Animating History: Zoryan Institute Brings the Testimonies of Genocide Survivors to Life

"Aurora's Sunrise," the story of Aurora Mardiganian, will be the Zoryan Institute's first oral history account converted to animation
"Aurora's Sunrise," the story of Aurora Mardiganian, will be the Zoryan Institute's first oral history account converted to animation

“Aurora’s Sunrise,” the story of Aurora Mardiganian, will be the Zoryan Institute’s first oral history account converted to animation

TORONTO, Canada—Can you imagine if you, as a kid, could see the animated story of your grandparents on screen? What if you could watch them recount their life story and learn more about who you are and where you come from? What if you could not only listen to the testimonies of Armenian genocide survivors, your grandparents or great-grandparents, from the survivors personally, but also watch the story in animation on screen?

The Zoryan Institute is working to make that a reality! The Institute, in partnership with BARS Media of Armenia, is converting its oral history accounts of the survivors of the Armenian genocide into animation. To illustrate the courageous and inspiring life story of one such survivor, Aurora Mardiganian’s testimony will be the first to be made into an animated film, titled “Aurora’s Sunrise,” to be shown worldwide some 100 years later since the first silent movie of 1919.

Aurora Mardiganian was one of the biggest celebrities of the Golden Age of silent film. She was a survivor of the 1915 – 1918 Armenian Genocide, a refugee turned actress, and the unlikely star of one of the highest grossing films of her time.

As described in her interview, three years after her escape from the Armenian Genocide, Aurora wrote the best-selling book, “Ravished Armenia,” in which she shared her harrowing experiences. A year later, she starred in a film adaptation of the book which became one of the biggest blockbusters of the silent era. Aurora was also the face of an unparalleled humanitarian campaign for victims of the genocide that raised awareness and over $30 million in 1919.

Along with breathtaking animation and recovered segments of Aurora’s original silent film, “Aurora’s Sunrise” resurrects her inspiring story of female empowerment. Aurora stands alongside figures such as Anne Frank, Malala Yousafzai, and Nadia Murad as a champion of human dignity. She is not a victim but a hero—a fighter for justice and humanity.

Through this medium, future generations will be exposed to engaging and visceral adaptations of the Zoryan Institute’s Oral History Archives. The Archive can be used to illustrate not only Aurora’s story, but the thousands of hours of filmed interviews in the collection including the Institute’s interview with non-Armenian survivors of the Armenian Genocide such as Eleanor Ussher-Baker.

Ussher-Baker was the daughter of the medical missionary, Clarence Ussher, who served as a doctor and missionary in Marsovan, Harput and Van from 1898 to 1915 and was a witness during the massacres of Van in 1915.

This project is a massive undertaking and still requires a great deal of time as well as human and financial resources. A project of this caliber and importance can cost upwards of $1 million. “Aurora’s Sunrise” has received a commitment from ZDF/ARTE, one of the biggest public broadcasters in Europe to include “Aurora’s Sunrise” in one of the six spots on their channel dedicated to theatrically released documentaries. The film has also won support from Eurimages, Best Pitch at the Belgrade Women in Film’s Film Festival and the Best Project award from the Armenia-Turkey Cinema Platform. The film is scheduled to be premiered in 2020.

The Institute is especially excited about its Oral History archives and this initiative to convert Oral History testimonies, which the Institute has been preserving for the past three decades, into animated film. This will come to life through the artistic and cinematic talents of its partners at BARS Media in Armenia.


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One Comment;

  1. sylva portoian said:

    Who is this Beautiful, Talented Aurora Mardiganian?
    (Actor and Film producer in 1919 “Ravished Armenia”)

    A beautiful girl called Aurora: Arshaluys  
    (Sun-rays in Armenian Langue)
    Was a young girl during the Armenian Genocide
    Tortured many times.

    Arriving in the USA after passing the hardest days.
    She produced a silent film about atrocities
    She saw and felt on her soul before her skin
    And what she had seen in her young life

    Nude girls dying from internal bleeding…
    Who can imagine such a thing happening to innocent girls? 
    If Jesus-Christ had a cloth around his waist on the cross.
    Those girls tortured till death through their sacred organs
    In Islamic religion is forbidden to torture females and nude!

    If you see her soundless film, you will scream
    Scream … for cruelty by a savage race.
    The story is repeating once again today, at this moment,
    Through ISIS ( Islamic State in Iraq and Syria)
    Because of the same idea of savageness roles and plays,
    Destroying every day our peaceful, beautiful nests.

    Hence … someone should stop this cruel gene.
    God can’t arrive … suppress every bad DNA
    We should stop … erase  
    Without delay … Without delay….

    from my historical poetry book “BRING OUT our GENOCIDED SKULLS & ARTFUL HANDS” (2019) published by Zangak Press, Yerevan, Armenia, available at Komitas Museum Yerevan,

    Aurora Mardiganian was the daughter of a prosperous Armenian family living in Chmshgatsak (Çemişgezek), twenty miles north of Harput, Ottoman Turkey. Witnessing the deaths of her family members and being forced to march over 1,400 miles, she was kidnapped and sold into the slave markets of Anatolia (Armenian Highlands). Mardiganian escaped to Tiflis (Tbilisi, Georgia), then to St. Petersburg from where she traveled to Oslo and finally, with the help of Near East Relief, to New York.
    Aroura’s Film of 1919: Aurora Mardiganian, a survivor of the Armenian genocide of 1915–1923, recalled sixteen young Armenian girls being crucified (1919), which was based on her book Ravished Armenia, showed the victims nailed to crosses. However, almost 70 years later Mardiganian revealed to film historian, Anthony Slide (b.1944) that the scene was inaccurate and went on to describe what was impalement. She stated that “Turks didn’t make their crosses like that”. The Turks made little-pointed crosses. They took the clothes off the girls. They made them bend down, and after raping them, they made them sit on a pointed wood, through the vagina, till they bled for days and died.” This is a Turkish well-known torturing way, using “kazookh” on girls as well, that can be defined as ‘Vaginal crucification’ – (a new definition in my glossary of terms), Americans have made it a more civilized way in the film. In my opinion ”Turks did not have time to make crosses, as they are an unskilled race”.