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Image of an Atrocity: Ivan (Hovhannes) Aivazovsky’s Massacre of the Armenians in Trebizond 1895

La représentation d’une atrocité : le Massacre des Arméniens à Trébizonde 1895, par Ivan (Hovhannes) Aïvazovsky
Vazken Khatchig Davidian
p. 40-73

Résumés

Cet article présente l’œuvre du célèbre peintre de marines russe arménien Ivan (Hovhannes) Aïvazovsky (1817-1900), Massacres des Arméniens à Trébizonde 1895, comme l’une des réponses les plus explicites de l’artiste aux massacres perpétrés contre les Arméniens ottomans en 1894-1897. Témoignage d’un engagement personnel de l’artiste, le tableau est également une manifestation précoce de la représentation des atrocités dans un contexte historique arménien. L’auteur montre comment, entre représentation de l’événement et reflet d’une esthétique romantique affirmée, l’œuvre sert également de support propagandiste au service des mobilisations philanthropiques en faveur des victimes.

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Notes de l’auteur

I am indebted to Bryan Karetnyk for his invaluable help in checking and translating the Russian texts, and to Hasmik Hambaryan and Emre Can Dağlioğlu for making their unpublished works available to me. I also thank: Rouben Galichian, Diana Katsouris, Axinia Nazari and Lusine Sargsyan for their help in obtaining material. Comments by my two peer reviewers have gone a long way to improving this essay. Last but not least, I thank David Low for his invaluable insights.

Texte intégral

  • 1 There are several biographical, mainly hagiographic monographs in Russian and Armenian, and other t (...)
  • 2 For an introduction see C. Walker, 1979, p. 3-123, 1980, p. 136-176; A.J. Kirakosian 2004, 2008; R. (...)
  • 3 I thank Susan Traue at UCL Library for organising access to the originals of both editions.
  • 4 See H.A. Hambaryan, 2001, (a), (b).
  • 5 The existence of other currently inaccessible images is not improbable. although Aghasyan’s listing (...)

1This essay considers the atrocity image The Massacre of Armenians in Trebizond in 1895 (1897) [hereafter Trebizond 1895; figure 1], one of several visual responses by the celebrated nineteenth-century Russian Armenian Romantic seascape artist Ivan (Hovhannes) Aivazovsky (1817-1900)1 to the Armenian Massacres [hereafter the Massacres], the systematic, and at that time unprecedented in scale, mass violence targeting the Ottoman Armenian population orchestrated by the Abdülhamid II (r: 1876-1908/9) regime and its proxies between 1894 and 1897.2 With its current whereabouts unknown, for more than a century Trebizond 1895 has only been accessible to art historians through the reproduction of an engraved version in the second edition (1898) of the massive illustrated Russian-language tome Fraternal Help for the Suffering Armenians in Turkey [Братская помощь пострадавшим в Турции армянам – hereafter Fraternal Help],3 compiled and edited by the Moscow-based Russian Armenian reformist editor and lawyer Grigor Djanshiev (Djanshian, 1851-1900).4 Due to the prominence awarded to it in Fraternal Help, Trebizond 1895 is arguably the best known, and certainly most widely cited and reproduced, of the by-then elderly artist’s engagements with the Massacres (comprising two further engravings, Armenians Being Led onto the Boats and Armenians Being Drowned at Sea, based on sketches, and two paintings, the so-called Night: The Tragedy at the Sea of Marmara and Still Night: Throwing Armenians into the Sea, all c. 1897).5 Meanwhile its caption (reported with slight variation in newspaper reviews), direct so as not to allow multiple interpretations, names and dates the event depicted as the slaughter that had taken place in Trebizond on 8 October 1895, the first in a chain of violent anti-Armenian massacres and riots across the Empire that year, organised to undermine any attempts at implementation of internal reforms intended to improve the socio-political conditions of Ottoman Armenians in six eastern provinces.

Figure 1 Ivan (Hovhannes) Aivazovsky, The Massacre of Armenians in Trebizond in 1895 (1897)

Tinted engraving, published in Братская помощь пострадавшим в Турции армянам
[Fraternal Help for the Suffering Armenians in Turkey], 1898, p. xxxvii

  • 6 Nor Dar, no. 48, 18 March 1898, p. 3.

2In his review of the second edition of Fraternal Help, dated 19 August 1898 and published in the Tiflis weekly Nor Dar [Նոր Դար] on 5 September 1898, the Russian Armenian art historian and critic Garegin Levonian (1872-1947), writing under the pseudonym “Gosh” [Գօշ], affirms the engraving as being of the painting, Trebizond 1895, he had reviewed in an earlier article.6 Observing that it “had come out beautifully in colour”, he notes:

  • 7 G. Levonian, “Review of Fraternal Help”, Nor Dar, no. 161, 5 September 1898, p. 3.

Remarkable is also the reprint [կրկնատիպը] of Aivazovsky’s well known painting The Massacre of Trebizond. As to what impression the original of this work leaves [upon the viewer], we had, having seen it at the Exhibition in Moscow, written in Nor Dar; the reproduction [արտատիպը] is of course far from exerting the effect of the real work.7

  • 8 R. Shishmanian, 1958, p. 73.
  • 9 The earliest appears in M. Sargsyan, 1953, p. 108, 110.
  • 10 The most significant are M. Sargsyan’s three biographies: see M. Sargsyan 1953, 1976, 1990.
  • 11 At their crudest see e.g. M. Sargsyan’s references to Bursa as located “in Western Armenia”: M. Sar (...)
  • 12 For the most recent see e.g. N. Novouspensky, 1972, 1980; G. Caffiero and I. Samarine, 2000, 2012.

3Levonian’s distinction between close engagement with, on the one hand, a large-scale canvas (“the real work”) and, on the other, a diminutive engraving restricted to a limited tonal palette within the constraints of the printed page (“the reproduction”) is pertinent: in the absence of the original work, the art historian has no other option but to rely on Levonian’s testimony of the engraving as sufficient substitute for the original painting, and limit any visual examination to the mediated tinted print version. Since at least the 1950s, the several reproductions and discussions of the “monumental” [մեծադիր]8 Trebizond 1895 by the handful of Aivazovsky’s Soviet and post-Soviet Armenian biographers (hagiographers) and art historians could only have been achieved through the Fraternal Help engraving,9 yet explicit acknowledgement of the reproduction as source image has been avoided. Meanwhile, interest in the work has hitherto been limited to its direct depiction of mass violence perpetrated by Ottoman Turks against defenceless Ottoman Armenians, the verisimilitude of which has been uncritically accepted and projected. Following an identical narrative path, replicated or repeated almost verbatim by author after author (and often by the same author),10 these texts, devoid of analysis and uninformed of Ottoman (in general) and Ottoman Armenian (in particular) specificities,11 conveniently absorb the image into an official Armenian national(ist) art-historiographic canon that projects the Ottoman Armenian subject solely as victim of massacre and genocide. Meanwhile, Trebizond 1895 remains universally overlooked by Russian and other non-Armenian art historians and biographers.12

  • 13 His claim to have produced over 5,000 paintings during his lifetime is repeated by his various biog (...)

4Trebizond 1895 is perhaps the most macabre of images executed by the prolific Aivazovsky during his six-decade long career.13 Yet, for any viewer (reader) familiar with the artist’s œuvre it would be impossible to escape the sense that this work is a landscape revisited and re-rendered, lifted directly, thematically and stylistically from a well-established stable. The following discussion grounds the image firstly within the artist’s art historical milieu and secondly within the immediate political environment of its conception, production, propagandistic dissemination and reception. Challenging notions of Trebizond 1895 as truthful depiction of an actual recent-historical atrocity, it dismisses such insistence as missing the point of the artist’s endeavour, proposing it rather as a subjective and imagined dramatization of history presented as spectacle.

Reading Trebizond 1895

  • 14 Aivazovsky’s ancestors had emigrated from Ottoman territory. He visited Constantinople on at least (...)
  • 15 He was decorated by three Sultans: Abdülmecid, Abdülaziz and Abdülhamid II.
  • 16 See e.g. The Ottoman Fleet (1873) and The Ottoman Fleet in front of the Çirağan Palace on the Bosph (...)

5Assessment of Trebizond 1895 requires acknowledgement of the complex environment within which it was produced and its often contradictory art historical background, including: the artist’s long established links to the Ottoman Empire;14 his long-standing cordial, often warm and certainly lucrative relationship with the Ottoman Imperial Palace and especially high regard for Sultan Abdülaziz (r: 1861-1876);15 his history of producing both “anti-Ottoman” works, mainly glorifying the Russian navy during major Russo-Ottoman conflicts (the Crimean War of 1853-1856 and the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877-1878), while also glorifying the Ottoman navy;16 and his close and long-term ties to both Russian Armenian and Constantinople Armenian intellectual elites.

  • 17 M. Sargsyan, 1990.
  • 18 E.g. by art critic Vladimir Stasov (1824-1906) in 1863: in R. Blakesley, 2016, p. 218.
  • 19 Ibid.
  • 20 D.V. Sarabianov, 1990, p. 147-148, 161.
  • 21 A. Bird, 1987, p. 161-162; R. Blakesley, 2016, p. 218-219.

6Considering the artist’s established record, and renown, as a producer of grandiose and spectacular Romantic landscapes, especially seascapes, this essay presents Trebizond 1895 and other atrocity paintings as conforming to a lifelong preoccupation with painting the sea. Meanwhile, an awareness of the unparalleled deification of the artist, the widespread Aivazovsky “mania” shared in equal measure by a Russian Armenian and Ottoman Armenian public throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, becomes especially relevant when considering a work of an Armenian theme of such political and emotional charge. The unique and unparalleled stature of Aivazovsky among Armenians during his lifetime, especially his later years, cannot be overstated and impinges to a great degree upon the reception of the image at the time of production. Such lionisation also extends to the posthumous biographies of the artist that litter twentieth-century and current Armenian art historiography – none more so than Soviet Armenian art historian Minas Sargsyan’s final hagiography of the artist The Life of the Great Sea Painter [Մեծ ծովանկարչի կեանքը]17 which even does away with his name in the title – in contrast to more critical or balanced evaluations of Aivazovsky, made during his lifetime18 or posthumously. While acknowledged as a major artist and Russia’s “superlative marine painter”,19 one of very few whose talent was recognised abroad during his lifetime, he was also viewed towards the latter decades of the nineteenth century as an isolated (mainly secluded in Feodosia in the Crimea, remote from new ideas permeating Russian painting) and marginal figure with few followers,20 prone to sensationalism and hyperbole, routinism and repetition, influential and inspirational yet still holding on to tenets of an outmoded Romanticism.21

  • 22 Y. Martikyan, 1975, p. 183.
  • 23 Examples are too numerous to enumerate but see e.g. four paintings titled Constantinople on a Moonl (...)
  • 24 See e.g. Trebizond from the Sea (1856), Trebizond (1875), Russian and Turkish Shipping off Trebizon (...)
  • 25 These tropes are ubiquitous in the examples provided in footnotes 23 and 24 ff: see also e.g Capric (...)

7In a rare criticism of Aivazovsky’s work by an Armenian author, the Soviet art historian Yeghishe Martikyan dismisses Trebizond 1895 as an “inferior” work, noting its genre or theme as “foreign” to the artist’s usual work, while highlighting instead its ideological value.22 Martikyan’s judgment (based, like ours, on an engraving) is misplaced as the work conforms to the Romantic spirit of its author’s œuvre.23 Uniting his political and aesthetic convictions, Aivazovsky enfolds a massacre scene into a serene panorama, the eponymous port sandwiched between an eerily calm Black Sea in the foreground and the mountains of the Pontus, sublime and majestic, rising high above. The setting of Trebizond and the Black Sea coastline was a favoured theme, frequently set on canvas by Aivazovsky (as was Constantinople and the Marmara Sea, depicted in his other surviving atrocity images),24 while the unfamiliar killing fields of Ottoman Armenia, which he had never visited, were studiously avoided. Similarly, an abundant profusion of tropes oft-utilised by the artist are liberally rendered across the canvas: mosques and minarets representing the oriental city; the evening, or perhaps dusk, setting enveloping the scene with a warm romantic glow; sailing ships, harking back to a bygone era, on a quiet sea, its surface static and unruffled; the distant lens subordinating the unfolding human activity to the vastness of the landscape.25

  • 26 See R. Blakesley, 2016, p. 265.

8Trebizond 1895 provides a visual staging of an event, conceived and executed up to two years after its occurrence, where the artist has sought to lure viewers into a romantic frame, enticing them with the picturesque and sublime beauty of the landscape and serenity of the sea, before confronting them with the horror of the unfolding tragedy, viewed safely from afar. Combining a mixture of realism, symbolism and allegory, the human drama is played out in the right centre foreground. Distant crowds of people, appearing in formations along the seafront, merge into a continuous line on the move, en masse, towards the sea or small boats barely discernible at the water’s edge. The killing fields emerge to the right, where graphic details of the slaughter, albeit minute, are individually rendered: a helpless woman is being attacked by two men, one with raised scimitar; another woman on the ground is about to be stricken; dead bodies are strewn on the ground. In the middle ground, two large boats are packed with human cargo; whether the artist is suggesting that the vessels are meant to carry the victims to the safety of the ship anchored in the bay or to their doom, to be piled onboard later to be dumped into a watery grave, is left undetermined. Meanwhile, the sea is eerily quiet as if deliberately, not to upstage the violence of the massacre. The large flock of crows in the centre foreground, some on the seashore with others in mid-flight about to land, suggest an anticipation of rich pickings, a feast of carrion soon to ensue, reminiscent of those on the vast pyramid of skulls in the Russian artist Vasily Vereshchagin’s (1842-1904) apocalyptic Apotheosis of War (1871), an allegory on the futility of war, that Aivazovsky would have certainly known.26 Meanwhile, the two ships, anchored far out at sea, silent and passive observers of the human tragedy unfolding before them, are the artist’s j’accuse at the inaction of the Great Powers, signifying Aivazovsky’s outrage and sadness at the absence of any meaningful intervention to stop the slaughter.

Aivazovsky and the Massacres

  • 27 Turkish Armenian Pars Tuglaci’s hagiography published in post-coup Turkey understandably omits ment (...)
  • 28 For Aivazovsky’s “Armenianness” see e.g. R. Shishmanian, 1958, p. 70-75; G. Harutunyan, 1965, p. 89 (...)
  • 29 See e.g. G. Caffiero and I. Samarine, 2012, p. 63-65.
  • 30 R. Blakesley, 2003, p. 548.
  • 31 The silence is especially troubling as Sargsian et al., 1967, is listed in both bibliographies: see (...)
  • 32 E. Makzume and C.S. Trevigne (eds.), 2011, p. 128.

9The compelling case for Aivazovsky’s multifarious response to the Massacres has already been made by Armenian art historiography.27 Yet, the ubiquitous presence of Trebizond 1895 in these biographies, rather than elucidating the artist’s engagement with atrocity, has superficially instrumentalized the Massacres and the image solely as vehicles for staking claim to Aivazovsky’s “Armenianness” (often in response to the widespread representation of the artist as “Russian”).28 Furthermore, Trebizond 1895 has been largely, and deliberately, overlooked by non-Armenian authors, as seen most recently in two volumes by Gianni Caffiero and Ivan Samarine.29 Published with the interests of “collectors and dealers” in mind,30 the glaring discrepancy between the attention paid to Aivazovsky’s sympathy for the Greek cause (and other philanthropic endeavours) and the omission of his far more involved preoccupation with the Massacres undermines the authors’ claims of a comprehensive biography.31 Such cynical and calculated selectiveness, whereby unscholarly considerations whitewash history in lieu of empirical evidence, places them in the company of other recent art historical publications, such as Paduan painter Fausto Zonaro’s translated memoirs Twenty years Under the Reign of Abdülhamid, in which the artist’s own discussion of the Massacres has been blatantly censored by its editors.32

  • 33 In the Crimean villages of Sheikh-Mama and Subash: see M. Sargsyan, 1990, p. 388.
  • 34 Mshak, 5 May 1900, no. 82, p. 2.

10Aivazovsky’s robust commitment to the condemnation of the atrocities and engaged humanitarian action towards the rehabilitation of victims and refugees have left an unambiguous record of private and public manifestations, confirming the Massacres as an overwhelming and persistent preoccupation of the artist throughout the final half-decade of his life. The evidence further attests that he had been well-informed of the occurrences across the Ottoman Empire, obtaining news via a variety of sources that included eyewitness accounts, personal correspondence and newspaper reports. Hosting refugees from across the Black Sea on his Crimean estates provided Aivazovsky with direct access to their testimonies:33 in “Letter from Feodosia”, signed T. Khanoyan and published in the influential Russian Armenian liberal and Russophile daily Mshak [Cultivator] on 5 May 1900, immediately after the artist’s death, the author recalls having witnessed during the period of the Massacres a visibly moved and tearful artist empathising with Ottoman Armenian refugees’ accounts of horrific events, and offering consolation.34

  • 35 Supreme Head of Armenian Orthodox Church, residing in Echmiadzin in Russian Armenia.
  • 36 Armenian: Little Father.
  • 37 See C. Walker, 1980, p. 164-168.

11Such profound sadness permeates a letter of 8 September 1896, written by Aivazovsky in response to a (now lost) missive by the revered Catholicos of All Armenians35 Mgrdich I Khrimian (1820-1907), better known affectionately as Hayrig.36 Penned soon after the Ottoman Bank Incident and the ensuing mass slaughter in Constantinople,37 and perhaps with reference to these events, the letter concludes with the following words of anguish:

  • 38 Doc. no. 227 in M. Sargsian et al., 1967, p. 277.

Yes, your Eminence, my heart has been afflicted by the deep pain of the [hitherto] unheard of [and] unseen massacre of the hapless Armenians [խորին ցաւով վշտացած է սիրտս անբաղդ Հայոց չլսուած չտեսնուած կոտորածով]. Your Excellency over there, we over here and everyone at their locations, weep for and lament our wretched Armenians subjected to misfortune and implore divine mercy […] wishing for more days of consolation [solace].38

12One of several surviving epistolary exchanges between Aivazovsky and Khrimian, this document provides fascinating glimpses into the two men’s responses to the Massacres. Earlier in the same letter, Aivazovsky acknowledges a request by Khrimian for the production of an allegorical portrait:

  • 39 Ibid.

Your holiness [makes] a very sensitive and beautiful proposal to me of painting in the colour red a picture of the Armenians’ massacre, meadows and mountains of blood, and the grief-stricken Hayrig upon the ruins. If the Lord pleases to give me perhaps some more days, there [may come] a day when I [can] carry out this heart-moving suggestion.39

  • 40 See V.K. Davidian, 2015, p. 176.

13That such a work was never recorded points to the unlikelihood of it ever having been executed (Aivazovsky would surely have sent such a portrait to the Catholicos). The proposed composition – with the Catholicos seated upon the ruins of Armenia – provides a striking evocation of the Italian artist Michele Fanoli’s Armenia Among the Ruins,40 the ubiquitous Romantic mid-nineteenth-century allegorical representation of the woes of Ottoman Armenia. In his request, Khrimian cast himself, in lieu of Fanoli’s maiden, as the personification of suffering Armenia. While it is tempting to suggest a linkage between Khrimian’s suggestion of rendering the land red and Aivazovsky’s subsequent blood-soaked foreground of Trebizond 1895, this must remain but speculation.

  • 41 Correct spelling: ճամբորդ.
  • 42 Nor Dar, no. 119, 6 July 1895.
  • 43 M. Sargsyan, 1976, p. 171.

14Aivazovsky’s letters, formal yet exuding warmth, reveal great admiration and awe for Khrimian. The two men, arguably the most highly-esteemed Armenian elders of their time, had first met the year before, in 1895, when Aivazovsky had hosted the Catholicos for a week on his estate during the latter’s return journey from St. Petersburg following his failed mission to encourage Tsar Nicholas II’s (r: 1894-1917) intervention to halt the Massacres. An extensive report titled “The Reception of His Beatitude the Catholicos in Feodosia” [«Վեհաբար Կաթողիկոսի ընդունելութիւնը Թէոդոսիայում»] dated 26 June and published in Nor Dar on 6 July 1895, signed “Janpord” (Ճանպորդ [sic],41 Traveller) describes in great detail Khrimian’s arrival in Feodosia and the celebratory atmosphere surrounding his visit.42 Aivazovsky is noted to have sketched Khrimian at the time,43 which may have formed the basis of his full-length portrait of the Catholicos feeding wild flowers to a flock of sheep on the Ararat plain, dated 1895. Yet beyond the joyous environment of the visit, the two men would certainly have discussed the Massacres.

  • 44 H. Hambaryan, 2001(b), p. 82-87.
  • 45 p. Young, 2003, p. 267-268.
  • 46 Held at two archives in California and Scotland awaiting scholarly examination.
  • 47 E. Fleishman and E. Erokhina, cat. no. MO935, p. 280-283, 345.
  • 48 E.J. Dillon, 1895, p. 153-189.
  • 49 Положеніе дѣлъ въ турецкой Арменіи published in Положение Армянъ въ Турціи, 1896, p. 325-373.
  • 50 G. Djanshiev, 1898, Pt II, p. 9-47.
  • 51 See O. Miller, 2017.
  • 52 Mshak, no. 82, 8 May 1899. Reprinted from the Russian-language press.
  • 53 Ibid.

15During this period, Aivazovsky also directly discussed the Massacres as part of correspondences, in Russian, with several other influential figures with a record of active engagement with the Ottoman Armenians, including the Russian Armenians Djanshiev and Karapet Yezov (Yeziants, 1835-1905). The former had authored the work The Armenian Question in Turkey,44 published in Moscow in 1893 prior to his compilation of Fraternal Help in 1897, while the latter, a prominent Orientalist and educator, had been instrumental in the establishment in 1881 of the renowned Sanasarian College in Erzurum, Ottoman Armenia.45 Also important is Aivazovsky’s correspondence46 and ties with the Anglo-Irish journalist and Orientalist linguist Emile Joseph Dillon (1854-1933), the Russia correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph from 1886 to 1914, who had travelled across the Ottoman Empire in 1894-1895 under an assumed identity to report on the Massacres. The two would have met during Dillon’s stop in the Crimea on his return from Ottoman Armenia and Constantinople in 1895.47 Aivazovsky would also have known Dillon’s subsequent essay “The Condition of Armenia”, published in The Contemporary Review in 1895,48 translated into Russian in 1896,49 and later included in Fraternal Help,50 an important text on the 1894 massacres of Sasun and the Ottoman state’s extermination policies employing Kurdish Hamidieh irregular forces.51 According to a later report, the journalist commissioned Aivazovsky, to produce a work depicting a survivor from a shipwreck during a storm unable to reach the shore despite it being in sight, intended as an allegorical representation of the Armenian Question.52 The entire proceeds of £50 (470 roubles), were donated by the artist to Fraternal Help, in aid of the expansion of facilities for refugees.53

  • 54 Whether all three or just the incumbent remains unclear.
  • 55 E. Eldem, 2004, p. 346.
  • 56 See artist’s letter to Abdullah Frères: E. Özendes, 1998, p. 94.
  • 57 M. Sargsyan, 1990, p. 330-331.
  • 58 E. Eldem, 2004, p. 346.
  • 59 Among others see G. Harutunyan, 1965, p. 91.
  • 60 R. Shishmanian, 1958, p. 74, fn. 1.

16Meanwhile, of several reported public manifestations of outrage by Aivazovsky the most (in)famous episode involved the threats, uttered to the Ottoman consul in Feodosia, of throwing medals and decorations awarded by Ottoman sultans54 into the Black Sea in protest at the annihilation of the Ottoman Armenian population by Kurds and Ottoman forces.55 While apparently positively disposed towards Abdülhamid II at least until 1882,56 by 1888 Aivazovsky had expressed unease on at least two occasions at being honoured by a sultan seen as pursuing anti-Armenian policies, vowing never to wear the medals.57 The historian Edhem Eldem has referred to the incident as reported to Constantinople in December 1895 by the consul, one of several versions of the episode, according to which Aivazovsky “had thrown [the medals] on the floor, had forbidden his wife to wear the second-class Şefkat and had decided to turn all these objects into brooches for his daughter and toys to be worn by his nephew at school”.58 Grasping the symbolic nature of the artist’s demonstration, the Palace had decided to reclaim the decorations and filed a complaint with the Russian Ministry of the Interior triggering a minor diplomatic incident. In another version, the artist handed the consul some ribbons, declaring he had thrown the medals to which they had been attached into the Black Sea, adding “your Sultan too can throw my paintings into the sea, I would not care”.59 Another public rift was with an influential acquaintance, the publisher Aleksey S. Suvorin, owner of the reactionary newspaper Novoye Vremya, with whom Aivazovsky cut all ties, accusing him of being indifferent to the fate of the Ottoman Armenians.60

The Massacre in Trebizond and its Image

  • 61 M. Sargsyan 1990, p. 388.
  • 62 Ibid.
  • 63 A. Aghasyan, 2009, p. 25.
  • 64 M. Sargsyan, 1990, p. 388-389.

17Armenian art historiography has hitherto uncritically accepted and projected Trebizond 1895 as having been “created on the basis of true occurrences” [«ստեղծվել է իրական անցքերի հիման վրա»],61 where “the subject has been lifted from reality” [«նյութը վերցված է իրականությունից»]62, and “reproducing the tragic true episodes” [«այդ եղերական իրադարձությունները վերարտադրող»]63 of the Massacres. Despite Aivazovsky not being an eyewitness to the killing spree that had taken place in Trebizond on 8 October 1895, Sargsyan claims that “Aivazovsky correctly and in the greatest detail has presented not only the seaside landscape of Trebizond, that he had seen in the past, but also the tragedy occurring [there]”, hence “depicting a true event” [«պատկերելով իրական անցք»].64

  • 65 A.U. Turgay, 1981 p. 287-293.
  • 66 For contemporary texts see W.J. Wintle, 1896, p. 88-91; E.M. Bliss, 1896, p. 406-412. For later ana (...)

18However, does Trebizond 1895 depict a “true event”, and in any case, had the capture of verisimilitude been the artist’s foremost concern? Despite the absence of any known visual eyewitness record (i.e. photographic), the atrocities in Trebizond remain one of the best documented episodes of the Massacres due to Trebizond’s position as a major trading Black Sea port city, well connected to the outside world and the Asia Minor hinterland,65 and the seat of several consulates. There is consensus in the primary sources, including several eye-witness accounts and foreign consular reports, regarding the events.66

  • 67 B.J. Merguerian, 2009, p. 257-259.
  • 68 For Armenian quarters of Trebizond see D. Kertmenjian, 2009, p. 190-196.
  • 69 E.M. Bliss, 1896, p. 409.
  • 70 B. Der Matossian, 2009, p. 229-233.
  • 71 I.K. Hassiotes 1981, p. 76-78.
  • 72 Ibid.
  • 73 B.J. Merguerian, 2009, p. 264, 269. For British consular reports on damages: K. Behesnilian, 1896, (...)
  • 74 See B.J. Merguerian, 2009, p. 268-269.

19A summary of the main features of the attacks will suffice: the atrocities were carried out by Ottoman soldiers and brigands, with the participation of the police; while there had been tension during the preceding week,67 the massacre was carried out during the course of a single day, with the sound of a bugle signalling, simultaneously in different parts of the city, the beginning (11:00 a.m.) and end (17:00 p.m.) of the killing frenzy, suggesting organization and co-ordination; the killings were concentrated in the market and the several Armenian quarters in the eastern part of the city;68 the Armenian Orthodox male population was specifically targeted, while women and children were spared;69 an emphasis was placed on the looting of shops and businesses (but also of homes) with the design of crippling Armenian economic prominence;70 some Armenians were provided shelter inside Greek shops, homes and churches, as well as various consulates.71 The thoroughness and precision with which the atrocities were carried out left little doubt among eyewitnesses that they were not the impulsive reactions of Muslims (as the regime wished to project), but rather a matter of adherence to strict orders. The consensus that there had been a degree of organization to the massacre was further supported by the remarkable care taken not to molest the properties of Catholic Armenians and of citizens of the Russian Empire (in order to avoid incurring the wrath of the Great Powers) and to exclude the city’s Greek population from the massacres.72 While the numbers of dead vary depending on the source (from 204 to 920, with official Ottoman figures significantly lower than all others), there is unanimous agreement that the victims were overwhelmingly Armenian.73 Longer-term repercussions of the massacre included the large-scale flight of Armenians and other Christians, with many leaving for Odessa and other Russian Black Sea coastal cities, resulting in the crippling of the economy of the region and the depression of Armenian cultural expression.74

  • 75 Very few texts mention mass drowning of civilians in Trebizond. A report by an American eyewitness (...)

20Considering the evidence, it becomes clear that the events summarized above do not correspond to the scene rendered in Trebizond 1895. No accounts point to an evening massacre on the seashore or a targeting of women; most importantly, there are no reports of any forcible boarding of civilians onto boats and their subsequent mass drowning in the Black Sea, if indeed it had been the intention of the artist to suggest this (the preponderant theme of his other atrocity images).75 Meanwhile, the two sailing ships anchored in the bay seem to belong to an earlier era. In short, the massacre rendered in Trebizond 1895 is not the depiction of the slaughter that took place in the city on 8 October 1895.

21Yet, to seek verisimilitude in any of Aivazovsky’s atrocity paintings would be to entirely miss their raison d’être. It should come as no surprise that the Romantic artist would have staged and dramatised the scenes of carnage, as he had imagined them, in order to awaken a sense of horror and provoke outrage, while utilising dramatic landscapes and expansive seas to draw viewers into familiar visual territory, accommodating their preconceived notions of an Aivazovsky painting. Meanwhile, the distant lens through which the human drama is viewed, another Romantic device, may signify the artist’s own physical, and in 1897 also temporal, distance from the violence, and his frustration at the inaction of the Great Powers, especially Russia.

  • 76 The painting, signed and dated 1897, was erroneously listed as Massacre de Arméniens dans la mer de (...)
  • 77 Mshak, no. 142, 4 December 1897.
  • 78 It is unclear precisely how the artist titled these works.

22Two surviving atrocity paintings show the representation of mass drowning to be the dominant theme of Aivazovsky’s visual engagement with the Massacres. Also produced in 1897, it is unclear whether they were formally envisaged as part of a series alongside Trebizond 1895. At least one of these works was exhibited in Odessa in 1897, while both may have been shown in Moscow in 1898. Quiet Night: Armenians Thrown Overboard76 (1897) [figure 2] and Night: The Tragedy at the Sea of Marmara (1897) [figure 3], either of which could be the works mentioned in Mshak in December 189777 as Throwing of the Live Burdens into the Marmara Sea and Turks Offload Armenians into the Sea of Marmara.78

Figure 2 Ivan (Hovhannes) K. Aivazovsky, Quiet Night: Armenians Thrown Overboard (1897)
Oil on canvas, Private Collection

Figure 3 Ivan (Hovhannes) K. Aivazovsky, Night: The Tragedy at the Sea of Marmara (1897)
Oil on canvas, Collection of Djemaran School, Beirut

  • 79 C.J. Walker, 1980, p. 152-156, 164-170; V. Dadrian, 1995, p. 119-127, 138-146.

23These works (and two additional engravings of sketches) represent widespread rumours surrounding the forced expulsion of the Ottoman Armenian bantoukhd (migrant worker) population from Constantinople and their unknown fate,79 such as those detailed in an anonymous “private letter from a resident of Constantinople’ published in late 1896:

  • 80 W.J. Wintle, 1896, p. 117-118.

[w]holesale deportation became the order of the day. The miserable creatures were driven like cattle to the quays and embarked on Turkish vessels, professedly destined for Asia Minor. The ugliest rumours are abroad as to the fate of these people. It is even stated that they were simply thrown into the sea; certainly nothing has – at the time of writing – been heard of them.80

24As in Trebizond 1895, Aivazovsky returns to a familiar setting (evoking several of his previous paintings of Constantinople) and imagines an atrocity, as viewed from afar, with the human figures subordinated to the landscape (although in Night, rather unusually, the artist has observed victims and perpetrators through a close enough lens as to provide glimpses of their features). The scenes are evocative of Victor Hugo’s “Clair de Lune” [Moonlight], published in the series Les Orientales in 1829:

  • 81 V. Hugo, 2001, p. 18-21. I thank one of my peer reviewers for drawing my attention to the poem.

“Who is thus troubling the seraglio’s shores?
[…]
Merely full sacks emitting muffled screams;
And as they sink, there might perhaps be spied
Something like human forms moving inside…
The moon was calm, and flecked the ocean streams.”81

  • 82 C. Karp, 1977, p. 321-322.

25Hugely admired by reformists in Russia throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century,82 it is probable that the French Romantic’s verse would have been familiar to the philhellene Aivazovsky, especially as several works in Les Orientales had referred to the Greek struggle for independence. Beyond the narrative of clandestine drowning of live burdens by moonlight against the Romantic backdrop of Constantinople, Hugo’s text and Aivazovsky’s massacres by moonlight also share an obliqueness in their allusions to the human drama: hence, the horror is relegated to the end of the poem, while in the atrocity images any representation or suggestion of violence appears secondary, as if an afterthought, overwhelmed by the artist’s primary emphasis on landscape, atmosphere and exploration of the moods of sea and sky, presenting contemporary viewers with something at once familiar and horrifying.

Exhibition and Contemporary Responses to Trebizond 1895

  • 83 Reminiscent of the 1826 exhibition of paintings by Delacroix, etc. au profit des Grecs: D. Rodogno, (...)
  • 84 Mshak, no. 142, 4 December 1897.
  • 85 Nor Dar, no. 208, 3 December 1897.
  • 86 Ardzagank, no. 138, 10 December 1897, p.1.
  • 87 Mshak, no. 142, 4 December 1897.

26The earliest mentions of Trebizond 1895 in an exhibition of paintings83 by Aivazovsky that opened in Odessa on 1 December 1897 for a three-week period, “with all proceeds to be utilized for the benefit of the Greeks and Armenians during the latest events in Turkey”,84 appeared in Russian-language newspaper reports, reprinted or summarized soon after in the Tiflis Russian Armenian-language press, including Nor Dar,85 Ardzagank,86 and Mshak.87 The article “Aivazovsky’s Picture Exhibition in Aid of the Greeks and Armenians” [Այվազովսկու Պատկերահանդէսը յօգուտ Յոյների եւ Հայերի], published in Mshak on 4 December 1897, noted:

  • 88 Ibid.

As is being reported by the newspapers of Odessa the paintings placed at exhibition are [...] an entire group of paintings that presents notable episodes from the recent Greek and Armenian unfortunate events for example The Massacre of the Armenians in Trebizond, The European Navy Near the Island of Crete, the small picture Thessaly and especially, with its content horror-inducing [եւ մանաւանդ իր բովանդակութեամբ սարսափ ազդող] Throwing of the Live Burdens into the Marmara Sea [Կենդանի բեռների Մարմարա ծովը թափելը], Moonlit Night [Լուսնկայ գիշեր], The Sole Ship [Միայնակ շոգենաւը], People Thrown into the Sea [Ծովը թափված մարդիկ] – the impact of that quiet drama forces a terrifying impression.88

  • 89 All figures provided by the press are notoriously inconsistent.
  • 90 Probably Greek Rebels Thrown into Flames in Sh. Khachaturian, 2010, p. 30.
  • 91 Doc. no. 246, M. Sargsian et al., 1967, p. 277.

27The above, probably a composite of several reports culled from the Russian-language press and translated, whilst providing important information on the exhibition and responses engendered amongst (presumably non-Armenian) viewers in Odessa, appears to be erroneous in its citing of five paintings on the subject of the Massacres, the probable result of inconsistent captioning in different newspapers.89 Perhaps more reliable is the figure given by Aivazovsky in a letter to Yezov dated 9 December 1897 when he states that his current exhibition in Odessa of sixteen paintings includes three in which “the cruelty of the Turks is depicted”: one of “the butchery of the Armenians in Trebizond”, as well as “a picture in which the Armenians are shown being thrown alive from a ship into the Marmara Sea” and a third showing “the Turks burning the Greeks in Thessaly during the war”.90 The artist continues: “the money from the exhibition will be given to the Greeks and Armenians who suffered during this war. When the exhibition closes, I will ask that the money for the Armenians is sent to [the Russian] Ambassador [to Constantinople] Zinoviev”.91

  • 92 E.g. The Acropolis in Athens (1880, 1883).
  • 93 E.g. The Firing of the Turkish Flagship by Kanaris (1881).
  • 94 Site of defeat of Prince Constantine’s army by Ottoman army: D. Rodogno, 2012, p. 220. For link bet (...)
  • 95 D. Rodogno, 2012, p. 205-209.
  • 96 Ibid., p. 212-228.

28The above texts reveal the latest manifestation of the Romantic artist’s long-standing sympathy towards Greece and the Greeks. An admirer of classical Greece,92 Aivazovsky had travelled to the country on more than one occasion and had painted numerous works with Greek themes, including episodes from the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire (1821-1832).93 The execution of the small canvas Thessaly94 had been undoubtedly propelled by outrage at news of atrocities committed against Greeks by Ottoman forces during the Greco-Ottoman War of 1897. Yet the public juxtaposition of images of Armenian and Greek suffering in 1897 raises interesting questions. Did the artist hope that the side-by-side exhibition of scenes of Ottoman atrocities against Greek Orthodox and Ottoman Armenian populations would by association propel the empathy of a predominantly Russian Orthodox audience towards Armenians, proposed as “Grecs d’Asie” sharing a common “européanité” and serving as an avant-poste of civilisation,95 hence deserving of salvation? Similarly, can the exhibition of works such as Gunboat off Crete (1897) or The European Squadron off Crete (1897), representing the intervention of an International Squadron in Crete,96 alongside Trebizond 1895 be read as Aivazovsky’s condemnation of double standards, aimed at the Great Powers for their abandonment of the hapless Ottoman Armenians?

  • 97 Mshak 1898, no. 32, p. 2. Figures should be taken with caution.
  • 98 Nor Dar no. 48, 18 March 1898, p. 3.

29Following Odessa, an exhibition of 32 paintings of various sizes by Aivazovsky, of which 22 were reported to have been painted in 1897,97 opened in Moscow on 22 February 1898, running until 25 March.98 In a review titled Aivazovsky’s Exhibition in Moscow [Այվազովսկու Պատկերահանդէսը Մոսկուայում], dated 5 March and published in Nor Dar on 18 March 1898, Garegin Levonian, writing from Moscow under the pseudonym Gosh [Գօշ], provided brief descriptions of five paintings selected for their “attracting of singular attention”, among them Trebizond 1895:

  • 99 Ibid.

The third eye-catching work is The Massacre of TrebizondՏրապիզոնի Ջարդը»]: beautiful city, sea, grove; but on the seashore the children of the sultan are massacring and slaughtering the Christians like sheep. From the spilt blood of the innocents the water of a certain area verges on the red, forming streaks [շերտեր] of blood. Reviewers of local papers found that blood a bit exaggerated as if they still do not believe that that much blood has been shed.99

30Levonian’s review is particularly important in that, beyond conveying a sense of his own emotive response to Trebizond 1895, he responds to charges of overstatement levelled against the work. Such accusations, which may, or may not, have been meant as merely aesthetic judgments, were interpreted by the reviewer as casting doubt on the reality, and extent, of the Massacres. In this era of reactionary Russian nationalism, ascendant during the reigns of Alexander III (r: 1881-1894) and Nicholas II, with suspicion and open hostility towards non-Russian speaking populations of the Empire, among them the Armenians, they might have been used to justify non-intervention. Yet Trebizond 1895 appears to have engendered powerful emotional responses among liberal and reformist Russian, as well as Russian Armenian, viewers, such as the sentiments echoed in “Letter from Moscow”, signed F., dated 22 February and published in Mshak on 3 March 1898:

  • 100 Irregulars.
  • 101 Mshak 1898, no. 32, p. 2.

The Massacre in Trebizond is horrific [սարսափելի]. They are not massacring people, but throwing them alive in the sea. The troops and bashibozouks,100 like butchers, are slaughtering innocent people and throwing them into the sea. People are fleeing but where to? People are beseeching [for their lives] but to whom? It is impossible to look at these innocent victims without weeping.101

  • 102 See Li. [Լի] “Aivazovsky’s Exhibition”, Mshak 1898, no. 50, p. 2.
  • 103 Sh. Khachaturian notes there had also been an exhibition in Kharkov (no source provided). See Sh. K (...)

31The above text, also claiming (erroneously) that the work was being exhibited for the first time, certainly conflates its author’s response to more than one painting, as there are no depictions of mass drowning in Trebizond 1895. Yet, another letter from Moscow, titled “Aivazovsky’s Exhibition”, signed Li. [Լի], dated 17 March, and published in Mshak on 27 March fails to mention the painting.102 Counting 31 works, with “more than 25” dated to 1897, might this suggest that the painting had been removed from public view before the exhibition’s end? While of course there is great inconsistence in the reporting of numbers, this unusual absence, whether due to the work’s early removal from the exhibition or simply for not being deemed noteworthy, remains an open question. Furthermore, whether any of Aivazovsky’s atrocity paintings were shown at the artist’s exhibitions in St. Petersburg, and abroad, i.e. Copenhagen or London, in 1898, is unclear.103

32Whether provoking reactions of horror or sceptical dismissal, Trebizond 1895 certainly received much critical attention. Yet, its greatest accolade was to be bestowed by Aivazovsky himself in the form of the work’s selection for publication in the expanded second edition of Fraternal Help, where it was awarded pride of place in the Introductory Section. Despite Levonian’s significant differentiation between responses to a painting and a printed engraving, it was the mediation from unique canvas to printed multiple that ensured wider accessibility beyond the exhibition hall.

The Mediation and Mass-Dissemination of Trebizond 1895

  • 104 Nor Dar, no. 159, 3 September 1898; Mshak, no. 163, 10 September 1898.
  • 105 First advertisement of Fraternal Help in Nor Dar, no. 159, 3 September 1898.

33The incorporation of the engraving of Trebizond 1895 in the second “reworked and expanded edition” of Fraternal Help ensured its widest mass-dissemination in the Russian Empire. Treated as of unique promotional importance and a major selling point, all advertisements published in the Russian Armenian press prominently publicised the inclusion of the image,104 with special mention of its printing in “three tones” [3 տոնով],105 encouraging even those already owning the hugely successful (and sold out) first edition to purchase the second.

  • 106 Noah Descending from Ararat included in 1897, but apparently not in 1898: G. Djanshiev, 1897, Pt. I (...)
  • 107 It appears that only three were reproduced in the 2nd edition.
  • 108 G. Djanshiev, 1898, Pt. I, p. 25, fn. 2.
  • 109 Ibid., p. 425-428.

34Having noted in the 1897 edition that “Aivazovsky has sent four drawings from Nice: Turks Load the Armenians onto the Ships, Turks offload the Armenians into the Sea of Marmara, Descent of Noah from Ararat,106 Ship at Sea”,107 Djanshiev added the following footnote in the 1898 edition: “with the kind permission of the illustrious artist we are reproducing the painting which was shown in his last exhibition Massacre of Armenians at Trebizond”.108 Meanwhile, Aivazovsky’s unparalleled stature was further reflected in his being the sole participating artist also to have his biography, portrait and facsimile of signature reproduced in both editions of Fraternal Help.109

  • 110 G. Djanshiev, 1898, Title Page.
  • 111 Leo, “Review of Fraternal Help”, Mshak, 12 September 1898, p. 2.
  • 112 Engravings of paintings, sketches and photographs, decorative and graphic works.

35The significance attributed to the visual component of Fraternal Help is made explicit on the title page with Djanshiev’s description of the volume as a “literary, scholarly collection, with original drawings by I.K. Aivazovsky, miniatures by V.H. Soureniants”, images of Armenian refugees, and a “multitude of portraits, views and types of Transcaucasia and Turkish Armenia”.110 In a review of the second edition, published in Mshak on 12 September 1898, the critic and historian Leo (Arakel Babakhanian, 1860-1932) rightly describes the volume as an “album”.111 Indeed, with close to 170 assembled visual documents,112 the volume is a unique and invaluable repository, a compendium of all types of late nineteenth-century visual representations of Ottoman Armenia and Ottoman Armenians as perceived through a Russian Armenian lens (with the conspicuous absence of even a single work by an Ottoman Armenian artist, such as Garabed Nichanian (1861-1950) or Arshag Fetvadjian (1866-1947), who had sought refuge in the Russian Empire at the time).

  • 113 Porter.
  • 114 See V.K. Davidian, 2018.
  • 115 D. Rodogno, 2012, p. 9-12; A. Heraclides and A. Dialla, 2015, Ch. 3, p. 31-56.

36An examination of this cumulative body of work reveals the existence of an established (at least since the 1877-1878 Russo-Ottoman War when Russia militarily occupied and annexed parts of Ottoman Armenia) Russian Armenian visual taxonomy of representation of the Ottoman Armenian, as idealized ethnographic type and suffering victim – beggar, bantoukhd hamal,113 abandoned widow or starving orphan – in need of salvation from both oriental overlords and his/her own Asiatic backwardness.114 While Aivazovsky’s atrocity images stand in stark relief against the abovementioned imagery for their radical introduction of violence into the repertory, they nevertheless reinforce the perpetual victimhood of the Ottoman Armenian, as pathetic “Other” to the superior “European” Russian Armenian (by extension reflecting notions of the “barbarous” Islamic Ottoman state against “civilised” Christian Russia).115

  • 116 G. Djanshiev 1898, Pt. II, p. 1-162.
  • 117 Ibid., p. 95-120.
  • 118 Ibid., p. 106-107.

37The incorporation of Trebizond 1895 in Fraternal Help has also meant its subsumption into the organised narrative promoted by the volume.116 Hence a reader examining “The Armenian Question according to the French Yellow Book”,117 including testimony from the French consul in Trebizond,118 in the tome would have mentally connected text and image. Even more explicit is the narrative projected by Aivazovsky’s two other atrocity engravings, Turks Load Armenians onto the Ship [figure 4] and Turks Offload the Armenians into the Sea of Marmara [figure 5], sketches reproduced in both editions.

Figure 4 Ivan (Hovhannes) K. Aivazovsky, Turks Load Armenians onto the Ship (1897)
Fraternal Help, 1898, Pt. II, p. 78

Figure 5 Ivan (Hovhannes) K. Aivazovsky, Turks Offload the Armenians into the Sea of Marmara (1897)
Fraternal Help
, 1898, Pt. II, p. 79.

  • 119 Ibid., p. 78, 79.

38In the first engraved sketch, set against the unmistakable backdrop of Constantinople, a crowd of Armenians is depicted being escorted onto boats, to be transported to a larger waiting vessel, by a group of armed men, bayonets visibly rendered, an orderly operation reflecting none of the violence represented in Trebizond 1895. In the second, the human cargo is being violently unloaded into the calm waters of the Marmara, raised arms suggesting victims attempting to swim away or struggling to remain afloat. The distant ships accuse the Great Powers of inaction, evoking those in Trebizond 1895, and also Quiet Night and Night. Meanwhile, the crescent moon on the ships’ flag posts (and the night sky) appears as an open indictment of the Ottoman state, held responsible by the artist for the great crime. That the two sketches were intended as two parts of a single narrative is confirmed by their sequential captions and their publication on consecutive pages in the first edition, with this clear visual narrative made even more explicit by the editor in the second edition with the images situated on facing pages [figure 6].119

Figure 6 Facing pages 78 and 79, Fraternal Help, 2nd Edition, 1898

  • 120 The expanded, 1898 edition runs to 920-plus pages.
  • 121 Comprised of approximately 130 texts (essays, articles, poetry, fiction, letters), close to 170 ima (...)
  • 122 See Introductory Section of 1898 edition.
  • 123 Receipts from the two editions reported to have raised 100,000 roubles, channelled to the Constanti (...)
  • 124 N. Cull et al., 2003, p. xv-xxi; p. 317-323.
  • 125 G. Tongo, 2015, p. 140-141.
  • 126 N. Cull et al., 2003, p. 318.
  • 127 Ibid., p. 15.

39As a Russian Armenian response to the Massacres, Djanshiev’s two editions of Fraternal Help (the appearance and content of which Russian Armenian artists had a crucial role in shaping) is unrivalled in terms of scale,120 ambition,121 acclaim,122 and achievement.123 Its projection of a common narrative on the Massacres, certainly promoting a political agenda and seeking to shape public opinion,124 would seem to justify art historian Gizem Tongo’s pronouncement of the tome as a “Russian propagandistic publication”.125 Yet, an acceptance (dismissal) of Fraternal Help, as crude propaganda (a word laden with negative post-World War I connotations)126 without qualification means reducing what was a complex and sophisticated endeavour to only one (albeit important) aspect of its diverse aims. Furthermore, the characterisation of the tome as “Russian” implies, quite erroneously, sponsorship by, or the direct support of, the Russian state, crucially ignoring the Russian Armenian agency and effort behind its initiation, compilation, production and distribution, and its appeal to Russian public opinion, of which even an autocratic Russian state would have to take account.127

  • 128 D. Rodogno, 2012, p. 185-211.
  • 129 Ibid., p. 173-174.
  • 130 Levonian confirms that time lapse between the Massacres and publication was due to the State withho (...)

40Fraternal Help complicates the classic (post-World War I) definition, and perceptions, of propaganda in the sense that: firstly, much theorization of the notion concerns war – the Russian and Ottoman Empires were not at war between 1894-1897; secondly, the book was neither a tool of engagement between belligerent states nor produced at their behest; thirdly, if we accept the appeal of propaganda as emotional rather than intellectual, Djanshiev’s project synthesised both, being a complex, unashamedly intellectual and emotional exercise with several (at times unrelated) aims; fourthly, as a charitable enterprise a primary concern was the raising of funds and material contribution to relief; fifthly, it sought to inform (remind) an autocratic regime hostile to its non-Russian nationalities (including the Armenians) and the wider Russian public of the important contribution of Armenians to civilization and the empire, hence creating a positive image for a maligned group under severe political pressure; and finally, it provided disillusioned intellectuals with an avenue for resistance and protest.128 Yet, unlike in 1877, there was no Russian desire to intervene, whether unilaterally or collectively with other powers.129 Furthermore, the considerable time it took for Fraternal Help to emerge and for Aivazovsky to execute and exhibit his atrocity paintings also confirms the imposition of state restrictions on aiding Ottoman Armenian victims.130

  • 131 S. Téry, 1945, p. 48.

41The aims of Trebizond 1895, beyond raising public awareness of the by then recent-historic Massacres, tallied with those of Fraternal Help, more explicitly from the moment of its incorporation into the tome and its narrative. In that sense it was, to paraphrase Picasso’s statement on Guernica in 1945, an “instrument of war” produced by a painter who was “a political being”, part of the armoury of Fraternal Help to be utilised to influence public opinion, counteract official policy, raise funds and promote humanitarian intervention.131

*

42The above reading of the engraving of Aivazovsky’s Trebizond 1895 introduces the image as one of the most notable of the artist’s multifarious responses to the Massacres. Rather than the representation of an actual event, the well documented 8 October 1895 massacre in Trebizond, as claimed by its caption, the essay proposes the work instead as a dramatization of the mass violence presented through a distant lens, as imagined by the artist. As in his other surviving visual responses to the Massacres – all produced, exhibited and disseminated in 1897 and 1898 – the artist has set the unfolding human drama in a revisited familiar landscape, while subordinating the unfolding tragedy to the concerns of a Romantic aesthetic.

43The essay further considers the propagandistic attributes of Trebizond 1895 as an important painting in a touring exhibition around Russia and particularly after its mediation and mass-reproduction in Fraternal Help. Finally, as direct responses to the Massacres, the essay proposes Aivazovsky’s atrocity images, based on or claiming to represent actual events, as novel and radical additions to an established, post-1878, Russian Armenian visual taxonomy of representation of Ottoman Armenian victimhood.

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Kertmenjian David, “Armenian City Quarters and the Architectural Legacy of the Pontus”, in R.G. Hovannisian (ed.) 2009, p. 189-215.

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Khachaturian Shahen G., Hovhannes Aivazovsky, Yerevan: Sovetakan Grogh Publishers, 1984.

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Makzume Erol and Trevigne Cesare Mario (eds.), Twenty Years Under the Reign of Abdülhamid: The Memoirs and Works of Fausto Zonaro (tr. Dylan Clements), Istanbul: G Yayin Grubu, 2011.

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Notes

1 There are several biographical, mainly hagiographic monographs in Russian and Armenian, and other texts on Aivazovsky: see esp. M. Sargsyan, 1990. English texts are mainly coffee table books: see e.g. Novouspensky, 1972, 1980; G. Caffiero and I. Samarine, 2000, 2012.

2 For an introduction see C. Walker, 1979, p. 3-123, 1980, p. 136-176; A.J. Kirakosian 2004, 2008; R. Melson, 1982, p. 481-509; Critical study of the Massacres has been hitherto eclipsed by an emphasis on the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1916: see B. Adjemian and M. Nichanian, 2017.

3 I thank Susan Traue at UCL Library for organising access to the originals of both editions.

4 See H.A. Hambaryan, 2001, (a), (b).

5 The existence of other currently inaccessible images is not improbable. although Aghasyan’s listing of a work titled Adana Massacre (no sources offered) is unlikely: A. Aghasyan, 2009, p. 25.

6 Nor Dar, no. 48, 18 March 1898, p. 3.

7 G. Levonian, “Review of Fraternal Help”, Nor Dar, no. 161, 5 September 1898, p. 3.

8 R. Shishmanian, 1958, p. 73.

9 The earliest appears in M. Sargsyan, 1953, p. 108, 110.

10 The most significant are M. Sargsyan’s three biographies: see M. Sargsyan 1953, 1976, 1990.

11 At their crudest see e.g. M. Sargsyan’s references to Bursa as located “in Western Armenia”: M. Sargsyan, 1976, p. 92, 1990, p. 210; or Y. Martikyan’s references to Ottoman Armenian painting in Constantinople as in “Western Armenia”: Y. Martikyan, 1971, p. 190-191. Meanwhile Sh. Khachaturian’s references to Ottoman Armenian themes are littered with errors: see e.g. Sh. Khachaturian, 1984, p. 5-20, 35-47.

12 For the most recent see e.g. N. Novouspensky, 1972, 1980; G. Caffiero and I. Samarine, 2000, 2012.

13 His claim to have produced over 5,000 paintings during his lifetime is repeated by his various biographers.

14 Aivazovsky’s ancestors had emigrated from Ottoman territory. He visited Constantinople on at least eight occasions and held two exhibitions there: see P. Tuğlaci 1983, p. 5, 23. Germaner and İnankur suggest 10 visits and three exhibitions: see 2008, p. 315.

15 He was decorated by three Sultans: Abdülmecid, Abdülaziz and Abdülhamid II.

16 See e.g. The Ottoman Fleet (1873) and The Ottoman Fleet in front of the Çirağan Palace on the Bosphorus (1875).

17 M. Sargsyan, 1990.

18 E.g. by art critic Vladimir Stasov (1824-1906) in 1863: in R. Blakesley, 2016, p. 218.

19 Ibid.

20 D.V. Sarabianov, 1990, p. 147-148, 161.

21 A. Bird, 1987, p. 161-162; R. Blakesley, 2016, p. 218-219.

22 Y. Martikyan, 1975, p. 183.

23 Examples are too numerous to enumerate but see e.g. four paintings titled Constantinople on a Moonlit Night dating from the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s in Sh. Khachatrian, 2000, p. 83, 86, 128, 129.

24 See e.g. Trebizond from the Sea (1856), Trebizond (1875), Russian and Turkish Shipping off Trebizond (1888).

25 These tropes are ubiquitous in the examples provided in footnotes 23 and 24 ff: see also e.g Capriccio of Ottoman Coastal Scene on a Moonlit Night (1867) or Turkish Coastal Scene (1874).

26 See R. Blakesley, 2016, p. 265.

27 Turkish Armenian Pars Tuglaci’s hagiography published in post-coup Turkey understandably omits mention of the Massacres: P. Tuğlaci, 1983.

28 For Aivazovsky’s “Armenianness” see e.g. R. Shishmanian, 1958, p. 70-75; G. Harutunyan, 1965, p. 89-94.

29 See e.g. G. Caffiero and I. Samarine, 2012, p. 63-65.

30 R. Blakesley, 2003, p. 548.

31 The silence is especially troubling as Sargsian et al., 1967, is listed in both bibliographies: see G. Caffiero and I. Samarine, 2000, p. 320; 2012, p. 332. Samarine’s recent authentication of Quiet Night confirms awareness of these works: see Drouot-Leclere, 2017, p. 16.

32 E. Makzume and C.S. Trevigne (eds.), 2011, p. 128.

33 In the Crimean villages of Sheikh-Mama and Subash: see M. Sargsyan, 1990, p. 388.

34 Mshak, 5 May 1900, no. 82, p. 2.

35 Supreme Head of Armenian Orthodox Church, residing in Echmiadzin in Russian Armenia.

36 Armenian: Little Father.

37 See C. Walker, 1980, p. 164-168.

38 Doc. no. 227 in M. Sargsian et al., 1967, p. 277.

39 Ibid.

40 See V.K. Davidian, 2015, p. 176.

41 Correct spelling: ճամբորդ.

42 Nor Dar, no. 119, 6 July 1895.

43 M. Sargsyan, 1976, p. 171.

44 H. Hambaryan, 2001(b), p. 82-87.

45 p. Young, 2003, p. 267-268.

46 Held at two archives in California and Scotland awaiting scholarly examination.

47 E. Fleishman and E. Erokhina, cat. no. MO935, p. 280-283, 345.

48 E.J. Dillon, 1895, p. 153-189.

49 Положеніе дѣлъ въ турецкой Арменіи published in Положение Армянъ въ Турціи, 1896, p. 325-373.

50 G. Djanshiev, 1898, Pt II, p. 9-47.

51 See O. Miller, 2017.

52 Mshak, no. 82, 8 May 1899. Reprinted from the Russian-language press.

53 Ibid.

54 Whether all three or just the incumbent remains unclear.

55 E. Eldem, 2004, p. 346.

56 See artist’s letter to Abdullah Frères: E. Özendes, 1998, p. 94.

57 M. Sargsyan, 1990, p. 330-331.

58 E. Eldem, 2004, p. 346.

59 Among others see G. Harutunyan, 1965, p. 91.

60 R. Shishmanian, 1958, p. 74, fn. 1.

61 M. Sargsyan 1990, p. 388.

62 Ibid.

63 A. Aghasyan, 2009, p. 25.

64 M. Sargsyan, 1990, p. 388-389.

65 A.U. Turgay, 1981 p. 287-293.

66 For contemporary texts see W.J. Wintle, 1896, p. 88-91; E.M. Bliss, 1896, p. 406-412. For later analyses see B.J. Merguerian, 2009; C.J. Walker, 1980, p. 156-158; V. Dadrian, 1995, p. 153-154; E.C. Dağlioğlu, 2017.

67 B.J. Merguerian, 2009, p. 257-259.

68 For Armenian quarters of Trebizond see D. Kertmenjian, 2009, p. 190-196.

69 E.M. Bliss, 1896, p. 409.

70 B. Der Matossian, 2009, p. 229-233.

71 I.K. Hassiotes 1981, p. 76-78.

72 Ibid.

73 B.J. Merguerian, 2009, p. 264, 269. For British consular reports on damages: K. Behesnilian, 1896, p. 44.

74 See B.J. Merguerian, 2009, p. 268-269.

75 Very few texts mention mass drowning of civilians in Trebizond. A report by an American eyewitness notes of bodies of dead Armenians being cast into the sea: see E.C. Dağlioglu, 2017. Another report notes an unspecified “captain of a foreign vessel” watching powerlessly as Armenians who had swam to his vessel were knocked on the head or forced underwater by Muslim boatmen: see Kinross, 1977, p. 558 (no source provided).

76 The painting, signed and dated 1897, was erroneously listed as Massacre de Arméniens dans la mer de Marmara en 1886 in an auction catalogue. “1886” is a mis-inscription on the verso of the canvas for “1896”: Drouot-Leclere, 2017, p. 16.

77 Mshak, no. 142, 4 December 1897.

78 It is unclear precisely how the artist titled these works.

79 C.J. Walker, 1980, p. 152-156, 164-170; V. Dadrian, 1995, p. 119-127, 138-146.

80 W.J. Wintle, 1896, p. 117-118.

81 V. Hugo, 2001, p. 18-21. I thank one of my peer reviewers for drawing my attention to the poem.

82 C. Karp, 1977, p. 321-322.

83 Reminiscent of the 1826 exhibition of paintings by Delacroix, etc. au profit des Grecs: D. Rodogno, 2012, p. 63-90.

84 Mshak, no. 142, 4 December 1897.

85 Nor Dar, no. 208, 3 December 1897.

86 Ardzagank, no. 138, 10 December 1897, p.1.

87 Mshak, no. 142, 4 December 1897.

88 Ibid.

89 All figures provided by the press are notoriously inconsistent.

90 Probably Greek Rebels Thrown into Flames in Sh. Khachaturian, 2010, p. 30.

91 Doc. no. 246, M. Sargsian et al., 1967, p. 277.

92 E.g. The Acropolis in Athens (1880, 1883).

93 E.g. The Firing of the Turkish Flagship by Kanaris (1881).

94 Site of defeat of Prince Constantine’s army by Ottoman army: D. Rodogno, 2012, p. 220. For link between the Cretan Question and Armenian Massacres in the minds of contemporaries: p. 224-227.

95 D. Rodogno, 2012, p. 205-209.

96 Ibid., p. 212-228.

97 Mshak 1898, no. 32, p. 2. Figures should be taken with caution.

98 Nor Dar no. 48, 18 March 1898, p. 3.

99 Ibid.

100 Irregulars.

101 Mshak 1898, no. 32, p. 2.

102 See Li. [Լի] “Aivazovsky’s Exhibition”, Mshak 1898, no. 50, p. 2.

103 Sh. Khachaturian notes there had also been an exhibition in Kharkov (no source provided). See Sh. Khachaturian, 2010, p. 6, 18.

104 Nor Dar, no. 159, 3 September 1898; Mshak, no. 163, 10 September 1898.

105 First advertisement of Fraternal Help in Nor Dar, no. 159, 3 September 1898.

106 Noah Descending from Ararat included in 1897, but apparently not in 1898: G. Djanshiev, 1897, Pt. I, p. 501.

107 It appears that only three were reproduced in the 2nd edition.

108 G. Djanshiev, 1898, Pt. I, p. 25, fn. 2.

109 Ibid., p. 425-428.

110 G. Djanshiev, 1898, Title Page.

111 Leo, “Review of Fraternal Help”, Mshak, 12 September 1898, p. 2.

112 Engravings of paintings, sketches and photographs, decorative and graphic works.

113 Porter.

114 See V.K. Davidian, 2018.

115 D. Rodogno, 2012, p. 9-12; A. Heraclides and A. Dialla, 2015, Ch. 3, p. 31-56.

116 G. Djanshiev 1898, Pt. II, p. 1-162.

117 Ibid., p. 95-120.

118 Ibid., p. 106-107.

119 Ibid., p. 78, 79.

120 The expanded, 1898 edition runs to 920-plus pages.

121 Comprised of approximately 130 texts (essays, articles, poetry, fiction, letters), close to 170 images (photographs, engravings, sketches, graphic works).

122 See Introductory Section of 1898 edition.

123 Receipts from the two editions reported to have raised 100,000 roubles, channelled to the Constantinople Patriarchate via the Russian Ambassador and helped establish 12 orphanages across regions affected by massacre: H. Hambaryan, 2001(a), p. 225.

124 N. Cull et al., 2003, p. xv-xxi; p. 317-323.

125 G. Tongo, 2015, p. 140-141.

126 N. Cull et al., 2003, p. 318.

127 Ibid., p. 15.

128 D. Rodogno, 2012, p. 185-211.

129 Ibid., p. 173-174.

130 Levonian confirms that time lapse between the Massacres and publication was due to the State withholding permission to help victims: see Gosh, “Review of Fraternal Help”, Nor Dar, no. 184, 29 October 1897.

131 S. Téry, 1945, p. 48.

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Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 1 Ivan (Hovhannes) Aivazovsky, The Massacre of Armenians in Trebizond in 1895 (1897)
Tinted engraving, published in Братская помощь пострадавшим в Турции армянам[Fraternal Help for the Suffering Armenians in Turkey], 1898, p. xxxvii
URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/1815/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 964k
Légende Figure 2 Ivan (Hovhannes) K. Aivazovsky, Quiet Night: Armenians Thrown Overboard (1897)Oil on canvas, Private Collection
URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/1815/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,4M
Légende Figure 3 Ivan (Hovhannes) K. Aivazovsky, Night: The Tragedy at the Sea of Marmara (1897)Oil on canvas, Collection of Djemaran School, Beirut
URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/1815/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,8M
Légende Figure 4 Ivan (Hovhannes) K. Aivazovsky, Turks Load Armenians onto the Ship (1897)Fraternal Help, 1898, Pt. II, p. 78
URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/1815/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 860k
Légende Figure 5 Ivan (Hovhannes) K. Aivazovsky, Turks Offload the Armenians into the Sea of Marmara (1897)Fraternal Help, 1898, Pt. II, p. 79.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/1815/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,5M
Légende Figure 6 Facing pages 78 and 79, Fraternal Help, 2nd Edition, 1898
URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/1815/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 3,1M
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Référence papier

Vazken Khatchig Davidian, « Image of an Atrocity: Ivan (Hovhannes) Aivazovsky’s Massacre of the Armenians in Trebizond 1895 », Études arméniennes contemporaines, 11 | 2018, 40-73.

Référence électronique

Vazken Khatchig Davidian, « Image of an Atrocity: Ivan (Hovhannes) Aivazovsky’s Massacre of the Armenians in Trebizond 1895 », Études arméniennes contemporaines [En ligne], 11 | 2018, mis en ligne le 15 octobre 2018, consulté le 14 novembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/eac/1815 ; DOI : 10.4000/eac.1815

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Vazken Khatchig Davidian

Birkbeck College, University of London

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