Richard G. Hovannisian Armenian Genocide Oral History Collection Officially Announced

LOS ANGELES—The USC Shoah Foundation has received one of the largest collections of testimonies from survivors of the Armenian Genocide that were recorded over decades by Dr. Richard Hovannisian, a leading scholar on the World War I-era genocide.

Professor Richard Hovannisian (Photo: Dan Avila/USC)

The Richard G. Hovannisian Armenian Genocide Oral History Collection was officially be announced as a part of the Visual History Archive at a ceremony on March 9.

The more than 1,000 interviews will constitute the largest non-Holocaust-related collection to be integrated into the Institute’s Visual History Archive. It will also be the Archive’s first audio-only collection.

Initially, a pilot of 10 testimonies—seven in English and three in Armenian—will be available to the public on March 9 in the Institute’s Visual History Archive. The rest will be added as they are digitized and indexed to the high standards used by the Institute.

To listen, go to the Visual History Archive Online, register for free, and select the box that says “Richard G. Hovannisian Armenian Genocide Oral History Collection.”

In addition to the audiotapes recorded in a variety of formats, the new collection includes documents and photographs corresponding to each interview, transcripts and translations that Hovannisian and his students put together over the years.

The vast majority of the collection was recorded in Armenian, but up to 20 percent of the testimonies are in English; there is a smaller portion of Turkish and Spanish language interviews.

The son of a genocide survivor, Hovannisian believes deeply in the power of testimony as a tool to educate, combat denial, and communicate the magnitude of a criminal scheme that claimed an estimated 1.5 million Armenian lives. But numbers alone don’t begin to tell the story.

“The figure ‘a million and a half’ can roll right over our shoulders,” he said. “But it’s different when you take those individual interviews and start listening to them one by one. And then it becomes a million-and-a-half individuals and the loss of a civilization, of a way of life, a space where people lived for more than 3,000 years, and everything that space contained.”

The Institute also houses the Armenian Film Foundation’s collection of Armenian Survivor testimony, which was fully integrated into the Visual History Archive in late 2016.

“By adding more context to the Visual History Archive, we continue to honor the memories of those whose lives were needlessly taken,” said USC Shoah Foundation Vinci-Viterbi Executive Director Stephen Smith. “These voices will help ensure future generations will learn from those who experienced the horrors of the Armenian Genocide.”

The Armenian Film Foundation’s collection of testimonies was recorded by J. Michael Hagopian for the purpose of making documentaries about one of the earliest genocides of the 20th century. By contrast, Hovannisian, a professor emeritus of Armenian History at UCLA, had a more academic approach. His testimonies typically exceed an hour and feature a wide range of questions about the survivor’s entire life history.

Hovannisian, who collected the testimonies from 1972 to the 2000s, also interviewed some children and grandchildren of survivors in the later years of the project.

Richard Hovannisian was one of the founders of Armenian Studies as a discipline in the United States, producing numerous articles and books that are considered foundational, while also training young scholars who went on to become experts in the study of Armenia from ancient to modern times. He is currently professor emeritus at UCLA, adjunct professor at USC and presidential fellow at Chapman University.

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  1. An remarkable contribution by this remarkable man. The father of modern Armenian history scholarship, his work will educate , inspire and motivate generations to come. His “ Armenia On the Road to Independence” was the first scholarly Armenian book I read and has inspired me for decades. God bless you Dr. Hovannisian.

  2. “A pilot of 10 testimonies will be available to the public … The rest will be added as they are digitized and indexed to the high standards used by the Institute”. Exactly how long does it take to digitize a recording? No longer that the time the recording lasts! Then the same time again to listen to it and check it is OK. Then a few seconds to upload it to a server. So why the delay? Is it to extract money from future donors? The chosen title for the collection makes it sound embarrassingly like a personal aggrandizement project by the donor. But who are the real donors – the recorder or collector of the voices of the eyewitnesses, or the eyewitnesses themselves, who volunteered to be recorded so their voices could be heard and experiences preserved. If professor Hovannisian wants all his recordings to be heard to maximum effect by anyone anywhere, within his lifetime, he should simply release them all to PD and allow volunteers access to the tapes to do the digitizing – get enough people and it could be all done within weeks! State-of-the-art digitizing software is available to anyone at little or no cost, vintage playback equipment, now obsolete, is available at a fraction of the original cost, and high recording standards are universal, not in-house to the USC Shoah Foundation. There are plenty of online archives that would host and catalog the recordings without any cost, making it freely available to academics and researchers worldwide. Otherwise, I suggest this will become not a project to release eyewitness content, but a project to own and restrict that content for the benefit and enrichment of the key-holders of the collection.

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