Thursday, July 02, 2015

American Military Mission to Turkey and Armenia 1919

American Military Mission to Turkey and Armenia 1919. Click to enlarge.
US 1919. 425 m /18 fps/ 21 min. B&w. English intertitles. Silent. 35 mm. From Nara Archives.
    Viewed at Cinema Lumiere - Sala Officinema/Mastroianni (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna) (Armenia. Genocide and After), with earphone translation in Italian, introduced by Jay Weissberg, with Neil Brand at the grand piano, 2 July 2015.

Jay Weissberg (Il Cinema Ritrovato, catalogue and website): "With peace declared in 1918, opportunities opened for intrepid cameramen to record the humanitarian crises left in the War’s aftermath. Significant voices in the American press including Ezra Pound, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and H. L. Mencken had been calling for forceful condemnation and/or intervention following the Armenian Genocide (then referred to as massacres), so with the public stirred, the chance to show moving images of impoverished refugees and traumatized orphans became a powerful tool for disaster relief efforts."

""Sensationalism guided Auction of Souls (1919), aka Ravishing Armenia, the embellished story of Aurora Mardiganian (poor quality fragments are available on YouTube). Less exploitative were newsreels from a still volatile Turkey, many produced under the auspices of charities and missionary societies. In February 1919, Glen Russell Carrier, cameraman for International Film Service, sailed to Asia Minor under the sponsorship of the American Committee for Relief in the Near East; he took with him 23,000 metres of film, charged with making “permanent records of the atrocities of the Turks and Huns”."

"American Military Mission to Turkey and Armenia had a different purpose, and was not meant for public view. In August 1919, Woodrow Wilson appointed Major-General James G. Harbord to lead a commission investigating Ottoman atrocities against the Armenians, and to advise on the feasibility of creating a U.S. mandate in the fledgling Armenian state. Among their number were two photographers from the Signal Corps – presumably one or both of these as yet unidentified men shot the footage we’re viewing. The trip, via boat, train and car, lasted 30 days and encompassed a broad swathe of territory throughout Turkey and Transcaucasia, including Mardin, Diyarbakır, Malatya, Erzurum, Kars, Erivan, and Tbilisi."

"The footage is a remarkable record of an area wracked by war: massive refugee crises, deadly tensions between ethnic groups, territorial uncertainty, civil war, and shifting spheres of influence. In the end, Congress ignored Wilson’s mandate request, paving the way for the Soviet invasion of 1922." (Jay Weissberg)

AA: There is little to add to Jay Weissberg's excellent program notes above. The film is a basic record of life in Armenia: agriculture, herding livestock, customs of the people, children looking at the camera, a bridge under construction, a military procession, wandering people, tents, music and dance, posing for the camera. Visually uneven, mostly modest, like raw footage, slightly boring, partly in low contrast. Yet a priceless document.

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