University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
chgs@umn.edu
612-624-0256


CHGS

Pages From My Diary

Barsamian Drawings of the Installation

Introduction

kissing birdsRemember your childhood while I talk about this. Remember how you listened to your grandmother talk, your attention given as much to the sound of her voice as to the stories she was telling you. They were stories about her past, her family, the hardships they faced and the ways in which they overcame them. She is solid and comforting, your grandmother, and you are glad to be near, hearing her soft, aged voice telling these stories about a place far away and a people long ago. When she had finished, you remembered the moment and vaguely, her stories. Then your child's world resumes. A world in which you look about and make familiar and secure every thing you see, hear, and touch. Now, you are older.  You are a grand parent, seeing in your grandchild a beautiful innocence and wonder. You wish this child might always keep these remarkable qualities but the history you've lived and that must be remembered seems to deny the possibility of that wish. It is a powerful, terrifying history and if wrongly told, could forever wound this child's innocence. But it must be done, for not to tell it would leave your grandchild vulnerable and without knowledge.  All of us begin our lives both innocent and ignorant. The hope, of course, is that as we grow to adulthood, we will replace our ignorance  with knowledge while keeping our innocence - or a mature version of it - intact. Far  too many of us achieve just the opposite.  As did his grandmother, Luco, Robert Barsamian has chosen to tell a powerful story. He knows that he must tell it in a way that protects those qualities of innocence that we have left because they allow us to feel compassion and to have hope. To tell this story, he has left behind a style of artmaking that assured modest success to produce an ambitious work that promises some mixture of heartache and terror as a first response. But he has a higher hope for those of us who engage with him and his art and that is why he deserves our attention. The subject of his story is the Turkish massacre of more than 1,500,000 Armenians in 1915 and to tell it, Robert Barsamian invokes the visual and literary language of his Armenian culture. This is not a work about death. It is, instead, a work of art about the miracle of survival and he would have it compel us toward understanding and healing. An artist of considerable experience, skill and intellectual ability, Robert Barsamian has found his voice.

- Ron Gleason, 1990 Director of the Tyler Museum

"I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose history is ended, whose wars have been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, whose literature is unread, whose music is unheard, whose prayers are no longer answered. There is a war in the world. Destroy Armenia. See if you can do it! Send them from their homes into the desert. Let them have neither bread nor water. Burn their houses and their churches. Then see if they will not live again! See if they will not laugh again! For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a new Armenia!"

- William Saroyan, 1935

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A Genocide Untold: Luco's Story

cockatriceNestled among the mountains in the biblical land of Mount Ararat lies the village of Adana, home of my Armenians ancestors.  It is a little known fact that catastrophic atrocities happened to these peaceful people not so very long ago. But, this is one story that has haunted me my entire life. This is my grandmother Luco's story, a survivor of the Armenian genocide. It was a beautiful summer day, warm flower-scented breezes passed softly through the villages in the valley. Luco and a few friend walked to the nearby fields to play and to hunt for birds for the evening's meal. In long sweet grass they lay with layers of petticoats lifted over their heads, as they scattered seeds and crumbs on their bellies. They waited in silence, giggling in anticipation. Silence-or they would not eat. The call of birds grew louder and clearer. Luco remembered when she felt their feet landing on her stomach. First one then two! How wonderful! Not yet. Now- Quickly! Down came the petticoats with a mastered movement over her catch.  Triumphantly, the bird hunter returned.  Luco's mother greeted her with a smile and warm embrace. She praised her for the catch she had brought home. Arm in arm they walked towards the kitchen. Thunder clapped in the distance. A look of fear came, for it wasn't a harbinger of rain - it was the thundering of horses' hooves approaching the village. Stories of torture and death at the hands of the Turkish soldiers in the Northern villages had been heard. Grabbing Luco, she ran to the outhouse and pushed her beloved daughter down into the defecation and urine, telling her not to move or make a sound. It was the only place to hide and there was a chance the Turks would not find her. Children's screams filled the air and Luco's mother ran to the square to help. Her eyes filled with tears as she helplessly watched as children's hands were bound and brutally hacked off. In sport they forced the bleeding children to run from the village. A pile of severed hands was all that remained of the innocents. Luco's mother desperately sought a means to save her daughter. When an Armenian division of French troops came to the village, marriage arrangements were made in haste for 16 -year old Luco. Luco gave birth to my mother in the year 1918. Soon after the small family escaped via France to America. The Armenian people have suffered an injustice for 75 years. On April 24, 1915 three-quarters (1.5 million) of the Armenian people - men, women and children - were systematically and mercilessly murdered by the Turkish Government. As you read this statement the Turkish Government is pressuring the American Government to deny Armenian-Americans the right to declare, through an Act of Congress, that such atrocities ever occurred. The Turks have stated they will not allow access to vital military bases if America recognizes the official date of remembrance, April 24th. The Armenian genocide and its aftermath led Hitler to cite it as precedent for his own crime against the Polish and Jewish people. On August 22, 1939 Hitler declared: I have ordered my death unites to exterminate without mercy or pity men, women, and children belonging to the Polish-speaking race. It is only in this manner that we can acquire the vital territory which we need. After all, who remembers today the extermination of the Armenians?

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For my Grandmother: Coming Back

Fhorse legsor the dusty rugs
and the dye of blue-roots,
for the pale red stomachs of sheep,
you come back.

For the brass ladle
and the porous pot of black
from your dinner of fires,
I call your name like a bird.

For the purple fruit
for the carrots like cut fingers
for the riverbed damp
with flesh,
you come back.

two birdsFor the field of goats
wet and gray,
for the hoofs and sharp bones
floating in the broth,
I wave my arms full of wind.

For the tumbling barrel
of red-peppers,
for the milled mountain of wheat
for the broken necks
of squash fat and full of seed,
I let my throat open.

For the lips of young boys
bitten through
two handsfor the eyes of virgins brown
and bleating on the hill,
for the petticoat of your daughter
shivering by the lake,
for the yarn of her arms
unwinding at her father's last shout.

For the lamb punctured
from the raw opening
to his red teeth,
for the lamb rotating
like the sun
on its spit
for the eyes that fall
into the fire,
ian jan yanfor the tongue tender anti full,
for the lungs smoldering
like leaves
and the breasts spilling
like yellow milk
and the stomach heaving
its fist full of days
like red Water falling
into the stream

I wave my arms full of birds
full of dry gusts
full of burning clothes,
and you come back,
you come back.

- Peter Balakian

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What My Grandmother Said - When It Rained

wolves

skullsWe knew they were coming.
All night we could hear machetes
whirring in our ears.
The Turks gave themselves away;
they drank all night,
and in the morning beat the horses.

So Papa took all the money and jewels;
the fat gold coins, the turquoise,
braids of gold chains we'd wear once
a year, rings silver and almost soft,
and the brooches from Greece, topaz,
onyx, fade.
There were stones of colors
you cannot name,
I can still see them …

He packed them all
into the ceiling,
into the dark space above the house.,
I always thought the devil
skullslived there.
Papa hid them all
in the ceiling
and told us someday
someday we'll return
and be rich again.

Sometimes when it rains,
when the sun shakes behind the clouds
and the summer air cools
so the windows darken,
I hear God with a fist full
of coins in his big wild hand
I hear them spill in a mountain
over the floor of dark air
above the clouds
the shaking gold pieces,
the gems deep green
like my husband's eye.

- Peter Balakian

bases of civilization sign & skulls

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Artist Statement

BarsamianAs a surviving victim of a violent armed robbery three years ago in Dallas, I began to identify with the victimization of my Armenian ancestors. Luco, my grandmother, spoke often of Armenia and the life she had there and her story of survival. As a survivor, too, my mother seldom spoke of the genocide. These two women are the storytellers in my life. I use symbolic images to represent the Turks, the Armenians, the atrocities and the hope and strength of the culture.  The installation of ''Luco's Story" is 40 feet long and 10 feet high.

"After All Who Remembers . . ." is a triptych that represents an incident in history full of the haunting, quiet horror of what happened. Each panel is a monotone color which corresponds to colors in the Armenian National Flag: red, blue and orange. Beneath the panels, 75 candles mark the years and burn in memory of those who died. The three-panel installation occupies a space 30 feet by 10 feet.

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Acknowledgement

Special thanks to Katherine Snedeker, my wife, who continues to push to the limits everything she is involved with and for her support and love. The Conduit Gallery and Tina Blumenthal, our friend and the designer of the catalogue Boghos and Susan Kirazian who helped and supported my efforts.

This catalogue was made possible by the generosity and support of the following people:

Candle Donors

Family of Mr. and Mrs. E. C. Snedeker
Family of Bob and Sunny Blumenthal
Family of Mr. and Mrs. R. Glackin
Family of Mrs. Eugene McDermott
Family of Mr. and Mrs. D. Rogers
Family of Mr. K. Barsamian
Family of Mr. and Mrs. B. Kirazian
Family of Dr. S. J. Kechejian
Family of Mr. Rejebian
Family of Mt Kerkorian
Family of Mr. David Holler
Family of Ms. Eve Gorvetzian
The Armenian Apostolic Church
  Whitinsville, MA
Family of Dr. and Mrs. G. Salon
Family of Mr. Tom Stark
Family of Mr. and Mrs. R. Whitefleat
Family of Mr. J. Balakian
Family of Zaven and Souren Chakmakjian
Family of Mr. and Mrs. M. Sherenian
Family of Nafena Aroosian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donors

Mr. John Tiebout III
Mr. and Mrs. Morrice
Mr. and Mrs. A. B. Swank
Mr. and Mrs. S. Levenson
Mr. and Mrs. W Duran
Mr. Scott Moncreiff
Mr. and Mrs. Cy Beer
Mr. James Bottorff
Anonymous Donor
Mike, JoAnn, Sarah & Thomas Hart
Mr. and Mrs. A. Hillman
Mr. S. Burt
Mr. R. Butler
Mr. and Mrs. B. Snedeker
Mr. and Mrs. P Snedeker
Mr. and Mrs. J. Snedeker
Mrs. Mary DiMarco
Mr. and Mrs. P DIMarco
Mr. and Mrs. P Balakian
Mr. and Mrs. B. Smith
Mr. and Mrs. M. Martirossian
Mr. and Mrs. Gary Tavitian
Mrs. Sunny Bates
Larry Cooper, D.D.S.
Ms. Grace Haldy
Mr. and Mrs. Mihran Aroian
John and Gladys Burke
Mrs. Takoohy Reizian
Mr. R. Avakian
Mr. David Daragona
Mr. and Mrs. T Warren
Mr. and Mrs. Akilian
Mr. and Mrs. Simonian
Mr. Eluid Cabrera
Mr. David (Da'Pip) Phipps
Ms. Suzanne Sailers
Mr. Gary Hoyden
Mr. and Mrs. Michael Malouf
Dr. and Mrs. R. Sachson
Ms. Suzanne Brown
Mr. and Mrs. Ed Ducayet
Mr. and Mrs. Steve Asadoorian
Mrs. Miriam Barsamian
Mr. and Mrs. Bill Van Loan
Mr. and Mrs. J. Jordan
Mrs. Edith Baker
Mr. A. Charmahal
Ms. Gladys Aroosian
Ms. Lucille Aroosian
Ms. Alice Derderian
Mrs. Arax Balakian
Mr. J. Washington
Ms. Vicki Meek
Mr. Jim Ferrara
Ms. Shanon Reeves
Ms. C. Burross

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