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Day 4: Özgur: the warden of the Armenian cemetery



14 Days in Diyarbakir - 14 Photos of Amed - 14 Pieces on Tigranakert.

"Repair's" special correspondant MJM, a french-armenian journalist, has recently spent two weeks in the current capital of the South Eastearn Anatolia to meet with the past, present and future of the thousands of Armenians who used to live in this city before the 1915 genocide. During his travels, MJM shares with us his many encounters with places, women and men whose story is undeniably related to the Armenians. 

This photo essay was done in May 2013, some situations described in these articles have evolved since then.


Day 4: Özgur: the Warden of the Armenian cemetery

Near the Urfa Gate lies the Armenian cemetery of the town. However, “cemetery” is much too grand a word for what looks more like an abandoned garden with over 450 overturned graves scattered around, stripped of their ornaments and photos of the deceased. All is undoubtedly dead here, even the grass, so dry that it creaks under our feet. A very sad landscape which reminded me of those Armenian graves I caught sight of in a forlorn field in the Arapgir district in the Tunceli province, exposed to erosion and away from people’s eyes.

We are very far from the sometimes absurd lavishness of some Armenian cemeteries such as, for instance, Noraduz, where thousands of khachkars (Armenian cross-stones) are spread over the grounds further than the eye can see and families spend indecent fortunes to offer their dead the most beautiful headstones. This funeral emulation is not in order here, in Diyarbakir, where tombstones were hastily engraved with the name of the deceased. No Armenian alphabet here, and very few family names ending in “ian.”  Turkish names are preferred. The Armenian identity is suppressed or rubbed out even in death… It is in this cemetery that the famous Armenian singer and musician Aram Tigran should have been buried according to his last will, But the Ministry of the Interior rules otherwise. 

Ozgür, the 35 year-old warden, an amateur footballer and taekwando practitioner, does not really know the history of the cemetery but he explains to us that his family has been looking after it for at least three generations. “We managed to get along with no-one in this neighbourhood except the owners of this place, Armenians who showed understanding. All the Muslim insulted and rejected us,” explains the man whose grand-father has built the walls protecting the cemetery. “The place was much bigger than this before, but it never stopped shrinking*,  and today there is only what you see that’s left,” Özgur explains, insisting that some clergy would like to see it replaced. “All those hash smokers or liquor drinkers come here and no-one but me could stand up to them and manage keep up the place,” he assertsas  his young son whistles off a kid who tries to enter the cemetery. When asked if he wouldn’t by any chance have Armenian origins – which would explain how hard it is for his family to fit in – he says that yes, he does. “Whatever happens, you never forget your roots,” concludes this strongman who lifts a magnificently engraved 300 pounds stone right under my eyes. “If it was less heavy, it’d have been stolen long ago!” he says in jest.

*From 20,000 to 1,000 square meters.  


The 30-year-old freelancer and photographer, MJM, has worked for various newspapers and magazines. His recent work with the Yerkir NGO has permitted him to further develop his views and understanding through photos and documentaries in Armenia and Turkey. An overview of his work is available on his website



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