Podcaster Maxim Saakyan

New Podcast Explores Incredible Life of Aurora Mardiganian


LONDON — In the vast landscape of podcasts, a new narrative journey dedicated to one of the most famous victims of the Armenian Genocide is unfolding. Uncovering Roots, a series by Maxim Saakyan, dedicated to bringing forth stories that are often overlooked, stories that not only need to be told but deserve to be at the forefront of our collective consciousness. “Uncovering Roots” delves into the extraordinary life of Aurora Mardiganian, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide who became a Hollywood star based on her life.

The debut mini-series launched on December 10 and has managed to receive good recognition since its release. It was featured as the Guardian’s podcast of the week while Spotify put it as their number one documentary to listen to. The three episodes in the series explore various details about Aurora’s life and the film.

Aurora’s story isn’t just a survivor’s story. She became a symbol of survival, resilience, and perseverance. As Atom Egoyan called her in the podcast, a Super Survivor who was able to recount her story to so many. And with that, she saved so many lives with the film raising money for Near East Relief.

“The motivation behind ‘Uncovering Roots’ is deeply personal for me. As an Armenian, the amount of people inside the United Kingdom who don’t know about the genocide really hurts me. Then we look at Aurora’s story, and it’s just so unbelievably shocking. It’s so unbelievable that so many people didn’t actually think she existed. Like she was a fictional character that was made up to represent the pain Armenians went through. But she was real. She not only went through the genocide, but she went through Hollywood exploitation as well. This story isn’t just about teaching people about the genocide; it’s about honoring her story,” said Saakyan, who is based in London.

The podcast delves deep into Aurora’s life, weaving together her oral testimonies and interviews with those who knew her intimately. The narrative becomes an investigative journey into the fate of a forgotten Armenian genocide survivor turned film star. It unravels the complexities of Hollywood exploitation, the unwavering resilience of a remarkable woman, and the tragic transformation of a once-record-breaking film into a “lost film.”

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As we traverse the riveting narrative terrain of Uncovering Roots, a multifaceted cast of voices guides us. From renowned director Atom Egoyan and Carla Garapedian to silent movie expert Anthony Slide — each contributes a unique perspective. The podcast also features insights from the nurse who provided care for Aurora during the 1990s, adding layers of authenticity and nuance to the storytelling.

Born in 1901 in the Armenian village of Chmshgadzak, Aurora’s life journey began amid the horrors of the Armenian Genocide at the tender age of 14. Her survival against all odds became a testament to human endurance.

After numerous escapes from various camps, she eventually reached Tbilisi, Georgia, where she encountered the famous Armenian commander Andranik Ozanian. He gave her a mission — to travel to America and tell the world about the Armenian Genocide. True to his directive, she arrived in America, forced to relive her trauma while recounting her story to a translator. Her words transformed into a book and, subsequently, a film. The film, which broke box office records in the country and traveled across the world, eventually faded from public memory. The podcast meticulously examines the lost film, “Auction of Souls,” presenting various theories, including the poignant possibility of a deliberate campaign by Turkey to destroy it.

Podcaster Maxim Saakyan

While the possibility of intentional destruction by Turkey looms, it’s crucial to contextualize this within the era of silent cinema. A recent study by the Library of Congress illuminates the stark reality — of the nearly 11,000 silent films produced in the United States between 1912 and 1929, a mere 30 percent endure, and many in incomplete forms. The fragility of these cinematic relics is undeniable, yet amidst this fragility, there remains a glimmer of hope for rediscovery.

The podcast introduces the captivating account narrated by Eduardo Kozanlian (voiced by Roberto Belo-Rovella). In 1994, he embarked on a quest to Yerevan in pursuit of the elusive film. A narrative unfolds through countless meetings and phone calls, culminating in the triumphant retrieval of the precious 18 minutes. Regrettably, Aurora, the central figure in this cinematic odyssey, was not alive to witness this revelation; she had passed away a few months before the discovery.

The journey of the film itself is a compelling saga, recounted by Eduardo. Yervant Setian emerges as a key figure in this odyssey, transporting the cinematic treasure from France to Armenia. Each step of this journey adds layers to the story — a narrative that extends beyond the frames of the film and encapsulates the resilience of a survivor’s tale, immortalized in precious celluloid.

In this intricate dance between past and present, the podcast not only narrates the story but weaves it into the broader tapestry of history and cultural preservation. The search for the lost film becomes a metaphor for the broader quest to reclaim narratives that time has sought to erase.

Uncovering Roots is driven by a profound belief in the power of creativity as an educational tool. Saakyan’s conviction extends to the notion that creative avenues, be it in history, culture, or contemporary affairs, offer the most effective means of teaching and fostering understanding.

The medium of audio, according to Saakyan, provides an intimate connection with the audience, where the narrator’s voice resonates directly in the listener’s ears. Contrary to the trend of condensed one-minute videos, there is a unique potency in the extended narrative format of podcasts, ranging from 30 to even 60 minutes.

The podcast aims to tell stories from many regions, not just in Armenia. Specifically the SWANA (South West Asia and North Africa) region! There will be exciting episodes coming up in 2024, including the story of Armenian flags before 1918 when the official flag of Armenia was adopted

“Uncovering Roots” has been released on all major podcasting platforms, including Spotify and iTunes.

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