Witness to History
Kay Mouradian tracks the death of a people through the life of her mother in ‘My Mother’s Voice’
By Christina Schweighofer 04/04/2013
Ask Kay Mouradian what keeps her young, and she’ll smile. Her large, green eyes focused and alert, she’ll say something like, “I have erased the word ‘age’ from my vocabulary.” Or she’ll mention the routines she has acquired over the past five or six decades, including tennis three times a week, skiing, yoga and ameditation. Healtahy habits are part of the equation, but there is something else, too: Mouradian, who last year completed a documentary film, still wants to learn, and she certainly isn’t done teaching. At 79, she is on a quest.
Mouradian likes to say that she spent her younger years having a good time. Born to Armenian parents and raised in Watertown, Mass., she studied at Boston University, then at UCLA. She learned yoga and meditation, traveled to India and spent two years in Germany, working as a civilian for the US Army. Mouradian taught health and physical education at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College for 25 years while earning a doctorate degree in education from Nova Southeastern University in Florida. She has published articles and a book about yoga and meditation, a topic she plans on returning to soon.
The quest began when Mouradian was about 50 and her ailing mother, Flora, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, told her, “You will write a book about my life.” Mouradian obliged. Her book, a novel titled “A Gift in the Sunlight,” was published in 2006. Last year, the South Pasadena resident followed up with the documentary “My Mother’s Voice.” The film — the directorial debut of sound designer Mark Friedman — won honorable mention at the Pomegranate Film Festival in Toronto in October. It was also an official selection for the ARPA Film Festival in LA in November.
The story of Mouradian’s mother is that of countless Armenians during that time, at least in its outlines: Flora was 14 when gendarmes in Hadjin, Turkey, ordered her and her family to leave their home in May 1915 and forced them to walk hundreds of miles toward Deir al-Zor in the Syrian Desert. The young girl saw her grandmother and dozens of other Armenians die on the trek because they were too hungry, tired and exhausted to march on. She witnessed Turkish soldiers rape women and girls. An estimated 1.5 million Armenians died during the Genocide. Flora’s parents and four brothers were among them, but the young girl survived, thanks to the kindness of strangers. After the war, Flora came to the United States as a kind of mail-order bride. She married an Armenian American she hadn’t met before.
Mouradian spent 25 years researching her family’s history and the Armenian Genocide, and learning how to write a novel. She attended writers’ conferences and studied books on the art of turning facts into fiction. Overwhelmed by the cruelty the Turks had used against the Armenians, she visited the ruins of her ancestors’ hometown, Hadjin. She retraced her family’s footsteps along the deportation route and immersed herself in accounts of the time. Again and again, she asked herself one question: “What is it in us that allows us to do something so terrible?”
Those who meet Mouradian are inevitably impressed by how high this senior’s energy level is. Said film director Friedman: “Kay is tenacious. She keeps at it until she is finished. You’d never guess her age from the amount of energy she puts into this.”
Mouradian admits that part of what informed her passion was a feeling of shame because she knew very little about the Armenian Genocide until her mother’s health began to decline in the mid 1980s. Over the years, Flora had repeatedly tried to share her memories with her daughter, but Mouradian had refused to listen because Flora always sounded so angry when she was talking about the Turks.
“It went in one ear and out the other,” Mouradian explained. “I used to say, ‘Oh, Mom, there was a war going on. Terrible things happen during wars.’” When Flora was nearing death, her tone softened and Mouradian’s ears finally opened. Now guilt had become her teacher. She felt a responsibility to history to tell her mother’s story.
The story is now out in print and on film, but Mouradian isn’t quite finished yet. She would like to see her documentary being used as teaching material for high school students in California. The 10th-grade curriculum provides that human rights violations and genocide should be taught in the context of Word War I, and the Armenian Genocide is specifically mentioned. “We need to make sure that history doesn’t die,” Mouradian said.
Kay Mouradian’s documentary, “My Mother’s Voice,” will be screened at 6 p.m. Sunday at the AGBU Manoukian Center, 2495 E. Mountain St., Pasadena. Mouradian, director Mark Friedman, as well as USC Professor Donald Miller and Lorna Touryan Miller, authors of two books on the Armenian Genocide, will be present to answer questions.
Christina Schweighofer is a freelance writer in Pasadena. Visit her Web site, christinaschweighofer.com.