in 1927.

Hagopian attended Fresno State University, transferring to UC Berkeley, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science. He went on to earn another masters and a PhD in Government and International Relations from Harvard University. After serving in the US Army Air Corps during World War II, he taught at several universities, including Banares Hindu University, India; American University of Beirut, Lebanon; UCLA and Oregon State University. While teaching, he realized there were few good films to show his classes and concluded that he could do better. He then completed two years of graduate work in cinema at the University of Southern California (USC).

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In his lifetime, Hagopian recorded nearly 400 eyewitness testimonies of Armenian Genocide survivors and witnesses on 16mm film from 1972 to 2005 for a series of documentaries. Dr. Hagopian, who passed away in December 2010 at age 97, ultimately produced 17 films about Armenians and the Armenian Genocide. In partnership with USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s Visual History Archive (VHA), Dr. Hagopian agreed to turn over raw footage of the nearly 400 interviews so they could be integrated into the VHA. These testimonies (https://sfi.usc.edu/collections/armenian) are available to scholars, students and researchers online. The VHA allows users to search through and view over 54,000 video testimonies of survivors and witnesses of genocide, including the Armenian Genocide, making it one of the most comprehensive online archives in the world (https://vhaonline.usc.edu/login).

Interviews were conducted and recorded throughout the world in 13 countries, primarily in English and Armenian — some in rare Armenian dialects, though other interview languages include Arabic, Greek, Spanish, French, Kurdish, Turkish, German, and Russian. About half a dozen interviews were conducted by Carla Garapedian after 2011 ( https://sfi.usc.edu/vha/access).

In addition, the Armenian Film Foundation and the UCLA Promise Armenian Institute have recently announced they will collaborate on a range of projects that support Armenian film and photography at UCLA (https://www.international.ucla.edu/armenia/article/248208).


The Witness Trilogy (http://armenianfilm.org/drupal/the-witnesses-trilogy) is a series of three documentary films written, directed and produced by Dr. Hagopian and based on his filmed interviews of 400 survivors of and eyewitnesses to the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Dr. Hagopian chronicles the near extinction of the Armenian people against the sweeping canvas of the lack of human rights and the absence of democratic traditions and principles in the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The films document the Turkish leaders’ actions as a unified and systematic program of annihilation of the Armenian homeland in the Turkish Ottoman Empire, with transportation of Armenian deportees by rail to the far reaches of the Der Zor desert, and massacres and ethnic cleansing operations along the Euphrates River. Amazon Prime is showing these three documentary films that help answer the question: Who are the Armenians? Watch “Voices from the Lake,” “The River Ran Red,” and “Germany and the Secret Genocide” on Amazon Prime. Go to: https://prime.armenianfilm.org/river-ran-red/.

All films (on DVD format) cost $19.95 except Supplement to “The Forgotten Genocide,” which costs $14.95. To purchase, go to:  http://armenianfilm.org/drupal/affstore.

Over the years, the Armenian Film Foundation has provided scholarships for film students working on projects of Armenian interest, established an industry-wide networking association to encourage young filmmakers, and conducted two international Armenian film festivals. The Armenian Film Foundation has produced and distributed numerous award-winning films and videos that depict the cultural heritage of the Armenian people. Two of these films have received awards for excellence: “The Forgotten Genocide,” narrated by Mike Connors, received two Emmy nominations for production and writing; and “Strangers In A Promised Land,” narrated by California Governor George Deukmejian, was the winner of the CINE Golden Eagle Award for Excellence.

The Armenian Film Foundation has been awarded several major grants, including some of the following foundations: the California Endowment of Humanities (received jointly with the Armenian Assembly), Milken Families Foundation, United States Office of Education, Arshag Dickranian Foundation, George Ignatius Foundation, Alex Manoogian Foundation, J. Roderick MacArthur Foundation, and ARCO Foundation.

For information, contact:

Armenian Film Foundation

17328 Ventura Blvd., Suite 123

Encino, California 91316

Telephone: (818) 702-6877

E-mail: info@armenianfilm.org

Armenian Film Foundation Store: http://armenianfilm.org/drupal/affstore

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ArmenianFilm/?__tn__=-UC*F


Support the work of the Armenian Film Foundation by sending a tax-deductible donation to the above address or by donating by credit card or PayPal. Contact the Armenian Film Foundation office directly at (818) 702-6877 to make a donation via credit card. Go to: http://www.armenianfilm.org/drupal/donate.












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