“Grandma Khanoum was not like everyone else. As a child I remember her as a wicked woman. She despised physical contact. This was a grandma who never hugged, gave no kisses. And she wore those gloves, which hid her hands and the tattoos. They hid her secret.” This is how Suzanne Khardalian describes her grandmother.
Khardalian is the director and producer of riveting new film called “Grandma’s Tattoos” that lifts the veil of thousands of forgotten women—survivors of the Armenian Genocide—who were forced into prostitution and tattooed to distinguish them from the locals.
“As a child I thought these were devilish signs that came from a dark world. They stirred fear in me. What were these tattoos? Who had done them, and why? But the tattoos on grandma’s hands and face were a taboo. They never spoke about it,” explains Khardalian.
“Grandma’s Tattoos” is a journey into the secrets of the family. Eventually, the secret behind Grandma Khanoum’s blue marks are revealed.
“Grandma was abducted and kept in slavery for many years somewhere in Turkey. She was also forcibly marked—tattooed—as property, the same way you mark cattle. The discovery of the story has shaken me. I share the shame, the guilt, and anger that infected my grandma’s life. Grandma Khanoum’s fate was not an aberration. On the contrary, tens of thousands of Armenian children and teenagers were raped and abducted, kept in slavery,” she explains.
In 1919, just at the end of World War I, the Allied forces reclaimed 90,819 Armenian young girls and children who, during the war years, were forced to become prostitutes to survive, or had given birth to children after forced or arranged marriages or rape. Many of these women were tattooed as a sign that they belonged to abductor. European and American missionaries organized help and saved thousands of refugees who were later scattered all over the world to places like Beirut, Marseille, and Fresno.