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On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman Turkish government began a systematic campaign of arrests, deportation, and annihilation against the Armenian people. By 1923, mass killings had claimed the lives of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in what became the first genocide of the 20th century. To this day, the Turkish government continues to deny that genocide took place, and despite numerous nations recognizing the Armenian Genocide, the United States, after 91 years, has yet to officially recognize it.
Activists in the States have tried to reverse the U.S. government's shameful stance. All-Armenian and Grammy Award-winning rock group System of a Down has used its influence to raise awareness about the genocide, and now documentary filmmaker Carla Garapedian, herself an Armenian American, chronicles the band's activism and the history of the Armenian Genocide in her new film Screamers, which opens Friday in Orange.
I recently talked with Garapedian and System of a Down drummer John Dolmayan about the project.
Carla Garapedian: It does. I got the term from Samantha Power's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide. She very cleverly tells the story of genocide in the last century. Powers argues that in each case of genocide, whether it's the Armenian genocide or what's going on in Darfur, Sudan, now, there are always individuals who raise the alarm and say this is going on and we have to do something about it. She calls those people screamers.
Why did you choose to explore the Armenian Genocide through the prism of System of a Down?
Garapedian: All the members of System of a Down are grandchildren of genocide survivors, as I am. They have a very strong sense of their cultural identity and the denial of the genocide. I didn't think about making a film on genocide until I heard their music and learned about them. They're a worldwide phenomenon and they are affecting how young people think about politics. It struck me that this band was having an effect that was really different. It made me think that using their music, passion and energy might help me tell the story of genocide in the last century.
John, why did System of a Down decide to be a part of this film?
John Dolmayan: We didn't do this movie for any other reason than to do what we felt was a commitment we have to follow through with. Being Armenian, I feel very strongly about genocide and injustice. I was compelled to be a part of this. I'm proud of the film. I think the film came out well. It didn't come off preachy; just informative.
How personal is the Armenian Genocide recognition cause for you? Did your activism on this issue begin before System of a Down was formed?
Dolmayan: It's a very personal issue for all of us in the band. I don't know if I would consider myself an activist, even to this day. As a human being, not just an Armenian, I believe that genocide is wrong. If that makes me an activist, I guess that's the definition of it. It's very personal for us. We each had a loss of family members, a loss of our history, and a loss of our ancestry. We can only date our families back to a certain extent. It deeply motivated us in our lives to prevent other genocides from taking place.
There's a scene inScreamers where you and Serj approached Congressman Dennis Hastert about the Armenian Genocide resolution in a respectful manner. Did you feel like Hastert blew you off?
Dolmayan: I think that he did what most politicians do. First of all, he didn't acknowledge the letter Serj and I handed in him in Chicago. It was obvious he read it at some point. He's just doing what politicians do. Most of their lives are spent distorting truth.
Carla, what audience do you hope to reach with Friday's opening at the Block in Orange?
Garapedian: There are many fans of the band in Orange County, and they were really critical in the early days of System of a Down's success. We want to show the film to pay homage and thank those fans who supported the band in the early days, although this isn't a System of a Down movie; it features them. Also, there are many Armenians in Orange County, and the film is going to get its start by appealing to those core audiences. By going to the film in its first weekend, people will be sending a message out to the rest of the country that there can be a film about genocide and the message will also be sent that there are people who care about this issue. That's what I'm hoping to do in Orange County.
Gabriel San Román is the assistant producer of Uprising, a popular prime time radio program on KPFK Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles.
SCREAMERS IS REVIEWED HERE.
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