For the average viewer, this scene is reminiscent of the consequences of a war or a terrifying natural disaster. However, Armenians will unmistakably recognize in these frames Armenian children, almost certainly orphans, who are being boarded on the ships leaving the Turkish port in Constantinople.
Climbing the steep ladder, kids are pushing and throwing each other back. The wind shakes them from side to side like paper dolls. This scene is contrasted with shots of exhausted Armenians who are loaded into train cars that were to send them to death.
People were everywhere – sitting on the roofs of train cars, standing in anticipation on the ground near the rails, or gathered around the small, pitiful fires in an attempt to warm up. All hope has been erased from their faces.
And, finally, the sadly familiar shots of deported Armenians.
However, among these tragic scenes, smiling faces are seen here and there: after the ships leave Turkey, the young optimism shows itself. It seems that some of the little passengers were looking forward to their anticipated adventure, which could make it possible for them to forget about the horrors they have experienced. One would like to hope that their path lied towards freedom.
This rare footage from the times of the Armenian Genocide was recently shown at the 29th annual Bologna Film Festival Il Cinema Ritrovato (“The Reopened Cinema”). Curator, archivist, and director from Switzerland Mariann Lewinsky, the one who had discovered these films, not for the first time made such a significant discovery.
Instinct has never failed Lewinsky who found the forgotten footage with the skillfulness of a detective. This year, the curator of the silent film section at the Bologna Film Festival decided to offer the audience something completely unique and selected a number of films that allowed the audience to have a glimpse at the Armenian Genocide events that had taken place 100 years ago.
“I was collecting a special program of Armenian silent films. Most of the films were from the Soviet era. But I was looking for films that were shot before 1915, and together with my colleagues, we managed to compose a program that includes documentaries from the period of 1911-1919,” said Lewinsky.
Her latest discovery made in the Library of Congress came to the center of world attention. “I found a video titled ‘Armenia, the cradle of humanity,’” said Lewinsky, “Obviously, this was not the name of this particular movie but of some other film added later.”
To show the film at the festival, the Bologna film archive Cineteca di Bologna restored it. A total of 70 meters of film were processed, or about four minutes.
“Some [of these children] are probably Armenian orphans leaving Istanbul in 1918, and others, most likely, are Greeks during the so-called ‘population exchange’,” noted Lewinsky.
Experts who recognized the Istanbul Palace in the footage confirmed that in the period after the Armenian Genocide, British troops used this building as a gathering place for the subsequent evacuation of Armenian orphans. Lewinsky remarked, “This is almost a collective image of forced displacement, refugees, and deportations.”