Thursday, 26 February 2009

"Auction of Souls": the first genocide movie ever made

(press release) “Ravished Armenia”, one of the first documentary memoirs of an eyewitness of Armenian Genocide was published in 1918, in New York. In this book Arshaluys (Aurora) Mardiganian, a girl from Chmshkatsag, Armenian populated town in the Ottoman Empire, gave a detailed account of the terrible experiences she endured during the deportations. At the age of fourteen Arshaluys was beaten and tortured in harems of Turkish officials and Kurdish tribesmen.

The book “Ravished Armenia” was completed when American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief offered to create a film based on the scenario of the book and all the profit, which later on reached $30 million, would be given to 60.000 Armenian orphans in the Near East for relief purposes. In 1918, at Metro Goldwin Mayer studio, director Oscar Apfel made “Auction of Souls” silent film, which actually became not only the first movie on the Armenian genocide, but also the first genocide movie ever made. More than 10.000 Armenian residents of Southern California, including 200 deported children, participated in the scenes.

The premiere of the “Auction of Souls” was held on February 16, 1919, in Plaza Hotel, New York under the auspices of Oliver Harriman and George Vanderbilt, members of American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief.

The film was shown in large cities of 23 U.S. states, in several countries of Latin America, including Mexico and Cuba. It was a success everywhere and was estimated as “epoch-making film”.

The “Auction of Souls” was taken to Great Britain in December, 1919, and censured. After long lasting negotiations the film was shown in Royal Albert Hall, by the permission of Scotland Yard and played for three weeks. At the beginning of 1920s Mardiganian’s “Ravished Armenia” was censured and taken off the British and American libraries.

For over eighty years film historians have been searching the world for the nine reels of Ravished Armenia but failed to find any trace. The remaining reels of the rare nitrate based film were lost. Some say the reels presumably sunk with a ship on their way to the port of Batoum, Georgia, or stolen by thieves. The full-length version of the film, which lasting 85 minutes, unfortunately, hasn’t been saved. With the efforts of Eduard Gozanlian, an Armenian from Argentina, a 20 minute segment of the reel was found in 1994. One copy of that segment is kept in the funds of Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute. The film included English, French and Armenian subtitles for every scene. The list of the original subtitles for Ravished Armenia is preserved in The Selig Collection at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. They are also reproduced in Anthony Slide’s book "Ravished Armenia and the Story of Aurora Mardiganian". This book was published by Scarecrow Press in 1997. It tells the story of the making of the film and reveals the young girl's survival story.

On the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the “Ravished Armenia”, the AGMI has issued a memorial postcard and has created an on-line exhibition at


Sue Brekke-Benson said...

I came across this website because I am writing a book about a time and place, a small town in North Dakota "Between the Wars" WW's I&II. You will be interested to know that this film was shown throughout small town ND starting in 1919. Description: "8 reel epic stars Aurora Mardiganian. Deals with the terrible suffering Armenia has suffered at the hands of the Turks." It was shown at the Iris Theater in Milnor ND the week of August 28, 1919.

artmika said...

Many thanks for the info, Sue. It certainly is interesting, will share via Twitter too.