Grandma's Tattoos

Grandma's Tattoos

2012, History  -   92 Comments
7.33
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Ratings: 7.33/10 from 55 users.

Grandma's TattoosFilmmaker Suzanne Khardalian makes a journey into her own family's history to investigate the terrible truth behind her grandmother's odd tattoos and, in the process, unveils the story of the Armenian women driven out of Ottoman Turkey during the First World War.

During the First World War, millions of Armenians were forced out of their homes in the then Ottoman empire, into the deserts of Syria and Iraq.

More than a million people died in what Armenians describe as a genocide, although Turkey rejects this accusation.

Everybody in the family seemed to know the story, but no-one ever spoke about it.

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Ninette Halpin
3 years ago

It's 2019. I just heard about this film and while i have yet to see it, i was reading the comments below here.

I am American of Armenian decent and have just one thing to say.
To those of you who doubt the innocent slaughter of 1.2 million Armenians at the hands of the Turks in the early 1900's let me clarify that almost my entire family was murdered. Men, women and children.
My great grandfather, the Christian Parish Priest in his town was beaten to death and thrown in the river while his Parish looked on in terror and disbelief. Almost the entirety of my family was slaughtered, or starved to death as they were forced to walk into the 100 degree desert to their demise. My Aunt lost 4 beautiful children to starvation, she doesn't know what became of her parents and siblings only that they were gone forever from this life. I could go on and on recounting stories but that's not my mission. I simply must state to those of you who continue 100 years later to deny these atrocities that they are real, they were evil, and cruel and without provocation. The Armenians were a gentle, intelligent, successful people and the Turks wanted everything they had created and built. They were also devout Christians and for all these reasons and more they destroyed their homes, towns, and tried to kill them all.

May they all rest in peace and may the world one day honor their memory by finally fully acknowledging the horrors they endured.

John Cameron
5 years ago

Thank you for sharing your journey. Understandably, it was too hard for your grandmother to share hers. perhaps, if she had known, the lessons, and closure it could bring to her family....even the world. she may have brought peace to herself. Fear, hate, shame, guilt, jealousy, all the dark emotions are part of the whole human condition.
all humans, regardless of nationality share the same sorrows, and happiness.
both the sweet taste of wine, and the tart taste of vinegar.......both are necessary to appreciate the bounty of life.

Guest
7 years ago

This was a very moving documentary to watch. My heart breaks for the family who wishes they had the opportunity to console their grandmother. It teaches us to embrace and treasure our loved ones, as we don't always know what is going on in their hearts. Thank you for this personal account of an event that is, unfortunately, not as well publicised as the Holocaust. Bless you and warm greetings from South Africa.

dr. Arutyun Sargsyan
7 years ago

Armenian genocide is a mith made up by our Armenian ancestors. This has become a big buck business nowadays. Countries that want to press on Turkey pay Armenian dispora to screen Genocide, and whoever is interested in making money on it are welcome.

The history teaches us that there was no real genocide. Yes sure many Armenians and Turk died, because of Russian political games Armenian's living in Turkey attacked Turks, killed and raped, burned down their villages. So Turks regrouped came to protect and retaliate. The result was many thousands of Armenians fled and became refugee to other countries.

Yes of course in the process / war between Turks and Armenians, many people died. Again, died on both sides. So please people that want to know the truth, read the real old History book, you will find out that it's a big lie.

There is no such thing as Armenian genocide. There is Azeri genocide that was made by Armenians in the 90's. But nobody wrote about it because it as not interesting when Turks died. When in a night Armenian special murder forces entered Khojaly, a village in Azerbaijan and killed more then 1500 people, including woman and children. Things they did in 24 hours in Khojaly are not even in the worst horror movies.
That's the real genocide by Armenians. All others is just rubbish. Dont mind us.

10 years ago

Very nice view i an a Greek and my grandfather was from Pontos in the north sea side of turkey (of black sea) and i can understand what is the way of feeling's so many secret's held from us so we would knot raise in hate. Great Documentary glad to watch it.

10 years ago

These are NOT turkish tattoos out of the pure fact that there is no such thing as turkish tattoos. those symbols on her face are not turkish either. those are bedouin tattoos and DO NOT mean anything bad at all! it's just something ladies used to do a long time ago to look pretty and it's fallen out of fashion.

i also find it interesting that the grandma said the boatman was an arab, the sister said the boatman was a kurd and the narrator's mom said the boatman was 'of course, a turk!'

i really wish the narrator had concentrated more on the tattoos and what they mean and the history of them instead of trying to accuse evil turks of putting 'turkish symbols' on these poor girls faces! (the only possible turkish symbol was the moon and star on the grand-aunt's finger!)a simple google search would have told her all she needed to know about these bedouin tattoos. they are not a mark of slavery or anything like that!

sknb
10 years ago

I am half Turkish, live in the United States, and constantly try to draw attention to the atrocities and genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire. My father won't talk about it. It is factually true that the Ottomans literally saved my family (also a "minority") and so he was not brought up to see the Empire as negative.There is a large Armenian population where I live and they have done a wonderful job documenting their history in museums and even billboards. The young Turks that I have met in Istanbul are sympathetic to Armenians and the Kurds, but the Turkish government is a far cry from Freedom of Speech, and so they remain politically silent or uninterested. Ataturk will probably always hang in dusty picture frames over every little shop: his silent gaze listlessly wandering over cups of sweet tea and backgammon.....

I have hope for the next generation. It's like how many older Greeks will dislike me (or throw us out of diners in the case of my father) when they find out I have Turkish ancestry, I find the younger the person the less infiltrated they are with propaganda and hate. With younger Greeks we talk about the shared deliciousness of the food and have friendly debates over whether Ouzo or Raki is the better drink.

Peace, Peace, hopefully peace will come as the younger generation matures!

10 years ago

The shame is on the perpetrators, and the ones who see these women as shameful. I see them as courageous survivors. Heroes.

10 years ago

the fact that some family members felt they hadn't given their grandmother the support and understanding to give her solace from her ordeal is simply heartbreaking..very sad.

Gray Lance
10 years ago

Animals are everywhere - every color, religion, political party. In 100 years, assuming humans survive... what tales of horror will our different cultures/colors/religion come to light of the horrors we inflicted on others because (fill in the blank). Humans - we have such potential, but... I have little faith, anymore, that we will ever move forward.

10 years ago

Why is everyone trying to sound like the intellectuals they are not. What animals the turks were to do this to people, there is no excuse for slavery and perversion.

ergene
10 years ago

I am not sure if you are informed more than the main stream media aloows to do so. The film simply aims to convict Turks for something which is open to discussion. While doing so, the child abuse is shown as an act of the Turks. Anyone who knows something about the ethnic groups in the region can tell you that Turks do not practice tatooing.
As for admitting, apologizing and moving on, I only can tell you that you don t
unfortunately know much about what happened. If you really want to come to an objective conclusion look into the historical facts. This is like believing that a bunch of Arabs planned and performed 9-11. You might be one of those who believe in the things that main stream media tells you. Open your mind. It is like a parachute, it works better when it is open. I suggest that you first lissen to David Icke. He might inspire you a bit to realize how masses are being manupulated and hipnotised.

10 years ago

I appreciate that this story is finally being told ... we have a long way to go yet in our world to know respect for all humanity. Perhaps if we ever are able to embrace the best of being human, then women and children, and the vulnerable and the different might also, finally know the experience of feeling safe. To those who seek this kinder world...the film makers ...aljazeera...and all other's, bravo and thank you

Dse
10 years ago

Whatever we (the Turks) say, you will just continue to think what you were taught. Nobody talks about how the Armenians massacred thousands of women and children when the Turkish men were at war. There's proof and we want to show eveyone but nobody listens to us. This is all a filthy game played by your governments and you fall for it. I repeat, no matter what we say (I mean the truth) you won't believe us. Why don't you ever talk about the Khojaly (Hocal?) Massacre in 1992? Armenians killed 613 Turks in one night and tortured many more. You can't talk about it, can you? Armenians just know how to make propoganda. They kill people and then they cry on televisions as if we killed them.

redrkr0728
10 years ago

I wish the filmmaker had a little more information about her Grandmother before she finished this film. I sure she wishes she had more info as well, but the film left me with the same questions that were put when the film started. I am not sure I really got anything out of it except that some bad things happened and it wrecked the womans life. I get that the tattoos were a mark of "shame" but what was the significance of them all? what did the tattoos MEAN? Surely someone knows - don't they have historians in that country?

10 years ago

I found the documentary sad, Interesting that grandma couldn't hug the kids. Her husband had a lot to put up with I would think. Lovely that the grandaughter went to such a lot to try and piece together her grandmothers past. I had moments of teariness too.

10 years ago

Turks must accept the fact of genocide!!!

11 years ago

That era has many skeletons that came around with the fall of the old powers. My Great Grandfather was a Volga German during the Bolshevik Revolution. The Germans living in what is now the "Bread Basket" of Russia experienced a Genocide of their own near the end of WWI. It is estimated that by 1941 1.3 million Volga Germans were murdered by both the Lenin and Stalin governments through firing squads, starvation and eventual deportation to the Gulags. You will not find any German peoples in the Volga region today... they were systematically exterminated for being German. I feel for these Armenian women, my own family’s genocide is not acknowledged by the people who committed it (or even addressed by the current Nation's of the world) and is never taught in schools, we don't even have any documentaries talking about it.

11 years ago

I wish the filmmaker would have taken a different view and seen these women as inspirational survivors. They were the few, the tough, that made it out alive; that is something of which to be proud. I find her grandmother's strength inspirational because she carried all the burden of her traumatic experiences as best she could. Whether it was motivated by shame or an attempt to shelter her family, she still kept on going, raising several generations, carrying out daily tasks with her tattooed hands, a constant reminder of all that she had been through. That takes true courage and strength. I would hope that if I were ever faced with such terrible circumstances that I would weather it as gracefully. And, her grandmother left behind a legacy, a strong, beautiful family to carry on her story.

C Mariahn Scarborough
11 years ago

I will never understand why it is that women bare the shame of crimes committed against them and the criminals are so proud of themselves. Why should a grand daughter feel shame? Her grand mother coped as best she could. I feel angry, mostly because the silence insured that nothing would change. Films like this are part of the remedy. I

Justamidwestern
11 years ago

Simply powerful....a grand daughter trying to understand her grandmother. In the end she found that she should have been more caring of her scary grandmother. Her grandmother had her reasons.

dmxi
11 years ago

may i ask why a vital, but heart-wrenching post by someone new to this site,which had endured similiar experiences as depicted in this documentary,with replies of AZ & myself,was deleted ?just curious,as i can't find these post's no more ?

ergene
11 years ago

I cant agree with you more, Jack1952. We should not go into the vicious circle. We should condemn, not forget but do not try to take revenge. I believe this is the only way to move to a higher level of conciousness. Finally, the tragedy is a human tragedy not an ethnic one.

mahir7996
11 years ago

Dear Jack1952
Just another fact come to my mind about Armenian brutality to other nation members - 1900's in today's Armenian territory was home for about 40 per cent Turks(Azerbaijanians, Jews, Kurds and etc.) But today Erevan is single capital in Europe without any Turk or other nation resident.
On the other have, it will be interesting if I state that we have about 25.000 Azerbaijan citizen with Armenian nationality in our capital Baku, Azerbaijan.
Best regards,

mahir7996
11 years ago

Dear Jack1952
It seems that you do not have enough information about region and conflicts. Armenian nationalist and "evil individuals" have illusion about create state from sea to sea which is base for all conflicts between Armenians and Turks. (of course with Georgia and Azerbaijan at the same time) Because of their illusion today 20 per cent Azerbaijan territory under occuation Armenian and Russian troops. In addition there are we have UN declare 4 resolution about occupation (822, 853 as I remember and 2 others) and withdraw troops from Azerbaiajan territory without any negotiotion. Armenian state have concept about nation cleaning and replace Turks, Azerbaijanians and Georgians with Armenians.

But today as I stated we still suffer from occupation and Armenia continue to neglect International Law.
In conclusion, I am verry sorry for any massacre and suffer of people no matter from which nation. But at the same time it is time to call for PEACE and normal life without any territory claim. Because we know that Nasist-like ideas take peoples nowhere and it is just illusion, but nothing.

sevda ertugrul
11 years ago

This is a beautiful made movie. I wonder if the world was governed by women would horrible things like this still happen?

We have a program in Turkey called " If only it never happened." It describes real unfortunate events in our history that needn't have happened and that we are distraught of. Sometimes there is a "perfect storm" where everything is perfectly set to go horribly wrong.
So, put a context around the genocide: Even 70 years ago most of Turkey was as desolute as Afganistan. At the time of the genocide it was the end of an empire AND a war zone -civil and foreign attackers at the same time. Pandemonium. Children in Istanbul were eating grass, really. Out east- it was obviously hell. And it still is very dangerous there. The murderers were a rag tag bunch of gangs.The Turks governing at the time were courtmarshalled, I think, as if that really does any good.
I don't think this causes enmity to the Turkish people as some have commented. We don't hate Germans or Serbs, do we?. We hate evil individuals.

BTW, tatooing is not a Turkish tradition.

ergene
11 years ago

Missy Nichols, I respect your romantism. Unfortunately, the film is not about a tragic story. This is similar to bringing democracy to Arab world under the leadership of Saudi Arabia, Katar and the rest of the dark regimes. There are so many actual tragedies in Ruanda, Darfur, Iraq, Afganistan etc. Besides you dont even have to force yourself to go into forensic research to create a half story. I say this because the real story could have been told by grandma. Anything said by anybody else is just a manupilated construction. I just post my comments in order to show the silent mass that there is another side of the coin. Everyone who is capable enough is to make his or her free mind.
PS If what you say was true why should "demand sider" get a sudden urge to wipe his or her ass with a Turkish flag?

mahir7996
11 years ago

Not interesting and facts are changed. I suggest you to make film about Khojaly massacre caused by Armenians in Azerbaijan.

ergene
11 years ago

This is exactly what I was trying to say. This film is only planting seeds of hate. You start wiping your *** with the Turkish flag, then continue killing the Turks. You might decide to pee on the dead bodies and take some photos. And the revenge will be taken. And you may not even know where the truth is. Hitler and similar ill leaders always used such propoganda to manipulate the people with hate. I such say that this film is simply provocative.

demand_sider
11 years ago

I have this sudden urge to wipe my *** with the Turkish flag. Anyone else have that reaction?

Jack1952
11 years ago

This film felt so familiar. My parents grew up in Nazi occupied Holland. My mother has never spoken of the war, only the superficial memories of growing up. My father only tells of the marching Nazi soldiers and the all pervasive fear that permeated all their lives and the exhilaration felt when Canadian soldiers chased the Nazis out of his village. He defends the actions of the United States vehemently. When I was growing up. I remember that he was fearful of communist aggression and now has similar fears concerning Muslim expansion. When questioned about those fears he replies "You just don't know what its like to live in an occupied country." He's right. I don't.

A great doc. As a girl the film maker judged her grandmother harshly. When she grew up she started to realize that there were elements in grandmother's life that could explain her personality. We just don't know what lies beneath the surface in the lives of those around us.

Sieben Stern
11 years ago

that was an amazing docu - It was heartbreaking to see the old woman at the end still affected by what happened back in WWI.

yohananw
11 years ago

An excellent, strong film about genocide and memory; on sexual offences and high crimes.  It's important to see victims and survivors of genocides as human individuals and families. It's important to see victims' absence when visiting the lands of their genocides.

I don't agree with the film's feminist statement that women have always suffered worst (worse than men or children) in war and genocide.   In genocides, men are targeted, selected and murdered first.  More men are killed and earlier than women in wars and genocides. Men have also been subject to rape, enslavement, castration.  However, the film seems to state that women's bearing and raising children of their captors, rapists and murderers is hardest. I don't argue that women are more subject to rape and sexual enslavement, but that there are even more evil war crimes. Men and children also suffer murder, violence and torture in war and genocide.

When Armenian genocide survivors began life again in their diaspora refugee community, didn't both parents raise their children?  I wish the film-maker had mentioned more about her grandfather in Beirut, than only his being a vicarious victim of his wife's cruel exile, theft, concubinage and prostitution. Obviously he also was a survivor of the Armenian genocide. What was his story? 

At Deir ez-Zor mass grave, Suzanne Khardalian says, "This place is the Armenian Auschwitz." Despite denialists: the Turk's mass murders of Armenians and the Germans' and Europeans' mass murders of Jews were among the great genocides and crimes of last century.

The latency of broaching the hard history within the family, the reticence of the survivors to tell and of their children to ask, these were also true in the holocaust survivor branch of my Jewish family.

hculliton
11 years ago

Having slight understanding of the horrors of the Rwandian genocide, I had thought this might be an interesting documentry. This is an OUTSTANDING examination of the evil of genocide and it's affects on survivors. Thank you to all who produced this, and please know that I will be using this doc to teach my high school history and global issues classes.

hculliton
11 years ago

Having some small familiarity with the Rwandan genocide, I thought this would be an interesting documentary. I was wrong: this is an OUTSTANDING examination of the horror and consequences of genocide. Very, very well done!

Lest we forget.

ergene
11 years ago

What is the moral of the story? Maybe the grandma was very wise not to plant seeds of hatred. I believe that there is no way to build anything positive on hatred. The story is a typical human tragedy that keeps on accuring all over the world. I should mention that tatooing has never been a Turkish tradition. A short survey shows that it is typical practice of Kurdish and Arabic tribes.

PavolvsBitch
11 years ago

there is not a people, a race, a 'nation'' on Earth who cannot report thier own tragic experience of ancestral ruin. exept, of course, the victors.

dmxi
11 years ago

history does not select a peoples written testimony but people select the testominy of written history!

Guest
11 years ago

What an extraordinary film! The cinematography is amazing! The testimonies are heartbreaking. It makes one relates to the untold stories of our own grandmothers, no matter how diffferent they may have been.
Many old people lived in shame in their youth.
As a woman and as a traveller who has been to Turkey several times and then to Syria and Lebannon, I was most pleased to see the selection this morning.
az

Et même si tu maudis ton sort
Dans tes yeux je veux voir
Arménie
Une lueur d'espoir

Charles Aznavour

dmxi
11 years ago

even armenians living in turkey today ,are irritated by the french insistence of making this past atrocity a historical fact,namely genocide!makes one wonder why?