Dresden hosts genocide photo exhibition

DRESDEN — A picture is worth a thousand words. The saying has become a cliché, and for good reason: it is true. Nothing could prove this more convincingly than an exhibition inaugurated on June 16 in Dresden, Germany. Organized by the Armenian Cultural Association “Haytun” in Dresden in collaboration with the Armenian Information and Documentation Center (IZDA, Berlin), the opening took place in the Martin Luther Church.

Presented by IZDA Professor Tessa Hofmann, who spoke via video link, this is not a new collection. In fact, it was first presented to the public in 1999, and since then it has been exhibited in several places in Germany and abroad, among them the German Documentation Center for Sinti and Roma in Heidelberg , the Progressive Synagogue in the London boroughs of Harrow and Wembley, the Peace Church in Bremen and St. Catherine’s Church in Frankfurt, the Town Hall in Leer in East Frisia and the Anti-War Museum in Berlin- Wedding. This new version released in Dresden represents an important contribution to the ongoing campaign to educate the German public, especially its younger generation, about the history of the Genocide against Armenians and other Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire.

Southern Armenian traditional costume (Diyabakir region), Armin T. Wegner collection (photo Gülsen Aytan)

The exhibition is entitled “Deportation, persecution, annihilation”. Father Eckehard Möller from the parish of Dresden-Neustadt welcomed the guests and told them how he came to know about the Armenian question and the genocide. It was during a visit to Jerusalem that he received a leaflet from someone on the street. The leaflet showed a map of the genocide, with the routes of the deportations and the places of the massacres. It was a map that would lead him to learn more about the events of over a century ago. The president of the Haytun cultural group, founded just a year ago, said a few words about the open wound that cannot heal, due to the continued denial of the genocide, and expressed the hope that the two communities here in Germany could find a way to work through the past and approach reconciliation without political pressure from the current Turkish government.

The First World War and the Camera

The exhibits are largely from a collection of the Armenian Information and Documentation Center, which covers the Genocide as well as Armenian life and culture in the period before the disaster. Hofmann summarized the historical process leading to the genocide perpetrated by the Young Turk regime, during the World War and afterwards, a process that saw the collapse of the Ottoman as well as Russian and Habsburg empires. Obviously, she explained, it was impossible to capture on film the full course of the genocide through slave labor, massacres and deportations, for many reasons; “It is certain that the First World War marked the birth of photographic war reporting and the use of photos for propaganda purposes…. But the support remained limited”, because the cameras at the time were extremely expensive and difficult to transport objects. “Above all, those who commit genocide certainly don’t want to be photographed committing mass murder.” The legal ban by the Turkish authorities as well as the fear of epidemic diseases such as typhus prevented photographers from documenting the atrocities.

An exception was the work of German nurse Dr. Armin T. Wegner, who managed to take pictures of the concentration camps near Aleppo, along with Swiss missionary nurse Beatrice Rohner; another was Danish missionary Karen Jeppe, who photographed the remains of starving victims in Urfa.

Visit of the exhibition (photo Gülsen Aytan)

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