Former BBC Anchor Documents Armenian Genocide

Carla Garapedian, former anchor at BBC World News who directed “Screamers,” a documentary about the Armenian genocide, came to UCI on Thursday, May 22, to share the effects the movie had on the Armenian community and the world after the film was released in 2006. There was a small group of 24 people gathered to hear Garapedian speak in Humanities Gateway.

She began her talk by explaining how she first got interested in making this film and how she got the commission from BBC to do it.

“The last film that I wanted to make was one about the Armenian genocide,” Garapedian stated. “I didn’t think I had anything that I could add to other films that were being made. What changed was at that time in 2004, there were things in the news that were bringing the history back into contemporary topics, contemporary discussion.”

During the time that Garapedian became interested in making a documentary about the genocide, Turkey was petitioning to be part of the European Union. Due to this petitioning, Turkey’s history and human rights violations were coming back into European politics.

At the same time, Garapedian explained that there was more talk about the genocide due to Samantha Power’s newly released and successful book “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.” This book addressed America’s unresponsiveness to the genocides of the 20th century. In addition to all the political and social stirrings, Garapedian noted that a popular band called System of a Down was singing songs that expressed outrage towards society’s ails, including the Armenian genocide.

“In this mix was this heavy metal rock band who had 16 million people following them. These people (the fans) knew about the Armenian genocide and they were not Armenian, and that surprised me because most of my adult life I would meet people who never heard about [the genocide. And here were these 16-year-olds who knew about this chapter in history … because they followed this band. So I went back to Britain and made a case to BBC and said, ‘Look, wouldn’t it be interesting if we could make a film about this?'”

After getting the commission from BBC and making the film, “Screamers” was released in theaters in 2006. Garapedian’s documentary followed System of a Down on tour and showed how the band raised the consciousness of the younger generation through their music. The film also weaved in testimonies from survivors, and mentioned other genocides of the 20th century such as the Holocaust and the Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur genocides.

Following the release of the movie, there was an explosion of discussion about the documentary and the genocide.

“What started to happen was the Armenian genocide as an issue started to circulate in national and political discussion here in America,” Garapedian said.

“And to be completely honest, a lot of it happened because of this band—they were so popular. When you have young people talking about it and creating excitement, there was a sort of flurry of discussion and blogs and social media that started to happen.”

With all the conversations people were having about the documentary, Garapedian noted three things that happened as an after-effect. The first was the broadening of genocide awareness. No longer was it just Armenians talking amongst each other, but young teens who were not Armenian as well.

Garapedian also saw a linkage between all the genocides that occurred in the 20th century.

“You might not know about what happened 100 years ago, but you know what’s happening now in Darfur and they’re all connected,” she stated. “So the message became wider, it became different, and I think it was able to appeal to a lot more people because it was about human rights.”

Garapedian believed a third after-effect of the documentary was the impact on Turkey. After the premier of the movie, then-foreign minister and current president of Turkey Abdullah Gul made a statement denying the Armenian genocide.

“What they said was there was new lies coming out of the Armenian diaspora and every Turkish citizen must combat these lies,” Garapedian said.

Shortly after this statement released by the Turkish government, the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was assassinated on Jan. 19, 2007. Dink was a major proponent of human and minority rights in Turkey and had also made an appearance in the “Screamers” documentary.

“[Dink] came to the movie premier [in] 2006,” Garapedian recalled. “I have a very wonderful memory of him being at the premier. He’s a big guy and he grabbed me, lifted me off my feet, gave me a big bear hug and said, ‘Carla what a wonderful day this is!’ Less than two months later he was gone.”

Following Dink’s assassination, Garapedian recalled a lot of outrage in Turkey as thousands of people protested in Istanbul shouting, “We are all Armenians, we are all Hrant Dink,” according to BBC news.

“It was part of the beginning of the civil rights movement in Turkey,” Garapedian said. “The stirrings of people simply wanting to know their own history. Nothing to do with what Turks thought about Armenians. This was about Turks having the freedom to know their own history without being persecuted. ‘Our issue’ became a civil rights issue in Turkey.  It was never something I thought would happen out of making this film.”