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I was hoping the photos I brought back would—besides being evidence—encourage the Armenian church in Syria to try and buy the Armenian mass grave land of Ras al-Ain from the Syrian Waqf (Islamic Trust), in order to protect it from total destruction.The erasure and/or denial of physical remains and documented history is a continuation and final act in genocide. In 2005, it was dangerous to go poking around the subject of the Armenian Genocide in Bashar al Assad’s Syria.
But the genocide sites at the time of my 2005 trip were being compromised: A waterworks project complete with bulldozers was atop the Marghedah grave; Shadadeh was closed off as it is in an oil field.
The mass grave at Ras al-Ain was being demolished by farmers.
It began in Yerevan, while I was photographing the National Geographic story on Armenia that was published in 2005.
“Sandra, there are a lotta bones still out there in the desert in Syria. ” When Hirair Hovnanian told me this in 2004, I could not stop thinking about it.
At the time I photographed the Ras al-Ain site, the mass grave area was rented to local farmers by the Syrian Wakf (Islamic Trust), adjacent to a Muslim graveyard.
The people in this region of Syria would not eat the produce grown on the mass grave and had to sell it far afield.
I knew about the Armenian Genocide, of course, but as a third generation Armenian American (on my father’s side), my grandparents didn’t want us to think about these terrible things.
They wanted us to be truly American, free of the sorrows of the old country, like many Americans who have fled starvation, war, genocide, dictatorship, and economic insecurity from all over the world.
My family always spoke of what happened to the Armenians. Simply say you are there to photograph Armenian culture.
Do not check in with the authorities.” Syria has a proud record of having helped the Armenian refugees during and after the genocide.