In Their Footsteps…an Identity Fractured by Genocide
“In their Footsteps…an Identity Fractured by Genocide” is the beginning of a personal exploration into my connection to Armenia, its history, and how genocide can fracture identity for generations to come. This visual journey focuses on the people and places surrounding Gyumri, Armenia’s westernmost city bordering Turkey, and Stepanakert, the capital of the Armenian populated breakaway republic of Artsakh (often referred to as Nagorno Karabagh).
As a second-generation Armenian-American I grew up unmoored from my ancestral history. It was filled with killings, suicides and grief. Both sides of my family had all but vanished beginning with a series of pogroms under Turkey’s Sultan Hamid in the 1890’s. This was followed by a genocide executed by the Young Turks that endured from 1915 through 1922. At this time more than a million and a half Armenians were systematically slaughtered. Entire villages and family lines were completely wiped out. For years afterward, Armenians found a homeland in the diaspora, or as William Saroyan put it, anywhere in the world when two Armenians met.
Beginning with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenians have only recently regained independence, though at a cost. Over the last thirty years Armenians have had to recover from the trauma of a devastating earthquake, suffered from fuel embargos and are at this moment embroiled in an ongoing conflict with Azerbaijan over the traditional homelands of Artsakh...a conflict that is a natural outgrowth of a genocide that has never been acknowledged by Turkey.
I grew up in a small town in central Massachusetts filled with elderly refugees from this genocide. The sense of loss was pervasive. These neighbors and relations that somehow survived passed down their indelible memories, demonstrating to me how courage and grace can prevail over hate and fear.
Travelling to Armenia and Artsakh provided me with a fresh look at my identity, the damage that continues, how things have emerged, and some perspective as to what the future may hold.