Understanding Beyond the Numbers: A conversation with “Mothers of Goris” director Hovig Kazandjian
Posted on November. 4. 2021
It was July of 2021 when the team at Miaseen Inc., an Armenian digital entertainment company, decided to fly out to Armenia to amplify the unwritten stories and silenced voices that exist in the motherland. By combining the company’s production experience and expansive network, the team set out to use their skills to craft visually engaging and emotionally compelling video content to deliver this mission, one of the stories being the work a nonprofit organization that possesses a large digital and real-life community and organizational prowess called Kooyrigs was doing in Armenia.
Thus, “Mothers of Goris” was created. A poignant window into a world that seems so close yet so far away, the almost 14-minute documentary follows two mothers living in Goris named Liana and Mariam, and gave viewers a personal look at how they navigated the trials and tribulations of post-war Artsakh. Shot in Goris, a border town located in southern Armenia, the film was set in the very site of thousands of Armenian family displacements. Now that the Artsakh War is over, the anxiety-ridden mothers living in Goris must deal with the constant fear of Azeri invasion, courageously placing their children’s safety, health and happiness at the forefront of their duties.
The documentary specifically highlights Project Mayreeg, an initiative started by Kooyrigs that provides ongoing support to families with newborns who have been impacted by the Artsakh War. It directly assists 270 displaced mothers from Artsakh and Armenia with immediate aid, providing their beneficiary families with monthly support boxes containing inaccessible yet essential family care items, like baby formula and diapers. It doesn’t stop here, though. Team members transport and accompany mothers to their doctors’ appointments and pre- and post-natal workshops. The initiative also supports the purchase of medication and coverage of outstanding medical bills.
“We believe Kooyrigs’ work is important and deserves an emotional film to capture the impact their work is making in Armenia and Artsakh,” said Hovig Kazandjian, director and editor of “Mothers of Goris.”
“I knew that collaborating meant that I’d be able to get my hands dirty and tell a story not many people would have access to,” says Kazandjian. “After talking with Karine and getting a better understanding of what was currently happening on the ground, ‘Mothers of Goris’ came to fruition.”
It was no easy task, however. As a seasoned filmmaker, Kazandjian usually understands what he’s getting into before telling a story. In this case, things were a bit more complicated. Entering a household that had experienced loss on almost every level requires a certain approach, especially since the war is personal for everyone involved.
“I wanted to make sure we didn’t just come in cameras blazing. I was really lucky to have Margos Margossian join me on this film as my cinematographer because he has experience working on stories of this nature,” remarks Kazandjian. “Something I was adamant about was making sure that this documentary wasn’t just ‘content’ made about the war. I didn’t want to objectify our Armenian mothers. We needed to listen to them and their experience[s] and truly understand what was going on in their lives. I believed that if we were able to let the camera just live in that space with them, and let the audience just be present with these people then we would see them as more than just a number. By showing a slice of everyday life, it humanizes the family as not just a victim and continues to build empathy with their story.”
As members of the diaspora, we have become desensitized to the severity of the war’s ramifications. It’s not necessarily our fault, as it can be difficult to process the depth of such an emotionally complex calamity thousands of miles away.
The figures are staggering. 90,000 people displaced. 3,500 soldiers martyred. 1,000 people missing. An estimated 200 prisoners of war. To us, as much as we can try to empathize, the sad truth is that these dire numbers are just…numbers. To the mothers of Goris and others living in the area, this is a reality—one that they must deal with day in and day out.
“Once I found myself with these families, I quickly realized that for them the war wasn’t ‘over’ like it was for us all the way back home. These mothers still live in close proximity to the people that want to destroy them. They still think about the lives and safety of their children. They’re still thinking about survival,” recalls Kazandjian.
With several portions of Artsakh land lost, it can be hard not to think about survival. Diametrically living under the existing threat of the Azerbaijani military is not easy on Armenians and Artsakhtsis living in the area. The mothers in the documentary do it with grace for the well-being of their children.
“It was a beautiful experience meeting these mothers, sitting at the table with them, running around the garden with their children. At the same time, however, hearing their stories and seeing the pain in their eyes was heartbreaking. It’s something I still think about till this day and will probably think about forever. If it did one thing, it really helped me understand that what we’re doing is important and these stories need to be told,” states Kazandjian. “One of the obstacles I faced was understanding my role there. In the moments where these mothers are telling me about their hardships, it was difficult for me to keep rolling the camera. You just wanted to stop the cameras and just be there for this person as they poured their heart out to you. In those moments, I needed to remind myself that these mothers want these stories told and it’s my job to tell them.”
As a collective, the team understood the importance of telling this story. If our own people don’t, who will? The heart-rending words spoken by the women serve as a call-to-action to the Armenians living all around the globe. The transformational potency of our storytelling serves to connect the unfortunate past, the hopeful present and the bright future of our country, our people and most importantly, our children. Stories are unquestionably central to the existence of the Armenian people, as they forge the connections needed in a group so widely dispersed.
“Our people and their stories are all around us. You don’t need to go to Armenia to do it, even though I highly recommend the experience. Sit with your grandparents, your parents, your friends. Start there. Even your own Armenian story is important,” concludes Kazandjian. “For me, I started by grabbing a camera. For others, it could be another creative tool. I realized as I got older that it was up to me to just go and do it. Just like this Armenia trip, we just went and did it, on our own terms. My advice is start right now because nothing is holding us back.”