GROUNDBREAKING CONFERENCE AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY HIGHLIGHTS MONUMENTS AND MEMORY, ANCIENT CITY OF ANI
Updated: March 26, 2015
By Taleen Babayan
Scholars from around the world participated in an in-depth and
timely academic conference, "Monuments and Memory," focusing on
buildings and material culture in the aftermath of mass violence,
with a special consideration on the ruins of the medieval city of
Ani in eastern Turkey, on Friday, February 20, at Columbia's School
of International and Public Affairs in a standing-room only event
spearheaded by Professors Peter Balakian and Rachel Goshgarian.
The all-day symposium commenced with the initial session, "Monuments
and Memory: The Significance of Material Culture in the Aftermath
of Genocide," which was moderated by Christine Philliou, Associate
Professor of History, Columbia University, and featured Peter Balakian,
Donald M. Constance H. Rebar Professor of the Humanities, Colgate
University; Marianne Hirsch, William Peterfield Trent Professor
of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and
Professor in the Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality;
and Andrew Herscher, Associate Professor at the University of Michigan.
Hirsch elaborated on monumental memory, which sustains collective
memory, and the mobilization of history through these monuments
on sites of destruction. She touched on how public memory has
responded with exhibitions, including two major ones in Paris about
the liberation during the Second World War, as well as a year of new
museums built on destruction sites, such as the 9/11 Memorial Museum
in New York.
"Museums have the capacity to be agents of transformation," said
Hirsch, who noted that memorial museums bring the past into the
present. "The museum is performing a series of small acts of repair."
Herscher spoke about genocide as counter-memory and the politics of
the counter-monument. He cited the "Memorial in Exile" of the Bosnian
War that was unveiled at the 2012 Summer Olympic Park in London,
which was a counter-monument to the removal of all traces of violence
by Bosnian Serbs soldiers in the 1990s in Republika Srpska. He noted
that in Germany in the 1980s, Holocaust memorials were being imagined
and commissioned and that they "defied ambitions of permanence,
durability and visibility."
"These new monuments were designed to disappear, not be visible,"
said Herscher, adding that violence was culturally productive. "Memory
is a prime act of consciousness."
Focusing on Grigoris Balakian's "The Ruins of Ani" published in 1910,
Peter Balakian discussed the history of Ani depicted in G. Balakian's
book, which he said shed light on Armenian intellectual thinking of the
time. According to G. Balakian, the churches of Ani were foundations
of gothic architecture in Europe and were of the highest artistic
merit. Peter Balakian noted that Ani is today a place of cultural
destruction and Turkey needs to tend to this issue, which could be
the beginning of some restitution.
"The current situation creates another post-genocidal trauma,"
Balakian argued for a revaluation of the present situation of Ani
through a post-colonial lens and asserted that, "Armenians remain
indigenous to the region."
The second session of the symposium focused on "The Medieval Armenian
City of Ani: A Case Study in the Politicization of Art History,
History, Historical Monuments and Preservation in a Post-Genocide
Context," moderated by Nanor Kebranian, Assistant Professor of Middle
East South Asian and African Studies, Columbia University.
Christina Maranci, Arthur H. Dadian and Ara Oztemel Chair of Armenian
Art and Architectural History at Tufts University, spoke about
memory and medieval architecture in Ani. She noted the similarities
of the Zvartnots and Garkashen churches and that Zvartnots represents
"a creative fusion of traditions from Syria and the Holy Land."
She mentioned that medieval accounts of Zvartnots praised the
structure and although it was dedicated to St. Gregory, it showcased a
specialized and localized artisanship. There was "careful observation
of material past in an effort to preserve it if by reproduction."
Heghnar Watenpaugh, Associate Professor of Art History, University of
California, Davis, elaborated on the politics of cultural heritage
at Ani. Providing background on the historical city, she said Ani
flourished in the 10th and 11th centuries when it became the capital
of the Armenian kingdom, but it was deserted by the 18th century. She
noted Ani is one of Turkey's more "strenuous" tourist sites and the
ancient city's history is sparingly mentioned, instead it is downplayed
in the signage. She raised a concern among preservation activists of
the intentional removal of crosses by the Turkish Ministry of Culture
to erase signs of Christian Armenia presence in Anatolia. A new phase
began in 2006, where academics devised a new plan of Ani and dialogue
began to emerge between Armenian and Turkey.
"Ani is a cultural bridge between Armenians and Turkey," said
Watenpaugh. "Ani diplomacy reinforces the notion that cultural heritage
and politics are intertwined."
Rachel Goshgarian, Assistant Professor of History at Lafayette
College, spoke about Armenian structures and the people who lived
or are living with them in and around Ani. She noted that the Kars
Church remains in the center of the city but it was converted into a
mosque very early on while other area monuments have been neglected,
destroyed or repurposed. The World Monument Fund, a New York-based
non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting
endangered ancient and historic sites around the world, is working
with the Turkish Ministry of Culture to encourage more attention be
paid to these Armenian monuments.
"Another important voice that needs to be engaged in the conversation
are the local people who interact with these monuments every day,"
said Goshgarian, who questioned what these structures mean to people
on the ground, who interact with these monuments on a daily basis.
"Individuals who live with these buildings may not understand
the visual language of the structures but they have repurposed,
restructured the sites and they have their own memories of the places
as well," said Goshgarian.
Yavuz Ozkaya, restoration architect and founder of PROMET, who has
worked on the preservation of historical sites around Turkey, said
that Ani is a unique site with great challenges. He gave a summary
of projects in Ani, in particular the Church of St. Gregory of
Tigrant Honents, the Church of the Holy Redeemer, and the Mosque of
Minuchir, and the major challenges that were faced, such as making
the roofs functional. He showed historical surveys and drawings of
the reconstruction efforts, along with the World Monuments Fund and
the Turkish Ministry of Culture.
The final session, "Monuments, Memory, Restitution, and Social Justice:
What issues do monuments raise in these historical contexts?
How can social justice and restitution be achieved decades after the
event of genocide or mass-killing?" was moderated by Hamid Dabashi,
Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature
at Columbia University.
Leo Spitzer, K.T. Vernon Professor of History Emeritus and Research
Professor at Dartmouth College, discussed connective memories, dreams,
and journeys of return. He spoke about the power and persistence of
attachments to an idea of a city and the "reconstitution to a place
that draws on nostalgic and traumatic memories."
"Persecution, displacement, war, refugee emigrants and post-generation
carry open wounds that entail needs for repair, desires for
re-establishment with past or physically undertaken journeys of
return," said Spitzer.
He noted that memories are not re-connective but collective,
and the abundance of informative materials, such as a collective
digital archive containing family photo histories, documents and
postcards, have been central factors in creating richer and more
detailed landscapes of memory, fostering "a sense of community and
Osman Kavala, Founder of Anadolu Kultur, a non-profit company based
in Istanbul, whose mission is to build bridges among different
ethnic, religious and regional groups, spoke about unearthing
Anatolia's Armenian heritage. He discussed the minority status
given to non-Muslims following the Lausanne treaty post World War I,
resulting in a "stigma" among the citizens. He added that the "spirit
of conquest is an inseparable component of Ottoman history." He noted
recent positive developments including Turkey's efforts to restore
Armenian heritage sites and talks between the two countries.
Elazar Barkan, Professor of International and Public Affairs at
Columbia University, spoke about cultural heritage and historical
dialogue as a form of restitution. He also discussed the widespread
devastation as a result of local war, which creates another form of
destruction inflicted through archaeology - excavating one culture
"Changing culture and heritage in post-conflict reconstruction is
physical construction of a new identity," said Barkan. "There is very
little restoration after conflict."
He said it is a positive step that churches are renovated with the
aim of "exhibiting tourism and tolerance." He said progress has been
made in Ani and people are taking on greater involvement with conflict
resolution and "engaging in the legacy of cultural heritage."
"Advocacy and scholarship aims to narrow the scope of perspective of
past violence and the knowledge of history to resolve the conflict,"
The program concluded with a question and answer session, which
included the participation of all of the conference speakers.
"This conference took the discourse about the Armenian past in Turkey
to some new places and the voice of Turkish presenters was very
important," said Balakian. "The mix of scholarly voices was unusual
and unique, from medieval Ottomantists to contemporary restoration
specialists, resulting in an intensely engaged and focused audience."
Added Watenpaugh, "The legacy of the destruction of cultural heritage
as a critical aspect of war, ethnic cleansing and genocide underscored
the conference and the destruction of Armenian life in Anatolia
is being responded to through important work of reconstruction of
religious and historical sites in Eastern Anatolia."
"The Armenian Center is proud to have hosted this world-class gathering
of scholars," said Dr. Nicole Vartanian, vice chair of The Armenian
Center at Columbia University. "The conference explored issues that
incorporated myriad disciplines and perspectives, and produced the kind
of engaging dialogue that we aimed to facilitate among our panelists
and participants. We are grateful to our fellow board members,
Professors Balakian and Goshgarian, for bringing this caliber of
programming to Columbia University vis-a-vis the Armenian Center."
Heghnar Watenpaugh speaking about the politics and cultural heritage
Rachel Goshgarian discussing the Armenian structures and people of Ani
Peter Balakian elaborating on Grigoris Balakian's The Ruins of Ani
Christina Maranci speaking about memory and medieval architecture