For the commemoration of the centenary of the Armenian genocide in 2014, the Museum of Photography in Charleroi presented an exhibition of photos mainly from the collections of the Oriental Library at the Saint Joseph’s University in Beirut. The University’s picture library is a place of outstanding historical wealth.
On Saturday 24 April 1915, in Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire, seven hundred Armenian distinguished citizens and intellectuals were arrested and murdered by order of the Young Turk government. That date marks the beginning of a vast programme of deportation and extermination of a people that had been integrated for centuries with other communities into the Ottoman Empire. The first twentieth century genocide would cost the lives of almost one million three hundred thousand Armenians and would leave thousands of refugees and orphans scattered throughout Europe and the Middle East.
Few pictures of the horrors of those massacres are known. Nevertheless, from 1881, photographs of ruins, deportees or orphans, in the refugee centres of Alep or Beirut, were collected by Jesuit missionaries present in that part of the world or taken directly by them. Some of those Jesuits turned out to be talented photographers, such as Antoine Poidebard (1878-1955) or Guillaume de Jerphanion (1877-1948). If some of these photographs have sometimes been previously reproduced, the exhibition The Armenians. Pictures of a destiny makes it possible for most of the photos to be released for the first time from the collections of the Oriental Library at Saint Joseph’s University in Beirut.
Almost a hundred photographs made up this exhibition. They were divided between original prints and photos printed from glass plate negatives in the laboratory of the Museum of Photography in Charleroi.
If the exhibition The Armenians. Pictures of a destiny resounds unfortunately like an appalling echo of news from the Middle East, its intention was not to bear witness to the actual tragedy of the massacre of the Armenians, but rather to its consequences. In addition, it made it possible to put a face to these people, to discover their living conditions prior to 1915 and their attempts to rebuild their lives in exile, in camps or schools.
This exhibition was the fruit of cooperation between the Picture Library of the Oriental Library at Saint Joseph’s University in Beirut, the Boghossian Foundation and the Museum of Photography in Charleroi, within the framework of patronage by the Boghossian Foundation. Patronage is devoted to the development of that picture library aimed at preserving the photographic collections of the Oriental Library, with the guidance of the Museum of Photography in Charleroi.