Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Land of our Grandparents

Posted by Fredsvenn on December 18, 2014

Some background

In the summer of 2005 I was shooting a film in Srebrenica, Bosnia, about the fall of the UN enclave 10 years earlier which led to the death of around 8000 muslim men and boys. My colleague Kay Mastenbroek (who later co-directed Land of our Grandparents with me) was curious about a book – an autobiography – written by my paternal grandfather, an Armenian born in Sis (now Kozan in southern Turkey) who fled his homeland during the time of the Armenian Genocide in 1915.

There was much to connect these two moments in history: mass killings, nationalism, religious strife, international meddling, but I could only place my grandfather as I knew him in the flesh – a soft spoken old man with whom I spent much time in his apartment in downtown New York talking about life, but never about the genocide.

When I remembered his book, which he wrote a year or so before his passing, my first feeling was that I didn’t like how hateful he was. That emotion just didn’t chime with the person I knew and I was too young to delve any deeper. Bosnia was a catalyst in this sense: Seeing how events of such a cataclysmic nature can form you and stay with you forever.

Anyway, a few months later I was advised by a friend of mine to attend a lecture at the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam. The lecturer was a young eloquent scholar – Ugur Ungor.

Ugur was presenting his PhD thesis on the Armenian Genocide. After the lecture I introduced myself to him and he immediately asked me if I was the grandson of a man also named Goekjian who had written a survivor memoire. I was shocked. I thought only our closest family had known about the book. Ugur and I became friends and in time I came to learn that he wasn’t driven to this subject by intellectual curiosity alone.

It had started for him one summer while still an undergraduate during a visit to his grandmother, a Turkish woman. As he says in the film: “She was peeling onions at the time..”. She told him that she had heard stories from her own family about how the Armenians in her village were deported and killed. That was the start of our journey to the east: a mutual interest in the stories our grandparents.

That’s it. Except that as I write this I’m also thinking of a person not mentioned even in the credits of the film who was very important to me – a brave Turkish sound man from Istanbul who took the journey with us and stuck it out despite feeling that the country he loves was often under attack. I hope that he still believes that this has never been my intention. I can honestly say that I have never encountered a more warm and open hearted people than I did in Turkey.

Alexander Goekjian

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