#3: Aurora Mardiganian
Of all the names and stories on this list, Aurora Mardiganian’s is probably the one you’re least likely to have heard of, and yet it’s one of the most resonant and important, an importance which grows as internationally-planned remembrances of the 100th anniversary of the events of 1915 approach.
What’s more, Aurora Mardiganian’s trans-continental journey from escaping atrocities to becoming an accomplished author and actress at the dawn of the Silent Era in film is definitely a story worth hearing, and embodies an unfathomable courage which not only embodies that idea of overcoming adversity and is thus extremely rare, but as a result is all the more precious, and worthy of attention.
Born Arshaluys Mardikian in 1901, Aurora Mardiganian and the lives of millions like her were changed forever by first the outbreak of WWI and then, in 1915, the Armenian Genocide. She was sold into slavery, saw murder, impalement, and sexual assault on a massive scale, and was nearly crucified and killed herself.
She barely survived, and wrote a memoir, Ravished Armenia, which was adapted in 1919 into a silent film by that name. The film not only helped Aurora’s place as an author, but was and is a significant look at those events, winning acclaim in theatres from Los Angeles to London and promoting awareness about the genocide and humanitarian crisis. She went on to marry and lived in Los Angeles until her death in 1994.
Aurora Mardinganian has been called by some “the Armenian Anne Frank,” and the connection is certainly understandable. Both were young girls of a comparable age who experienced, chronicled, and became two of the most prominent faces in two of the greatest tragedies of the past century.
Rather than diminish the individual importance of either figure, however, that tie should serve as an indication of the importance of not just putting a human face to figures, but drawing attention to what we do and don’t choose to recognize. In both their cases, overcoming adversity is an understatement.
Where Anne Frank is now an internationally-known name, and her diary and the story of the genocide she experienced is one of the most well-read and empathized with stories of the past century, Aurora Mardiganian, her book and subsequent film, despite surviving the events of 1915, are far too often overlooked—and she shouldn’t be.
Anne Frank famously wrote “In spite of everything, I believe that people are really good at heart,” and whatever your personal views on that point, figures such as herself and Aurora Mardiganian continue to inspire and give a reason to at least hope those words are true, and show that overcoming adversity has its roots in the past as well as the present and future.