CultureGenocide 100

Looking at the Armenian Genocide through the lens of art

“In honor of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, the Musée de la Photographie di Charleroi in Belgium has organized, in collaboration with the Boghossian Foundation and the Università Saint Joseph in Beirut, an exhibition entitled “Les arméniens – Images d’un destin 1906 – 1939 (The Armenians – Images of Destiny, 1906-1939),” which focuses on photographs recovered from the photo archives of the Oriental Library at the Università Saint Joseph,” Maurizio G. De Bonis, a photo critic and cinematographer, writes in an article published by The Huffington Post.

The photographs were taken by Jesuit missionaries, including Antoine Poidebard and Guillaume de Jerphanion, and, over a broad period of time, highlight the dramatic repercussions persecution had on the Armenian population, even prior to 1915. The exhibit also showcases works that portray the places, villages and towns where the Armenians lived.

Whether these were villages lost among the mountains, or neighborhoods in Turkish cities (for example Adana), the viewer feels as though he is witnessing a community with its own local history and traditions, and which was brutally uprooted and eradicated.

The simple, serious dignity of several very young students from the city of Tokat, photographed by Antoine Poidebard, is set against the enormous mass of orphans captured in Tarso following the massacre that took place in 1909 in Adana. Later in the exhibition, a shoeshine man is captured as he’s working, counterbalanced by a young, proud Circassian woman looking into the camera, seemingly communicating with the viewer directly.

“Today, thanks to works like these, it is possible to truly understand the importance of human memory,” the author writes. According to him, “the Armenian Genocide cannot be left to sink away into silence.”

“The visual arts must strive to play a key role in the transmission of memory, especially to younger generations, as they have in disseminating a global understanding of the Holocaust. In this sense, photography and cinema can help jumpstart that extremely important process that we can define as actualization of the past; a process that transforms the memory of a tragedy from a purely historical, museum-worthy subject of in-depth analysis for specialized scholars — distant from the rest of us, and destined to be forgotten — into a dramatic, agonizing phenomenon experienced in the present day. It must become an element of our shared memory. And as such, it cannot, must not be erased and forgotten,” Maurizio G. De Bonis writes.

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