There are few instances where the past returns of its own accord and is judged anew. There are few times when the families of victims are afforded the chance to have the injustices suffered by their loved ones exhumed and re-evaluated. And there are few moments in a nation’s history when it must come to terms with a set of beliefs that can no longer be considered the truth.
The slaughter of some one million Armenians in Turkey almost a century ago has awoken from the past. “Memory Denied: Turkey and the Armenian Genocide” is the visual commemoration to those million and the vacuum their loss has created.
In the early 1900s, as the Ottoman Empire was disintegrating, a fiercely nationalistic “Young Turks” movement took power. With the Empire’s fall, the multicultural attitude that had made it one of the world’s great cosmopolises became eclipsed by the fledgling government’s dream of a “pan-Turkic” country — a Turkish-speaking nation extending far beyond the Caspian Sea to the Siberian steppe. As with all ideologies, their taking hold and taking root means the termination of what doesn’t fit into the new identity.
On April 24, 1915 the Committee of Union and Progress issued a deportation order to have hundreds of Armenian intellectuals rounded up and removed. Once the order was complete and the outcasts on board, they were murdered. The act set in motion the extermination of Turkey’s Armenian population. This event has in the past been called “The Great Calamity,” the “Armenian Holocaust” and the “Armenian Massacre of 1915.” Today, around the world, and as recently as October 2007 in the U.S. Congress, the massacre has been revised to mean much more than previously stated. Today the “Armenian Genocide” has been cemented in history.
My project is a journey through those massacres and deportations, and the loss of cultural identity. It addresses how a premeditated act committed by “new Turks” on the “old Ottomans” has manifested itself in the country’s present.
My images show a subtle picture, a narrative of glimpses that might exist only in the minds of those who remember, or who have heard the accounts firsthand.
The whole world is watching Turkey’s behavior, especially with the possibility of future EU accession. Turkey’s denial of the Armenian genocide is a manifestation of the country’s greater national psyche, which is based on an archaic, militant view of national identity, one that set in motion the slaughter almost a century ago. Needless to say, when compared to the values now accepted by EU member states, this mindset is unacceptable. As former Dutch parliament member Camiel Eurlings said of Turkey’s dilemma, “...it is indispensable for a country on the road to (EU) membership to come to terms with its past.”
My work doesn’t categorize the massacres as genocide, but rather explores the remains and traces of an ambiguous, dark history — the definition of which is still being fought over. In light of the events in WWII Germany, Pol Pot’s infamous “Year Zero” and Rwanda, what took place in Turkey to a group of its citizens just before the Great War has endured and echoed into the 21st century. A survivor of the Armenian genocide, John Minassian said, “What happens when those who harm others get away with it? What is the legacy of that silence?” Through my work (and with the support of the Aftermath Project grant (2008), I aim to give this silence a telling face.
Kathryn (b.1979) grew up in New Mexico and graduated with a B.S. in Journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder in December 2001. Her professional career began with the Associated Press in Panama in June 2003. She left in 2005 to pursue personal projects in Latin America where she documented the campaign trail and political base of Evo Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president. In September 2006 she moved to Istanbul, Turkey to pursue regional stories. Here she initiated a long-term project on the memory of the disputed Armenian genocide. Her work has appeared in publications including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, TIME, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, Stern, and “D” La Repubblica (Italy). Kathryn is based in Rome, Italy and is represented by Agence VU' and PROSPEKT Fotografi (Italy).
Memory Denied Lesson Plan
The images selected express what photographer Kathryn Cook describes as “the remains and traces of an ambiguous dark history." She believes that the definition of that history "is still being fought over.” As you view these images, consider the implications of the
legacy of silence over the century and how this particular story can be told through images of present-day life in this region.
The shadow of a train that runs from Adana to Istanbul, Turkey, is seen projected on land between the cities of Konya and Adana, Turkey. A German company won concessions to build part of the railway back in the early 1900s, then called the Baghdad Railway, and in 1915 the Turkish government began to use it to deport thousands of Armenians to Syria. According to eyewitness accounts, concentration camps sprung up along the sides of the train track, particularly between the cities of Konya and Gaziantep. Defending themselves from bandits and starvation, thousands perished in the camps or en route to Syria.
• What do you notice about the composition of this photograph? What is the effect or purpose of the use of shadow and light?
• Trains have become iconic imagery in relation to World War II, suggesting the deportation of millions during that period. Trains also played a critical role in the deportation of Armenians in 1915. What is Kathryn Cook suggesting by capturing the shadow of a modern train with a singular figure in the window?
A woman holds a small Armenian Bible during a service at the Holy Mother of God church in Vakifli, Turkey. About 30 Armenian families populate the small town and surrounding area, which is located near the Turkish border with Syria. Although Armenians are allowed to celebrate their traditions in Turkey, many fear asserting their ethnic origins, which means living in near silence to avoid trouble.
• Who is this woman? What does her gesture suggest? Why do you think the photographer did not include her face?
• The caption tells us that while Armenians may practice their traditions openly, they do not feel safe “asserting their ethnic origins.” What role does worship play in maintaining one’s individual, ethnic, and cultural identity?
A photo of slain Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink is seen in the reflection of the hearse carrying his flower-covered coffin during a funeral procession in Istanbul on January 23, 2007. Dink was shot in broad daylight outside of his newspaper’s office in Istanbul. Dink, a defender of his Armenian past, was charged with breaking Law 301 of the Penal Code which makes it illegal to “insult” the Republic or being a Turk. His killer admitted that he did it because Hrant had “insulted Turks.”
• It is reported that over 200,000 people attended Hrant Dink’s funeral in Istanbul, many carrying placards with such messages as “We are all Armenians” and “We are all Hrant Dink.” Who are these individuals we see reflected in the window? Why do you think Kathryn Cook chose to capture their reflections rather than their faces?
• Photographer Kathryn Cook notes that her work “addresses how a premeditated act committed by ‘new Turks’ on the ‘old Ottomans’ has manifested itself in the country’s present.” In what ways does this photograph and the murder of Hrant Dink speak to this idea of the confrontation between past and present?
A young girl stands on the ruin of an Armenian church in Diyarbakir, Turkey. A significant Armenian community once flourished in this southeastern city.
• Cook notes in her artist statement that her work is focused on “exploring the remains and traces of an ambiguous, dark history.” How does this photo graph give us a glimpse into a particular community and history through its remains and traces? What clues lead you to these conclusions?
• Why do you think the photographer chose to include a lone child in this image? What might she be suggesting?
• What loss is being captured in this photograph?
• Diyarbakir, a city in southeastern Turkey, was once home to a thriving Armenian community, and ruins from that time remain. What role do sites of memory, such as the ruins of this church, play in our understanding of a past that appears to have been forgotten?
Snow blankets the countryside along a road between Van and Dogubayazit, Turkey, close to the border with present-day Armenia. The region of Eastern Turkey is where the largest population of Turkey’s Armenians had been living for centuries. The region of Lake Van was hit hard by violence during conflicts between Armenians and Turks in the late 1800s to early 1900s, as well as during WWI. After the deportation decrees in 1915 were issued, almost all of the Armenian communities in the area were subsequently wiped out.
• Kathryn Cook states that her work “explores the remains and traces of an ambiguous, dark history.” With this idea in mind, what role do you think physical sites of memory can play in our understanding of a particular culture or history? What is included or missing in this photograph that supports your answer?
• Armenian Genocide survivor John Minassian asks, “What happens when those who harm others get away with it? What is the legacy of that silence?” How would you answer these questions?
• Imagine that you knew nothing about the context of this photograph. What would you see? How does knowing more about the historical context impact your interpretation of the image? What do you think the photographer wants you to see? What do you think she wants you to think about?