‘Grandma’s Tattoos’: A Riveting Film About the Forgotten Women of Genocide

"Grandma Khanoum"

Director: Suzanne Khardalian
Producer: HB PeÅ Holmquist Film
Length: 58 min, Sweden
Date of release: September, 2011

STOCKHOLM, Sweden—“Grandma Khanoum was not like every one else. As a child I remember her as a wicked woman. She despised physical contact. This was a grandma who never hugged, gave no kisses. And she wore those gloves, which hid her hands and the tattoos. They hid her secret.” This is how Suzanne Khardalian describes her grandmother.

Khardalian is the director and producer of riveting new film called, “Grandma’s Tattoos” that lifts the veil of thousands of forgotten women—survivors of the Genocide—who were forced into prostitution and were tattooed to distinguish them from the locals.

”As a child I thought these were devilish signs that came from a dark world. They stirred fear in me. What were these tattoos? Who had done them and why? But the tattoos on grandma’s hands and face were a taboo, they never spoke about it,” explains Khardalian.

“Grandma’s Tattoos” is a journey into the secrets of the family. Eventually, the secret behind Grandma Khanoum’s blue marks are revealed.

“Grandma was abducted and kept in slavery for many years somewhere in Turkey. She was also forcibly marked, -tattooed – as a property, the same way you mark cattle. The discovery of the story has shaken me. I share the shame, the guilt and anger that infected my grandma’s life. Grandma Khanoum’s fate was not an aberration. On the contrary tens of thousands of Armenian children and teenagers were raped and abducted, kept in slavery,” explained Suzanne Khardalian.

In 1919, just at the end of WW I, the Allied forces reclaimed 90,819 Armenian, young girls and children who, during the war years, were forced to become prostitutes to survive, or had given birth to children after forced or arranged marriages or rape. Many of these women were tattooed as a sign that they belonged to abductor. European and American missionaries organized help and picked up and saved thousands of refugees who later were scattered all over the world to places like Beirut, Marseille and Fresno.

The story of Grandma’s Tattoos is a personal film about what happened to many Armenian women during the genocide 1915. Filmmaker and writer Suzanne Khardalian makes a personal journey into her own family to investigate the truth behind Khanoum, her late grandmother.

This is a ghost story; the ghosts of the tattooed women haunting us. It’s a mystery film, where many taboos are broken. As no one wants to tell the reel and whole story, and in order to bring the pieces of the puzzle together , the director makes us move between different time and space, from today’s welfare Sweden all the way to Suzanne Khardalian’s childhood in Beirut.

In the film we meet Grandmother’s sister, 98-year-old Lucia, who lives in Hollywood. Lucia too has those odd tattoos. She is willing to tell us only a part of the story. We also meet with Aunt Marie, grandma’s only still living child in Beirut. But Aunt Marie doesn’t know the whole story either. Grandma has never told it to her. It was forbidden to talk about the “unspeakable.” Aunt Marie too has the same unpleasant memories as the rest of the family.

It’s finally Suzanne’s mother who tells the story about Grandma Khanoum, and about the Kurdish man who was supposed to help grandma escape the killings but instead decided to abduct her and keep Khanoum as his concubine. Grandma was only a child tehn. She had just turned 12 The words “Mummy, mummy help me” is the sentence that haunts Suzanne and her family.

About the Director:
Suzanne Khardalian is an independent filmmaker and writer. She studied journalism in Beirut and Paris and worked as a journalist in Paris until 1985 when she started to work on films. She also holds a Masters Degree in International Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tuft’s University and contributes with articles to different journals. She has directed more than twenty films that have been shown both in Europe and the US.

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. Several films have been sold all over the world.

Suzanne Khardalian Selected Filmography
Back to Ararat ( 1988);
Unsafe Ground 1993);
The Lion from Gaza (1996);
Her ArmenianPrince (1997);
From Opium to Chrysanthemums ( 2000);
Where Lies My Victory (2002);
I Hate Dogs ( 2005);
Bullshit ( 2006);
Young Freud in Gaza(2009).

Asbarez will provide more coverage on this film and its director in upcoming editions.


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  1. bigmoustache said:

    thank you so much Suzanne Khardalian and pea holmquist, i have Back to Ararat and I Hate Dogs, both exellent beyond words. i have a friend whos grandmother also had those tattoos and she kept it a secret to her grandkids, just telling them that ‘the turks did it’. hope to see your works on gaza too

  2. Arn.Sweden said:

    How many percent of Turkeys Populace is Turkish ?
    Is it not like this Turkeys Populace has become Mixed with the Mongols ?
    The same holds true of the Turkish Populace of Hungary

    God bevere of this Mongol Personality raping and stealing Peoples and their lands.


    • S.Y. said:

      Hungarians and Turks are different peoples. Saying Hungarians are Turks is the same thing as saying German people are Persians.

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