‘Fragments of a Lost Homeland: Remembering Armenia,’ By Armen T. Marsoobian
In their seminal book, David Kyvig and Myron Marty quote the historian H.P.R. Finberg: “We may picture the family, the local community, the national state and the supranational state as a series of concentric circles. Each requires to be studied with constant reference to the one outside it; but the inner rings are not the less perfect circles for being wholly surrounded and enclosed by the outer.” Making a correlation between these concentric circles and local history, the authors emphasize the importance of the often-neglected individual and community experiences of ordinary people in the inner circles, no matter how populous their communities and how well known the events that they experience are. As a matter of course, the social history of silenced masses, as opposed to that of elites, is told from the bottom by various means including written and oral recollections, genealogy, photographs, objects and so on. It is a well-known fact that many personal accounts as regards the events of 1915 have been disseminated in a similar way by survivors and subsequent generations.
Similarly, Armen T. Marsoobian recounts the story of his ancestors from the second half of the 19th century onward through the memoirs of three of his ancestors. In addition to these interwoven narratives, he makes use of sketches, drawings, maps and photographs (the latter going back to as early as 1888) from the family archives. While the drawings of kitchen utensils and the ancestral home in Sivas (by the author’s great-uncle Aram) contribute to our imagination of Armenian daily life at that time, the old and rare photographs of places, people and situations (e.g. camel caravans, college workshops, weddings, etc.) concretize a past that is long over and visually under-documented. Thanks to these photos, the reader can observe both the extent of the backwardness and the simultaneous wave of progress that swept eastern Anatolian provinces. The photos are also evidence of the sad and happy moments in the family’s history, and exemplify -- in the former case -- the fear and perseverance that the survivors of 1915 harbored in the post-World War I years.
The story of the Dildilian family begins in Sivas. After generations of blacksmiths and grocers, Krikor Dildilian, the author’s greatgrandfather, opens a shoe store and a factory with his brother Haroutioun. Krikor’s sons Tsolag and Aram, however, grow up to become photographers, a promising new profession introduced to the empire by the likes of Abdullah Frères, following their education at the Anatolia College in Marsovan (Merzifon). The college being their primary customer, the two brothers travel to neighboring towns and open branches in Konya and Samsun (the latter being run by their beloved cousin Sumpad) in an era when photography was becoming more and more popular for social and legal purposes. The photos included in the book are primarily those taken by the two brothers, while some are those taken by the author during visits to Anatolia circa 2011, depicting the current state of certain spots that bear relevance to his story.
Reading the early chapters of the book, it is hard to not notice and to ponder the ways in which social
MARSOOBIAN RECOUNTS THE STORY OF HIS ANCESTORS FROM THE SECOND HALF OF THE 19TH CENTURY ONWARD