The film “The Stigma of My Grandmother” by Swedish publicist Susan Hartalian tells about thousands of Armenian women whose bodies were specially tattooed during the Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey in 1915. The film is also intended to solve the mystery of “tattoos”, in modern terms.
In 1988, Susan Hartalian made her first documentary about the Armenian Genocide, “Return to Ararat”. In her film “The Stigma of My Grandmother,” she presents new facts and raises questions that have not yet been voiced by anyone.
“The theme of the Genocide runs like a red thread through all my films,” she told Ermenihaber.am.
We are introducing to you the first part of the interview with the Swedish director:
“After the Genocide in Rwanda, in parallel with the Genocide in Darfur, people began to actively talk about the rape of women. It was considered that raping women during the Genocide was part of the strategy. That is, in addition to the physical extermination of the enemy, there was a tendency to destroy it at the genetic level, as well as a desire to win a genetic victory.”
“And this strategy was also used during the Armenian Genocide?”
“Yes. In the course of my research, I realized that this strategy was also used during the Armenian Genocide. Armenian women were raped, abducted, and used. That is, with Armenian men having been killed, tens of thousands of Armenian women who continued to live realized that such a life was tantamount to death.”
“How did you reveal the secret of women ‘tattooed’ during the Armenian Genocide?”
“In the course of my research in the archive of the League of Nations, I found strange photos of Armenian women. Basically, these were photographs of young girls who had tattoos. For each girl, a special package of documents was made, in the woman’s name, if she remembered, and information about her parents were noted. Their memories and stories, how they were kidnapped, how many years they lived in slavery, and other things were recorded there. These archives are filled with similar stories.”
“How old were these girls?”
“I was shocked because some of them were only 8-12 years old. But the biggest shock I experienced when, looking at the photos of the girls, I remembered that my grandmother had the same signs on her hands and face.”
“So your grandmother was also “tagged”?”
“Yes. I did not love my grandmother. She was not like other grandmothers. She did not like physical contact, did not hug and did not kiss. We were a little afraid of her, and the signs on her hands intensified our fear. We did not understand what these signs were. I only found out when I saw photos of these girls.”
“And why such tattoos were made?”
“We know that many Armenian women were abducted by Kurdish or Arab tribes. At the same time, many were taken by Turkish families. During these years, Armenian women and children, like fruits, were lying on the street, and everyone could come and take ‘as much as they wanted.’
The principle ‘take whoever you want and how much you want’ was in play. That is the reality. I even heard stories that women had different prices depending on age or whether they had been “used” earlier or not.
For example, an 8-year-old girl had one price, a 12-year-old had another. A mature woman also had her own price. That is, it was a whole business.
And tattoos are a tradition of tribes. They tagged women to show that it was their property.”
“So each tribe had its own signs?”
“Yes, each tribe had its own special signs. That is, a tattoo is a seal of property.
In the course of my research, I found a photograph of a girl who had the same signs as my grandmother. I assume that they were abducted by the same tribe.
My research led me to Fresno. In 1919, a group of women gathered from deserts arrived from the Middle East in Fresno. There were so many of them in Fresno that they were called ‘blue lips.’ People said that there were so many ‘tagged’ Armenian women in Fresno that it no longer seemed strange to them.”
“You said that your grandmother’s sister also had tattoos, didn’t she talk about it?”
“Yes, the grandmother’s younger sister was also ‘branded.’ She was in the same self-denial and did not talk about it. I kept asking her why she didn’t talk about it. Once, when I asked a question again, she angrily said: ‘What do you want? Tell everyone that the Turks did it? What does it matter today?’”
“Tattoos were done forcibly? Against the will of women?”
“Naturally. No one asked their opinion. There are many stories about how later these women, freed from slavery, tried to erase these signs. Many tried to remove them with chemical solutions, leaving terrible wounds and scars on their face.”
Interview by Astghik Igityan
Grandma’s tattoos Webtv.am
?? Grandma’s Tattoos | Witness Al Jazeera English