Michael H. Hodges, Detroit News fine arts writer published an interview with photographer Michelle Andonian who traveled to Turkey last year to retrace her grandmother’s steps after she was driven from her village during the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The visit to Turkey was a profoundly affecting experience for Andonian. Out of it came a photo exhibition at the College for Creative Studies Center Galleries and a book ‘This Picture I Gift’ recently published by Wayne State University Press.
The interview reads:
Where did the title for the book and exhibition come from?
=I came across a picture postcard of my grandmother and aunt while going through my grandmother’s things, and it said that on the back. It’s a literal translation of the Armenian.
She sent it to a relative in Detroit they were coming to live with. I felt it was saying, “Here we are. We’re coming. We’re leaving everything we know behind, but this picture I gift to you.”
What did you take on this project?
My nephew saw that picture in my loft one day, and he asked who it was. I said, “My goodness, that’s your great-grandmother. You don’t know who that is? You don’t know what she went through?” I realized all that would get lost in the next generation. Fear of losing that history was really the inspiration. And I learned so much about my people I didn’t know. I’m still learning.
When did you go?
July 2014. I was in Turkey and Armenia about a month, though I’d been in Armenia a number of times before.
Did your grandmother die in the Genocide?
No, she died in 1987 when I was 28. Her name was Sara. She raised us. We lived next door to her in southwest Detroit. Both my parents worked, so my grandmother took care of us. But she was also the grandmother to the entire neighborhood.
Why did your grandmother and family leave their village?
In 1915, my grandmother’s father, a shepherd,was killed. Murdered. The course of the atrocity went like this: Ottoman Turks would go into the villages, take away all the men, and for the most part, kill them. They deported the women, children and older people who couldn’t fend for themselves. They said, “It’s a war, you’re going to leave. Pack your stuff on a donkey.” But it was a death march, marching through the desert toward Syria.
How old was your grandmother?
Seven or eight. The family basically walked for three years with no food, no water. You know the migrants today, from Syria to Turkey to Greece to Hungary? It’s basically the same thing. My grandmother remembered stepping over dead bodies. She remembered the smell. Her baby brother died in her mother’s arms. But those who did survive did so because of the kindness of some Turkish and Kurdish families.