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A historical 24th April in Diyarbakir


99 Portraits of Exile 

99 Photos of Survivors of the Genocide of Armenians


A historical 24th April in Diyarbakir  



Upon the Commemoration of the Genocide of Armenians, on April 24, French-Armenian NGO Yerkir Europe and the ARAM organization from Marseille, France, in partnership with the municipality have exhibited 99 photos of Armenian survivors at the Amed art gallery in Diyarbakir, the political and cultural capital of the Kurds of Turkey (1.5 million inhabitants).

As 24th April was commemorated throughout the world, 99 Armenians who have survived the 1915 massacres have made a symbolic return to the ancestral lands of Western Armenia for the opening of the exhibition “99 Portraits of Exile: 99 Photos of Survivors of the Genocide of Armenians.” It was a historical breakthrough event in that area which was peopled with thousands of Armenians at the turn of the 20th century.



At a previous press conference in Diyarbakir attended by some 40 journalists, Armen Ghazarian, representative of Yerkir Europe, had stressed the uniqueness of the event: “To organize this exhibition here in Diyarbakir on 24th April, the day we commemorate the Genocide of Armenians, is a double symbol since the Armenians have their roots in those lands and it is also one of the crime scenes of 1915.

During that press conference, Muharrem Cebe, Director of Cultural Affairs at the Diyarbakir City Hall, has called up the events of 1915: “99 years ago, a great tragedy occurred on this land. And Kurds underwent the same fate. Lootings, genocides, great massacres were experienced. Among the victims were also people from Diyarbakir. They were forced to leave their lands. We are very happy to see our fellow countrymen return, even though in a symbolic way, to the land where their grandparents were born and lived.”


Varoujan Artin, main animator of ARAM (Association for Research and Archiving of Armenian Memory), then explained the contents of the exhibition: “These are reproductions of the identity photos of Armenian genocide survivors that were found on baptism certificates provided from 1923 to 1926 by the Armenian Patriarchate in the South of France, whose archives are now largely owned by ARAM.”

He then stated: “For the first time since it was founded, ARAM displays part of its archive outside France, and in the special location of Diyarbakir, in Turkey. It is a symbolically powerful return to the roots in the lands of Western Armenia. I invite you to come and look at those faces that will seem familiar to you, just like your faces seem familiar to me today.”




Speaking at the opening of the exhibition, Armen Ghazarian declared: “Since 2008, Yerkir Europe has launched several intercultural projects in Turkey, some of which with the Diyarbakir City Council. Our ethnomusicology research team in Erevan, called “Van Project”, has given several concerts in Diyarbakir as well as organized workshops with the Aram Tigran Conservatory. The possibility to organize events, and in particular a commemoration of the 1915 genocide in Diyarbakir on 24th April, may be a first step towards a return to Yerkir (the land.) The message that we wish to carry to Armenians throughout the world is that beyond remembrance and history, there are possibilities today of bringing the Armenian identity back to life in the very place where it is rooted – whereas it is through culture, tourism or other initiatives.”


The recently elected Mayor of Diyarbakir, Gülten Kişanak, then stated that the exhibition evoked “a great grief, a tragedy and a genocide.” More specifically, she said: “There is a simple reality: our brothers, members of the Armenian people who lived with us on these lands 99 years ago, are not here anymore. No comment can be made that can change that reality. One of the most ancient people in this region used to live here. We had a common past and were building our future. That grief is not only the grief of the Armenian people, it affects us all.” Gülten Kişanak added that a historical, political and judicial process was necessary to face the past. “I believe that these photos will move the heart of each visitor. They will come out of the exhibition wondering what they can do to relieve the pain. We need empathy in that process of facing the past,” she concluded.



Pleased to have been able to organize that unique event, Varoujan Artin commented on how the exhibition was received and the crucial part played by the Diyarbakir City Council in ensuring that the project unfolds properly: “One can say that the ‘99’ exhibition raises awareness, helps untie tongues and free the minds. But the situation in Diyarbakir is specific to the area and is not yet the same in other still strongly nationalist regions. In that respect, the Diyarbakir municipality has been exemplary by restoring the Surp Giragos Armenian church and setting up many initiatives for dialogue, such as this exhibition. I am very happy that it can happen in Turkey. I thought that is would be impossible and, lo and behold, here it is for real. We hope that this exhibition can travel to other regions and be welcomed with the same enthusiasm.”


During the opening, hundreds of people came to see those 99 faces of exiles, some of whom came from Diyarbakir. Some were struck by the likeness and took pictures of themselves together with their Armenian “double.” Others were so moved that they proceeded to take pictures of each of the portraits, one by one. A young woman of Armenian descent and born in the area came out of the gallery her eyes filled with tears. “I feel an immense sadness just looking at those exiles that I have never met. It must have been very hard for those who left, as it was for those who stayed. It is yet another pain today to experience this tearing apart,” she said, overwhelmed by the faces and expressions of those Armenians.

“I know that in our town in Bismil, there were many Armenians. They’re now gone. Where are they? Have they vanished into thin air? Our people acted horribly,” says Ahmed, a taxi driver, thus trying to express his regrets with tears in his eyes. Does he think he is part of the Islamized Armenians who are now known to be many in the area? Is that why the photos of the 99 refugees moved him much? “No,” he replies, and wouldn’t say anything more. At least for the moment.

Ahmed is not the only one to be struck by those portraits that seem so alive and familiar to exhibition visitors. Those faces marked by the ordeal they went through, those eyes full of sorrow, Kurds know them well. Together with the people on the photos they feel that they not only share a physical resemblance but also a common fate. “It’s because we failed to protect the Armenians that we were in turn massacred in Dersim,” says a visitor. Young women who ask of the catalogue are sorry to hear that it is out of stock. They would like to take these faces home with them as a “souvenir,” probably to show to their parents who could not make the trip. Others ask why there are so many portraits of people coming from Kharpert, not knowing that, until 1915, that historical town used to be mostly Armenian. 

Far from the crowd, Varoujan Artin is interviewed by two journalists in front of the portrait of his grandfather who survived the Deir es-Zor forced marches. The interview ends in tears as Varoujan tells how his grandfather regretted to be alive when all his relatives had been killed.

Throughout their stay, the exhibition organizers were greeted by tears, expressions of regret and asking for forgiveness on the part of the people of Diyarbakir. On the evening of April 23, a wake initiated by Yerkir Europe could take place for the first time at Surp Giragos in remembrance of the victims of the genocide. Fifteen people gathered together in that church which was restored in 2011, bringing new life to the Armenian community of the city, which was thought forever gone.