The SACI Gallery is pleased to present "Armenia 301," an exhibition of works by SACI photography instructor Jacopo Santini.
Jacopo Santini, Co-Director of the MFA in Photography program at SACI, will present "Armenia 301," a photographic documentary project on Armenia and its recent history. The exhibition opens January 15th in the SACI Gallery. The project, which began in the summer of 2018, was supported by the SACI Faculty Development Fund.
301 (A.C.) was the year when, according to the tradition and not without some bloody resistance, Armenia received Christianity from the will of King Tidrate III as a national religion, the first among all peoples.
301 is also the article of the Turkish penal code that punishes any offense to the Turkish identity with criminal penalties. It goes without saying that this provision has been used repeatedly to intimidate and sanction all forms of dissent and, particularly, any mention of what every Turkish government has denied: Metz Yegern. In Armenia, Metz Yegern means “the great sorrow,” the first genocide of the 20th-century that, between 1915 and 1918 (and even beyond), took the lives of approximately 1,500,000 Armenians living in what is currently Eastern Anatolia, according to a plan meticulously drafted and carried out by the Young Turks.
The term Genocide was coined by Polish historian Rafael Lemkin, who created it because there wasn’t a word in the available lexicon that could encompass such a crime: the extermination – planned and executed by Ittihad ve Terakki (Unity and Progress, a party born in Young Turks’s bosom) – of an entire population because of its ethnic, racial, and religious diversity, and the still-ongoing annihilation and destruction of every Armenian artistic, cultural, and architectural trace in a geographical area that Turkish authorities claimed and still claim, against obvious scientific facts, to have always been Turkish.
It should be made clear that the genocide, successfully carried out during World War I thanks to the indifference of most belligerent nations, the active cooperation of Germany, and well-known and unspeakable strategies, continued beyond World War I and, in the absence of other available living victims, targeted memory. Such a predictable and obvious extension of Turkish strategy could rely on the hypocritical collusion of many major powers that, so far and despite all historical evidence, haven’t recognized the genocide as such.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, in 1859, referred to photography as a “mirror with a memory.” It can still be so despite all doubts related to two digital revolutions that have occurred since. The real dilemma now is how and what to photograph one hundred years after the fact to keep from reducing this project to a maudlin and pointless exercise of archeology.
When I started my research I could not help but think of Walter Benjamin’s Angelus Novus (and of the inspiring Paul Klee’s painting), his eyes on the past, on the countless tragedies that, under his gaze dragged towards the future by the wind named progress, are nothing but a single heap of debris.
Every cognitive process has the duty to oppose, at least for a while, this uncontrollable wind, in order to try, as a minimum, to see, sift, and separate the victims from their torturers.
Whoever wants to talk about the Armenian genocide today must deal with the present, with what remains, with the memory of the past in people and communities’ words and habits, in the places where those old and unforgettable events took place: Armenia, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon.
Thanks to a grant (the SACI Faculty Development Fund) awarded to me by SACI, the American Art academy I work for as Co-Director of its MFA in Photography program, I was able to start this project this past summer in Armenia. The support of a private patron, actively involved in promoting and preserving Metz Yegern’s memory, will allow me to pursue it in Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon, until 2021. I will visit and photograph people and places, and I will try to relate today’s Armenia to its lost half and roots (what is now called Eastern Anatolia) and its nearby destinations of Diaspora (for instance Aleppo, whose numerous Armenian community had to face a new diaspora because of the ongoing Syrian conflict). I will try to portray and talk to all those willing to share their memories with me, in Armenia and Turkey, where a growing desire to face the historical truth among the younger generations is completely at odds with the government’s anachronistic and aggressive denial. The purpose is to sew memories, words, and images and to bear witness to the present as a reflection, faint but still alive, from before. It won’t be an investigation, whose results are already available and indisputable, but a testimony.
History can be often told by observing it reflected in the eyes of who survived, as in Angelus Novus’ pupils, not closed yet by the wind of progress.
- Text by Jacopo Santini
Learn more about Armenia 301.
Photography: Fabrizio Bruno