Photographer Scout Tufankjian was glued to her screens like Armenians around the world following news of developments in Artsakh. After the ceasefire was announced, she decided to rush to the region, which she’s visited numerous times before, to document the handover of territories to Azerbaijani forces. It was an emotional trip but one she knew she wanted to make.
Best known for her photo book Yes We Can: Barack Obama’s History Making Presidential Campaign, Tufankjian also created what was once the internet’s most popular photo (it was of the Obamas). She stopped by our Brooklyn studio to share her insights and reflections from her experience in November and December. The podcast was recorded on January 19, 2021, the 14th anniversary of the assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.
The music in this episode is by Mary Kouyoumdjian and is titled “This Should Feel Like Home” (2013), which was commissioned by Carnegie Hall for Hotel Elefant.
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After the war in Karabakh, Armenians from all over the world were driven to protect and safeguard beloved Armenian monuments that were soon to be turned over to the Azerbaijani government, which does not, to put it lightly, have a strong record of protecting Armenian artifacts. While these individual efforts succeeded in protecting some artifacts, it is impossible to remove and protect the ways in which we have lived in that land: the smells of the incense wafting through the church, the spray of a waterfall, the crunch of a leaf, the quiet chants of the priest as he baptizes a young family, the flicker of the candle, the weight of a pomegranate in one’s hand. The soil itself is now, as Ghukas Sirunyan wrote in his poem about the first Karabakh War “suddenly treasured the way the gods once were worshipped.”
And yet — at the same time we lose access to these villages and ancient monasteries — new monuments spring up, almost accidentally, involuntarily, standing testament to a loss so raw that it can’t yet be addressed head on. Here and there are flowers memorializing a beloved man killed while trying to save a friend on the very last day of the war, a Smerch rocket launcher embedded in a once fertile field, a spiral left dancing across the ground by the explosion of a cluster munition, a map of what once was this small self-described nation, a collection of bullets, a shard of a missile or drone echoing the shape of the beloved pomegranate. All are temporary, ephemeral monuments to a war that has not yet quite ended.
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