New film 'Armenia, My Love' retells story of struggle, survival during 1915 genocide

For Shake Tukhmanyan, an actress since age 17, starring in "Armenia, My Love" was an especially emotional experience.

The Glendale resident, who plays a grandmother in the new film about the Armenian Genocide, was traveling through the desert, filming a sequence that depicts the deadly travails many Armenians were subject to in 1915, when the Ottoman Empire began systematically killing more than 1.5 million of them in an effort to force them out of their historic homeland.

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Tukhmanyan's character, Anoush, was struggling to push on with her family in what ultimately became a deadly march. Like so many others, her character's family had lost their home and an otherwise happy, peaceful existence.

"We were so tired," Tukhmanyan said of shooting the desert scenes. "We were without water, but it was nothing compared with my people of that time."

Tukhmanyan and her co-stars couldn't help compare their own experiences to that of the Armenian families suffering through the atrocities 101 years ago.

"We cannot feel the same thing, but a little bit of it we felt when we were shooting," she said. "You have to go deep inside and put a parallel between them and yourself."

"Armenia, My Love" will premiere Thursday at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. It includes a question-and-answer session with the film's writer and director, Diana Angelson, as well as the cast and crew.

On Friday, the theatrical release extends to the MGN Five Star Cinema in Glendale and the Laemmle NoHo 7 in North Hollywood.

Angelson, who also stars in the film as a pregnant mother, centers her script on a young boy who escapes the genocide, makes it to the United States and becomes a successful Armenian-American painter. His works depict his childhood, family and struggles back in his native country.

"While 'Armenia, My Love' does expose the harsh realities faced by the entire Armenian people who were violently ripped from their homeland, it is 'Armenia, My Love's' strong messages of hope, love, faith, perseverance and strength that I wanted to prevail," Angelson said in a statement.

Angelson, who's Romanian American, said she felt compelled to make the film at the behest of her Armenian friends whose family histories needed to be told.

The film's release coincides, nearly to the day, with the 101-year anniversary of the Armenian Genocide on April 24.

For Tukhmanyan, born and raised in Armenia, that was significant.

"I'm really happy to have a part in this movie because it's like a recognition of genocide for the entire world," she said. "The entire world has been misled for a hundred years into thinking this genocide never happened."

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bradley.zint@latimes.com

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