Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Scout Tufankjian and the Armenian diaspora

Posted by Fredsvenn on August 1, 2014

[Photo Story] The Armenian diaspora project

The story of the Armenians has always been one of upheaval. For the past 3,000 years, waves of migrants left their ancestral homes in modern-day eastern Turkey and northern Syria following ancient trade and pilgrimage routes and fleeing countless revolutions, civil wars and massacres.

There is a walnut tree
Growing in the vineyard
At the very edge of the world.
My people, you are like
That huge ancient tree—
With branches blessed by the graces
But sprawling
Over the small corner of land
Roots and arms spread out
And spilling your fruit
To nourish foreign soils

– Sylva Gaboudikian

Despite these centuries of displacement, however, today’s Armenian diaspora is strong and vibrant — with 8 million Armenians living in over 85 countries around the globe. Scout Tufankjian recalls childhood afternoons at her grandmother’s house, paging through her grandmother’s magazines looking for stories of her fellow Armenians in far-flung cities like Addis Ababa, Buenos Aires, Calcutta and Damascus and wondering about the people she saw in photos from all over the globe.

“As a child, I spent hours poring through Armenian magazines, but I could only catch fleeting glimpses of their faces in school pictures. The only books I could ever find were about the massacres — as if the events of 1915 had successfully ended the Armenian story. I used to wonder, what did I have in common with these people?” Ms. Tufankjian said. “What did a kid in Boston have in common with them? What does it mean to be Armenian if you grow up in Calcutta or Buenos Aires?”

This project is not, however, about victimhood. It is a portrait of survival. In 2009, after the success of my first book “Yes We Can,” which was about the first Barack Obama campaign, I finally set out to find and document these Armenian communities that I had wondered about as a small child and to create a book that would tell the story of a people largely known outside of our community only for our role as the victims of the “Meds Yeghern” (Great Tragedy).

Since 2008, she has traveled to these outposts to document Armenian life for a book that she hopes will come out next year and for which she just began a Kickstarter campaign. I have photographed drag racers in Los Angeles and a village on the Syrian-Lebanese border that keeps all of the same Old Country traditions my grandmother would reminisce about. I have met seminarians in Jerusalem, mixed-race altar boys in Addis Ababa and card playing revolutionaries in Beirut.

I have waited in the wings with Armenian ballet dancers and swam with resettled Syrian-Armenian refugees. I have seen children thriving in the only Armenian village left in Turkey and I have met repatriates and Birthright Armenian volunteers in Yerevan. I’ve also done over 200 interviews to make sure that people’s stories about their past and hopes for their future are not lost.

As I struggle to complete this work before the centennial of 2015, I realize that I am documenting a particularly important and fragile moment in Armenian history. Moreover, for many people, the story I am telling is an unknown one as too many people only have access to the story of our tragedy. While many of the challenges our communities face do have their roots in the events of 1915, Meds Yeghern was not the end of the Armenian story.

While Armenians had long settled in other parts of the world, the violence of the Armenian genocide in Turkey — begun 99 years ago — set in motion a global exodus that has established communities in many corners of the world. Through her own travels and curiosity, Ms. Tufankjian has come to appreciate that diaspora’s diversity, which she saw as a much-needed addition to the traditional historical view of her people.

“The real driving force of this project has been my frustration that Armenians were largely only known as victims, and that most available literature about our community has us dying out or disappearing in 1915, which is absurd,” she said. “Armenians are a strong, vibrant diaspora with over eight million Armenians living in over 85 countries across the globe. I wanted to tell the story of that survival.”

Scout Tufankjian

Following the Global Armenian Diaspora

The Armenian Diaspora Project

The Armenian Diaspora Project (FB)

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