The Dildilian photography collection: Glimpse of a lost Armenian home

For nearly a century, members of the Dildilian family practiced photography in the Ottoman Empire, Greece and the United States. Unlike the best known Armenian photographers who practiced in Istanbul during the final decades of the Ottoman Empire, the Dildilians worked primarily in Central Anatolia and on the Black Sea coast. The archive they left behind gives a vivid glimpse into provincial life at a time of rapid change and brutal tragedy, the Hurriyet Daily News reports.

“Reimagining a Lost Armenian Home” brings together over 200 extraordinary photographs from the Dildilian archive. It also includes text and notes written by Armen Marsoobian, a professor at Southern Connecticut State University who has organized exhibitions based on the collection in Turkey, Armenia, the U.S., and the U.K. He is the grandson of Tsolag Dildilian, the founder of the family business in Sivas in central Turkey in 1882.

Joined by his brother Aram, Tsolag’s photography business developed rapidly and he was able to open studios over a period of 30 years in towns like Amasya, Konya and Adana. The book features photos from these studios, as well as from the family’s travels across Anatolia. More than 900 photographs and glass negatives survived, along with family memoirs describing life during this tumultuous era. It is amazing that so many photos were preserved, and most of the ones reprinted in the book are in top condition.

Many Dildilians perished during the genocide of Armenians in 1915, but some family members were able to survive. Tsolag knew the commander of the local gendarmerie and had himself worked as a photographer for the Ottoman army. He and other family members were allowed to remain in Merzifon if they converted to Islam and assumed Turkish identities, which they did.

When the First World War ended in 1918, the surviving Dildilians reclaimed their Armenian identities with the hope of rebuilding their lives. But things got difficult once again with the Turkish War of Independence and they finally ended up leaving Turkey in November 1922.

“Reimagining a Lost Armenian Home” is a rich, moving chronicle of a vanished world.

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