Commemorating the 90th Anniversary of an Epoch-Making Film on Genocide

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–The Dzidzernagapert Genocide Museum in Yerevan has issued a memorial postcard marking the 90th anniversary of “Ravished Armenia,” a silent film exposing the American public to the horrors of the Armenian Genocide as it was unfolding.

Considered “an epoch-making film,” Ravished Armenia told the survival story of Arshaluys (Aurora) Mardiganian. The 1919 film screened in major cities across the US, raising over $30 million for Armenian orphans scattered throughout the Middle East and the First Armenian Republic.

The museum has launched an on-line exhibit about the film on its website.

Produced by MGM studios in collaboration with the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief, the documentary, officially titled “Auction of Souls,” was a silent film based on the book “Ravished Armenia” by Arshaluys Mardiganian. The film brought her story of hardship and survival to the big screen.

A young girl from the Armenian town of Chmshkatsag, Mardiganian had escaped the Genocide at the age of 14 only to be taken captive in a Turkish Harem, where she was brutally tortured and abused. She eventually found salvation in the United States, where she wrote her memoirs.

The first film ever made about genocide, “The Auction of Souls” premiered on February 16, 1919 at the Plaza Hotel in New York. The screening, attended by 7,000 prominent New Yorkers, was sponsored by Oliver Harriman and George Vanderbilt, both members of American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief. Tickets cost $10.

Directed by Oscar Apfel, it was shown in large cities across 13 states. It also screened in several Latin American countries, including Mexico and Cuba.

A large public relations campaign was launched to support the film and spread word of the atrocities being committed in the Ottoman Empire. Mardiganian traveled to large cities across the US, speaking to benefactors in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles about the Armenian Genocide. Apfel, for his part, traveled the country to shore up support for the film

The “Auction of Souls” was also shown at the Royal Albert Hall in Great Britain in December, 1919. The film received much acclaim in the press between 1919 and1920. The London “Bayoscop” newspaper wrote about the great importance of the ”Auction of Souls,” while other popular newspapers such as “the Illustrated London News” and “the Morning Telegraph” stressed that the film was a must see for everyone.

Unfortunately, “The Auction of Souls” was taken off British screens after only three weeks while Mardiganian’s “Ravished Armenia” was eventually censured in the early 1920s and removed from British and American libraries.

Most of the 85-minute film, unfortunately, has been lost. Some say the reels presumably sank with a ship on its way to the Georgian port of Batoumi. Other accounts claim the reels had been stolen by thieves.

For over eighty years film historians have been searching the world for the film’s nine reels. But only one 20 minute segment of the reel has been found. The remaining reels of the rare nitrate based film have been lost in time.

The twenty minute segment was found in 1994 by Eduard Gozanlian, an Argentinean Armenian who donated the reel to the Dzidzernagapert Musuem. The copy remains, till this day, in the museum’s archives.

The list of the film’s original English, French and Armenian subtitles has been preserved in The Selig Collection at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The subtitles have also been republished in Anthony Slide’s book, "Ravished Armenia and the Story of Aurora Mardiganian." The book, published by Scarecrow Press in 1997, tells the story of the film’s making and reveals the young girl’s survival story.


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