In 1890 an Armenian entrepreneur, Michael Apcar, brought his wife, an aspiring writer named Diana and their newborn daughter to Japan, a country that had recently opened to the world and was bursting with opportunities for new businesses. After two bankruptcies Michael suddenly died leaving Diana with debts and three children in a foreign land. She had to support her family and stabilize the business, eventually making it a success; yet she still wanted to focus her energy elsewhere.
The area crying for attention was the Middle East. The weakened Ottoman Empire was losing one province after another, as Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia were regaining their independence. The suspicion and hostility of the Ottoman government towards its remaining minorities grew steadily. The Armenian massacres of 1895-96 and 1909 gathered considerable media coverage, but neither the Sublime Porte, nor European Powers, actively meddling in the Ottoman affairs, did anything to change the situation.
Diana’s goal was set: her people needed her, and she committed her passion and idealism to their cause. She wrote a book a year, appealed to peace societies and sent her articles to major European and American newspapers, pleading her case: Armenians’ right for “security of life and property on the soil of their own country.” She corresponded with Stanford University founder David Starr Jordan, President of Columbia University, Nicholas M. Butler, U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing, and dozens of others — journalists, missionaries, politicians.
A hundred years before the emergence of social media, Diana created an extensive network of connections, arguing over and over again that if nothing were done to protect the Armenians, new massacres would be an inevitable outcome.
Her efforts were in vain. The Armenian Genocide of 1915 surpassed her worst predictions. One and a half million people were killed; hundreds of thousands survivors fled in all directions, including the Caucasus. Some of them continued north to Russia, only to find the country in the midst of the bloody Bolshevik revolution. The refugees couldn’t go back, and couldn’t go west to Europe because of World War I; and so they chose an unexpected direction — East, through endless Siberia, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. As there were no vessels to take them to America from the Russian port city of Vladivostok, they needed to go to Japan.
Due to Diana’s pleas with and guarantees to Japanese officials, Armenian refugees were provided temporary asylum in Japan. Diana rented houses to shelter the refugees and enrolled their children in school. She helped with visas and documents, and became the Japanese representative for the American Red Cross of Vladivostok; she located refugees’ relatives in the United States, and fiercely negotiated with the steamship companies, which were booked beyond capacity for months ahead, as so many vessels had been reassigned to serve the war’s ends. Using her own resources to help these lost souls, Diana was acting as a de facto ambassador of the non-existent state of Armenia.
In 1918 the Ottoman Empire lost the war; Russia entered a civil war. This created a power vacuum in the Caucasus allowing for a new country to emerge — the First Republic of Armenia. After it received international recognition in 1920, its Prime Minister appointed Diana as Consul in the Far East. She accepted, but before Japan could recognize her new status, the First Republic of Armenia was absorbed by the Soviet Union. After the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake claiming over 100,000 lives in Japan, Diana herself became homeless.
To find the refugees Diana Apcar assisted over fifteen years, we studied ship manifests and immigration documents, and were able to identify more than six hundred people she helped to start a new life in the United States. Her name never appeared in the Soviet era history books. Only a handful of Armenian scholars know about her today.
Both Diana and the refugees shared a vision and a hope–no matter how unrealistic–that they would overcome their obstacles: with hard work, perseverance, and a little human compassion, they would succeed. Their battles were for their own survival, and that of a people and their culture, in spite of the odds against them. Once everything is lost, how does one maintain the will to live? How do we as individuals overcome our fears and push forward? We believe their powerful example and this message will resonate with our viewers.
Mimi Malayan – Executive Producer/Researcher
Mimi’s interest in the Diana Apcar film project is very personal: she is a Diana Apcar’s great-granddaughter. In 2004, Mimi “found” the “lost” manuscript, From the Book of One Thousand Tales. Since then she has been researching her great-grandmother’s life and writings, in an effort to create an extensive archive, including photographs, documents, and memoirs by Armenian refugees in Japan.
As a San Francisco native, Mimi has spent many years volunteering with various local Armenian organizations, providing her with unique access to community leaders. For ten years she served as a board member for the U.C. Berkeley Armenian Alumni and is currently a board member for Bay Area Friends of Armenian (BAFA). Her relationships are helpful in identifying funding sources and will significantly help with the film’s distribution and using the San Francisco community as its launching pad.
Ms. Malayan has been a practicing landscape architect in the Bay Area for over 20 years. Her long-time project management skills provide her with a solid background in prioritizing, organizing, supervising, and administering this film project.
Artur Muradyan – Director/Post-production producer
Arthur currently produces short films, educational videos and motion graphics in partnership with Ekaterina Rossikhina, DBA Animatography. He has independently produced dozens of projects ranging from zero-budget short films and music videos to TV commercials with budgets measured in hundreds of thousands of dollars. Arthur has participated in the creation of tens of TV shows and TV series episodes, including documentaries, and hundreds of TV promos, as an employee of major Russian television networks (TNT, NTV, RTR). He has practical and direct experience in various aspects of film and video production, as well as post-production, in the range from drawn animation to high-end 3D graphics. Arthur’s audio-visual works are in permanent collection of Casoria Contemporary Art Museum in Naples, Italy. His awards include: PromaxBDA, Best Short and Screencraft awards at the New York Independent Film Festival, and Magmart International Videoart Festival. Arthur studied Philosophy at Yerevan State University in Armenia and Psychology of audio-visual perception at Moscow State University, in Russia. He lives and works in San Francisco.