Astrid An Interview With A Survivor

Story 608 | Elbow Room Dance Company | Creative process | 1 Project

In the early stages of the creation of Medsmama, there was this space, a gap in my knowledge of her and her story and the story of the Armenians. Many survivors, like her, stayed quiet. It was hard to revisit, share, record and hand down such stories. So I was so privileged to have found and interviewed Astrid Aghajanian, who’s mother did share her story, of carrying Astrid, as a toddler through the atrocities that took place in Turkey between 1915-18 and eventually leading her to safety.

This interview continued into the realms of the complexities that emerged within the Armenian community in the aftermath, as they struggled to come to terms with pain, trauma and identity in diaspora. At this point the interview ends abruptly, as Astrid and I began to discuss and share notes on our experiences and find commonality. In many ways, not least the sense of not belonging and for me that I am only half Armenian after all. It all raises more questions still, that remain unanswered three generations later. In diaspora what from your heritage do you take forward? Can we separate our Armenian cultural heritage, or our perception of it removed as we are, from our wounding? And how is it preserved as it integrates with other cultures?

Very sadly, Astrid was refugeed again by the Turks having settled in Cyprus. As was my family. They, mine, also settled and were unsettled from Jerusalem and Beirut.

Although this interview took place in 2001, I remember all too clearly a sentiment that Astrid shared with me that must not be forgotten. That this is not ‘the Turks’. This is some misguided men, a few “bad men” she called them, a movement called ‘the Young Turks’. And that she had been rescued by Turks, “a good man”. It is a mistake some still make to blame ‘the Turks’ and I very much hope that as more of the Countries of the World recognise and acknowledge the genocide of the Armenians, that is estimated to have been anywhere between 1.5 and 3 million, that the community in diaspora can slowly take a deep let go.

A balancing act as we must be mindful to remember too, so that we can consider a time when the story does not keep on being repeated on the worldwide stage, learn from all these stories. There is a direct Hitler quote, that when in discussion over what to do with the Jews, he replied, “who, after all, speaks of the annihilation of the Armenian?”. That they did not, helped inspire him three decades later, as did Genghis Khan’s gruesome exploits, probably amongst many others.

I believe passionately that those who lost their lives would wish us to live vibrant joyful ones, not lost in the shadow of their lost lives. We owe it to them to live as richly and fully as as many men at once; it is almost a duty. Passionately and well in honour of them.

You can hear my interview with Astrid here soon. I would point out that some of the scenes she depicts are deeply disturbing but that ultimately the story is of survival and extraordinary resilience.

Dance: Elbow Room Dance Company
Credits: A huge debt of gratitude to Astrid and her extremely courageous mother for sharing their stories. Photograph of Mr & Mrs Aghajanian, Astrid with her beloved husband

Published: 9 Jan 2024 @ 21:59

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