Memory Denied

Memory Denied: Turkey & the Armenian Genocide

Kathryn Cook, 2008 Winner

Kathryn Cook’s project Memory Denied: Turkey and the Armenian Genocide explores the memory of the Armenian massacres that occurred during the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century. Recognized as “genocide” today by more than a dozen countries, Turkey still vigorously rejects that claim. Cook’s work follows the remains and traces of an ambiguous, dark history — the definition of which is still being fought over nearly a century later.
A photo taken during the Armenian deportations from Turkey shows a line of people on their way through the desert heading to Aleppo, Syria.
Rolling hills and farmland can be seen around the mountain of Musa Dagh near Vakifli, the last ethnic Armenian village in Turkey. About 30 Armenian families populate the small town and surrounding area, which is located near the Turkish border with Syria. In 1915 about 5,000 Armenians organized a defense of their community against the deportation edicts issued by the Young Turks, a fiercely nationalistic group said to have orchestrated the Armenian genocide.
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.
The Armenian Holy Cross Church, built in the 10th century by an Armenian King, is seen from a ferryboat on the island of Akhtamar in Lake Van, Turkey. The church is possibly the most precious symbol of Armenian presence in Turkey and is a popular pilgrimage site today.
People walk past the Sultanahmet Mosque in the ancient Byzantine area of Sultanahmet in Istanbul, Turkey. The mosque was constructed in the early 1600s. In 1913 when the Young Turks government took power, plans were set in motion to implement their dream of a “pan-Turkic” empire with one language and one religion. With this new nationalism came a surge in Islamic fundamentalist agitation and many considered the Christians ”infidels”. In 1915, as deportations decrees were implemented, many young Armenians were taken in by Turkish families to escape deportation, and converted to Islam. Today in Turkey it isn’t uncommon for Turks to discover that one or more of their relatives were ethnic Armenians, adopted and converted during the time of the massacres.
Orchards and farmland are seen from a train that runs from Istanbul to Gaziantep, Turkey.
Supporters of the Turkish Nationalist Movement party make the sign of a wolf with their hands — the symbol of this ultra nationalist party — at an election rally in Istanbul. Fierce nationalism thrives in Turkey, and it is criminal to insult “Turkishness” or call the massacres of Armenians genocide.
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.
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.”
Bones that are said to be from the Armenian genocide are seen on display in the chapel of the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia in Beirut, Lebanon.
Pigeons roost in the ruin of a building that was formerly an Armenian orphanage in the old city district of Aleppo, Syria. The compound is now half a house and half a ruin, which the owner uses to keep his pigeons.
Sarkis Karadoian, born in 1927, is a resident of Sancak (Sanjak) camp in the area of Bourj Hamoud, Beirut. Karadoian’s family is from a village outside of Iskenderun, Turkey and was forced to relocate during the time of the Armenian genocide. They came as far as Beirut to the refugee camp of Sancak, which still exists today.
Dikran Chapanian holds a picture of his late mother, who was originally from Urfa, Turkey. Chapanian said she was deported from Turkey to what is now Aleppo, Syria, during the time of the Armenian genocide.
The decaying ruins of an old traditional Armenian house are seen in Gaziantep, Turkey. Gaziantep’s Armenian community, once very wealthy and influential, fled or were deported during the time of the Armenian genocide, which preceded Turkey’s independence. Today the only traces of their existence are the homes and churches that are now inhabited by Turkish families, or which still lay in ruin.
The ruins of an old Armenian house are seen through a hole in the exterior wall in a former Armenian neighborhood in Gaziantep. Most Armenians fled the city or were deported in 1915.
Young Armenian boys run around the grounds of the abandoned seminary that stands in the Armenian quarter of the old city area of Jerusalem. Thousands of refugees arrived in Jerusalem after the Armenian deportations in 1915, seeking shelter in churches and convents, one of the primary being the St. James convent in the Armenian quarter.
A visitor to the Holy Sepulchre church in Jerusalem runs his hand across crosses that pilgrims have engraved on a wall in the Armenian section of the church. Thousands of Armenian refugees arrived in Jerusalem after surviving deportations from Ottoman Turkey in 1915.
A young girl stands on the ruin of an Armenian church in Diyarbakir, Turkey. A significant Armenian community once flourished in this southeastern city.
A priest’s frock dries in the sun at the Armenian abbey in Jerusalem.
Old stones etched with crosses and Armenian script lie in the cemetery beside the Armenian Holy Cross Church on the island of Akhtamar in Lake Van, Turkey. The church is possibly the most precious symbol of the Armenian presence in Turkey and is a popular pilgrimage site for Armenians today.
People watch and wave to a train as it passes along the route from Aleppo to Damascus, Syria. Many Armenians fled south to Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories during the massacres in the Ottoman Empire around 1915.
Photos of Gaziantep’s martyrs from the War for Independence (1922) are seen at a museum. Gaziantep’s Armenian community, once very wealthy and influential, fled or was deported during the time of the Armenian genocide.
Tables and chairs are set up before the start of an Armenian celebration in Vakifli, Turkey. Vakifli and six other Armenian villages in the area were completely deserted during 1915 as the Armenians resisted the Ottoman army against deportation and escaped from Turkey. It was only many years later that some of the Armenians’ relatives returned to Vakifli to live again, where they can celebrate traditional Armenian holidays.
A guest bedroom is seen in the Armenian Catholic Church in Jerusalem where Armenians deported from Turkey once took refuge during the time of the genocide. Many refugees traveled through Turkey, Syria, and Jordan before arriving in Jerusalem, where churches and convents overflowed with refugees.
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.
Koharik Zadikian sits in her home in a neighborhood called Ninety-Day Camp, in Beirut. The camp was originally created by Armenian refugees that fled Turkey during the massacres and took approximately 90 days to build. Koharik’s parents were from the Turkish city of Iskenderun.
A horse wanders through a meadow outside the formerly Armenian town of Arapgir, Turkey.
People walk towards the entrance of the Armenian genocide monument in Yerevan, Armenia to pay their respects on the evening of the anniversary of the genocide, April 24th.
Train passengers arriving from Aleppo to Damascus carry their belongings up the stairs of the terminal.
A police officer stands guard at the Armenian genocide monument in Yerevan, Armenia on the day of the genocide anniversary.
An Armenian woman attends a service at the Holy Mother of God Armenian Church in Vakifli, Turkey.
A coffin used for Muslim funeral ceremonies lies in storage in the ruins of an Armenian church in the village of Yogunoluk, 4 km from the predominantly Armenian town of Vakifli, Turkey. A mosque was built on top of the church. Yogunoluk is one of the dozens of villages around Musa Dagh Mountain that were abandoned by the Armenians.
People walk towards the entrance of the Armenian genocide monument in Yerevan, Armenia to pay their respects on the evening of the anniversary of the genocide, April 24th.
People walk in a procession in commemoration of the Armenian genocide on the path toward the genocide monument in Yerevan on the evening of the anniversary of the genocide, April 24th.
A boy runs down a path through a field as a dust storm covers the sky between Aleppo and Raqqa, Syria. This was a common deportation area for Armenians who were force-marched through northern Syria by Ottoman Turkish troops in the early 1900s.
Mist rises from a field outside of Erzerum, Turkey. The region of eastern Turkey is where the largest population of Turkey’s Armenians had been living for centuries, and Erzerum was particularly hard hit by violence and massacre during the Armenian genocide. After the new government issued deportation orders, Armenians were forced to leave their homes and sent on deportation marches across Turkey. Massacres, rape and pillage were frequent on the trail and an estimated 1.5 million Armenians died.
A man walks away from the train tracks that run from Istanbul along the southern region of Turkey towards Syria. In 1915 the Young Turks government began to use the railway to deport thousands of Armenians to the deserts of Syria.
The word “Allah”, or God, is seen on the back window of a mini bus in route to Deir ez Zor, Syria where Armenians from Ottoman Turkey were deported in the early 20th century. Survivors recall long marches without food and water through the northern Syrian desert.
Photographer's Statement: 

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.cook's picture
Kathryn
Cook

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

Memory Denied

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.

© 2008 Kathryn Cook
Lesson

004.jpg

Shadow of a Train
Title: 
Shadow of a Train
Description: 

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.

Lesson Plan Questions: 

• 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?

009.jpg

Armenian Bible
Title: 
Armenian Bible
Description: 

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.

Lesson Plan Questions: 

• 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?

011.jpg

Journalist
Title: 
Journalist
Description: 

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.”

Lesson Plan Questions: 

• 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?

028.jpg

Diyarbakir
Title: 
Diyarbakir
Description: 

A young girl stands on the ruin of an Armenian church in Diyarbakir, Turkey. A significant Armenian community once flourished in this southeastern city.

Lesson Plan Questions: 

• 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?

044.jpg

Lake Van
Title: 
Lake Van
Description: 

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.

Lesson Plan Questions: 

• 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?

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