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Articles > Genocide > A Review of two films by PeÅ Holmquist and Suzanne Khardalian

PEA HOLMQUIST AND SUZANNE KHARDALIAN: DOCUMENTARY FILM MAKERS 

"I Hate Dogs" (2005) and "Back to Ararat" (1988)

Two documentary films in one DVD

 

Written by Bedros Afeyan

 

Two superb documentary films, certainly in the must see category, are available on DVD for the whole world to get acquainted once again with the Armenian Genocide and its indelible traces on the generations of its survivors and their children. They are the work of the husband and wife documentary film making team, PeÅ Holmquist and Suzanne Khardalian of Sweden

 

These two newly available films are bundled together on a single DVD, since one is a gem lasting 29 minutes only, "I Hate Dogs," released in 2005, while the other is a 100 minute work, "Back to Ararat," dating back to 1988.

 

More info on these films and the rest of the oeuvre of this couple can be found at their web site: www.peaholmquist.com

 

For more information on the availability of the DVD in the US contact Eliza Karagezian at liznin@sbcglobal.net

 

The two movies under review, "I Hate Dogs" and "Back to Ararat," are bookends of sorts. They compliment each other and close the loop on a chapter of our history and national struggle when our presence on the international political scene was picking up steam and chalking up some of its first victories in the mid to late '80's.

 

The air was fresh and full of hope, the Kharapagh movement was getting afoot in Armenia, The Lebanese Armenians had withstood a bloody civil war without undue involvement, the Armenian American public was demanding recognition and raising the public opinion stakes for the pro-Turkish lobbies to up the ante over and over again (a game that has not reached its steady state yet), in Europe recognition was being adopted by governments starting with the international human rights counsel and the world court at Le Hague. All this is captured in "Back to Ararat" and so much more. It is a look at an obscure page of world history dating back to the WWI where the young Turks (Ittihadist party mavericks) desperate to resuscitate a glorious empire in ruin, decided to exterminate the unassimilatable Armenian population.

 

A systematic extermination of an entire race, the Armenians, who were the indigenous people of Eastern Anatolia, defenseless and unarmed, spread thin and vulnerable, a perceived impediment to Pan-Turanical megalomania.

 

Between 70 and 90 years hence, two movies set the stage and prepare the scene. In Back to Ararat, we get some of the first few authentic glances (circa 1985) on what has really become of our cities and towns in Western Armenia, lost to Turkey. A Swedish film maker goes back there and looks for the traces of Noah's Arch on Mount Ararat, the Turkish occupied territories of our ancestral homeland. And he finds an Armenian or two, still there in Diarbekir, old, abandoned, still reciting psalms and singing revolutionary songs from the WWI Era, warning of the massacres to come, the genocide afoot.

 

These isolated incidents are amazing to watch. Who are these ladies? All living and dressing like old Turkish villagers but cognizant of their past, warning the film maker to stop asking about the Ermeni, lest he be taken away by the Turkish police himself... And the ruins of our churches and castles, our shining cities of the middle ages, our entire civilization replaced by desolation, poverty, nomadic tribes, chickens, sheep and dogs, unpaved roads and ruins of a future which never came to be.

 

Back to Ararat is a masterpiece of breath and depth made up of the smallest of pieces. A young Armenian couple about to be married in NY. They are full of energy and hope. They want to go back and rebuild Armenia one day. Their parents are less brazen and more accepting of a defeated state of affairs. In fact, they have rationalizations of the hopelessness and thus the futility of the Armenian freedom fighters movement, which their son in law fully admires.

 

In another scene, we see the Armenian schools and community armed guards in Beirut keeping Bourj Hamoud safe for Armenians (ten years or more after the start of that civil war), despite the incendiary tenseness all around them. We also see Armenian Lebanese politicians professing mediation as the route to success in the peace they all seek. The Catholicos (Karekin) is there, hopeful, eloquent, speaking of the rebirth of the spirit and spirituality of a people, amidst the bullet ridden walls of the surrounding towns. You see Yerevan, street demonstrations, Gorbachev preaching a new day, a new page, a new way, and then he sent in the tanks to Kharabagh, and killing Armenians was fashionable once again...

 

You see European Armenians, mostly in France, who are refugees from the death marches and the genocidal acts of the Turks, 70 years later, recounting of the detailed horrors they witnessed in person. Their children and grand children around them for comfort but the shock overtakes them too. Their grandparents are not used to talking about this and the children and grand children are not used to seeing the magnitude of the horror that is all bottled up. The tension is real, French and Armenian are used in turns, the authenticity of the horrors and their branded seared consequences are in the walk and talk of these old men and women, making a go of it in Lyon

 

Then they gather outside the Hague where for the first time, a world court accepted the Armenian genocide as fact, despite the protestations and threats of the Turkish government to stop trade with whomsoever dares to besmirch the valiant and gallant past of their forebears... At least there, that day, the truth and justice both prevailed. 

 

Yet the camera of Mr. Holmquist sores over our mountains and dried up valleys and we hear in voiceover and inter-cuts, names of survivors, their birthplaces and numbers of relatives lost to the genocide, being read out loud on Time Square, at the April 24th commemoration ceremonies in 1985, in NYC. Our mountains are silent, resigned and desolate in Anatolia, yet the names of the villages long gone are rung out as echoes of the past, singing in the consciousness of newer generations of Armenians and justice conscious people everywhere. Our music, our dances, our traditions in their modern embodiments, the remnant churches and symbols, all meld in to paint the true colors of a people divided and scattered but still in search of a road back to Ararat, our destiny, to Ararat, our destination (as goes the poem).

 

The opposite bookend comes in "I hate Dogs." it is another twenty years later, and now there are no more eye witness survivors of the atrocities committed by the Turks left. And if there are, they are few and far between. So this Swedish couple of documentary film makers, go and find a man in his nineties in Paris who was orphaned by the genocide of 1915 and is still lucid enough to tell all about it. Enter the hero of the movie, "I Hate Dogs," together with his son, granddaughter and the next generation after that as well. The movie has a very fast but self assured pace.

 

A Holmquist-Khardalian movie has a very distinctive style. While the subject matter influences the pace and presentation mode, there is a perfection of editing style, usage of music and lighting, of repetition, of reinforcement, of highlighting and rapidly winking that is wonderful to behold.

 

This is a movie full of humor celebrating the joie the vivre of its subjects, even though the story that is being told, the story that gives the movie its title, is harrowing indeed. The odds in this tail are indeed long. A death march orphaned boy at eight or so, finds his way to orphanages, some primary education, hard work, entrepreneurship, indefatigable spirit and self confidence and ends up being a successful businessman in France. He is now in his nineties and ready to tell his tale. His family is all around him, they are at their summer home, all remade by hand, one tree planted after the other, to resemble the orchards his parents had back home in Anatolia, Armenia proper. While in France, enjoying his freedom and his opulent surroundings, he can never forget where he came from, his mother, the last time he saw her, his father and his brutal end. He is in tears, his son, himself no spring chicken, a Frenchman through and through by sight, speaks Armenian, even if somewhat strained, with great conviction and honesty. He is proud of his dual heritage. His adopted homeland and his ethnic core. We see them looking at old family films from the fifties, when this son was a toddler and we hear the family stories, at least three generations worth. So this is a celebration. Calamity did strike, and yet this gem of a family was made possible through it all. They have their soft spots and weak points but here is an authentic Armenian existence in the most luxurious valleys of France, with rich soil and sun, and yet the story of the father, the father left behind, dragged along so that they will never forget and never give up their quest for justice.

 

These are two eloquent stories of breathing, living Armenian spirits, not degenerating into self absorbed, self-justifying irrelevancy, as is the case of other testimonials of late, but the story of Armenians rolling with the punches and yet preserving some dignity throughout the ordeals that would break many a lesser man. These are not superheros or larger than life characters. In fact, they are miniscule in built and soft spoken old men and women, somehow refusing to go away and let the giant superpower that tried to kill them off get away with it. Their survival is a giant blow in the face of "sweep it under the rug and move on" mongering Turkish governments who to this day think that this strategy will work. That somehow, no matter how barbaric and oppressive and non liberal they may be, the door to join Europe will be open to them and they will laugh all the way to a subsidy and a much higher standard of living any minute now. Let us hope that history teaches humility to the murderers and non-repentant bullies. 

 

Holmquist and Khardalian even give interviews as added tracks in the DVD explaining how these movies were made, their styles, aspirations and motivations. Throughout it all there is much poetic talent, an overabundance of (dry, Swedish) humor and a dedication to film and the truth that is exemplary indeed.

 

MORE DETAILS ABOUT THE 2005 FILM: "I HATE DOGS" 

A documentary film by Peå Holmquist and Suzanne Khardalian

 

“I can see the whole thing right in front of my eyes, so very clearly,

although 90 years have passed since then. The stray dogs stood a mere ten meters off, just where my dad was lying. I tried to throw stones to frighten them away. But they started to come towards me, barking and growling.”

 

Garbis is a very energetic 98-year-old Armenian who has just met his new love, Seta. They live in Paris, only a few blocks away from the Arc de Triomphe. He has been a successful businessman and still worked as late as 1995 at the textile factory he had started in 1931.

 

A few years ago, his son, Serge, took over the business. Garbis loves to take walks, and at least twice a day he walks to the tiny neighbourhood park. The small garden is a beautiful spot in the middle of Paris – ideal for Garbis. There are several benches – no great distance between them, so that when he gets tired he can sit down for a break. Besides, the best thing about the park is that no dogs are allowed. That suits him very well –

 

Garbis has a deep secret, a secret that has made him hate dogs. Back at his spacious apartment, Garbis is enjoying a good lunch with Seta, who is about thirty years his younger. “There is nothing wrong with my appetite”, he says and smiles gently.

 

“I need at least one glass of wine a day in order to survive.” Garbis and Seta met five years ago in Paris. “Thanks to her, I am still full of life today and can keep on telling my story to those who want to hear it”, he says.

 

So he tells his devastating story – about how he survived the genocide perpetrated against Armenians in 1915. He lost his entire family when he was only 9 years old. One beautiful spring morning, the Turks seized his village; the men were separated from the women. Garbis did not understand the gravity of the situation and took leave of his mother – a last hug and a last kiss, as it was to be, from his weeping mother. Together with his father and several thousand other Armenians, Garbis was forced to go on a death march, all the way to the Syrian deserts.

 

He was in the company of his elder brother and a cousin; but, en route, both of them died of hunger and exhaustion. His father, too, became weak, and one morning he found his father lying dead beside him. He was only nine years old. Some people helped him carry away the body and burry it on an earth roof. Later in the evening Garbis wanted to see to his father’s grave.

“Then I saw several stray dogs feeding on my father’s flesh. They were tearing his thighs apart. I grabbed some stones and threw them at the dogs in order to frighten them off. But the dogs had become wild – they started growling and ran towards me. I was terrified, so I ran away. That picture has haunted me all my life. I see the dogs, right in front of me, just 10 meters away.”

 

Garbis raises his hand, pointing to the invisible dogs. “But I have had a good, long life”, says Garbis and goes on talking of how he opened his first business in Mosul in Iraq when he was only 15 years old and of how he eventually moved to France.

 

His son, Serge, has taken over the family business. Serge himself is 65, a very distinguished gentleman, living in an elegant apartment in a fashionable district of Paris. “It took my dad 40 years before he felt able to tell me his story. He just could not tell it to me!” says Serge, and tries to hide the tears in his eyes. “It is unbelievable how strong my father has been, amazing how much joie de vivre there is in him. He has fought hard all these years, starting with nothing and creating a life for himself and a future for his children.”

 

At weekends and holidays, Garbis and Seta spend time at their house in Normandy together with Serge and grandchildren. The family has created their own tiny Armenia, with apricot trees and fig trees, just as it once was at his parents’ house.

 

SHORT NOTES

PeÅ Holmquist is an independent filmmaker born 1947. Freelance filmmaker and film school professor in documentaries. He has produced more than 50 documentaries, among them: On the Border ( Laos 1969), The Battle of Jerusalem (1979) , Gaza Ghetto (Israel / Palestine 1984), Words and Stones – Gaza 2000, My Dad – the Inspector ( 2003)

 

Suzanne Khardalian is an independent filmmaker and journalist, born 1956. She studied journalism in Beirut and Paris and worked as a journalist in Paris until 1988 when she started to work with films.

 

Films by PeÅ Holmquist and Suzanne Khardalian:  

Back to Ararat (The Armenian Genocide 1988)

Unsafe Ground (Sweden / Lebanon 1993)

The Lion from Gaza (Sweden/ Palestine 1996)

Her Armenian Prince (1997)

From Opium to Chrysanthemums (2000)

Where Lies My Victory (2002)

 

The directors have just started the postproduction of the documentary “Bullshit”, pitched at Nordisk Forum and Forum, Amsterdam 2003.

 

"PeÅ Holmquist Film" is a production company established in 1973.

The company has been producing films mostly for Scandinavian TV-channels often with Scandinavian co-producers.

 

Details on some of the films produced by "PeÅ Holmquist Film":

"Ghaza Ghetto" (1984)

A documentary film by PeA Holmquist, Joan Mandel and Pierre Bjorklund.

One of the first documentaries which tells the story of occupied Gaza and the story of the Palestinian people. In the film we follow the life and the history of a family in Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza. We also meet the Israeli soldiers who are patrolling the camp. The film was shown on many festivals and in many countries and TV-stations. It was banned in Israel but shown there 10 years after it was made.

 

"Her Armenian Prince" (1997)

A documentary film by PeÅ Holmquist and Suzanne Khardalian.  

Göta was a postal clerk in Helsinki. Sourene, a Soviet defector, was Stalin's former oil trader. They lived together 20 years in a small flat in Uppsala, Sweden. Most of the time Sourene spent in the kitchen writing down his memoirs. Thirty years after her husband's death, 80-year-old Göta discovers the "truth" about her beloved Sourene. How will she react? Will her love survive?


How to contact PeÅ Holmquist and Suzanne Khardalian:

HB PeÅ Holmquist Film

Prylvägen 7

SE 126 37 Hägersten

Sweden


E-mail addresses:

PeÅ Holmquist: pea.holmquist@chello.se

Suzanne Khardalian: suzanne.khardalian@chello.se


Links to films:

“Back to Ararat”: http://www.peaholmquist.com/ararat/

“I Hate Dogs”: http://www.peaholmquist.com/ihatedogs/  


Photo: PeÅ Holmquist and Suzanne Khardalian (documentary film makers)


On 2nd May 2006 we received the following e-mail from Suzanne Khardalian:

 

I had the chance to browse your website Azad-Hye and enjoyed it very much. I read with great impression the reports in Gulf papers on the Armenian Genocide. Besides it seems that you have a very vibrant community. It would be very interesting to see it. I hope I will be able to do it one day.

 

Just a few lines about myself . I am a journalist/documentary filmmaker working in Sweden. I am also work with policy issues and I am a graduate of MALD from Fletcher.

 

You can find more info on my films I do on the following Website: www.peaholmquist.com

 

I have directed and produced several documentaries on Armenia and Armenian issues.

 

Please do not hesitate to contact me for further information.

 

Best regards

Suzanne khardalian <suzanne.khardalian@chello.se>


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