Shoah Foundation Event Unleashes Wave of Support for Armenian Project

L. to r.: USC President C. L. Max Nikias, Niki Nikias, George Clooney, Steven Spielberg, and Stephen Smith at the USC Shoah Foundation's gala honoring George Clooney

BY TAMAR MASHIGIAN

NEW YORK—A tidal wave of support for the Armenian Genocide Testimony Collection has washed through the United States since the Oct. 3 USC Shoah Foundation Gala hosted by Steven Spielberg in New York, honoring George Clooney for his humanitarian work.

On Nov. 3, 120 Armenians in Denver attended a presentation by filmmaker Carla Garapedian at the Denver Art Museum, and the night before there was a parlor gathering for prospective Armenian Genocide Testimony Collection donors at a private home in Denver. On Nov. 15, Nvair Beylerian is hosting a parlor meeting in her New Jersey home to present background on how Armenian Genocide testimonies will be integrated into the USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s Visual History Archive. The first parlor meeting was held in New York on Oct. 4, the day after the Shoah Foundation Gala. The lunch presentation at the Columbia Club in New York was hosted by Armen A. Avanessians, Managing Director of the Goldman Sachs Group and a Member of the Board of Trustees at Columbia University. Avanessians also is on the board of directors for FAR (Fund for Armenian Relief).

“The USC Shoah Ambassador for Humanity event in New York honoring George Clooney sparked great interest in the Armenian community in the Armenian Genocide Testimony Collection project. Not only was there a private parlor meeting at the Columbia Club showcasing the project to potential supporters of the project, but other parlor events have occurred in Denver and are planned for northern New Jersey, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami and Fresno,” said Jerry Papazian, chair of the Armenian Film Foundation.

More than 40 Armenians from around the U.S. attended the USC Shoah Foundation Institute Gala at $1,500 a ticket hosted by Steven Spielberg and honoring actor George Clooney on Oct. 3 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Both Spielberg and Clooney graciously acknowledged to this writer and other Armenians the presence of the Armenian contingent and guests at the New York gala.

There were approximately 700 guests at the Shoah Foundation Gala, held in the museum’s Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, also known as the Whale Room because it features a replica of a 94-foot-long blue whale hanging from the cavernous ceiling.  When guests entered the banquet hall, the cinematic lighting, with mottled blue colors swimming through the space, gave the appearance of everything being underwater. The movie “A Night at the Museum” was filmed in the same premises.

Klara Moradkhan (left) and Tamar Mashigian with George Clooney at the USC Shoah Foundation's gala honoring George Clooney

In the lobby of the museum, where guests milled during cocktail hour, large screens played four film clips, one of them a short Shoah Foundation documentary about the work of the late filmmaker Dr. J. Michael Hagopian, who recorded the testimonies of 400 Armenian eyewitnesses to the Armenian Genocide of 1915. When Barbara Gilmore, who had worked with the documentary filmmaker for 40 years, introduced herself to Clooney, he told her, “I know all about Hagopian.”

Hagopian’s filmed interviews of 400 Armenian Genocide survivors and eyewitnesses will be integrated into Shoah’s Visual History Archive, accessible online to 44 universities and institutions worldwide. The Armenian Film Foundation, which Hagopian co-founded in 1979, is now working with the USC Shoah Foundation to complete funding for the indexing, cataloguing and integration of the Armenian testimonies into the Visual History Archive by April 2015.

Attending the Shoah Foundation Gala attended were Southern Californians Antoinette and Joanne Hagopian, Gary and Arsine Phillips, Paul and Sandra Kalemkiarian, Deputy Los Angeles City Attorney Michael Amerian, Armenian Film Foundation board chair Jerry Papazian and board member Carla Garapedian, Shoah Foundation staff member Silvia Sevlian, and this writer. Various prominent members of the Armenian communities on the East Coast also were present, including Nvair Beylerian, whose grandfather Anoush Krikorian is in the AFF archive, Ambassador and Mrs. John Evans, and Edward and Pamela Avedisian.

At the parlor hosted by Avanessians, Garapedian announced that the AFF has completed the digitization of the Hagopian’s rare 16mm film collection, and she explained how individual survivor interviews will be indexed and searchable online via the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive.

“This is a new opportunity for Armenians,” Garapedian asserted. “Shoah’s digital archive reaches out to the non-Armenian community – to Americans and the international community who do not know about the Armenian Genocide. It’s about making these testimonies accessible to the world.”

“We were so excited about the enthusiasm and support demonstrated by members of the Armenian community on the East Coast and in Denver in October and November,” said Sylvia Moskovitz of the USC Shoah Foundation.  “It was not just the discovery of the existence of the project that was of great interest in Denver, but also of the partnership with the USC Shoah Foundation that provides a platform for the survivor interviews to be available worldwide in time for the 100th anniversary, that will focus the world’s attention on the Armenian Genocide.”

The USC Shoah Foundation is actively engaged in an international fund-raising campaign to ensure completion of the integration of the Armenian testimonies so that they can be presented to the world in time for the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, in April 2015.

Shoah’s Visual History Archive is the largest digital collection of its kind in the world. The collection is available at 44 institutions around the world, and approximately one million students, researchers, teachers and lay people view the testimonies every year. In addition, thousands of high school students across the country can view the testimonies through IWitness, the USC Shoah Foundation’s educational website.

For additional information about the Armenian Genocide Testimonies project, please contact Sylvia Moskovitz at the USC Shoah Foundation – moskovit@usc.edu or (213)740-4991.

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