Armenian-American professor reaches out to Turks with photography book

“Dildilian Brothers: Photography and the Story of an Armenian Family in Anatolia, 1888-1923,” a book by Armen T. Marsoobian, an Armenian-American professor, has finally been translated into Turkish and is ready to enter the libraries of Turkish bookworms, Today’s Zaman reports. 

Some four years after it was published in 2011 in English, the Turkish translation of the book, produced by the initiative of the Birzamanlar Publishing House, has hit the shelves with a ceremony attended by booklovers in İstanbul on Tuesday.

“This book is just one moment in a long labor of love that I started many years ago. It first began as a private journey in the 1980s. My uncle gave me the collection of photographs, the family archive. And for many years I only shared these photos with family members at family reunions and gatherings. I realized that the family had made great efforts to document and record their lives in Ottoman Turkey. And in one way they were trying to keep the memory of the Armenian community in Anatolia alive and therefore would have been very pleased to make this public,” Marsoobian said in a speech he delivered at the celebration of the book’s launching.

“This is a journey that I am still on. It is nice to start the new year with a new book. I feel very committed to this project and this county. I will be here [Turkey] again and again,” the professor added.

Marsoobian’s book features the story of his forebears, the Dildilian family, who documented their lives in Sivas, Merzifon and Samsun and the surrounding areas of Anatolia from the second half of the 19th century, a period that was full of suffering for Armenians. In the book, from his family archives, the professor presents drawings, maps and photographs that go back as early as 1888.

The historic photos in the book contribute to our imagination of Armenian daily life at that time, the old and rare photographs of places, people and situations (e.g. camel caravans, college workshops, weddings, etc.) concretize a past that is long over and visually under-documented. Thanks to these photos, the reader can observe the sad and happy moments in the family’s history as well as the fear and perseverance that the survivors of 1915 harbored in the post-World War I years.

“During this journey, Ferda [Keskin, a professor of comparative literature and philosophy at İstanbul Bilgi University] and I traveled for the first time to Merzifon in 2011. Then in 2013, we launched an exhibition in Istanbul featuring the photograph archive. We took the exhibition in Merzifon in 2013 and then Diyarbakır in 2014. We were then able to bring the exhibition to Ankara in 2015. The last year was really busy year for me as we launched exhibitions in United States and Yerevan, which was also very important to me,” Marsoobian stated.

Professor Marsoobian previously came to public attention in Turkey after he opened exhibitions in various provinces in Turkey featuring a photograph archive that was collected by his extended family, who documented the social life of Anatolia during the 19th century with their cameras.

So far, he has staged exhibitions in İstanbul, Merzifon, Diyarbakır and Ankara. In an exclusive interview with Sunday’s Zaman, the professor stated that he wanted to exhibit the photos in Turkey because he wanted to show people that “a century ago, there was a rich cultural past in these lands.”

“We wanted to shed light on the forgotten history of the 19th century with these photos. If Armenians had not been forced to leave this area, Anatolia would be much [culturally] richer today,” Marsoobian said.

Sharing details about the intentions of his exhibitions and his book, Marsoobian said: “The exhibition changes a little, depending on the location. But what I would like to do is to expose Turkish citizens, whether they are of Armenian background or not, to the cultural wealth of these lands from which Armenians were removed in 1915 and where, in the years after, they were silenced and repressed.”

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