- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
April 30, 2004

Silent Witness: Graphic novel seeks to draw attention to Genocide

A new and for Armenia unique attempt at portraying the Genocide was presented at the Artbridge bookstore-café in central Yerevan on the eve of Genocide Remembrance Day.

A graphic novel in the style known best by its French title “Bande Dessinee” has been produced through a collaboration by painter Tigran Mangasaryan and director Ruben Tsaturyan. They plan a seven-volume work titled “Silence”.

“When our hero is asked about the bitter days of the Genocide he says he cannot talk about it as it's hard for him to recall everything that had happened and he prefers silence,” explains Mangasaryan. According to him, the terror was so big that it is inhumane to talk about it.

However, the authors have added another conceptual and ideological meaning to their title. Says Mangasaryan: “With this book we tell the world that it is time to start talking about those terrible days, we are going to break the silence.”

With the aid of beautiful and observant graphics and an accurate, strained storyline, the book portrays the life of the book’s young hero during the 1915 Genocide.

“Our characters, bearing symbolic names Harutiun and Haykuhi, are taken from real life. There are many people who escaped the Genocide, but we chose representative characters,” says Tsaturyan.

The Bande Dessinee style is not very common in Armenia. Mangasaryan and Tsaturyan, who titled their first volume “A Letter from Constantinople” , believe it provides an easily accessible way of drawing attention to the Genocide. Changing like frames of a film, the pictures in the book attract the reader from the beginning with a dramatic story line.

“Visual art has much stronger and quicker influence than any scientific book. If today we have no opportunities for making films then the second most popular method is the graphic novel,” says Mangasaryan.

He says Armenians should learn from Jewish experience in raising the issue of the Holocaust worldwide. One of the best-known Bande Dessinee novels is “Mice”, which is claimed by some experts to have been more popular than Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List. In it, mice wearing striped uniforms in concentration camps represent Jews, cats bearing swastikas are Nazi Germans and pigs betraying Jews are Poles.

The authors of the Armenian work are sure that this method of presenting the bitter history of the Genocide is precisely right for people in developed countries who simply have no time to read books.

“Besides, no matter how thoroughly you describe with the written word a Turk’s furious face, for whom slaughtering a child is just the same as slaughtering chicken, this face must be drawn. People must not only imagine these eyes they must see them to understand the unrecognized tragedy of a whole nation,” believes Mangasaryan.

He acknowledges an apprehension here that if methods of presenting the Genocide are not backed up with facts then they may lose their value. But Mangasaryan is sure that an imaginative representation of reality will raise the issue of Genocide recognition much more quickly and will have greater influence.

“There are numerous documentary materials and fat books in the Genocide Museum but who reads them? Even for me, who had to read some books for my work, it was very difficult. Every time I tried to put it off and find other sources,” says the painter.

At the back of every book, the authors decided to place one documentary photo corresponding to the relevant events and a list of names of people who became victims of the Genocide, with dates of birth and places of residence (a list that will be completed only after the entire series – seven books – is finished). There will be also a list of the countries that have recognized the fact of Genocide committed by Ottoman Turkey.

Lavrenti Barseghyan, the director of the Genocide Museum of Armenia, welcomes the “Silence” graphic novel as very actual material. He says: “This book is necessary not only for telling the world about our tragedy but also for showing the young generation in Armenia and Diaspora the dark pages of their nation. Even so, for me it’s hard to accept the fact that the new generation doesn’t read much and is more interested in such visual means, which are easy to perceive.”

This first book in the “Silence” series, containing more than 300 graphics full of emotional and bright characters, has been sent to several publishing houses in France.

Dramatic developments of the hero’s life will continue in the next book, which authors have already named “The Letter on the Sand”. It will describe the slaughter that took place in the desert of Der Zor.

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