Artist's Statement: Kathryn Cook

Memory Denied: Turkey and the Armenian Genocide

There are few instances where the past returns of its own accord and is judged anew. There are few times when the families of victims are afforded the chance to have the injustices suffered by their loved ones exhumed and reevaluated. And there are few moments in a nation’s history when it must come to terms with a set of beliefs that can no longer be considered the truth.

The death of some one million Armenians in Turkey almost a century ago has awoken from the past. “Memory Denied: Turkey and the Armenian Genocide” is a visual commemoration to those million and the vacuum their loss has created.

With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s, a fiercely nationalistic Young Turks movement took power. The fledgling government’s ideology of a “pan-Turkic” country—a nation that would unite all ethnically Turkic people, extending far beyond the Caspian Sea to the Siberian steppe—left little room for its Christian Armenian citizens. On April 24, 1915, Ottoman authorities issued an order for the arrest and deportation of several hundred Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul. This act marked the beginning of the extermination of Turkey’s Armenian population.

This event has, in the past, been called the “Great Calamity,” the “Armenian Holocaust,” and the “Armenian Massacre of 1915.” These bloody events have, as of 2009, been recognized by 21 UN member countries, along with 43 states of the United States, as the “Armenian Genocide”—a fact Turkey vehemently denies to this day.

My project is a journey through those massacres and deportations, and the loss of cultural identity. It addresses how a premeditated act committed by “new Turks” on the “old Ottomans” has manifested itself in the country’s present. My images show a subtle picture—a narrative of glimpses that might exist only in the minds of those who remember, or who have heard the accounts firsthand.

The whole world is watching Turkey’s behavior, especially with the possibility of future EU accession. As former Dutch parliament member Camiel Eurlings said of Turkey’s dilemma, “It is indispensable for a country on the road to [EU] membership to come to terms with its past.”

My work explores the remains and traces of an ambiguous, dark history—the definition of which is still being fought over. From World War II-era Germany to Pol Pot’s infamous “Year Zero” to Rwanda, what took place in Turkey just before the Great War has endured and echoed into the twenty-first century. A survivor of the Armenian Genocide, John Minassian, asked, “What happens when those who harm others get away with it? What is the legacy of that silence?” Through my work (and with the support of the Aftermath Project grant of 2008), I aim to give this silence a telling face. - Kathryn Cook

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