Today: Apr 21, 2024

Professor wins international award for decoding his past with a photograph

photo courtesy
Professor Armen Marsoobian holding the photograph of his ancestors.

Old family photographs are often looked at as simply still frames from the past. For Armen Marsoobian, they have led him to discover a historic chapter in his family’s history.
Marsoobian, chair of the philosophy department at South¬ern, received an award from the Hrant Dink Foundation in Istan¬bul, Turkey, based on an essay he wrote in response to its call last summer for projects highlight¬ing those who performed selfless acts during the 1915 Armenian genocide.
“It continues to be a taboo subject in Turkey, this award was set up to promote the past and coming to terms with it,” he said.
Marsoobian’s grandfather and great uncle had a photography busi¬ness from 1888 to 1922, until they were forced to leave Turkey after the genocide that took place in 1915. Most of the 600 photos were inherited from his uncle before he passed away.
Being busy as a full-time profes¬sor, Marsoobian revisited the mate¬rial three years ago when one of his friends had visited Anatolia College, once located in Ottoman Turkey, now established in Greece. There, his father was once employed as a photographer. The friend mentioned him, and was invited by the Anatolia staff to join them for a week and speak about the photographs and family connection to the college. This is when his research about the photographs took off.
“I became more fascinated with the more material I read,” he said.
One photograph became the focus of Marsoobian’s essay, which dealt with the efforts of his grandfa¬ther and great uncle in rescuing 30 young men and women from 1915 to 1918 in their hometown of Marsovan, Turkey.
Marsoobian received, along with the award, a prize of 1,000 Euros, plus partial airfare and accommoda¬tions in Istanbul, to attend the award ceremony in March.
Marsoobian explained the photo¬graph, which included his great aunt and great uncle, showed his family celebrating Christmas in secret at the time when the family was forced to convert to Islam to save their lives. He knew this because a banner written in Armenian saying “Christ is Born 1916” was pictured in the background.

photo courtesy
The photograph used by Marsoobian to write his essay on the family and those who helped the family hide celebrating Christmas

“The essay is trying to unravel the question of how they are still alive and able to celebrate Christmas in secret, and be taking a photograph as act of defiance against the genocide,” said Marsoobian. “These four young men in the photograph should have already been deported and killed.”
Through family memoirs and other writings, he was able to piece together how and where his family had kept them hidden and how they survived. He explains looking at the names on the back of the pho¬tographs helped him to identify the individuals in the picture.
In June, Marsoobian made a trip to visit the existing home where his grandfather had once lived. Marsoobian said it was a gratifying, emotional moment to see the home his mother grew up in and to know all the history that had taken place.
Marsoobian is also putting together an exhibit, which will go on display in an Istanbul gallery in April 2012. The exhibition will run for 45 days and feature 100 of the pho¬tographs his grandfather and great uncle took.
“This exhibit will show photo¬graphs telling the family story. It will be very controversial,” he said, “but there are people here who are really supportive of it so it should be inter¬esting and challenging to pull off.”

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