MONTREAL, Canada & FRESNO, Calif.—With the 106th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide on April 24, a pair of moving, personal documentaries shed light on the lasting trauma, coming soon to PBS stations in Montreal and Fresno. These wounds were reopened by the recent war between Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey, and the Armenians in the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh.
Making its California Central Valley premiere, “100 Years from Home” airs on Fresno’s Valley PBS on Thursday, April 22 at 7 p.m. PT with an encore broadcast on Saturday, April 24 at 7 p.m PT, coinciding with the anniversary of the genocide. “What Will Become of Us” follows directly after both broadcasts at 8:30 p.m. PT.
Quebec is home to one of the largest Armenian communities in the world. In October 2020, Montreal’s Armenian community joined thousands across Canada and around the world in protests against Azerbaijani aggression in Artsakh which resulted in thousands of deaths.
Thousands of Armenian immigrants flocked to Fresno and the broader Central Valley in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, making it one of the largest and oldest communities in the United States. Prominent Armenians from the area include “Alvin and the Chipmunks” creator Ross Bagdasarian, college basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, businessman and owner of the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas Kirk Kerkorian, and perhaps most notably writer William Saroyan.
“100 Years from Home” follows Pilikian’s journey as she searches for her great-grandparents’ house in modern-day Kars, Turkey, which they were forced to abandon over a century ago during the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire that killed over 1.5 million Armenians during and after World War I. In a chilling parallel, many Armenian refugees in Artsakh today have lost their homes as a result of the most recent war.
“What Will Become of Us” is a forward-looking feature documentary produced for public television distribution that speaks to the many immigrant communities who have experienced trauma. Today, often unrecognized, these tragic events create a burden for the younger generation, discouraging them from taking up their culture.
To bring their story to life, Ayanian collaborated with long-time filmmaking partner Joseph Myers. Myers, being of Jewish decent, had an immediate connection to the story. Ayanian, whose grandparents survived the Genocide, said, “My desire as a filmmaker is to make their sacrifices count.”
In “100 Years from Home,” the blueprint for the long-lost house was passed down from generation-to-generation until finally ending up in the hands of Pilikian. She and her filmmaker husband Jared White embarked on an emotional journey to Armenia to document the tens of thousands who marched to the Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial in Yerevan, Armenia on the 100th anniversary of the Genocide before venturing to Turkey in search of the house.
Turkey’s continued denial of the Armenian Genocide adds to the grief for Armenians around the world, and its lasting impact on the descendants of survivors is a sentiment that is shared by many sources throughout both films. The First Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994 led to the closure of the Turkish Armenian border. As a result, Pilikian could only enter Turkey by way of neighboring country Georgia.
Hatred of Armenians is still very common today in Turkey, which caused apprehension for Pilikian. She was stopped for a length of time upon reaching the Turkish border because of a Nagorno-Karabakh stamp in her passport, further fueling her anxiety.
The two films shed light on the United States’ role in providing humanitarian relief during the Genocide, followed by a century of virtual silence on the matter until the U.S. Congress passed resolutions recognizing it at the end of 2019. Canada officially recognized the Armenian Genocide in 2004.
“What Will Become of Us” features slice-of-life stories with singer/songwriter Sebu Simonian of Capital Cities, housewares designer/artist Michael Aram, comedian Lory Tatoulian, political activist Aram Hamparian, John and Annie Sweers who travel to Armenia for the first time through Birthright Armenia and Armenian Volunteer Corps, and Fresno musician Richard Hagopian, a cultural icon in the community, who plays a lute-like string instrument called the oud, preserving historic Armenian folk music and passing on the techniques he’s mastered to a new generation by way of his grandson Andrew.
“100 Years from Home” features interviews with Central Valley-born historian and UCLA professor emeritus Richard Hovannisian, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, social critic Vahe Berberian, documentarian Carla Garapedian, Armenian studies scholar Shushan Karapetian, and Archbishop Pargev Martirosyan of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Artsakh.
Many of the subjects come away from the experience with a much stronger sense of themselves and their heritage. The filmmakers hope to raise awareness for Armenian issues in order to prevent further tragedies. “In light of what’s happening in Artsakh, I believe it’s more important than ever to be sharing Armenian stories,” said Pilikian.
Jared White, Director & Co-Producer (100 Years from Home): Jared White is a writer and director from Los Angeles who makes films with a focus on empathy and the fight for justice. He started the production company Squared Pictures with his wife and frequent collaborator Lilit Pilikian. His work has premiered at highly regarded film festivals, been featured on top web platforms and received national television exposure.
Lilit Pilikian, Producer & Subject (100 Years from Home): Lilit Pilikian is an Armenian-American born and raised in Los Angeles. As an Industrial Designer, she’s primarily worked in consumer electronics, most recently on high tech toys at Mattel. She’s also worked in User Experience as part of the Innovation team at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, and as a production designer on a host of film sets. Follow her film work with her husband and collaborator Jared White at SquaredPictures.com.
Stephanie Ayanian, Co-Director & Producer (What Will Become of Us): Stephanie Ayanian is a producer/director from the Philadelphia region. Her film “Kinderwald” screened on the closing night of the Slamdance Film Festival in 2014 and was an Official Selection of the Munich International, Seattle International, and Napa Valley film festivals. Previously, Ayanian worked as a senior producer/director for Penn State Public Broadcasting where she earned the American Association of Engineering Societies Award for Journalism while producing national television documentaries and international streaming series.
Joseph Myers, Co-Director & Producer (What Will Become of Us): Joseph Myers is a documentary film director and cinematographer. His nationally broadcast documentaries include “Telling Amy’s Story,” “A Road to Independence,” “The Grange Fair: An American Tradition,” and “World on Trial” (episodes 1 and 2). Joe’s work has been seen on PBS, WORLD, NETA, APT, and the Discovery Networks among others and earned prominent awards. Some honors include Mid-Atlantic Chapter National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Emmy awards, the Silver Screen Award, a CINE Golden Eagle, and prominent festival awards including Bare Bones, and Action on Film. Joe is a 2008 fellow of the CPB/PBS Producer’s Academy.