About the Exhibition
”I am Armenian”
Photo exhibition by Sille Arendt, photographer, and Kate Royster, writer
Photos from Armenia today – people, sacred places and landscapes; photos from ancient times’ Armenian family albums; and a brief history of two Danish witnesses to the Genocide, Karen Jeppe and Maria Jacobsen.
Sille Arendt and Kate Royster have photographed six Armenians in Denmark and have been allowed to peep into their family albums. And questions have been answered: What does it mean to be Armenian today? What does the Armenian Genocide Centennial mean to an Armenian? What dreams and hopes for the future does an Armenian have?
MARIANNA SHIRINYAN is a pianist. She was educated in Armenia and Germany.
In 2003 she was employed as a pianist at the Esbjerg Ensemble and came to Denmark. And in 2010 she – as the first artist ever – received the Danish Radio’s P2 Artist Prize.
Her mother’s family comes from Armenia. Her father’s family comes from Georgia, but originates from Erzurum. Her parents live in Armenia and her brother in France.
Marianna at her home in the center of Copenhagen (three photos).
Marianna as a child.
Marianna’s father with his cousins and his grandmother. Marianna’s grandmother was a well-known “Dashnakzakan” in Akhalzikhe/Georgia. Dashnag was an Armenian party, prohibited during the Soviet period.
Marianna (to the right) with her cousins.
ANNA KARAPETIAN is an electronics engineer and worked as such in Armenia.
In Denmark Anna has trained for a new career at Niels Brock. And she has just begun a new education within public administration
Anna came to Denmark in 1994 with her husband. In 1998 her father died, and her mother joined Anna and her family in Denmark.
In 2005 Anna founded a Danish-Armenian association, DanArmen, and is its deputy chairman. She organizes the events of the association and assists with translation and contacts.
Anna’s family originates from Khoj in Northern Iran close to Urmia. When Ottoman troops in 1918 attacked the city, killing the majority of Armenians, her great-grandfather escaped to the village Aravnazor in the Eregnadzor region.
The close relatives of Anna live in Denmark, Russia, the US, Germany and France.
Anna at her home in Emdrup with her mother and her husband.
Anna and her husband at Geghard Monastery in 1983.
Anna with her family in Armenia.
Anna and her husband with their wedding witnesses.
Anna with her mascot.
SERGUEI AZIZIAN is a violin professor at The Royal Danish Academy of Music.
He came to Denmark in 1993.
At the time of the Genocide his father’s family lived in Eastern Armenia. His mother’s family lived in Western Armenia. They survived the Genocide and escaped to Russia.
Serguei’s close relatives now live in Armenia and Russia.
Serguei at his home in Brønshøj with his wife and daughter.
Seguei and his parents.
Serguei drinking a cup of coffee.
Serguei plays the violin – as a student.
… and as a professor.
Serguei as a soldier.
ELIZABETH MELIKIAN grew up at the orphanage the Bird’s Nest in Lebanon.
She was trained as a teacher in Cyprus on a scholarship from the Bird’s Nest. In 1979 she came to Denmark.
Elizabeth knows from her grandmother, that her family originates from “Ad-Jaman Swas” in Western Armenia, and that her grandmother – as the only survivor in the family – escaped to Lebanon.
Her grandmother did not tell the little Elizabeth much about the Genocide, she wanted to protect the girl and was afraid, it would influence the girl too much.
Elizabeth’s remaining close relatives live in Lebanon, and she has cousins in Canada, the US and France.
Elizabeth at her home in Valby with her husband.
Elizabeth and her husband at their civil marriage at Copenhagen City Hall in 1979.
Elizabeth with her husband, her mother in law and friends from the Bird’s Nest.
Elizabeth carries the Danish flag at a sports event in Lebanon.
Elizabeth (to the right) with Maria Jacobsen (mid) and her mother (to the left).
Elizabeth and her husband.
MARIAM GRIGORIAN is a cancer researcher.
She is MD/PhD and employed as an associate professor at the Faculty of Health and Medical Science at the University of Copenhagen.
Mariam came to Denmark with her family in 1992.
Her relatives live in Armenia.
Mariam with her husband at her home at Østerbro in Copenhagen.
Mariam as a child with her parents and grandparents.
Mariam’s great-grandmother (to the right) with relatives.
Mariam with her son.
Mariam at her home.
NOONA AMBARTSUMIAN is a cancer researcher.
She was educated in Moscow and is now employed as an associate professor at Institut for Neurovidenskab og Farmakologi at the University of Copenhagen.
Noona came to Denmark from Armenia with her family in 1992. Her other close relatives live in England, Germany, Russia and Armenia.
Noona’s grandmother was born in Ardahan, north of Kars near the Russian border, and she escaped to Russia with her family in 1915. At that time, Noona’s grandmother was 13 years old.
Noona at her home at Østerbro in Copenhagen.
Noona as a PhD-student in Moscow.
Noona’s grandmother with her sisters in Gyumri (Alexandrapol), about 1915-1916.
Noona’s children and nephews at Freedom Square in Yerevan, about 1988-1989.
Noona at her home.
Noona’s mother and niece in Yerevan.
… pain and loss
… a time to remember all those who disappeared
… the thought that 1.5 million Armenian souls have found no peace
… the thought that 1.5 million Armenians have not yet been buried
… a time to think of the future of Armenia
… Hope! Better times, tolerance, understanding and openness
I am Grateful …
… for being alive
… for having had a good upbringing
… for having had love from my parents
… to the Bird’s Nest for receiving me, taking care of me as a child, and
taking care that I got an education when I grew up
… that I can bridge between Armenia and Europe
… that so many good and merciful people exist in this world
… to many people in the whole world – Europeans, Turks, Arabs and
others – who during the last 100 years have helped the victims of the
Genocide. Helped them hide. Helped them find a way out of Hell.
Helped them create a new existence.
… to people and countries that have recognized the Armenian Genocide
… that my nation survived and preserved its faith, its language and its
… that my roots are in Armenia
… that I come from a nation with its own language, history, faith, culture
… that I feel closely related to different areas of culture. As a Christian I
share culture and philosophy with Europeans. And because of the
geographical placement of Armenia I share traditions and culture with
people in the Middle East
I Have a Dream …
… that all Armenians some day are asked to return to our country and use
our strength to continue building it
… that no people in the whole world should ever again experience pain
and suffering, poverty and hunger
… about Armenia with democracy and welfare, economical progress and
good health and educational systems
… a free and prosperous Armenia
Karen Jeppe was a teacher. In 1903 she went to Urfa in Anatolia sent by The Danish Friends of Armenians (DA) to teach at the large orphanage of the German Orient Mission.
The orphanage was founded by the German pastor, Dr. Johannes Lepsius, and it gave humanitarian assistance to orphaned Armenian children and Armenian widows.
Karen Jeppe modernized teaching methods at the orphanage’s school and she soon became principal.
In 1914 World War I broke out. Under the pretext of Armenians supporting the enemy and being a danger for the Ottoman Empire, the leaders of the Young Turks, Minister of the Interior Talaat Pasha and Minister of War Enver Pasha, ordered a systematic deportation of Armenians.
One of the routes of deportation led through Urfa. In the summer of 1915 the death marches with thousands of starving, abused and sick deportees began passing through Urfa. Karen Jeppe, her to adult foster children Misak and Lucia, the European citizens and some brave Turks and Kurds helped the deportees with water and food.
In autumn 1915 the authorities attempted to deport the Armenian population of Urfa. The Armenians defended themselves, but finally had to give in to the overwhelmingly superior military forces. In the same way as everywhere else, most men were killed immediately and women, children, sick and old people were sent off towards Der Zor in the Syrian desert.
Risking her own life, Karen hid a small group of Armenians all through the years of deportations, and she did not leave Urfa until she in December 1917 had helped everyone getting away.
The years during the Genocide had weakened Karen seriously physically, and she had had at least one serious nervous breakdown.
After spending some years in Denmark, Karen again left the country for The Danish Friends of Armenians. This time she went to Aleppo in Syria.
In Aleppo she organized the assistance – food, clothes, housing, teaching, medical care – in the large refugee camp for Armenians.
Appointed commissioner for the League of Nations she helped rescuing Armenian women and children who lived against their will in Muslim houses in the Syrian area.
And with economic support from the Fellowship of Reconciliation she founded several agricultural villages where Armenian Christians and Arab Muslims could live and work together in peace.
In 1927 Karen Jeppe received the Royal Medal of Merit in gold.
Karen Jeppe is buried in Aleppo, Syria.
”… compassion is, what first leads us all to the Armenians.
May it happen to many people, as it happened to me – compassion turns into love.”
Karen Jeppe in the periodical Friends of the Armenians, 1921
“… maybe this is the calling, then I must follow it and I will get the strength, but just for once I must allow myself to say from the bottom of my heart, I am afraid and would prefer not having to follow the calling. Sufficiently many people do something half and are content that way; but I cannot do so. And in this case, the fates of far too many people are put in my hands.”
Karen Jeppe to Henny Forchhammer concerning the position as commissioner for the League of Nations, Aleppo 1921
“Yes, it is only a little light,
but the night is so dark.”
Karen Jeppe Speech at the League of Nations, Geneva 1923
Maria Jacobsen was a nurse. In 1907 she was sent as a missionary to Harpoot in Anatolia by the Danish organization Women’s Missionary Workers (KMA). Maria immediately took up her work at the American mission hospital in Harpoot and later on when all Armenians had been deported from Harpoot in 1915 at the hospital at the nearby Mezreh.
Maria Jacobsen kept a diary from 1907 to 1919. The diary is a historical document with its haunting descriptions of conditions before, during and after the Genocide in 1915.
During the summer of 1915 the Armenian population of Harpoot was either murdered or sent off on death marches “into the nowhere”. In spite of the extremely difficult circumstances, Maria Jacobsen succeeded in saving the lives of 2,000 Armenian children.
In 1919 – after the Genocide and the end of World War I – she returned to Denmark telling about the conditions for Armenians in the Turkish area. During the years 1920-1921 she was speaking the Armenians cause in the US.
Her efforts led to help from the American organization Near East Relief. About 10,000 orphaned children were brought out from those provinces in Anatolia that had formerly had a large Armenian population.
In 1922 Maria Jacobsen went to Lebanon for KMA. There she founded a home for orphaned Armenian children, the Bird’s Nest. The Bird’s Nest still exists – now under Armenian auspices.
In 1950 Maria Jacobsen received The Royal Medal of Recompense in gold.
Maria Jacobsen is buried in Byblos, Lebanon.
”Today we got news, that all men and boys above 9 years of age have been slaughtered. Saturday evening they were gathered at the mosque and Sunday morning they were taken to the mountains by kurds and gendarmes. These returned and washed the bloody clothes of the victims at the large well.”
Maria Jacobsen diary, Harpoot July 1915
“The sick ones who cannot walk, are taken to a graveyard where they are left to die.”
Maria Jacobsen diary, Harpoot July 1915
“All the Armenian children who were gathered in Turkish orphanages have been driven away in ox-carts and thrown into the river.”
Maria Jacobsen diary, Harpoot October 1915
About the exhibitors
When in Syria in 2010, I found out that the “Danish woman Karen Jeppe – Mother of the Armenians” was buried in Aleppo. Why in Aleppo? And why Mother of the Armenians?
My research on Karen Jeppe led not only on to a remarkable woman but also directly into The Armenian Genocide.
In 2013 my book Karen Jeppe and the Armenian People. A Life – a Calling was published. It is a biographical story about the unknown Danish heroine, whose life and work contributed to the survival of the Armenian people.
In 2014 I visited Armenia – invited by the Armenian ministry of Culture supported by the Danish Arts Foundation – on a ten days’ journey with The Literary Ark.
It turned out to be a meeting with incredible treasures of culture and a rich literature. A meeting between international and Armenian writers. And – above all – an intensive meeting with people. Armenians with an open warmth and helpfulness, and with pride and dignity – in spite of their tragic history, or maybe because of that history?
In the summer of 2014 I asked the Cathedral of Copenhagen: Wouldn’t it be obvious to present a photo exhibition about Armenians in connection with the ecumenical service planned by the Cathedral to commemorate the centennial of the Armenian Genocide in April 2015?
YES, was the answer, a fabulous idea!
During the fall of 2014 I visited Armenia with my family and the church youth choir of Haslev for five intensive days. I met everything from city-life to countryside-idyll, powerful interiors of monasteries, incredible landscapes. And all over, people were showing an immense hospitality and curiosity about life.
It has been a gift to follow a people with a history so strong and visible, to follow their cultural history and religion, and to experience their pride of being Armenians and how they carry the Genocide in their hearts.
Publishing and photography:
Dog/people – photo exhibition, 2012
Kvinde kend din krop – book, 2014
Fitzmanurice Voicework – book, 2016
One big happy Smile-the Dogs – dog portraits – photo exhibition, 2015/16
Kirken i København – website,Københavns Stift
Vestervang Kirke – website