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Columbia to Host a Photography Exhibition of the Dildilian Family Archive Organized by Armen Marsoobian

The photographers and story tellers, the Dildilian siblings: Tsolag, Aram, and their sister Haiganoush Der Haroutiounian (Photo courtesy of Armen Marsoobian)

NEW YORK—A photography exhibition based on historic Ottoman-era photographs from the Dildilian Family archive will open on the Columbia University campus on December 1.

The exhibition, organized by Dr. Armen T. Marsoobian, may be viewed at the fourth floor lobby gallery of the university’s International Affairs Building, 420 W 118th Street (off Amsterdam Ave.), until the end of the month.

The exhibition, titled “Continuity and Rupture: Photography from the Dildilian Family Archive,” is supported by the Armenian Center at Columbia University and co-sponsored by the Columbia University Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability of the Institute for the Study of Human Rights, and the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research.

Marsoobian will tell the story behind his exhibitions and the work he has done on Armenian photography at a plenary session of a human rights conference, “Present Past: Time, Memory, and the Negotiation of Historical Justice,” on Dec. 9, at 12:30 p.m., in Room 1512 of the International Affairs Building. He has also organized a panel with Turkish film and media scholars titled “Screening the Past: Contested Historical Narratives for Turks and Armenians.” His talk, “From Silent Film to the Silencing of Film: Exiling the Armenian Genocide from Mainstream Cinema,” will begin the panel that takes place at Faculty House, second floor, room 3/4, 64 Morningside Drive, at 11 a.m. on Dec. 8. The public is welcome at both talks.

This exhibition tells the story of an Armenian family, the Dildilians, many of whose members worked as photographers in Ottoman Turkey. They lived, worked, and raised their families in the cities of Sebastia (Sivas), Marsovan (Merzifon), and Samsun. The backdrop of the story, which starts in 1872 and ends in 1923, is an empire in decline and a war that altered the face of the Middle East and Europe. The story is a painful one, culminating in the violent eradication of Armenians from their 3,000-year-old homeland. Yet the photographic narrative also testifies to the cultural, educational, and commercial achievements of the Armenians.

The photographs gathered for this exhibition were taken by Tsolag and Aram Dildilian over the course of 34 years in the cities, towns, and countryside of central Anatolia and the Black Sea Coast. The photographs and glass negatives in the family archive number well over 1,000—a truly unique treasure unmatched by other Armenian families who survived the genocide.

Between 2013 and 2016, exhibitions were held in the Republic of Turkey based on this photographic archive and the extensive written and recorded memoirs of the Dildilian family. A Turkish NGO, Anadolu Kültür, organized those groundbreaking exhibitions in the cities of Istanbul, Merzifon, Diyarbakir, and Ankara. Though controversial because of the official Turkish state policy of genocide denial, the exhibitions attempted to break the silence about Turkey’s troubled and often violent past.

Marsoobian has dedicated the exhibition to Osman Kavala, a morally courageous civil society leader in Turkey who is now unjustly imprisoned for his human rights work fostering dialogue between Turks, Kurds, Greeks, and Armenians.

The exhibition texts were written by Dr. Marsoobian, who is professor of philosophy at Southern Connecticut State University. He is the grandson of Tsolag Dildilian. The exhibition is curated by Isin Önol and designed by Atif Akin and Emile Askey. The family story is recounted in Dr. Marsoobian’s books, Fragments of a Lost Homeland: Remembering Armenia (I. B. Tauris, 2015) and Reimagining a Lost Armenian Home: The Dildilian Photography Collection (I. B. Tauris, 2017). Exhibitions have also taken place in London, Yerevan, and Watertown, Mass. A major exhibition will open at the Brand Library and Art Center in Glendale, Calif., on March 24, 2018.

For more information about this program, contact Dr. Marsoobian at marsoobian@southernct.edu or NAASR at 617-489-1610 or hq@naasr.org.

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