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Photography and the Empty Landscape: Excavating the Ottoman Armenian Image World

La photographie et le paysage du vide : exhumer les mondes de l’image des Arméniens ottomans
David Low
p. 31-69

Résumés

Cet article interroge l’absence des acteurs arméniens dans l’histoire de la photographie ottomane, et en particulier l’incapacité de celle-ci à prendre en considération la part majeure prise par les photographes de province dans l’ensemble de la production photographique arménienne ottomane. Une photo de classe prise à Kharpert sert ici de point de départ à une réflexion sur les thématiques et les motivations sociales de la photographie dans les provinces ottomanes. L’article prête une attention particulière au contexte historique, interrogeant l’histoire sociale de Kharpert à travers la vie et l’œuvre de l’un des personnages centraux de la photographie étudiée, l’écrivain Tlgadintsi, et ceux des auteurs de la photographie en question, les frères Soursourian. Dans une perspective d’histoire sociale, il s’agit de mettre en lumière le lien entre la production photographique et l’affirmation de nouveaux besoins parmi les communautés arméniennes ottomanes provinciales. Dans une période marquée par l’importance sociale des migrations et ponctuée de violences extrêmes commises contre les Arméniens, la photographie apparaît en effet comme un liant entre les individus dans le présent, mais aussi comme un véhicule matériel des espoirs placés dans un avenir meilleur.

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Notes de l’auteur

This essay builds on my PhD thesis, Framing the Armenian Genocide: Photography and the Revisualisation of the Ottoman Empire, 1878-1923 (The Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, 2015), for which I wish to thank Shulamith Behr, Gabriel Koureas, James Ryan and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. I also wish to acknowledge the kind assistance provided during the writing of this essay by John Soursourian; Ruth Thomasian, Suzanne Adams and Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives, Watertown; V. Rev. Fr. M. Daniel Findikyan and the Zohrab Information Center, New York; Gagik Stepan-Sarkissian and the Armenian Institute, London; Boris Adjemian and the AGBU Nubarian Library, Paris.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Tlgadintsi, 1927, p. 359. All translations are my own unless otherwise stated. Transliteration thro (...)

Լեռան հայեցայ, ձոն տեսայ միայն,
Լեռնի վեր անդին՝ գիժ ամպեր միայն,
Աւելի վեր՝ մութ երկինք մը միայն,
Ի վար հող գետնին անապատ միայն։
I viewed the mountain, and saw only snow,
Over the mountain, only broken clouds,
Further up above, only a dark sky,
And below it all, only empty land.
Tlgadintsi, from “My Fate” (Իմ Բաղդս)1

  • 2 E.J. Zürcher 2010, p. 195; the phrase originates with an unnamed critic of Zürcher’s first book and (...)
  • 3 E. Eldem, 2009, p. 32.
  • 4 R.G. Suny, 1993, p. 95.
  • 5 For Armenians and photography see D.J. Miller, 1981; B. El-Hage, 2007; D. Kouymjian, 2007; Institut (...)

1To write of late Ottoman history without taking into account the Ottoman Armenians and their destruction is, according to Erik Jan Zürcher, to depict “figures in an empty landscape”.2 This “empty landscape” is the stage upon which much Ottoman history is presented, established by a nationalist historiography in Turkey that relies, in the words of Edhem Eldem, “heavily on exclusionism, exceptionalism and essentialism”.3 Ronald Grigor Suny shows how this approach has gained traction in mainstream Western historiography, with the story of the empire being written “almost exclusively from the point of view of the dominant people in the empire, the Turks”.4 One might imagine this to be a difficult position to adopt for those writing about photography. After all, it is acknowledged that Ottoman Christians, most notably Armenians but also Greeks, were at the forefront of the medium for many years, owing in no small part to their economic and cultural ties to the West and their established roles as the craftsmen and merchants of the empire.5 It would seem a straightforward proposition that one cannot have Ottoman photographic history without Armenians, and yet this is often precisely the scenario on offer.

  • 6 For a critique of these approaches to the writing of photographic history see J.R. Ryan, 1997, pp.  (...)
  • 7 See for example E. Özendes, 1998; B. Öztuncay, 2003; C. Pinguet, 2011.
  • 8 For orientalist photography see K. Jacobson, 2007 and E. Özendes, 1998; For state photography see (...)
  • 9 See for example Issam Nassar, 1997 and Douglas R. Nickel, 2004.

2Ottoman photographic history can tend towards a narrow field. It is all too often found to be in thrall to the conventions of art history, replicating its stories of great artists and iconic images, narratives based around the metropolis and the wealthy patrons found there.6 Thus, the setting is invariably Constantinople/Istanbul, and the Armenians that do feature are those of the famous studios of the Grand Rue de Péra, with their extensive output diminished through a narrow focus upon dealings with privilege and power.7 While for a long time it was the orientalist images crafted for Western audiences that proved a dominant concern, more recently focus has shifted towards the photographs made at the behest of the sultan and the state, often themselves self-consciously “modern” responses to orientalist representations.8 The destinations of forays outside the imperial capital are largely Jerusalem, Palestine and the nominally Ottoman territory of Egypt, all of which make happy hunting grounds for those wishing to consider Western travellers in the region.9

  • 10 For a key exception see D.J. Miller, 1981.
  • 11 V.K. Davidian, 2014, p. 14. Examples from the writing of photographic history include E. Özendes’s (...)

3This is not to claim that these are not valid fields of enquiry, only to suggest that such continued emphases serve to obscure wider, more varied photographic activity, with it being of particular concern that there is no room in the paradigm for the bulk of Ottoman Armenian photographic production. Most notably, we find scant indication that there existed a network of provincial photographic studios stretching across the empire, many of them established by Armenians and serving Armenian communities.10 Viewed in this light, the failures of Ottoman photographic history appear to lie not simply in its underlying subservience to conventional art historical method but in the fact that this deference allies it with established mainstream historiography. While in some cases this alignment is not deliberate, in others the entrenched historical perspective is clear, shown “in ways that range from the subtle yet conscious erasure of […] non-‘Turkish’ voices to unscholarly outbursts”, as Vazken Davidian has written of dominant renderings of the wider Ottoman art historical space.11

  • 12 For subaltern studies see G. Prakash, 1994; for history from below see E.P. Thompson, 1963; for exa (...)
  • 13 N.C. Micklewright, 2000, p. 281-282.

4Owing to its dominant perspectives and central preoccupations, the writing of the history of Ottoman photography has not served its Armenian actors well, almost to the extent of writing them out of a world in which they were instrumental. A possibility of remedy might be seen to lie in the recent turn within wider photographic history towards confronting such historical imbalances, with the lead having been taken from subaltern studies and history from below, movements characterised by a desire to challenge dominant perspectives and construct new narratives incorporating previously marginalised groups.12 One struggles to find this approach applied in any satisfying manner to the Ottoman sphere, yet we do find the beginnings of an important reappraisal in the work of Nancy Micklewright, for she argues that the medium may well have been employed by the state but it was also used by “other groups within the empire”. Using a photograph from the “National College Kharpert” [see figure 1], she suggests that the “many photographs of sports teams, graduating classes […] , musical bands, and groups of local notables all demonstrate that Ottomans from different areas and different social classes wished to document aspects of their social identities through photography”.13 With this it is shown that “ordinary” Ottoman subjects wielded their own agency and employed the camera to construct their own particular visions of life in the empire.

Figure 1 A. & H. Soursourian, Graduates of the National Central School, 1910
AGBU Nubar Library, Paris
Left to right: back row, Avedis Toumajanian, Tateos Mangasarian, Kasbar Movsesian, Mgrdich Kasbarian, Karekin Msrian, Haroutiun Ajemian, Nshan Gosdanian; middle row, Mihran Kzirian, Krikor Hovsepian, Tlgadintsi, Boghos Krikorian, Hagop Der Ananian; seated in front, Misak Kouyoumjian, Zaven Yeapchayian, Hmayeag Kasabian, Asdour Mamigonian.

  • 14 Ibid., p. 283.
  • 15 N.C. Micklewright, 2000, pp. 286-287, n. 30.

5“Much, if not most of the history of photography in the Ottoman Empire remains to be written” is Micklewright’s incontestable conclusion.14 However, it is clear that while her essay exposes some of the problems of this particular field, it also enacts others. Who exactly, we might ask, are these “other groups within the empire”? The reference to “Ottomans from different areas and different social classes” suggests the empire as an otherwise homogenous nation-state. The only mention of Armenians in the text comes with the customary observation that they played an early role in the medium, with the only other references exiled to an endnote, including an unexplained allusion to a diaspora using photographs “to reconstruct their own history”.15 The most glaring case of omission, however, comes with the use of the class photograph from the “National College Kharpert”, for with no clear reference made the reader is not to know that the “nation” in question was Ottoman Armenian. Its usage in the construction of an image of an Ottoman Empire largely devoid of Armenians stands as an excellent distillation of the wider phenomenon of the “empty landscape”.

6However, my aim in this is not to single Micklewright out for reproach. Hers is a largely positive and welcome intervention in Ottoman photographic history, and yet it is one that requires anchoring in a more careful rendering of Ottoman society. Furthermore, I suggest that the problem as it manifests itself in this instance might contain the seeds of its own solution, for we might, having been left with a picture of a class and the problem of history’s missing Armenians, endeavour to contend with the latter through engagement with the former. This essay thus aims to take this photograph, rendered mute and almost meaningless, and to restore it to a context in which it was meaningful and “spoke” to those that saw it. That this is required says much not only about the fragile position of Armenians within Ottoman history but also the essential instability of photographs.

  • 16 S. Sontag, 1977, p. 109.

7Photographs are deployed with set aims and entrusted with certain tasks of communication, and yet they show themselves to be semantically itinerant. A caption, for example, is of great importance, shaping reception and interpretation, and yet it shows itself to be perhaps the photograph’s least durable element, a glove that “slips on and off so easily” according to Susan Sontag.16 It is precisely this fluidity that results in the leakage of meaning and significance, creating the possibility of a photograph arriving with viewers in a blank state, like a bare patch of earth into which one must dig in order to discover what has lain there previously.

  • 17 M.K. Jizmejian, 1955, p. 151.
  • 18 For an exception see A.D. Krikorian and E.L. Taylor, 2011, an essay that makes mention of the Sours (...)

8This essay is thus in part an act of excavation concerned with processes of discovery and recovery, with its first restorative act being to reproduce the photograph with a full list of the names of its sixteen sitters. This has been taken from Manoug K. Jizmejian’s 1955 chronicle Kharpert and its Sons, and the finding of the list in such a book suggests that it is in part neglected Armenian sources, being local accounts, memorial books, memoirs and oral histories, that might help us to fill some of these blank spaces.17 From there I have chosen to focus upon the central sitter, the writer Tlgadintsi, and the men that stood behind the lens that day, the Soursourians. Like most Armenian provincial photographers, the Soursourians have been almost completely neglected by history.18 While better known, Tlgadintsi’s work has also been largely ignored, suggesting that posterity has only been slightly kinder to provincial writers than to provincial photographers.

  • 19 D. Poole, 1997, pp. 7-8.

9These men might be seen to have led parallel lives, at the centre of which was the province of Kharpert, making a study of this place vital to any understanding of their work. Kharpert provides, as will be seen, excellent opportunities to examine the way in which photography was produced by a particular social history and fulfilled specific community needs, and I consider the particular role played by photography in Ottoman Armenian life during a time of mass migration and massacre. In this way, as it is perhaps with all acts of excavation, this essay is an effort not to understand one “site” but a wider history, and I use the class photograph in question as an entry point into the wider Ottoman Armenian “image world”. I here borrow Deborah Poole’s term meant to indicate “the complexity and multiplicity of this realm of images that we might imagine circulating”, and by its use I wish to suggest a wealth of photographs involved in dynamic processes of exchange, flowing between people and places and crossing imperial borders and cultural boundaries. Poole also takes pains to stress the social nature of photographic activity, showing how those who produce, commission, pose for, exchange and view photographs do so as active agents in the networks of social relationships that were at work in specific historical circumstances.19

  • 20 E.P. Thompson, 1963, p. 12.

10As shall be seen, Tlgadintsi and the Soursourians also shared a fate. The fact that these men were killed in 1915 makes acts of historical amnesia all the more problematic, and acts of historical restoration all the more important. It is necessary, to borrow E.P. Thompson’s famous phrase, that they be rescued from “the enormous condescension of posterity”, and by doing so we might begin to open up some of the rich history of Ottoman Armenian photography.20

Tlgadintsi and the Emptying of Kharpert

  • 21 V. Totovents, 1962, pp. 62-63.
  • 22 For the historical geography of Kharpert see R.H. Hewsen, 2002.

11Kharpert was a region through which people, commodities and ideas had for centuries flowed; a place of arrival, departure and traversal, seemingly locked permanently in a dialogue with the lands beyond, the “elsewhere”. Recollecting his childhood in Mezre (officially named Mamuret-ul-aziz, today known as Elazig), the writer Vahan Totovents described his street as “a small section of that road of the Ancient East which began from Ancient Rome and ran all the way to the old Byzantine capital […] ; from there, it went on to encircle the whole of Asia Minor and, passing in front of our house, continued on its way to the ‘end of the world’ – Baghdad.” Thinking of his home in such terms led Totovents seemingly to “sense the Persian, the Greek, the Roman soldiers march past our door.”21 Connections between the land and distant times and places were etched into the collective memory of the people of the region, and formed part of the very construction of a sense of place, and indeed an idea of home.22

  • 23 For the location of Tlgadin/Tikatin see R.H. Hewsen, 2000, maps 170 and 48.
  • 24 For these writers see S. Hairapetian, 1995, pp. 139-158, 238-263.

12This was inescapable for the likes of Hovhannes Haroutiunian, Totovents’s teacher. The elder writer had hailed from Tlgadin (also known as Khuylu), a provincial village of Kharpert, located on an arm of the lower Euphrates known to Armenians as the Aradzani (now the Murat), that could be dated back at least as far as the Arsacid period, at which point it had been known as Tikatin.23 Haroutiunian wore the land in the very name by which he became known, for his nom de plume Tlgadintsi employed the classical Armenian suffix “-tsi” to mean “from Tlgadin” (and I shall be using the generic term Kharpertsi to refer to people from Kharpert). The assumed name thus spoke of provincial origins and, with the writer having come from a farming family, a life intimately connected to the land. It also carried reference to the Armenian past, calling to mind medieval writers such as the historian Movses Khorenatsi and the epic storyteller Grigor Naregatsi.24 The name Tlgadintsi, finally, spoke of the writer’s own present day concerns, for his gaze became permanently fixed upon the daily realities of the provincial world.

  • 25 R. Mirak, 1983, pp. 10-11, 40.
  • 26 For the location of Kharpert in relation to the plain and its villages see R.H. Hewsen, 2000, map 1 (...)

13Long before it was emptied by historians, Ottoman Armenia had already come to be spoken of as an empty landscape, with this relating above all to the phenomenon of bantkhdoutioun. The Armenian bantoukhd was a sojourner and migrant worker, a figure long-established as migration from the Armenian provinces had occurred for generations on a regional scale, with men of working age drawn to the larger trading centres. In addition to the Ottoman capital, destinations included Smyrna (Izmir) and Adana, with Baku and Tiflis (Tbilisi) in the Russian Empire also proving lures in more recent years.25 Indeed, the migratory propensity is demonstrated on a very local level by Tlgadintsi himself, for he left his hometown and established himself as a writer and teacher in the city of Kharpert, sometimes referred to as Veri Kaghak (the upper city) or simply Kaghak (the city). Sitting 1,100 ft above the fertile plain that stretched southwards towards Lake Gölcuk (Dzovk to Armenians, today known as Hazar Gölu) and played host to many villages (including Tlgadin), Kharpert Kaghak was a vantage point from which the province could be viewed.26

  • 27 R. Mirak, 1983, pp. 36-38.
  • 28 Ibid., 1983, pp. 39-43.
  • 29 M.K. Jizmejian, 1955.

14With the deterioration of rural conditions during the latter years of the nineteenth century, with poverty and famine rife, young Ottoman Armenian men began taking to the life of the bantoukhd in increasing numbers, with their destinations being increasingly far afield. The province of Kharpert experienced a particularly sizeable exodus, owing to the fact that the region was a key site of missionary activity, most prominently that of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). The presence of Americans aroused amongst Kharpertsis interest in the USA and opened up opportunities for them to travel and work there.27 What began in the late 1860s with a small number of individuals, often pursuing business interests, developed into a larger movement involving those from the less well-off artisan and peasant classes in the late 1870s, before expanding into a veritable surge in the 1880s and beyond as so-called “American fever” took hold in the province.28 This mass movement came in no small way to define Kharpert life, as can be seen from many provincial histories. For example, after a first chapter introducing the province, Manoug K. Jizmejian’s Kharpert and its Sons divides, at 1890, into separate narratives following the province of Kharpert on the one hand and Kharpertsis abroad on the other.29 The image is one of a vast parting of the ways, a province torn asunder, and this was precisely the tale told by Tlgadintsi as it was in the process of unfolding.

  • 30 For the Armenian Realists and provincial literature see K. Beledian, 2002 and J. Etmekjian, 1964, p (...)
  • 31 Tlgadintsi, 1927, pp. 71-91, 562-576.

15Tlgadintsi’s depictions of the everyday life of the province largely took the form of “chronicles” (քրոնիկներ), short vignettes that were published in some of the most important Constantinople periodicals of the day, including Masis and Arevelean Mamoul (Kharpert had no press of its own). The literary Realist movement that was largely based in the capital looked at this time to provincial writers such as Tlgadintsi to conjure an image of the “authentic” heart of Armenia, and yet this was precisely what those witnesses to conditions in the provinces saw as being under threat.30 It was the family unit in particular that Tlgadintsi took to be the great cornerstone of rural Armenian existence, and it gave him the opportunity to depict the character of the provinces and consider the strains under which it was placed. The culture of American migration and the ruptures this created within families formed the theme of, amongst other works, his story “I Did My Duty” (Ես Կատարեցի Իմ Պարտքս, 1902) and his play “Going Abroad” (Դէպի Արտասահման, 1912).31 The title of the latter work might be more literally translated as “Towards Abroad”, and one senses that from the pen of Tlgadintsi the word “towards” is meant to evoke not simply physical movement but a wider directional pull, one that was also mental and emotional for the people of Kharpert, whether swept up in migration or left behind. In a 1923 essay about his former teacher, Vahan Totovents declared of this central motif:

  • 32 V. Totovents, Erker, vol. 3 (Yerevan: Nayiri, 1991), p. 489, quoted in M. Nichanian, 2002, p. 429.

It is not hard to understand why Tlgadintsi devoted so much time and attention to America. There was not a single family in Kharpert that had no one living in the United States. There was not a single girl who was not on fire with the idea of going to the United States as a young bride. America was the subject of conversation among the people of Kharpert, and their ideal.32

  • 33 Tlgadintsi, 1927, pp. 16-19.
  • 34 J. Etmekjian, 1964, pp. 225-226.

16Tlgadintsi, Totovents concludes, levelled his “cannon and sword” at these aspects of Kharpert life. His work also considered the provincial problems that influenced the new bantkhdoutioun, such as poverty, hunger and local misgovernment, and was critical of the other major contributory factor, the local American missionary presence, setting out some of this in “Emily” (Էմիլէ, 1893), a satirical portrait of a female missionary that became the first work to appear under the Tlgadintsi name.33 Kharpert was the perpetual setting for his tales, and the language he employed similarly rooted his work in the land, for it was infused with local words and expressions that would have been unintelligible to many of his urban readers of the day.34 The language, locale and concerns of his work showed Tlgadintsi to be the exponent par excellence of Armenian provincial literature.

  • 35 K. Beledian, 2002, pp. 241-243.
  • 36 O.W. Holmes, [1859] 1980.
  • 37 S. Sontag, 1977, pp. 15-16.

17Krikor Beledian observes that Armenian provincial literature emerged during the same era as the new discipline of ethnography, “at a time when new values had begun to make inroads in the provinces, when emigration had reached large proportions, and when the collective life of the Armenians was endangered in the homeland.” Does it, he asks, also aim “to save that which is destined to be forgotten”?35 The same question might be posed of the provincial photography that was a product of this period. The photographic medium had, after all, been associated with such ideas from its earliest days. Dubbed “the mirror with a memory” in the 1850s by the American author Oliver Wendell Holmes, the photograph was thought to make a solid and durable impression from that which was ephemeral and fleeting.36 Later, with more than a century’s hindsight, Susan Sontag describes how the camera “began duplicating the world at that moment when the human landscape started to undergo a vertiginous rate of change: while an untold number of forms of biological and social life are being destroyed in a brief span of time, a device is available to record what is disappearing.”37 Bearing in mind Tlgadintsi’s themes and concerns, one might begin to imagine that the photographs in which he was involved could not have been free from the idea of recording for posterity a world that was endangered.

The Soursourians and the Emergence of Photography

  • 38 E. Eldem, 2015, p. 149.

18Edhem Eldem has recently used the 1870s as the starting point for an Ottoman photographic history, plotting the medium’s transition “from the marginal status of a novelty for the elite few to an object of mass consumption”.38 We might take exactly the same historical juncture as our own point of embarkation for a history of the medium in Ottoman Armenia, yet one that, by contrast, ever had its basis in the “ordinary” local populace. We also see how photography acted as a contemporary social mediator, with its concern being the production more of messages for the distant present than records for the distant future.

  • 39 V. Haig, 1959, p. 673.
  • 40 M.A. Root, pp. 413-414. See also J. Schwartz, 2005.

19Vahe Haig, like Totovents a Kharpert writer taught and inspired by Tlgadintsi, describes how the province’s first encounter with photography came in the 1860s with the visit of a photographer from the Caucasus, although at that time having portraits taken did not appeal to the “common people” (հասարակ ժողովուրդ). In time this situation changed, with the medium “becoming popular” (ժողովըրդականանալ) in direct response to the increase in the number of migrants leaving the province.39 In laying out the rise of photography in Kharpert in this way, Haig echoes nineteenth-century writing on the role of medium in a world changed by advances in travel and communication technologies. Marcus Aurelius Root, for example, wrote in 1864 that photography’s capacity “to draw closer, to strengthen and to perpetuate the ties of kindred, of friendship, and of general respect and regard” was of special importance during a time in which the “exigencies of life […] necessitate the dispersion of relatives, born and reared under the same roof, towards various points of the compass, and often to remote distances”.40 Photography thus sustained new, long distance relationships during a time in which friends and families became separated by whole continents.

  • 41 Biographical details thanks to John Soursourian and Ruth Thomasian. See also M. Soorsoorian, 1994 a (...)
  • 42 For the location of Sursur see R.H. Hewsen, 2000, map 170.
  • 43 D.J. Miller 1981, pp. 28, 33. Miller dates the opening of the first Soursourian studio to the 1880s (...)
  • 44 See map by B. Goulkhasian and Garo Partoian, translated by Phillip Ketchian and redrawn by Charles  (...)
  • 45 For more on Mihran Toutounjian see V. Haig, 1959, pp. 673-674.

20Instrumental in this process were the Soursourians, natives of the village of Hussenig which, together with Kharpert Kaghak, Mezre, and the nearby Kesrig, formed the economic centre of the province.41 The family is thought to have originally hailed from Sursur, another village on the Kharpert plain, wearing ever after, like Tlgadintsi, a trace of the land in their very name.42 It is the “Soursourian Brothers” that Haig refers to in his history, but of these there were, in fact, several, with the first in the photographic trade being Hovaness and Mardiros. Their studio, established in 1874, was the first in Kharpert and indeed anywhere in the Ottoman Armenian provinces.43 They had learnt the trade as migrants in Tiflis, and subsequently taught their sons, Askanaz and Haroutune, who opened a studio together as A. & H. Soursourian in the mid-1890s. The cousins appear to have lived side by side in the western part of Hussenig, close to the road leading up to Kharpert Kaghak, about a mile to the northeast, where their studio was located.44 Later still, Askanaz was joined by his brother, Drtad, in a new studio venture in Kharpert Kaghak, while Haroutune did likewise with his own brother, Souren, in nearby Mezre. In the years prior to the First World War, some of the Soursourians (with it not being clear exactly which) also worked in association with another Kharpert-based photographer, the Jerusalem-born Mihran Toutounjian.45

  • 46 D.J. Miller, 1981, p. 28.
  • 47 Ibid., p.8.

21Even this brief outline of the Soursourian family and some of its photographic permutations presents a number of interesting features that might be seen as largely representative of the wider photographic practice that developed in Ottoman Armenia after 1874. We see how its emergence was itself connected with migrant labour, with Dickinson Jenkins Miller having shown how the skills that were put to work in the Armenian provinces were first developed in Ottoman Constantinople and Jerusalem, and in the cities of the Russian Empire.46 It is also evident that those skills were subsequently passed on at a local level, especially to relatives, with photographic studios often being very much family affairs.47 The existence of various businesses also suggests a strong growth in the demand for photography in Kharpert province during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a trend replicated elsewhere in Ottoman Armenia.

22An examination of the stamps found on the reverse sides of Soursourian photographs is also instructive. The stamp of the first studio, that run by Hovaness and Mardiros, carries an image of a dove bearing in its beak an olive branch, appearing to make reference to the story of Noah, who sent out a dove once the ark had landed on Mount Ararat and divined from its returning with an olive branch that the flood waters were receding. The dove and olive branch thus stand as symbols of the Christian hope of salvation and peace, and with Ararat held as the great symbol of Armenia, this also might be seen as a reference to the Armenian homelands. Furthermore, thinking specifically of the dove’s journey and role in the biblical story, it might here stand for the carrying of signs over distance across the seas.

23This notion of distance is also conjured up below the dove by the rendering of the Soursourian name in Armenian, Ottoman Turkish, and Russian. The presence of the latter language in this particular region is very unusual, and was possibly used to signpost the origins of the brothers’ craft and continued links with the Russian Empire. It is interesting to note that subsequent Soursourian studios employed Armenian, Ottoman Turkish and English, indicating a westward shift and the acknowledgment by the photographers that their products were being seen by the English speaking world, either locally (by the missionaries stationed in the region) or abroad.

  • 48 See R.H. Hewsen, 2000, p. 197.

24The dove with olive branch is not employed by these later studios, but we find in A. & H. Soursourian photographs another distinctive marker. Their idiosyncratic painted backdrop, dominated by a soft web of leaves and branches, provides the equivalent of a stamp, making many Soursourian images instantly recognizable as theirs. At a time when studio backdrops tended to be dominated by architectural features, with columns, arches, architraves, dado rails and staircases, often in the classical style, adorning depictions of urban bourgeois interiors, the scene laid out by the Soursourians was instead suggestive of rural provincial life. It provides an apt background to images produced in lands that were sustained by an agricultural economy and could be counted amongst the most fertile and verdant in the region.48

Towards Abroad

  • 49 M. Hirsch, 1997, p. 7.

25A. & H. Soursourian’s photography marked itself, as Tlgadintsi’s prose did, as a product of a provincial world in dialogue with foreign spaces. Evidence to suggest that the business of photography was intricately entwined with travel and the new migratory phenomenon can be found within the photographs themselves. We might take as an example a portrait of the Vaznaian Family [see figure 2], with the distinctive feathery branches of the Soursourian backdrop discernable behind the eight figures, rooting the image within the now familiar realm of provincial Kharpert. Despite being thus fixed, it is an image informed and indeed brought about by movement, for the portrait was the last to be made before the departure for the USA of Mgerditch Vaznaian (seen on the far right). A final picturing of the intact family unit had become the standard means by which departure was marked and separation prepared for. To be visibly united within a single picture space was no small matter for families separated by continents and periods of many years, its role one of “sustaining an imaginary cohesion”, to use Marianne Hirsch’s ideas of the power of family pictures.49 The Vaznaian portrait admirably displays its role as an instrument of unity, with the family tightly arranged with maximum physical contact and minimum space between figures, emphasising close bonds and enduring ties. It suggests a portrait concerned not simply with trepidation at imminent separation but also hope for future reunion, with the stay of the bantoukhd in foreign lands most often conceived of as being provisional.

Figure 2 A. & H. Soursourian, The Vazanian Family of Kharpert, 1912
Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives, Watertown (Mass.), USA
Image courtesy of Maritza Soorsoorian
Permission for the use of this image by third parties must be obtained from Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives

  • 50 I. Kaprielian, 1987, p. 29.

26Settling in new lands, the migrant would send back photographs of himself and his adopted home, pictures that were studied at length by friends and family. Certain photographs produced in the Armenian provinces demonstrate the sheer number of foreign images in circulation there, many having their origins in the studios and print culture of the USA. A close examination of a photograph made in Kharpert by a missionary [see figure 3] shows pages from American illustrated magazines pasted to the wall of a bakery, with one, seemingly on the subject of the modern American city, carrying a photograph of a skyscraper and the words “City of Glass”. The scene illustrates the sort of directional pull that Tlgadintsi described, and calls to mind Isabel Kaprielian’s assertion that “[f]or a people on the perpetual verge of famine the fabled abundance of the United States was incredible [… and] the vision of automobiles, movie theaters, skyscrapers, and lighted streets was glorious”.50

Figure 3 Photographer Unknown, Bakery in Kharpert, c.1903-1911
Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives, Watertown (Mass.), USA
Image courtesy of Kenar Aboyan and Tamar Der Vartanian Boghosian
Permission for the use of this image by third parties must be obtained from Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives

  • 51 J.R. Harris and H.B. Harris, 1897, pp. 150-151.

27The photographs sent from the other side of the world most often took the form of studio portraits, through which migrants reported their progress to family and friends, with a tendency to employ markers of newfound prosperity and to evoke, either consciously or unconsciously, notions of the “better life”. Such photographs must have come to be seen as all the more fabulous as conditions in the Armenian provinces deteriorated further, particularly with the onset of massacre in the mid-1890s, and were certainly used by commentators to indicate the disparities between Armenian lives. One such example deals with Tlgadintsi’s own hometown of Tlgadin/Khuylu, having been recorded by the British biblical scholar J. Rendell Harris as he journeyed through the Armenian provinces in 1897 to investigate the massacres on behalf of the charitable organisation Friends of Armenia. Arriving in “Hoo-i-loo” (“the name of the place, as nearly as I can write it from the sound”), Harris “found that it consisted of about three hundred houses, and that not more than six were standing”, taking from the village “a lesson in archaeology, for I noticed the streets deep in dust from the disintegrating brick.”51 Continuing his description, he writes:

  • 52 Ibid., 1897, pp. 151-152.

One single thing I found which had escaped destruction. High on the wall of a ruined house, in the second storey, a photograph was nailed […] It was a group of Armenian workmen from a factory at Worcester, Mass., and had doubtless been sent home by some happy emigrant to his relations.52

28This image emphasises for J. Rendell Harris the tragedy of the massacres, for it speaks of destroyed families and perhaps also of opportunities for escape not taken. Furthermore, the suggestion of happiness in the photograph is surely accentuated by the manner in which it was encountered, and with this comes an early, stark indication that the meaning of images can change in accordance with contexts of viewing.

  • 53 Tlgadintsi, 1927, pp. 104-109.
  • 54 Ibid., 1927, pp. 105-106.

29Portraits such as this one, “sent home by some happy emigrant”, themselves became implicated in migratory movements, tempting others to join an exodus that only grew in the aftermath of the massacres. Young men would follow brothers or fathers, while young women migrated for marriages arranged through the exchange of pictures, with Tlgadintsi writing of the latter phenomenon. In “The Boy in the Picture” (Պատկերին Տղան, 1905), a migrant’s mother back home in Kharpert presents a young girl and her family with his photograph as she spins yarns of his great success in America.53 He is young, prosperous and full of vigour, she tells them, “over there he is a lord” (լորտ).54 Tempted abroad, the young girl experiences a culture shock when she “sets foot upon a new shore” (նոր եզերք մը կոխէ), but nothing is more surprising than the sight that greets her upon landing:

  • 55 Ibid., 1927, pp. 108-109.

[…] there on the seashore she sees someone holding out his hand. An awkward (ձախաւեր) face looking around forty years old with sunken eyes, a young man with a camel’s hump, a worker worn out (մաշած) and aged by ten years, and nothing more (ոչինչ աւելի).55

30Her betrothed is not, suffice to say, all that she has been led to expect, and the girl is left still searching hopefully for a trace of the world that had been presented to her in the photograph. Tlgadintsi, like J. Rendell Harris, uses the migrant portrait to establish a point of contrast, but here that contrast is with the perceived harsh realities of migration. While his photograph presented promises of wealth and happiness, the suitor in the flesh is an image of degradation, a body wrecked by American industry. This physical damage is in turn associated with moral corruption, for a young girl has been tricked in going abroad and Kharpert has been made to suffer another loss.

  • 56 See R. Mirak, 1983, p. 153.
  • 57 R. Kroes, 2007, p. 52.

31Rather than simply a fiction created by Tlgadintsi for the purposes of passing comment on bantkhdoutioun, such sharp practices involving photographs really were sometimes employed during the arrangement of marriages.56 However, the desire to deceive was not necessarily at work in the sometimes varnished and idealised depictions of life abroad. Rob Kroes describes how such photographs were not purely pictures of the present day produced for the benefit of an audience back home, for they might also be seen as “visions of the future”, created by the migrant for more personal reasons.57 The act of having one’s photograph taken stemmed from personal dreams and ambitions, an almost alchemic act of beckoning prosperity from the migrant’s meagre lot. We might today see in the portraits of those that journeyed across the world for work the desire for success and security, just as we read in family portraits the hope of return and reunion.

Towards Home

  • 58 For photography and mourning see G. Batchen, 2004.
  • 59 V. Haig, 1959, pp. 673-674.

32The passages by Tlgadintsi and J. Rendell Harris to which I’ve referred employ their photographic motifs to different ends, and yet they are both suggestive of photographs as physical objects, pinned to walls and pressed into hands, with domestic roles to play, allowing migrants to maintain a presence in the family home from which they were absent. This can be seen played out in numerous family portraits produced in the Ottoman Armenian studios, for a distinctive visual trope of the time involved sitters presenting to the lens photographs of their absent loved ones. This practice is most often indicative of mourning, and yet in the Armenian photography of this era it seems almost entirely concerned with the absences brought about by migration.58 It can nevertheless still be seen to pertain to a sense longing and the need for solace, with Vahe Haig describing how photographs of absentees could be found in almost every home, providing “distinct comfort” (որոշ սփոփանք).59 It would be a mistake, however, to see the display of photographs purely in terms of yearning, for it must also have contained an element of pride, as it did for the suitor’s mother in Tlgadintsi’s story: “over there he is a lord”. In this way families shared in the migrant’s ambition, for his success would also have been theirs, the financial fruits of his labour destined for the family home.

  • 60 See for example R. Kroes, 2007: A.W. Lee, 2008: S. Lien, 2015.
  • 61 R. Kroes, 2007, p. 37.
  • 62 R. Mirak, 1983, pp. 152-154; for an examination of the “picture brides” phenomenon in the post-geno (...)
  • 63 M. Deranian, 1994, p. 47.

33Such images contribute to our understanding of the photography of migration, for while an interesting body of research has emerged around this subject in recent years, it is one that tends to focus upon journeying and immigration.60 These Armenian photographs, by contrast, remind us that the photography of migration concerns not only those that traveled but also those that remained behind, and that each image of the former tended to have its counterpoint in one of the latter, with processes of exchange at work within private networks made up of family and friends.61 Reconstructing these processes is one means by which we might today regain a semblance of the meaning and significance of images that crossed the world more than a century ago. For example, a suitor’s photograph, such as that written about by Tlgadintsi, would often have been reciprocated, with a photograph of the young woman in question travelling in the other direction. This was all part of the phenomenon of the “picture brides” that occurred in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Ottoman Armenia.62 Examples of the practice are to be found in histories of Kharpert, as when Marderos Deranian, chronicler of the town of Hussenig, offers a young woman’s announcement that an Armenian in America has seen her picture and wants to marry her as a typical occurrence at the local herding place.63 In all likelihood it would have been one of the Soursourian clan producing photographs of the young women of Hussenig and other villages in the area.

  • 64 For the circumstances of the Gorky photograph see M. Spender, 1999, pp. 28-29.

34The “picture brides” suggest that, just as migrant photographs were dominated by men, women had a central role to play in those produced in the Armenian provinces. These included the wives that had been left behind, pictured either alone or, more often, with children. In such images, the women escape from their traditional position standing behind their husband’s chair, as seen in the Vaznaian portrait, and themselves adopt a prominent seated position in a symbolic act of taking charge. The most famous example hails not from Kharpert but from Van, being a portrait of Shushan Adoian and her son Manoug, a boy who later established himself as an artist under the name Arshile Gorky, made in order to be sent to the absent husband and father in the USA.64 As with migrant pictures, photographs from the provinces such as this contained familial greetings and imparted domestic news, but more importantly they carried a plea that the family not be forgotten.

  • 65 I. Kaprielian, 1987, p. 23.

35Isabel Kaprielian states that “[a]s long as a man’s heart, mind, and money were directed to the family back home, he could remain physically removed from his village for as many as twenty years”.65 This was precisely the operation in which provincial photographs were involved, for they were insistent reminders of home, the means of seeking and claiming the attention of those whose eyes and mind might wander elsewhere. Thought of in this way, the pull of photographs was not simply “towards abroad”, away from the Armenian provinces, for there was also a complementary force at work, one that urged migrants to look back “towards home”.

  • 66 Tlgadintsi, 1927, pp. 261-268.
  • 67 See S.P. Cowe, 2001, p. 40.

36Local photographers such as the Soursourians acted as communicators on behalf of those that remained in the provinces while their loved ones were abroad. Their roles were not dissimilar to those of the letter writers that were much in demand with the less literate rural Armenians, with one such character featuring in Tlgadintsi’s story “Goulig and the Schoolmaster” (Կուլիկ ու Վարժապետը, 1913), in which an illiterate woman employs a local teacher to write letters to her migrant husband.66 I do not mean to draw too close an analogy here, for the story is another platform for Tlgadintsi to speak of the moral corruption that he saw stemming from bantkhdoutioun, with the schoolmaster a self-serving and opportunistic character who takes advantage of Goulig’s situation for his own gain.67 Her husband, meanwhile, is no more sympathetic a character, shown as having turned his back on his family.

  • 68 For example, the Naljian studio in Amasya was destroyed in 1896 (D.J. Miller, p. 32), while the Sar (...)
  • 69 For the location of Agn see R.H. Hewsen, 2000, map 186.
  • 70 A. Madenigian, 1980.

37The wider truth lying behind Tlgadintsi’s story is that the bantoukhd’s temporary abandonment of his native soil often took on a degree of permanency. Those same factors that took men away in the first place, the better opportunities abroad and the worsening situation at home, often led them to stay in new lands. It is interesting to observe how dealing with family separations was part of the business of photographic studios, often themselves very much family enterprises that demanded domestic cohesion and cooperation for their running. However, photographers were not immune from those forces that took their toll on Armenian lives. In a small scale prefigurement of the near total destruction of the industry that would occur in later years, a number of Ottoman Armenian studios were either destroyed during the 1890s massacres or closed down in the aftermath as their occupants moved elsewhere.68 Kharpert saw the departure of a number of the Gabrielians from the family photographic studio of A.E. Gabrielian in Agn (today known as Kemaliye), a town to the northwest of Kharpert Kaghak, shortly after a massacre there.69 Just as it was with other migrants, this departure was marked with the making of a picture, with Nicolas and Makrouhy Gabrielian posing with their children for one last portrait in the family studio.70

  • 71 S.P. Cowe, 2001, p. 41.

38More pertinent to this study is the fact that the massacres in Kharpert province claimed the life of Hovaness Soursourian (the fate of his brother Mardiros is not known). The family business, however, survived into the post-massacre period in the form of A. & H. Soursourian. Indeed, it could have possibly been the death of Hovaness that prompted the younger generation to make their start in the trade in the mid-1890s. Thus Soursourian photography continued in Kharpert, and yet notice had been given, notice perhaps only discernible with retrospection, that the leading members of the Armenian community faced a particular threat. The same might be said of events in 1903 that saw Tlgadintsi arrested by Ottoman authorities on spurious charges associated with revolutionary activity in the region and imprisoned until the following year.71

Towards the Future

  • 72 V. Haig, 1959, pp. 673-674.
  • 73 For missionary education see F. Andrews Stone, 2006; for the competition in education see B.C. Fort (...)

39In addition to migration, Vahe Haig cites the advances in education towards the end of the nineteenth century as instrumental in the spread of photography in Kharpert.72 As well as being the point of Western contact that fuelled migration, the missionary movement also extended education in the provinces, which in turn encouraged the establishment of other schools by French and German missionaries, the Ottoman state and local Armenians.73 Photography attended Kharpert’s educational developments as it did its migratory flows.

  • 74 F. Andrews Stone, 2002, pp. 209-210.
  • 75 A.T. Marsoobian, 2015, pp. 49-50.

40The centre of ABCFM enterprises in Kharpert was Euphrates College, established in 1878. It stood on the mission grounds in the Kaghak alongside a boys’ secondary school, a girls’ seminary and a theological school, institutions fed by the 83 ABCFM primary schools in various locations across the province.74 As has already been suggested, missionaries were themselves in the habit of arming themselves with cameras, making photographs for both personal and professional purposes. However, there was also much photographic work undertaken at the mission schools, especially the colleges, by local professional photographers, with these largely hailing from the very same Armenian communities as the students. In Marsovan, the studio established by Tsolag Dildilian served the nearby ABCFM-run Anatolia College for many years.75 Meanwhile, at Euphrates College and its associated schools it was the A. & H. Soursourian studio tasked with making photographs.

  • 76 See F. Andrews Stone, 2002.
  • 77 B. Nakshian Ketchian, 1988, p. 53; M. Deranian, 1994, p. 66. Deranian also includes a group portrai (...)

41The name of the college can be found proudly emblazoned upon the back of A. & H. Soursourian photographs, both those that depict the college and those that do not, suggesting that the cousins’ role there was an official one. The use of the name on their stamp suggests itself as not simply a shrewd piece of marketing but also an act of pride at involvement with local education and an establishment that, rather than being a purely American college transposed onto Ottoman soil, was a complex overlapping cultural space benefitting in no small part from local Armenian input.76 Askanaz and Haroutune Soursourian also played local roles in education by serving on the Armenian National School Library Committee of Hussenig, responsible for purchasing books on Armenian history from Constantinople, subsequently utilised by not only local school pupils but also others in the community.77 They also photographed numerous other schools, prominent amongst them Tlgadintsi’s.

  • 78 V. Haig, 1959, pp. 389-390; K. Beledian, 2002, pp. 245-246.

42The National Central School (Ազգային Կեդրոնական Վարժարան), also known as the Red College (Կարմիր Գօլէյճ), was founded by Tlgadintsi in the in the Sourp Hagop quarter of Kharpert Kaghak in 1887 [see figure 4].78 It became one of the best known of the Ottoman Armenian schools that sprang up in the late nineteenth century, and with it Tlgadintsi managed to foster not only a generation of Armenian intellectuals but also a whole school of provincial literature based upon the principles he had established in his own work. An eye for the distinctive everyday life of the province was instilled in his students, most notable amongst them being Rupen Zartarian and Peniamin Noorigian, as well as the aforementioned Vahe Haig and Vahan Totovents.

Figure 4 Photographer Unknown, Sourp Hagop Church and its neighbour, Tlgadintsi’s National Central School, no date
AGBU Nubar Library, Paris

  • 79 P. Noorigian, 1974, p. 140.

43Each of these writers would have passed before the lens as they graduated, with the particular photograph that sparked these investigations depicting Tlgadintsi’s graduating class of 1910 [see figure 1]. Formally, that photograph, along with other class portraits, is strikingly similar to the aforementioned Vaznaian family portrait. Tlgadintsi sits in the middle of the group, occupying the privileged position usually reserved for the head of the family. He plays the father figure to his students, embracing his role as the founder and director of the school, teacher to its children, and head of a literary movement. His pupils seem happy to aid the construction of this quasi familial scene, and indeed many would write about him in these sorts of terms in years to come. According to Peniamin Noorigian, for example, Tlgadintsi could be strict but his students knew that this was the constructive “strictness of a father” (հօր մը խստութիւն).79

  • 80 K.A. Sarafian, 1930, pp. 190-191, 216-235.
  • 81 V. Haig, 1959, pp. 392-393.

44There are thus certain formal similarities between the Soursourians’ photographs of families and classes. The two also shared certain practical purposes, acting as bridges between people separated by geography, announcing local developments and soliciting funds. Class pictures were often sent to the educational associations that supported provincial Armenian schooling, with these having been established most notably by urban Armenians in Constantinople and migrants in the USA.80 Each society had their own focus, and those set up by the bantoukhds were dedicated to the towns and provinces from which they had hailed. The contributions of American-based Kharpertsis proved vital to the Central School, especially when Tlgadintsi was faced with rebuilding after its destruction in the 1895 massacres.81

  • 82 K.A. Sarafian, 1930, p. 216.
  • 83 Tlgadintsi, 1927, pp. 269-281; see also S.P. Cowe, 2001, p. 35.

45Kevork A. Sarafian cites the words of a member of the Constantinople-based Araratian Society as expressing the fundamental tenet of the educational movement: “the future of the Armenian people is found in education. There is no salvation for us outside of Education”. Sarafian follows this with his own variation on the theme, stating that the people in “remote parts of Armenia were in utter darkness, and without financial means to support any kind of educational program”.82 This is not dissimilar to Tlgadintsi’s own philosophy of education that was laid out in “Summer’s New Gift” (Ամառին նոր արմաղանը, 1914), in which he states that the salvation of Kharpert lay in knowledge and education, something that could only be achieved through raising funds for the opening of new provincial schools.83

  • 84 For missionary photography and the links with anthropology see V.L. Webb, 1997; for missionary phot (...)

46The discourse surrounding Ottoman Armenian schooling had at its heart an idea of education as rescue and redemption, and such rhetoric was not dissimilar to that used by American rivals. It is worth considering the importance of photography to missionaries as an instrument of ideology and advertising. Taking a cue from anthropology, the camera was used to track the progress to “civilisation” through the recording of changing appearances, often employing the tropes of “before and after”.84 Such images described to donors the aims and achievements of the missionary enterprise, soliciting funds for ongoing work. The photographs made by the Soursourians of local Armenian schools, largely taking the form of portraits of teaching staff and pupils, do not employ the same compositional tropes and do not carry such overt visual markers of transformation. However, they too are pieces of advertising, and furthermore they might be seen to deal in ideas of salvation, with the missionary message of spiritual rescue becoming in the pictures of Armenian schools one of the salvation of provincial life.

  • 85 For the restoration of the constitution see B. Der Matossian, 2014.
  • 86 R. Mirak, 1983, pp. 52-57, 292.

47It is through this lens that the 1910 Soursourian photograph of Tlgadintsi and his graduating class should be considered, with these ideas coming into proper focus when the context of the picture is acknowledged. It was made at a time when the initial hope brought by the Young Turk revolution of 1908 had been tempered by the massacres that took place in Adana and around wider Cilicia in 1909.85 The continuing threat of massacre and the relaxation of Ottoman emigration policies resulted in the largest ever number of Armenians being recorded as entering the USA during the year following the massacres.86 The emptying of Kharpert was continuing apace.

48The portrait, as seen, was a message to its own present day, an image constructed for celebratory and promotional purposes. The image, presenting fifteen students arranged around their paternalistic teacher and fifteen diplomas sitting upon the central table, speaks of individual and institutional accomplishments. However, considering Tlgadintsi’s role as a teacher and his ideas of education as the salvation of the province, the photograph also seems to cast its eye further than the present moment. The students gathered before the lens are preparing to leave school and enter the wider community, and both they and their diplomas sit as promises of future achievement and social contribution. Such photographs were thus the counterparts of and the antidotes to those photographs of departing migrants. It was the emptying and decline of provincial Kharpert that made the National Central School such an important enterprise for Tlgadintsi, and with this being the case the creation of class photographs stood for a belief in the future and the continuation of an Armenian existence in those lands. In other words, with these photographs Tlgadintsi was constructing his own “visions of the future”, much as Armenian migrants did in America, and in them we might similarly read hopes and desires. They look unhesitatingly to a future in which Kharpert is no longer threatened and drained but instead thrives and prospers.

49However, the future that transpired deviated markedly from that which had been desired. Produced in 1914, “Summer’s New Gift”, in which Tlgadintsi had set out his vision of the salvation of the province, proved to be one of the writer’s last published pieces.

Towards the Past

  • 87 For the genocide in Kharpert see R. Kévorkian, 2011, pp. 381-427.
  • 88 L.A. Davis, 1989.

50In 1915, the Kharpert of Tlgadintsi and the Soursourians came to an end when the province was emptied of Armenians in the short space of two months, a process relating not to migration but to deportation and mass murder.87 Owing to the fact that the place was a centre of foreign activity, both missionary and diplomatic, the destruction of its Armenian population was documented in great detail. Thus those very same forces that had been implicated in the numerous changes that had taken place in the province in recent decades, the surges in migration, the advances in education and the associated rise in photographic production, also provided witnesses to its end. Prominent amongst these was Leslie Davis, the American diplomat who gave Kharpert the grim appellation of “the slaughterhouse province”.88

  • 89 A.T. Marsoobian, 2015, pp. 212-220.
  • 90 K. Encababian Surabian, 1988; see also R. Kévorkian, 2011, p. 436.

51The destruction was, of course, also inflicted upon other provinces, and the demise of Ottoman Armenia signalled the demise of Ottoman Armenian photography. However, some studios managed to survive owing to the fact that the desire of the Ottoman state to utilise photographs exceeded its ability to produce them, with it being a clear irony of the Armenian dominance of the business that when the medium was required to play a role in the genocide it was Armenian photographers that were necessarily called upon. This was the experience of the Dildilians of Marsovan, for example, although their survival also relied upon their conversion to Islam.89 Other photographers escaping deportation included Haroutune and Karekin Encababian of the Encababian Frères studio in Sivas, whose story directly touches upon the notion of the photographic studio as a family space. The brothers were among several thousand men arrested and imprisoned in Sivas in June 1915, but were released when it was suggested to Ottoman officials that they might be of use to the state. This in turn led to the release of around a dozen family members when the brothers argued that they were all necessary in the complex process of photographic production.90

52The Dildilians and the Encababians were the fortunate of their profession. Numerous others did not find themselves rescued by virtue of their trade, and amongst these were the Soursourians. In an account of her experiences during the genocide, Bertha Nakshian Ketchian provides a grim description of the death of Askanaz:

  • 91 B. Nakshian Ketchian, 1988, p. 53.

They arrested Askanaz Soursourian along with the other prominent men in Husenig. In prison they beat and tortured the strong young man mercilessly. Just before he died, they carted his bleeding body to the front door of the Soursourian home and left him there.91

  • 92 V. Haig, 1959, p. 674.
  • 93 See Teotig, [1919] 2010; R. Kévorkian, 2011, pp. 251-254.
  • 94 R. Kévorkian, 2011, p. 386.

53Exactly what happened to the other members of the family is not known, but it is believed that they all perished. Vahe Haig states that the Soursourian and Toutounjian workshops were destroyed and their masters (վարպետներ) killed in “the most savage manner” (ամէնէն վայրագ եղանակին).92 While there is direct evidence demonstrating that some photographers were spared because of their work, the reverse proposition – that other photographers were targeted because of their work – cannot be shown as clearly, and it is more likely that any specific targeting of the Soursourians occurred because of their standing in the community. The infamous night of 24 April, when Armenian political, religious, and cultural leaders were arrested in Constantinople, with many being subsequently murdered, had established a pattern of targeted destruction that was repeated in myriad locations across the empire.93 It was May when the community leaders of Kharpert, including numerous teachers, were arrested and imprisoned, with Tlgadintsi being amongst their number.94

  • 95 L.A. Davis, 1989, p. 79.
  • 96 L.A. Davis, 1989, pp. 79-83.
  • 97 M. Ishkhan, 1974, p. 134.

54During the late summer and early autumn, Leslie Davis visited many towns and villages of the Kharpert plain, amongst them Mezre, Sursur, Hussenig and Tlgadin/Khuylu, with each place “a scene of desolation and destruction”.95 In late September, he made a journey around Lake Gölcuk, finding it littered with hundreds of corpses.96 It was close to those shores that Tlgadintsi is reported to have met his end, murdered along with numerous other Kharpert notables.97

  • 98 Teotig, [1919] 2010, pp. 146-147.
  • 99 A.T. Marsoobian, 2015, pp. 320-331.

55The genocide involved not only great loss of life but also the obliteration of cultural artefacts, either through deliberate destruction or as a corollary of the widespread destruction. Tlgadintsi’s archive, largely made up of unpublished work, is recorded as having been destroyed, and it can only be assumed that the same fate befell the photographs of the Soursourian studios.98 The Dildilian family’s carrying away of their studio archive, and thus the photographic history of Marsovan, when they left for Greece in 1922 constituted a profoundly rare and unusual feat of salvage, one not replicated in Kharpert.99 The cultural history of Kharpert seemed destined to disappear in the same way that its photographers and writers had.

  • 100 Tlgadintsi, 1927.

56However, many of the Kharpertsis who had been left alive set about the laborious work of piecing together the past. One of the most important products of this activity was Tlgadintsi and his Work, a 1927 volume reproducing the writer’s pieces from the periodicals of Constantinople and other cities, along with his plays and poems.100 This was published by the Union of Alumni of Tlgadintsi, a group involving Peniamin Noorigian and others that had been set up in Boston and New York in 1925. It is interesting to observe how even as grown men working in the USA several years later those that had been taught or influenced by Tlgadintsi still identified themselves as his students, and indeed continued the work of chronicling Kharpert.

  • 101 P. Noorigian, [1987] 1994, p. 105.
  • 102 See M. Minassian, 2014. Minassian’s essay is published as part of the Houshamadyan project, which i (...)
  • 103 V. Haig, 1959.
  • 104 For provincial literature after the genocide see K. Beledian, 2002 and S.P. Cowe, 2001, p. 40.

57Peniamin Noorigian wrote of his native Hussenig that, as it had been with “other villages, ours too had died and turned to dust, but there has been no burial or prayer or funeral oration.”101 Writing became this oration, this saving of places from the absolute oblivion of dust, with Kharpertsis, along with those from other regions of Ottoman Armenia and the wider Ottoman Empire, producing literary monuments to the places where their lives had begun and the lives of loved ones had ended. These in large part took the form of memory books, houshamadyans, dedicated to lost communities, villages, and provinces, that were published from the 1920s onwards.102 Kharpert became the subject of dozens of volumes, with Vahe Haig’s Kharpert and her Golden Plain, being amongst the most prominent.103 While particular sections memorialise Tlgadintsi the man, writer and teacher, the form of the whole work constitutes a sort of vast monument to his particular literary approach. In documenting the life of the province, Haig performs the ultimate salute to his former teacher, and yet his cannot but be a fundamentally different work, for it is Tlgadintsi’s formula put to memorialisation purposes. Tlgadintsi’s Kharpert may have been under threat and in the process of being drained away, but it remained something vibrant and alive, constituted by human presence and interaction on an everyday level. Haig, by contrast, writes in a world in which the worst has come to pass and the role of the writer is one of looking back. Haig’s is the provincial literature of the post-genocide world, informed and changed by catastrophe, and something similar might be said of the provincial photographs that were printed alongside his texts.104

Figure 5 K.S. Melikian, Assyrian-Chaldean District, Kharpert, no date
[originally from Vahe Haig, 1959, p. 36]

  • 105 V. Haig, 1959, p. 668. Melikian’s origins as a furniture maker further suggests a link between Arme (...)
  • 106 K.S. Melikian, 2015.

58Many images are found branded with the words “K.S. Melikian, Worcester, Mass.” [see figure 5]. The linking of an Armenian name with a town in the USA seems to tell a tale of the Armenian experience of migration and exile, resettlement and new beginnings, while the prominent positioning of the labels within the picture space speaks of a new viewing perspective and a rereading of images from geographic and temporal distance. Melikian himself is to be found in one of the photographs in Haig’s book, posing in his former role as an apprentice to Mezre furniture maker Nazaret Aghamalian.105 This is suggestive of Melikian not being the original producer of the images, and indeed he did not become a photographer until after his arrival in the USA, learning the craft in the studio of another Worcester-based Armenian, John Shaljian.106 It is clear that Melikian gathered images of Kharpert while in the USA, and this has been confirmed in a statement by his late daughter:

  • 107 M.C. Melikian 2015.

My father […] had even kept touch with an Armenian photographer in the Old Country and in that way, retained his connection with the homeland as long as he could. The 1915 Genocide ended that.107

59Photography was for Melikian, as it was for other migrants, a bridge between himself and his native land, and yet what he amassed turned out in retrospect to be a whole archive, and an accidental one at that. He and the photographer at work in Kharpert were, quite unconsciously of the fact, constructing a record of a place on the brink of absolute destruction.

  • 108 Cat. Arra Avakian 2-02 (Photograph, Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives, Watertown).

60The Kharpert photographer with whom Melikian worked cannot be identified at this time, but there is a good possibility that it was one (or indeed some) of the Soursourians. Indeed, the existence of a photograph of Askanaz Soursourian with K.S. Melikian’s sticker attached suggests some sort of overlap between the two.108 However, even if the photographs that bear Melikian’s name did not originate with the Soursourians, it would still be known that some of their work has survived, and with it something of the history of Kharpert. Had not their photographs, after all, often been produced specifically to be sent out of Kharpert to distant lands? It was this that accounts for their continued existence, this the reason why they survived while many of those whose images they carried did not. Whether published in memorial books or remaining in private hands, many of their photographs came to be seen as rare and isolated vestiges of their subjects, fragments salvaged from a vanished world. Those that once gazed into the lens as a means of speaking to their absent loved ones became themselves the absentees. Their images, once constructed to bridge distance, were in later years used to bridge time, becoming memorials with which survivors communed with the people and the places that had been lost to them.

***

61What we are dealing with when we consider the use of images after the genocide is the notion of the traces of past existence, and with this we find ourselves returned to the question of whether provincial photography can be associated with ethnography and the desire “to save that which is destined to be forgotten”. As we have seen, this cannot be shown to have been one of its original purposes. The medium as enacted by provincial Kharpertsis was chiefly concerned with tying people together in the present, and when it looked forwards in time it was often with optimism and a sense of promise rather than a fear of impending doom. As with the dove and olive branch that adorned the stamp of the first Soursourian studio, photographs carried with them hope for the future. Yet, while we acknowledge that provincial photography did not set out to record what was imperilled, it did have its origins in specific historical circumstances that were marked by the difficult realities of rural life.

62Tlgadintsi and the Soursourians seem to have lived lives in parallel, at the centre of which was the province of Kharpert, their home and their subject. However, despite being geographically fixed in this way, their work cannot be separated from ideas of travel and departure, intimately connected as it was with the experience of Armenians as migrants. Bantkhdoutioun characterised the era in question, as did those factors that informed it, including poverty, hunger and massacre. After the later morphing of massacre into wholesale genocide, there occurred a shift in the way their work was seen, for the place that had produced it was gone. Nancy Micklewright is thus quite correct to refer to the use of photographs by Armenians “to reconstruct their own history”, this being a distinct part of a rich photographic history that in part began with the opening of the first Soursourian studio in Kharpert. This is, however, a neglected history, and we must acknowledge the limited nature of the reconstructive impulse outside of Armenian circles and the persistence of historical amnesia.

  • 109 A. Behdad, 1999, pp. 93-94.

63Perhaps, in this modern world of ours in which Kharpert and its villages no longer exist and their names have been lost in a linguistic, nomenclatural purging of the map, even to utter the names Tlgadintsi and Soursourian, with the particular allusions to land that those names carry, is to evoke a lost world and to testify to its onetime existence. Something similar might be done with the photograph that brought those men together as makers and sitter, even though it was not intended for posterity. As Ali Behdad has suggested, the survival and re-emergence of photographs from periods now repressed in the public historical consciousness can amount to a return of that forgotten history. These photographs exist as “fragments” of a past in need of reconsideration, artefacts that “offer belatedly powerful images for rereading what we know” of a certain time and place.109

64However, it is not enough for images simply to endure. Photographs may have shown themselves to be physically resilient objects, but they have also been all too willing to fall silent, and indeed to be silenced. Evidently, the co-optation of such images into histories that have no room for Armenians is not necessarily ideologically driven in the way that, for example, the systematic removal of Armenian place names was, yet it similarly forms part of the century-old process of wiping away the traces of Ottoman Armenian existence. Our task, therefore, must be not only to uncover the past in its fragments but to re-inscribe the past into those fragments, allowing once meaningful objects to again “speak” and to address us as they once did the people of their own time. Photographs were the means by which people bound themselves to each other in the present and expressed their hopes for the future. It is through rediscovering such roles that we might better bind ourselves to those people, long gone, upon whom we gaze, and begin to repopulate the empty landscape of Ottoman history.

Haut de page

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Notes

1 Tlgadintsi, 1927, p. 359. All translations are my own unless otherwise stated. Transliteration throughout is Western Armenian.

2 E.J. Zürcher 2010, p. 195; the phrase originates with an unnamed critic of Zürcher’s first book and is subsequently adopted by Zürcher himself.

3 E. Eldem, 2009, p. 32.

4 R.G. Suny, 1993, p. 95.

5 For Armenians and photography see D.J. Miller, 1981; B. El-Hage, 2007; D. Kouymjian, 2007; Institut du Monde Arabe, 2007. We also find it claimed that religious proscriptions against Muslim involvement played their part in these developments but there is no consensus on the issue. For both sides of the debate see D.J. Miller 1981, p. 70-72.

6 For a critique of these approaches to the writing of photographic history see J.R. Ryan, 1997, pp. 16-20.

7 See for example E. Özendes, 1998; B. Öztuncay, 2003; C. Pinguet, 2011.

8 For orientalist photography see K. Jacobson, 2007 and E. Özendes, 1998; For state photography see Z. Çelik 2000 and W.M.K. Shaw, 2003, pp. 139-148. For both see M.L. Woodward, 2003.

9 See for example Issam Nassar, 1997 and Douglas R. Nickel, 2004.

10 For a key exception see D.J. Miller, 1981.

11 V.K. Davidian, 2014, p. 14. Examples from the writing of photographic history include E. Özendes’s careful tapering of Ottoman history into Turkish history (E. Özendes, 2013, pp. 315-332) and B. Öztuncay’s treatment of the Abdullah Frères, including angry accusations of “fanatically nationalistic beliefs” (B. Öztuncay, 2003, pp. 179-233).

12 For subaltern studies see G. Prakash, 1994; for history from below see E.P. Thompson, 1963; for examples of this trend in photographic history see essays in C. Pinney and N. Peterson, 2003.

13 N.C. Micklewright, 2000, p. 281-282.

14 Ibid., p. 283.

15 N.C. Micklewright, 2000, pp. 286-287, n. 30.

16 S. Sontag, 1977, p. 109.

17 M.K. Jizmejian, 1955, p. 151.

18 For an exception see A.D. Krikorian and E.L. Taylor, 2011, an essay that makes mention of the Soursourians and expresses the hope that more about them might emerge in the future.

19 D. Poole, 1997, pp. 7-8.

20 E.P. Thompson, 1963, p. 12.

21 V. Totovents, 1962, pp. 62-63.

22 For the historical geography of Kharpert see R.H. Hewsen, 2002.

23 For the location of Tlgadin/Tikatin see R.H. Hewsen, 2000, maps 170 and 48.

24 For these writers see S. Hairapetian, 1995, pp. 139-158, 238-263.

25 R. Mirak, 1983, pp. 10-11, 40.

26 For the location of Kharpert in relation to the plain and its villages see R.H. Hewsen, 2000, map 170.

27 R. Mirak, 1983, pp. 36-38.

28 Ibid., 1983, pp. 39-43.

29 M.K. Jizmejian, 1955.

30 For the Armenian Realists and provincial literature see K. Beledian, 2002 and J. Etmekjian, 1964, pp. 214-253.

31 Tlgadintsi, 1927, pp. 71-91, 562-576.

32 V. Totovents, Erker, vol. 3 (Yerevan: Nayiri, 1991), p. 489, quoted in M. Nichanian, 2002, p. 429.

33 Tlgadintsi, 1927, pp. 16-19.

34 J. Etmekjian, 1964, pp. 225-226.

35 K. Beledian, 2002, pp. 241-243.

36 O.W. Holmes, [1859] 1980.

37 S. Sontag, 1977, pp. 15-16.

38 E. Eldem, 2015, p. 149.

39 V. Haig, 1959, p. 673.

40 M.A. Root, pp. 413-414. See also J. Schwartz, 2005.

41 Biographical details thanks to John Soursourian and Ruth Thomasian. See also M. Soorsoorian, 1994 and A.D. Krikorian and E.L. Taylor, 2011. For the location of Hussenig see R.H. Hewsen, 2000, map 170. For more on Hussenig see M. Deranian, 1981, 1994.

42 For the location of Sursur see R.H. Hewsen, 2000, map 170.

43 D.J. Miller 1981, pp. 28, 33. Miller dates the opening of the first Soursourian studio to the 1880s, but I concur with A.D. Krikorian and E.L. Taylor that the 1874 date found on the A. & H. Soursourian studio stamp might be taken to indicate the beginning of Soursourian photography: A.D. Krikorian and E.L. Taylor, 2011.

44 See map by B. Goulkhasian and Garo Partoian, translated by Phillip Ketchian and redrawn by Charles Sarkisian, in B. Nakshian Ketchian, 1988, np.

45 For more on Mihran Toutounjian see V. Haig, 1959, pp. 673-674.

46 D.J. Miller, 1981, p. 28.

47 Ibid., p.8.

48 See R.H. Hewsen, 2000, p. 197.

49 M. Hirsch, 1997, p. 7.

50 I. Kaprielian, 1987, p. 29.

51 J.R. Harris and H.B. Harris, 1897, pp. 150-151.

52 Ibid., 1897, pp. 151-152.

53 Tlgadintsi, 1927, pp. 104-109.

54 Ibid., 1927, pp. 105-106.

55 Ibid., 1927, pp. 108-109.

56 See R. Mirak, 1983, p. 153.

57 R. Kroes, 2007, p. 52.

58 For photography and mourning see G. Batchen, 2004.

59 V. Haig, 1959, pp. 673-674.

60 See for example R. Kroes, 2007: A.W. Lee, 2008: S. Lien, 2015.

61 R. Kroes, 2007, p. 37.

62 R. Mirak, 1983, pp. 152-154; for an examination of the “picture brides” phenomenon in the post-genocide period, see I. Kaprielian-Churchill, 1993.

63 M. Deranian, 1994, p. 47.

64 For the circumstances of the Gorky photograph see M. Spender, 1999, pp. 28-29.

65 I. Kaprielian, 1987, p. 23.

66 Tlgadintsi, 1927, pp. 261-268.

67 See S.P. Cowe, 2001, p. 40.

68 For example, the Naljian studio in Amasya was destroyed in 1896 (D.J. Miller, p. 32), while the Sarrafian Frères left Diyarbekir with the intention of migrating to Britain but instead ended up establishing a new studio in Beirut (S. Toubia, 2008, p. 14).

69 For the location of Agn see R.H. Hewsen, 2000, map 186.

70 A. Madenigian, 1980.

71 S.P. Cowe, 2001, p. 41.

72 V. Haig, 1959, pp. 673-674.

73 For missionary education see F. Andrews Stone, 2006; for the competition in education see B.C. Fortna, 2002, pp. 71-74.

74 F. Andrews Stone, 2002, pp. 209-210.

75 A.T. Marsoobian, 2015, pp. 49-50.

76 See F. Andrews Stone, 2002.

77 B. Nakshian Ketchian, 1988, p. 53; M. Deranian, 1994, p. 66. Deranian also includes a group portrait of the Armenian National School Library Committee of Hussenig, including Askanaz and Haroutune Soursourian: see p. 69.

78 V. Haig, 1959, pp. 389-390; K. Beledian, 2002, pp. 245-246.

79 P. Noorigian, 1974, p. 140.

80 K.A. Sarafian, 1930, pp. 190-191, 216-235.

81 V. Haig, 1959, pp. 392-393.

82 K.A. Sarafian, 1930, p. 216.

83 Tlgadintsi, 1927, pp. 269-281; see also S.P. Cowe, 2001, p. 35.

84 For missionary photography and the links with anthropology see V.L. Webb, 1997; for missionary photography and the picturing of Ottoman Armenians see N. Maksudyan, 2011.

85 For the restoration of the constitution see B. Der Matossian, 2014.

86 R. Mirak, 1983, pp. 52-57, 292.

87 For the genocide in Kharpert see R. Kévorkian, 2011, pp. 381-427.

88 L.A. Davis, 1989.

89 A.T. Marsoobian, 2015, pp. 212-220.

90 K. Encababian Surabian, 1988; see also R. Kévorkian, 2011, p. 436.

91 B. Nakshian Ketchian, 1988, p. 53.

92 V. Haig, 1959, p. 674.

93 See Teotig, [1919] 2010; R. Kévorkian, 2011, pp. 251-254.

94 R. Kévorkian, 2011, p. 386.

95 L.A. Davis, 1989, p. 79.

96 L.A. Davis, 1989, pp. 79-83.

97 M. Ishkhan, 1974, p. 134.

98 Teotig, [1919] 2010, pp. 146-147.

99 A.T. Marsoobian, 2015, pp. 320-331.

100 Tlgadintsi, 1927.

101 P. Noorigian, [1987] 1994, p. 105.

102 See M. Minassian, 2014. Minassian’s essay is published as part of the Houshamadyan project, which is itself, as the name might suggest, a modern (largely internet-based) manifestation of the houshamadyan genre.

103 V. Haig, 1959.

104 For provincial literature after the genocide see K. Beledian, 2002 and S.P. Cowe, 2001, p. 40.

105 V. Haig, 1959, p. 668. Melikian’s origins as a furniture maker further suggests a link between Armenians as craftsmen and Armenians as photographers.

106 K.S. Melikian, 2015.

107 M.C. Melikian 2015.

108 Cat. Arra Avakian 2-02 (Photograph, Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives, Watertown).

109 A. Behdad, 1999, pp. 93-94.

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Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 1 A. & H. Soursourian, Graduates of the National Central School, 1910AGBU Nubar Library, ParisLeft to right: back row, Avedis Toumajanian, Tateos Mangasarian, Kasbar Movsesian, Mgrdich Kasbarian, Karekin Msrian, Haroutiun Ajemian, Nshan Gosdanian; middle row, Mihran Kzirian, Krikor Hovsepian, Tlgadintsi, Boghos Krikorian, Hagop Der Ananian; seated in front, Misak Kouyoumjian, Zaven Yeapchayian, Hmayeag Kasabian, Asdour Mamigonian.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/859/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 288k
Légende Figure 2 A. & H. Soursourian, The Vazanian Family of Kharpert, 1912Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives, Watertown (Mass.), USAImage courtesy of Maritza SoorsoorianPermission for the use of this image by third parties must be obtained from Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives
URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/859/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 400k
Légende Figure 3 Photographer Unknown, Bakery in Kharpert, c.1903-1911Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives, Watertown (Mass.), USAImage courtesy of Kenar Aboyan and Tamar Der Vartanian BoghosianPermission for the use of this image by third parties must be obtained from Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives
URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/859/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 264k
Légende Figure 4 Photographer Unknown, Sourp Hagop Church and its neighbour, Tlgadintsi’s National Central School, no dateAGBU Nubar Library, Paris
URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/859/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 136k
Légende Figure 5 K.S. Melikian, Assyrian-Chaldean District, Kharpert, no date[originally from Vahe Haig, 1959, p. 36]
URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/859/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 368k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

David Low, « Photography and the Empty Landscape: Excavating the Ottoman Armenian Image World », Études arméniennes contemporaines, 6 | 2015, 31-69.

Référence électronique

David Low, « Photography and the Empty Landscape: Excavating the Ottoman Armenian Image World », Études arméniennes contemporaines [En ligne], 6 | 2015, mis en ligne le 10 mars 2016, consulté le 19 novembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/eac/859 ; DOI : 10.4000/eac.859

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Auteur

David Low

The Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London

en

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Bibliothèque Nubar de l’UGAB

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