Documenting Armenian Displaced Persons: USC Takes the Story Global

The USC Institute of Armenian Studies is proud to announce the start of a major initiative – the Diaspora Documentation Project.

“The Los Angeles Displaced Persons Community (the DPs) are an important segment of not just Diaspora history, but also World War II history, Soviet history, Armenian history, and of course Los Angeles history.  We are pleased to be starting the Diaspora Documentation effort by focusing on this special community,” said Salpi Ghazarian, director of the Institute of Armenian Studies.

The DP project will be inclusive, bringing together the various efforts of filmmakers, family members and others who, over the years, have made efforts to document the experience of Armenians displaced by World War II.  “The USC Institute of Armenian Studies is committed to integrating these memories and documents into the larger collection of American and Armenian history. With solid research and thorough documentation, the DP experience will no longer be just personal stories, but will become part of the discourse on the World War, on immigration, on diaspora, on the growth and transformation of California, and finally the history of Armenians in Los Angeles and the legacy of a community,” said Ghazarian.

World War II was the catalyst for immense human migration that included the Armenian communities of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, among whom were prisoners of war, those relocated as slave labor under German occupation, and those who moved with the retreating Germany Army to escape Stalin’s rule. 

By 1952, most of the 4000 Armenians who ended up in Germany were allowed to land in the United States of America, as a result of the Displaced Persons Act, enacted by Congress in 1948, that enabled their immigration.

The massive relocation program was organized by the American National Committee to Aid Homeless Armenians (ANCHA), led by George Mardikian and Suren Saroyan.

“The story of the Armenian DPs is a story of a tight-knit Diaspora community; and that story needs to be documented in great detail, so that it is preserved for retelling. We are grateful to the donors who shared this conviction and support this documentation project. It is essential to document the memories, through their own testimonies, as well as documents, photos and other personal material that have global significance,” said Ghazarian.  “We know that several individuals have attempted to gather the documents of this experience. The Institute will use the resources of USC to make all of these interviews and stories part of a larger, more encompassing collection, available to everyone, digitally, online.”

The Institute is working with several members of the DP community to make sure the story is told in its entirety.

Gegham Mughnetsyan, an Institute Research Associate who has been working on family archives donated to the Institute, pointed out that “there are archives in family storage spaces and people’s garages; these are essential for history, without them the stories of those days are slowly being lost. There is an urgency to act and preserve the stories and the artifacts associated with those stories. What the collection of artifacts along with oral histories will do is allow for the creation of a larger narrative, a complete story of this segment of diaspora history as a unique phenomenon.”

Those wishing to share their stories and documents with the Institute, and through the Institute’s online platform, with scholars, researchers and filmmakers everywhere, are urged to contact the Institute at armenian@usc.edu or call 213.821.3943.

Photo - DP party table in the US (http://projectdp.org/)

(The above is a press release of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies)