In the early 1900s, as the Ottoman Empire collapsed, a fiercely nationalistic “Young Turks” movement took power. With the Empire’s fall, the multi-cultural attitude that had made it one of the most diverse world powers became eclipsed by the fledgling government’s dream of a “pan-Turkic” country. As with all ideologies, their taking hold and taking root meant the termination of what didn’t fit its new identity – its Christian Armenian citizens.
Recognized as “genocide” today by more than a dozen countries, Turkey still vigorously rejects that claim. Memory of Trees follows the remains and traces of an ambiguous, dark history – the definition of which is still being fought over nearly a century later.
Since January 2007, I have traveled across Turkey and Armenia, to Syria, Lebanon and finally Israel, sifting through the remains of this legacy and tracking down the survivors. A place that is central to this project, and one that I find myself returning to, is Agacli. I first visited the village in May 2008 and again in May 2010. In Turkish, Agacli means “with trees” or “place of trees”. Recently, the Kurdish inhabitants of this former Armenian village revived a scarf-weaving tradition that cultivates silkworms in the same trees used nearly 100 years ago. The trees are all that remain of the Armenians’ time here. Their continued existence and renewed importance symbolize the enduring legacy of the Armenians, and the re-grafting of their cultural influence to the region that was once their home. The title for this body of work was born of this evocative fact.
For me, the idea of this secret past is terribly alluring. I wanted to refute the “official” historical version that completely wiped out a nation’s memory of its people. My curiosity lay in what memory – or a denied memory – looks like. Maybe the landscape would reveal clues if I were to ask for them. Maybe the traces were simply waiting to be acknowledged. In this spirit, Memory of Trees invites viewers to look at what is in front of them in a different way, since we often don’t know what is under the surface until someone shows us. And then, all at once, our “reality” is both concrete and illusive.
(Kathryn Cook | Memory of Trees, PRIVATE 53 – Hope, pages 54-59)