– Autumn/Winter 2016

Empty Fields and Crying Stones

Helena Vilalta

Silene Manissadjiana Freyn plant collected by and later named after Professor J.J. Manissadjian from Akdag ̆, Amasya, Turkey, 1892. Courtesy the Herbarium of Ankara University, Faculty of Science (ANK)

The destroyed city stretches out under the generous and dazzling sun like an endless cemetery. Nothing but ruins on every side... Nothing has been spared. All the churches, all the schools and all the dwellings have been transformed into heaps of charred and deformed stones, among which rises here and there the carcass of an apartment building. [...] A dense crowd comes to us, made up of widows, orphans, old men covered with bloody rags and soaked in tears. This is all that remains of the population of Adana. [...] At times they burst into tears, their faces drowned in an instant by such an abundance of tears that their cries and lamentations are stifled by them; their faces, tanned and dried by the sun, are furrowed with horrid wrinkles and terrible grimaces, and the entire crowd, struck by an access of grief that knows no rest, twists and turns in despair. It is impossible to imagine the sum of sorrows represented by each one of the people who make up this crowd.

– Zabel Essayan, In the Ruins, 1911

  1. Quoted in Marc Nichanian, 'Catastrophic Mourning', in David L. Eng and David Kazanijan (ed.), Loss: The Politics of Mourning, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003, pp.103, 112.

  2. Zabel Essayan's book In the Ruins was first published in 1911 by an Armenian press in Istanbul, where it was reissued in 2010, also in Armenian, by Aras Publishing. It has recently been translated into English by G.M. Goshgarian as In the Ruins: The 1909 Massacres of Armenians in Adana (Boston: Armenian International Women's Association, 2016).

  3. Quoted in Taner Akçam, A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility (1999, trans. Paul Bessemer), New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006, p.32.

  4. Ibid.

  5. See Raymond Kévorkian, The Armenian Genocide: A Complete History (2006), London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2011, p.11.

  6. For a fine account of Essayan's biography, see Léon Ketcheyan, 'Préface', in Z. Essayan, Dans les ruines, Paris: Phébus, 2011, pp.7–28.

  7. For a discussion of the Young Turks' involvement in the massacres, see R. Kévorkian, The Armenian Genocide., op. cit., pp.71–117.

  8. Z. Essayan, quoted in M. Nichanian, 'Catastrophic Mourning', op. cit., p.104.

  9. Z. Essayan, Dans les ruines, Paris: Phébus, 2011, p.29. Translation the author's.

  10. Z. Essayan, quoted in M. Nichanian, 'Catastrophic Mourning', op. cit., p.105.

  11. In 1909, Essayan wrote in a letter to her husband Tigrane: 'Cilicia is devastated. Everyone has the same impression. I have not yet gone to Adana but everything I have heard, everything I have been told up until now proves that the Armenians were sacrificed in totality according to a known, premeditated plan... The complicity of the current government is evident.' Quoted in M. Nichanian, 'Zabel Essayan: The End of Testimony and the Catastrophic Turnabout', Writers of Disaster: Armenian Literature in the Twentieth Century, Vol.1: The National Revolution, Princeton, NJ and London: Gomidas Institute, 2002, p.228.

  12. The four articles she published in Aragats in August and September 1911 are available online, in a French translation by Léon Ketcheyan, alongside a selection of Zabel Essayan's letters to her husband Tigrane from Adana. See http://www.imprescriptible.fr/rhac/tome3/p1d5#n16 (last accessed on 3 July 2016).

  13. Quoted in M. Nichanian, 'Zabel Essayan: The End of Testimony and the Catastrophic Turnabout', op. cit., p.218.

  14. Ibid., p.209.

  15. M. Nichanian, 'Catastrophic Mourning', op. cit., pp.115–16. Emphasis in the original.

  16. Quoted in R. Kévorkian, The Armenian Genocide: A Complete History, op. cit., p.243.

  17. In Baku, in February 1917, Essayan published the first testimony of 1915, co-signed with the witness and survivor Hayg Toroyan. See Z. Essayan and H. Toroyan, L'Agonie d'un peuple (1917, trans. M. Nichanian), Paris: Garnier, 2013.

  18. Nichanian has discussed Essayan's turn in M. Nichanian, 'Zabel Essayan: The End of Testimony and the Catastrophic Turnabout', op. cit., pp.187–242.

  19. M. Nichanian, 'On the Archive III: The Secret; Or, Borges at Yale', Boundary 2, vol.40, issue 3, Autumn 2013, p.33. Emphasis in the original.

  20. A lengthy article on the Turkish Government's Foreign Affairs website, tellingly titled 'Controversy between Turkey and Armenia about the Events of 1915', describes deportations as 'relocations', insists on the victims' 'guilt' and denies that any 'racist attitudes' existed in the Ottoman Empire. See http:// www.mfa.gov.tr/controversy-between-turkey-and-armenia-about-the-events-of-1915.en.mfa (last accessed on 3 July 2016).

  21. 'Erdog ̆an backs Ottoman replica in Istanbul's Gezi Park', Anadolu Agency website, 18 June 2016, available at http://aa.com.tr/en/politics/erdogan-backs-ottoman-replica-in-istanbuls-gezi-park-/593918 (last accessed on 3 July 2016).

  22. The memorial stood from 1919 until 1922 as part of a centuries-old Armenian cemetery, which was expropriated by the Turkish state in 1939 and subsequently demolished to build today's Gezi Park. Erdog ̆an has long wanted to reconstruct Ottoman military barracks on the site, to the dismay of many. See Emily Greenhouse, 'The Armenian Past of Taksim Square', The New Yorker, 28 June 2013, available at http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-armenian-past-of-taksim-square (last accessed on 3 July 2016).

  23. See M. Nichanian, The Historiographic Perversion (2006, trans. Gil Andijar), New York: Columbia University Press, 2009, pp.7–8.

  24. 'Empty Fields', SALT Galata, Istanbul, 6 April–5 June 2016.

  25. Marianna Hovhannisyan's engagement with the archive began in 2014, when she was awarded a residency at SALT, supported by the Hrant Dink Foundation, to catalogue and classify the archive prior to its digitisation; she was subsequently commissioned to curate an exhibition based on her research. Though SALT might be better known internationally for its art exhibitions, the preservation, activation and publication of personal and institutional cultural archives ranging from art and design to urbanism is at the very centre of its mission. SALT's digitised archives can be accessed online at http://www.archives.saltresearch.org (last accessed on 3 July 2016).

  26. See R. Kévorkian, The Armenian Genocide: A Complete History, op. cit., pp.452–55.

  27. There is, in fact, a direct link between the exhibition's critical approach to the politics of representation and institutional critique via the participation of Kontext Kunst-associated artist Fareed Armaly, who advised curator Marianna Hovhannisyan on the exhibition design.

  28. Rachel Haidu has argued that Marcel Broodthaers's Musée d'Art Moderne (1968) exhibited the institutional conditions of modern art, namely reproducibility and circulability, in her The Absence of Work: Marcel Broodthaers, 1964–76, Cambridge, MA; The MIT Press, 2010, p.120.

  29. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of the German Tragic Drama (1928, trans. John Osborne), London: New Left Books, 1977, p.139.

  30. Judith Butler, 'Afterword: After Loss, What Then?', in D.L. Eng and D. Kazanjian (ed.), Loss: The Politics of Mourning, op. cit., p.471.

  31. M. Nichanian, 'On the Archive III', op. cit., p.21.

  32. Ibid., p.28.

  33. After 1915 Turkish authorities closed Anatolia College and repurposed it as a military hospital. It reopened in 1919, under the direction of the American Board, to mainly cater to orphans and displaced children. In 1921 most of its activities were transferred to the Greek city of Thessaloníki, where it still functions today under a new leadership. What remained of Anatolia College in Merzifon was closed down in 1939.

  34. Ates ̧ Aykut, quoted in 'Empty Fields', op. cit., unpaginated.

  35. Z. Essayan, quoted in M. Nichanian, 'Catastrophic Mourning', op. cit., pp.112, 110.

  36. Saidiya Hartman, 'Venus in Two Acts', small axe, no.26, June 2008, p.11.