By Anna Ghazaryan
“The Armenian Diaspora Project” book by photographer Scout Tufankjian, who is famous for her work during Obama’s presidential campaign, will be released in April. The book will include photos taken in the Armenian community all over the world. In an interview with Armenian News-NEWS.am Scout shared her impressions from the work on her book.
While presenting “The Armenian Diaspora Project” book you toured many countries. Which communities have you visited so far?
I ended up visiting 22 different countries on six continents, and interviewing Armenians in several other countries as well, so the reach of this project is really massive. I knew that we Armenians had settled everywhere, but I think I had no idea of what that actually meant until I began this project! I went to Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Jerusalem, Ethiopia, Turkey, Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh/Artsakh, Georgia, Russia, Hong Kong, Australia, Singapore, France, Italy, Cyprus, The United States, Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil.
“The Armenian Diaspora Project” shows the life of Armenians who survived the Armenian Genocide and settled in a new country. What common and what different things did you notice in these people who are in fact living in different societies and different cultures? What surprised you most when taking photos in different Armenian communities?
Many communities had their differences - from Anjar, Lebanon—which has done an amazing job of preserving our cultural heritage—to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia—where similarities in religion and culture have allowed for some really exciting examples of a blended Armenian/Amharic culture. And most communities have been influenced by the circumstances of their host nation. How can they not be? Armenian-Americans have been affected (for better or for worse) by the great melting-pot, just as the Lebanese Civil War has left it's mark on Beiruti Armenians.
But more than the differences, everywhere I went there was a clear thread that tied us all together, and I'm not quite sure how to define it. Is it our shared history? The holidays we celebrate? The church? The dances? The food? The traditions? Or is it something less specific? A woman in Argentina described as membership in a secret club, invisible to non-members but instantly recognizable to other Armenians. The great Armenian-American writer William Saroyan described it as “the Armenian gestures, meaning so much. The slapping of the knee and roaring with laughter. The cursing. The subtle mockery of the world and its big ideas. The word in Armenian, the glance, the gesture, the smile.”
One of the people I interviewed for the book, Kevin Dubois, of Nice, France, said, “You know, when I meet an Armenian, it's like we have been friends forever. And that, I do not feel it with anyone else. The connection is there right away due to our ancestors and history.”
And that has really been my experience throughout this project. Everywhere I went it felt less like I was meeting strangers, and more like I was being reunited with family. And that has been the most surprising thing about this project. Normally, the stories I work on are not my stories. They are about other people - whether that person is a student in revolutionary Egypt or the President of the United States. So when I started out this project, I think I thought of it as being more like those projects. I was only one Armenian, so the stories I would be documenting through this project would still be other peoples stories. But what I found was the opposite. All of us are connected, some in small ways, some in bigger ways by our history, our experiences, our culture and our ancestors. And most of all, by what Danielle Tcholakian of New York City referred to as our “century of survival.”
When will your present the book? Do you plan to organize a presentation in Armenia?
The book will be released in April! I have an advanced copy right now, and I'm totally thrilled with how gorgeous it looks. I will definitely be presenting the book in Armenia, but I don't have any specific events or dates lined up yet. So if anyone in Armenia wants to host a book party - please let me know!