An Armenian-American photojournalist sets out to understand the powerful legacy of genocide and the hidden way a century of silence has shaped his family and himself. When your family’s brutal past is denied, how do you make sense of who you are?
The year was 1915. Amidst the international political tumult of World War I, 1.5 million Armenians were cruelly massacred by the Ottoman Turks. It was a genocide—an act of evil worthy of international outcry. Yet in the decades that have followed, the world has fallen silent. Today only 35 countries officially recognize the Armenian Genocide, with Joe Biden being the first American President to do so in 2021. The culturally rich diaspora thus continues to contend with a wound the world refuses to see— relentlessly robbed of both acknowledgement and material reparations, with no right of return.
An intimate portrayal of one man’s search for the essence of an Armenian identity, FINDING ARMENIA not only provides a vital history lesson for those unfamiliar with the Armenian Genocide, but challenges its viewers to grapple with the profound questions that influence all of our identities. What does the healing of intergenerational trauma look like? What does it mean to regain control of our ancestral narratives? How can these narratives be reconciled with a hostile world? And what responsibility do we have to painful histories, even when they are not our own?
Photojournalist Nubar Alexanian was raised speaking Armenian as his first language and surrounded by the haunting sounds of the oud. Yet, no one, ever, spoke of the persecution that had brought his grandparents to the United States, nor his grandmother who lost three young daughters on a death march. Nubar felt suffocated by the unspoken suffering and fled as far from his Armenian identity as he could. He rarely talked about his Armenian heritage. Until his daughter Abby, half-Armenian, asked him a simple question: “Dad, will you come with me to Armenia?”
FINDING ARMENIA grew from that question. Without even fully understanding where his ancestral Armenia was, Nubar, a second-generation Armenian-American, set out on a journey with his daughter to discover their history.
What does it mean to be a modern Armenian? We live in a world in which genocide— whether that of the Jews, the Cambodians, the Rwandans—is widely acknowledged and condemned. Yet the murder of more than a million Armenians, perpetrated more than 100 years ago by Ottoman Turks, remained largely hidden, a crime to even mention in modern day Turkey.
Equipped with a paper map with his paternal grandmother’s plot of land clearly marked, Nubar and his daughter travel through Eastern Turkey on a guided tour in search of their family’s ancestral homes. The journey is nothing short of a revelation: moving from avoidance, through painful recognition, to an understanding of his family’s story, Nubar is transformed by his experience and newly immersed in the horror that befell the people of Armenia. Soon he returns alone, this time wanting not just to reunite but to reclaim—to make his grandmother’s confiscated land Armenian again.
The audience follows as Nubar and his small crew engage Turks, both friendly and hostile, as they try to figure out what such a radical reclamation might look like. In the end, it leads to a dangerous act of reparative rebellion, one that may cost Nubar any ability to return.
When people who have fled reunite with their homelands, they become pilgrims—in search of an ephemeral, nearly spiritual, connection. Land becomes the artifact of a lost world, a receptacle of memory of lives lived and stories told. For Nubar, the soil of Eastern Turkey evoked powerful emotion: the urge to return not only to a place, but to a bygone time. In this way, finding Armenia is more a symbolic act than a physical act of returning.
Today there are over 100 million refugees around the world fleeing their home countries in search of a safe haven, much like the thousands of Armenians who fled the wrath of the Ottoman Turks in the early 20th century. This, then, is not simply a story about one man, but a story about all of those people—a story of the way legacies of persecution and migration manifest themselves, of the intersections of memory, personhood, and place, and of the power of our own stories to help us heal.
Director/Producer: Nubar Alexanian
Writer/Producer: Abby Alexanian
Editor: Sabrina Zanella-Foresi
Cinematographers: P.H. O’Brien & Nubar Alexanian
Consulting Producer: Jocelyn Glatzer
Consulting Producer: Jackie Mow
Consulting Producer: Laura Wiessen
Start Date: October 2011 Release Date: 2022
Fiscal Sponsors: Filmmakers Collaborative and Pomegranate Foundation
Target running time: 75:00
Status: currently in postproduction.
Walker Creek Media, LLC