Items preserved in Diaspora from years of Armenian Genocide in the focus of Los Angeles Times
YEREVAN, JANUARY 17, ARMENPRESS. Husband and wife Vahé Tachjian and Elke Hartmann living in Berlin initiated a program of gathering in one place all the items that are linked with Armenians dating back to the years of the Armenian Genocide and before it. The Los Angeles Times did not bypass this important initiative. ARMENPRESS presents the most interesting moments of the article.
“A soldier, rushing to gather whatever spare belongings he could carry, was fleeing to board a boat on the Gallipoli Peninsula. It was a boat of survival, taking him and other Armenians away from the Ottoman Empire and the campaign of genocide it was waging against them and other ethnic minorities. As he left, he knelt in the garden of his home and scooped up this bit of dirt. Carried in his pocket, it was a literal piece of the homeland to which he’d never return. The handkerchief has since been handed down for three generations”, writes the periodical, adding that it was one of the hundreds items presented by Vahé Tachjian and Elke Hartmann.
The periodical notes that the Armenian Genocide took place between 1915 and 1923, the genocide killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians and dispersed many more to adopted homes around the world, from Lebanon to Syria to France to the United States. Turkey says the death toll was much smaller and describes the violence as a civil war, not genocide.
“The project started in 2010. After scouring libraries and archives for their limited Armenian-language resources, Tachjian and Hartmann found a vein of material in what were known as “houshamadyan,” handwritten and self-published memory books that describe — sometimes simply, other times in great detail — the villages and ancestral lands Armenians were forced to flee. In 2011, they began posting information from these documents on their website, which they named Houshamadyan.
Almost as soon as the site launched, they began receiving emails from around the world written by the descendants of Armenians offering their own records. Surprised by this outpouring, Tachjian and Hartmann, both of whom have Armenian heritage, redirected their focus from formal archives to the heirlooms of the Armenian diaspora”, reads the article.
“There were so many treasures in family houses, family closets,” Tachjian said.
“To document these materials and the handed-down history they carry, Tachjian, Hartmann and a small team of part-time collaborators began staging workshops around the world where people could bring their family heirlooms and documents to be added to the collection.
Funded by private donors and foundations, these workshops have been held in Istanbul, Beirut, Paris, Los Angeles and Glendale, all destinations for the Armenian diaspora, and Tachjian says each place offers its own unique angle on this history.
he most recent workshop was in Athens, where a small minority of Armenians has lived since thousands arrived as refugees in the early 1920s. A mile south of the Acropolis, in the back room of a primary school that doubles as an Armenian cultural center, about a dozen descendants trickled in on a Saturday afternoon. Mostly in their 50s and 60s, they came carrying shopping bags of photos and carefully wrapped books, textiles and pieces of jewelry. Speaking fluent Armenian in his clipped baritone, Tachjian interviewed each person about their family’s history, the heirlooms they’d kept and any memories that had been passed down about the Ottoman villages and towns from which their families fled”, reads the article, adding that by the end of the day, hundreds of items had been shared and photographed, and Tachjian had nearly filled his notepad with stories and family histories.
He estimates that the Houshamadyan project has collected more than 30,000 photographs from across the diaspora, as well as a variety of more quotidian documents such as recipes, school rolls and musically annotated hymns that were sung in some of the first Christian churches.