A pomegranate for Turks and Armenians: It is time to remember, not forget

Published 28.04.2016 23:43
Updated 29.04.2016 11:32
In an anthology of 4,000 postcards, Armenian quarters, churches, monasteries, schools, orphanages and hospitals are omnipresent. Armenians were in many cities from the west to the east and from the south to the north.
In an anthology of 4,000 postcards, Armenian quarters, churches, monasteries, schools, orphanages and hospitals are omnipresent. Armenians were in many cities from the west to the east and from the south to the north.

The 800 years of history shared between Turks and Armenians is honored in a postcard exhibition held at the Tophane-i Amire Cultural Center, displaying Armenian culture in Ottoman cities

The history of the Armenians during the Ottoman era has come to light with the exhibition called "With the Intention of Pomegranate: Time to Remember Not to Forget," curated by architect Güzin Erkan in Istanbul. The exhibition, hosted by the Foreign Affairs Ministry and Mimar Sinan University's Department of Fine Arts at the Tophane-i Amire Culture and Arts Center, is a stark reminder of the 800 years the two groups passed together.

The postcard collection of Orlando Carlo Calumeno, who has the biggest Ottoman postcard and documents in Ottoman language archive, traces Armenians footsteps in Anatolia. All the pains that Armenians suffered during World War I are to share, not to forget, under the shadow of discussions about deportation, having transformed into insurmountable distances between two peoples. The postcard exhibition aims to show the existence of Armenians 100 years ago and the inability to see their history. The collection, which is comprised of pieces produced between 1895 and 1914, is a testament to the multiculturalism of the Ottoman Empire. Almost every aspect of Armenian history that has arose for discussion gained presence with postcards, images of Ottoman archival documents or historical knowledge written on the walls in the exhibition. Depicting a joint life with Armenians over 800 years, and stressing a deep sadness that most of them were whisked away so they could not raise their family in their own homeland and we cannot see their grandsons and granddaughters here today, the exhibition aims to raise awareness about the pluralistic life of Anatolia. That is why the pomegranate was chosen as a symbol for the exhibition. The pomegranate, which identifies abundance, sharing and fertility, is an important symbol for Armenians, but the pomegranate is considered the fruit of heaven for Turks as well. Moreover, the pomegranate unifies all of its grains in one shell.

'Remember how we resemble each other'

In an anthology of 4,000 postcards, Armenian quarters, churches, monasteries, schools, orphanages and hospitals are omnipresent. We see traces of Armenians in so many cities from the west to the east, from the south to the north. The postcards reveal that Armenian postcard editors were also numerous. There are so many historical surprises that have faded away in memories. Even the Armenian-origin visitors who come to the exhibition are astonished to see that Armenians were dispersed throughout Anatolia. One Armenian that did not want his name published said he did not know there was an Armenian church in Trabzon. Others said they did not know before that there had been an Armenian college in Konya, or that Armenian women received preschool teacher training in Mardin and there was a residence for blind children in Malatya. You will be surprised to see postcards showing an Armenian performing Zeybek dance, which is special to the Aegean region. Entering the exhibition hall, an instrumental version of a sentimental folk song called "Sarı Gelin" (Blond Bride) welcomes you. The song has two versions, one in Turkish and one in Armenian. At the beginning you see a video that proceeds like a time machine depicting daily activities of Armenians in the Ottoman period. On every corner there is a time capsule waiting to be discovered. Apart from published postcards, there is a table with a screen showing the digital versions of every postcard on display. You can have a look at digital versions of Ottoman documents on tablet computers placed in some corners as well. At the end of the video, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu express their deep sadness for the deaths of the Armenians during the obligatory deportation on April 24, 1915.

A huge cultural accumulation of a civilization

There is a place separated for the Balyan family, a prominent Armenian family of the Ottoman court. The family members were architects in the service of Ottoman sultans and members of the Ottoman dynasty during the 18th and 19th centuries. There are numerous Ottoman buildings including mosques, mansions, palaces and churches built by the Balyans. Ortaköy Mosque is the most well-known example. Then you will meet the first female theater actress in the Ottoman Empire: Arusyak Papazyan. One of the founders of Turkish theater, Agop Vartovyan (Güllü Agop) and the first Turkish opera composer Dikran Çuhaciyan can be seen as well. Armenian artists became the founders of both Armenian and Ottoman theaters in the 19th century. With the foundation of the first theater in Istanbul, smaller theater groups in Ortaköy, Hasköy and Beyoğlu emerged as well.

Toward better days in the Caucasus and Turkey

In Calumeno's postcards, you will see how Armenians belong to Anatolia once again. In a postcard created by the Sarrafyan brothers, one of whom is a photographer and the other a postcard editor, Armenian women receiving preschool teacher training in an American mission in Mardin will astonish you. The Armenian youth orchestra of the Anatolian College in Merzifon is depicted in the postcard edited by Armenian postcard editor Nerso. Postcards show the variations in Armenians culture depending on the regions, such as the different jewels and dresses Armenian women wore.

The exhibition is like a footstep toward the normalization process between Turkey and Armenia, but especially for Armenians, a majority who have had deep connections with Anatolia since early history. Turkey aims to normalize relations with Armenia, and seeks to create and maintain a more peaceful environment and regional stability in the South Caucasus as indicated in the texts that surround the exhibition walls. Then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, followed by Then Foreign Affairs Minister Davutoğlu, sent a letter to Armenian President Robert Kocharian in 2005 and made a call to found a "Joint Historical Commission," which includes Turkish and Armenian historians to study the incidents in 1915 in Turkish and Armenian archives, but also those from third countries. The normalization process, through the mediation of Switzerland, gained historic momentum after the signing of the "Protocol on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations" and the "Protocol on Development of Relations" on Oct. 10, 2009. Turkey also supports the enhancement of the work of the Minsk Group, which operates within the framework of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) with the aim of achieving peace in the Nagorno-Karabakh region that has witnessed conflicts this month between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The exhibition can be visited until May 6.

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