An Armenian-American father and daughter set out to understand the powerful legacy of genocide and the ways that a century of silence and denial has shaped their family and themselves. When your family’s brutal past is denied, how do you make sense of the present?
Nubar Alexanian, a second generation Armenian-American, was raised speaking Armenian as his first language and surrounded by the haunting sounds of the Oud. Yet, no one, ever, spoke of the persecution that had brought his grandparents to the United States, not his grandmother who lost three young daughters on a death march, nor his grandfather, who fled everything he knew, never to return. Nubar felt suffocated by the unspoken suffering and fled as far from his Armenian identity as he could. He rarely talked about his Armenian heritage. Until his daughter Abby, half Armenian, asked a simple question. “Dad, will you come with me to Armenia?”
Scars of Silence is the result of that question. Without even fully understanding where their ancestral “Armenia” was, Nubar and Abby set out on a journey to understand their shared history.
What does it mean to be a modern Armenian? We live in a world in which genocide – whether that of the Jews, the Cambodians, the Rwandans — is widely acknowledged and condemned. Yet the murder of more than a million Armenians, perpetrated 100 years ago by Ottoman Turks, remains largely hidden, a crime to even mention in modern day Turkey.
When your family’s violent past is denied, how do you make sense of the present? What is your story?
Nubar and his daughter Abby set out to find their story. They travel to Eastern Turkey in search of their family’s ancestral homes. For Nubar, the return to this land is revelatory. “I didn’t realize that trauma could be silently passed from one generation to another,” he says. “It was so much a part of me, I didn’t even notice it. Being in that land released it. It may sound dramatic, but I’m a different person now.” The film follows Nubar from avoidance, through painful recognition, to an embrace of his family’s story.
For Abby, the understanding of this past is a generation removed, yet intensely personal. “It’s heartbreaking to learn what really happened to them, to us. But now I feel like I’m beginning to understand my family and myself.”
The audience follows as they engage Turks, both friendly and hostile, in trying to discover what happened in the past and remains in the present. Turks have been taught since childhood that the massacres of Armenians never happened, and Nubar, with a clearly Armenian name and “look” is, shockingly, subject to physical threat while in Turkey. His experience leads to a dangerous act of reparative rebellion, one that may mean he can never return to this land. Yet, Nubar’s journey leads him to something even more powerful than the land. “You are denied your place in the world unless you can overcome the denial by telling your story. This is the key that unlocks that door.”
Scars of Silence will provide a timely and thought-provoking personal account of what it means to be Armenian today, and how Armenians’ identity and moral place in the world has been profoundly changed.