Images That Are So Wrong On All Accounts, And Should Have Been Discarded, Insist On Persisting
Armenian News Network / Groong
July 19, 2022
by Abraham D. Krikorian and Eugene L. Taylor
LONG ISLAND, NY
Our work over the years since retiring has sought to accurately clothe the massive amount of writing widely associated with the Genocide against the Armenians by the Turks, with photographs and imagery that can be attested and attributed. 
Our contributions, both posted online and print-published, emphasize that it is much more difficult to achieve the stated and wanted ends of absolute accuracy than one might initially suppose or hope for. Recognizing that desire for absolute accuracy may be a bit unreasonable given the many years that have elapsed since the events and the topic and nature of imagery, we have modified the goals so as “to achieve as much accuracy as possible.”
Taking these inconvenient realities into consideration, we have devoted considerable effort in describing and analyzing what one may term “alternative” means of getting the point across. This means summarizing and analyzing use of period cartoons and contemporary graphic representations of the Armenian genocide and genocide-related events.
In addition to the anticipated challenges that regularly need to be met, one sometimes encounters incredible blunders in the literature – ranging from innocent errors to outrageously brazen attempts at deception. Ignorance abounds and enables all these shortcomings to hold sway.
Even after they have been found out, carefully corrected, and made available to the public at large, it has proven in our experience very difficult to have these blunders removed from use or circulation, or to make ameliorating corrections by careful emendations in captioning.
One especially egregious example involves a contrived photograph assembled from several individual photos that have nothing to do directly with the claimed subject matter. See https://groong.org/orig/ak-20100222.html entitled “The Saga Surrounding a forged photograph from the era of the Armenian Genocide demonizing and vilifying a “Cruel Turkish official.”: A part of the rest of the story” by Abraham D. Krikorian and Eugene L. Taylor February 22, 2010. With a bit of luck and a great deal of perseverance, we resolved the exact nature of the invented photo and analyzed the unpleasant reactions which such fakery generates. Whether correcting serious blunders of this sort encourages dropping such bad examples from use remains to be seen. In our experience, ignoring corrections seems to be the norm these days.
Below we deal with another example of wrongly used imagery that is literally nothing less than stupid in light of the fact that well-known American religious leaders were involved in producing the work in the first place.
We have committed ourselves to explaining this unpardonable stupidity because we want to underscore our conviction that some degree of awareness and judgement must surely exist if one is to engage in finding and using appropriate ‘genocide-related’ imagery. One should not simply ‘decorate’ a text with ‘randomly selected’ imagery.
In the final analysis, one cannot help but ask if something about an image looks ‘funny’ or does not fit an expected pattern, should not one have enough wits to look a bit more into the matter? Apparently not necessarily. Especially if the main objective of the blunderer is to merely dig up things to fit a distorted perception of reality.
One blunder that began many years ago and persists to this very day, involves ridiculously captioning an etching “Horribly tortured for their Christian faith.” It is on page 402 of a volume written by Protestant Missionary Frederick Davis Greene, M.A., and published by American Oxford Publishing Co. in 1896. The hefty work is entitled “Armenian Massacres or the Sword of Mohammed containing a complete and thrilling account of the terrible atrocities and wholesale murders committed in Armenia by Mohammedan Fanatics, to which is added the Mohammedan Reign of Terror in Armenia.” Chapter XXVIII of this work is authored by Judson Smith D.D., a corresponding secretary of The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and runs from pgs. 396-404. The way the book was assembled does not make it possible to implicate any given author with ‘credit’ or ‘discredit’ in imagery used.
See Fig. 1.
Even a glance at the etching should raise the question whether such perversely elaborate procedures would have been put in place to torment Armenians in Hamidian Turkey. Apparently, those adherents to the Christian faith involved in assessing the etching for use must not have heard of the Hindu Religious Thaipusam festival celebrated by the Tamil community in India and in its diaspora. (See “Thaipusam festival - Kuala Lumpur'' – 2001. Tamil-speaking Hindu festival in which gratitude and faith are most prominent. https://youtu.be/wRPYip_xsPc). Neither would they apparently have heard about Hussein Ibn Ali, the Grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, and the special commemoration of the month of Ashura, especially among Shia Muslims. Recital of the Ziyayat Ashura and self-flagellation rituals as engaged in by believers throughout the world, especially by men, have become fairly well-known. We do not pretend to understand the details followed throughout the world, but self-“cutting” and “gashing” has been outlawed in some countries like Iran and Lebanon. The truth is that all these actions considered by us in ‘the West’ to be outlandishly violent, are accepted sincerely by observants to signify struggle against injustice.
Enter Vasily Vereschagen
The respected Russian artist Vasily Vereschagin (1842-1904) is perhaps best known by Armenians and those interested in imagery pertaining to the Armenian Genocide, for his large (127 x 197 cm) canvas sarcastically named “Apotheosis of War.” (See Barooshian, Vahan D., 1993, “V.V. Vereschagin: artist at War”, University Press of Florida). This painting dated 1871 shows piles of skulls that were naively misidentified by a scholar in 1980 who should have known better, as those of Armenian genocide victims. Despite immediately correcting the error once found out, the mistake caused a loss in prestige and credibility way out of proportion to the mistake.
As it turns out, this seriously miscaptioned etching “Horribly Mutilated for their Christian Faith” that we shall now deal with, derives from a different work of Vereschagin’s. Whether this miscaptioned etching was known as coming from a work by Vereschagin or not, will never be known.
Vereschagin spent some of his early career in the Caucasus. See Fig. 2.
Vereshagin in 1863. From Andrei Konstantnovich Lebedev (1958)
“Vasilii Vasilevich Vereschagin” Moskva,” Iskussiv pg. 40.
There he witnessed the activities associated with Muharram [or Moharrem and variant spellings] at Susha, the capital of the old Khanate of Karabakh. The place today is well-known to Armenians, and is spelled Sushi with an ‘i.’ The city name in the French language at the time, was spelled Schoucha. As we write, it is located in Artsakh, the heatedly disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabagh, wherein Azerbaijanis and Armenians compete for control.
Figs. 3a. and 3b. show the location of Schoucha. Although the labeling is in French, it should present no problem in enabling anyone to figure out where it is located. Fig. 3a. is a map from page 242 of the translation from Russian to French of Vereschagine (1869) that shows the land strip between the Black and Caspian Seas. Fig. 3b. is an enlargement of a region from the same map. The city of Schoucha has been underlined in red in both maps.
Vereschagin described the ongoings at Schoucha in considerable detail and enriched it with elegant sketches and artwork. (See Schimmelpennick van der Oye, David (2009) Cahiers d’Asie Central, 2009, Vasilij Vereschagin’s canvases of Central Asian Conquest, pgs. 179-209.) Spectacular etchings of Vereschagin’s drawings made on site may be found in the French journal Le Tour du Monde, Journal des Voyages, ed. by Édouard Charton 1869, tome XIX, pgs. 238-336. [The particulars of the translation of Vereschagine’s (sic with the final ‘e’) paper from the original Russian into French is “Voyage dans les Provinces du Caucase. (traduit du Russe par Mme. et M. Le Barbier (Ernest) 1864-1865. Texte et dessins inédits. Seconde partie. La Transcaucasie. “De Tiflis A Schoucha.” The caption to the etching (p. 265) considerably later presented as “Tortured for their Faith” is simply captioned in French in 1869 – “Martyrs- Drawing by B. Versechagine.”
Etching captioned in French “Funeral procession at Schoucha.
Drawing by Emile Bayard after a sketch by Vereschagin.” (First drawn in 1865.)
Detail from Fig. 4a.
By 1876, a very similar in theme but different etching of a “Martyr” standing alone, and still another etching described as a “Religious Devotee” who had engaged in self-torture, appeared in a book on Bible Lands published in America (see Fig. 5). The description accompanying these two etchings were quite accurate and no reference was made to either as involving torture for their faith – Christian or otherwise.
(From pg. 765 of Van Lennep, 1876).
(From pg. 769 of Van Lennep, 1876).
One reads in the same book by Rev. Van Lennep:-“The practices of the howling dervishes [a special sect of Muslim ascetics] also illustrate the “cuttings” of the ancient heathen priests, such for instance, as are described in the graphic account of the scene on Mount Carmel, when the prophet Elijah contended with the prophets of Baal: “They cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and daggers, til the blood gushed out upon them.” Indeed, the language of Jer., xli, 5, seems to imply that the Hebrews sometimes imitated their heathen neighbors in this matter, in connection with the worship of Jehovah, though positively forbidden by their law.”
Rev. Van Lennep further explains “Our modern dervishes indulge in these practices only on special occasions, as, for instance, when a procession is organized and proceeds to the suburbs of a town to pray for rain, or for deliverance from some public calamity: they then exhibit some of their fanatical performances calling upon God, and cutting themselves with knives and swords, so that the blood runs, or piercing their almost naked bodies with wooden or iron spikes, from which they hang small mirrors. They sometimes become so exhausted with pain and loss of blood as to faint away, so they have to be borne off”.
Rev. Van Lennep continues “We give two drawings taken from life [no source given], among the devotees who figured in a Muslim procession at Shoosha, in Armenia. They were not dervishes, but common people carried away by a similar impulse, who hoped to render themselves acceptable to God by voluntarily undergoing these voluntary tortures. One of them cuts his forehead with a sword, so that the blood gushes out; he wears a sheet in front to protect his clothes, and his face is covered with clots of blood.” (Van Lennep, 1876 pgs. 767-768.)
These etchings, Fig. 6. and 7. above, reproduced from pgs. 765 and 769 of Rev. Henry Van Lennep’s Bible Lands: their modern customs and manners illustrative of scripture, with maps and woodcuts. Harper & Brothers, New York, 1876, were from the same original yet unspecified source. Fig. 6 is simply captioned “Self-torture of Religious Devotee,” and Fig. 7. is “Muslim Devotee Cutting Himself Like the Prophets of Baal.” (For explanation of Baal see The Holy Bible 1 Kings 18, on Elijah and the Prophets.).
We have included below (Figs. 8., 9., 10. and 11.) high quality scans of figures from the original print publication in French which we own, that was released in 1869. We hope that the presentation of more than a few of the relevant images illustrating the events will help emphasize the sheer scope and detail of the events. One will agree that the use of the one that ended up bearing the erroneous caption “Tortured…” seems to have been selected with a motive.
From pg. 259 of Vereschagin, 1869.
From pg. 263 of Vereschagin, 1869.
From pg. 265 of Vereschagin, 1869.
From pg. 276 of Vereschagine, 1869.
“Portrayal of those with gashes and slashes [les balafrés] at the final dramatic representation.”
Drawing by Ḗmile Bayard after a sketch by Vereschagine.
In an attempt to bring this entire theme of using ill-chosen images even after they have had more than enough time to come to a much-needed closure and finish, we will now jump ahead and briefly note a more recent use of the Vereschagine image of two ‘Martyrs’ as shown in Fig. 10. They appear on the cover of a rather costly volume compiled and published in 2015 by Vitaly Ianko entitled “Armenica. An annotated bibliography, or a list of books on Armenia and Armenians published in Western languages up to 2015 and omitted in main bibliographies.” - published by Stillwater Publications, Pawtucket, R.I., a self-publishing firm. So far as we have been able to discern, it is available only through eBay, and that situation in itself may be viewed as a ’blessing’ because we predict the volume will inevitably get a limited circulation due to its cost if nothing else. We are quick to emphasize however, that not having seen with our own eyes this volume that bears the archaic term Armenica as its title, we cannot meaningfully comment on any captioning or description that might accompany the imagery on the cover.
One can only hope that the early error first made many years ago in 1896 invoking and presenting the etching of martyrs as portraying the suffering of Armenians is not repeated. It is a sad but perhaps understandable fact that too many people see things through the eyes of a people who are well aware of the suffering their ancestors underwent at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. These sufferings are dramatic and extensive enough so as to never require conjuring up of ever-more-dramatic visual ‘proof.’
Perhaps we may attribute more than a bit to the Gladstonian mentality of the unmitigated barbarousness of the Turk. On that view, surely the Turks were/are blood-thirsty brutes. See https://groong.org/orig/ak-20210617.html “Beheading as portrayed in cartoons from the Ottoman Turkish period” by Abraham D. Krikorian and Eugene L. Taylor June 17, 2021.
Whatever the motivation may have been or still is in the eyes of some, using false attestation and attribution is hardly the way to teach and learn.
Whether that perception of the importance of accuracy is true or not, we have adopted and rigorously adhered to the view that inaccurately attested and attributed photographs detract significantly from telling the story of the Armenian Genocide in such a way that it is properly portrayed and understood and believed.
See Groong https://groong.org/orig/ak-20170407.html “United States Consul Leslie A. Davis’s Photographs of Armenians Slaughtered at Lake Goeljuk, Summer of 1915” for a posting originally published in the Festschrift and is presented on Groong through the courtesy of Muriel Mirak-Weisbach in the hope that it would provide wider distribution and broader coverage.
 It seems to be very real that there is a lasting persistence of the “terrible Turk'' in the minds of many of those who have been diagnosed by some health professionals as victims of transgenerational trauma” (See https://youtu.be/pfgfKDqgYJQ All Saviour’s Armenian Cathedral Isfahan, Iran (May 2016). This detailed video of All Saviour's Armenian Cathedral Complex in Isfahan, Iran shows some dramatic artwork portraying the suffering of Krikor Lousavoritch, Gregory the Illuminator, the Patron Saint of Armenia. These torments were rather recently wrongly described in a prominent place as representing various heinous activities of Turks on Armenian victims. Quite wrong of course, the time frame is more than a bit off, a difference of some 1600 years or so. For reproduction of the brilliantly colored imagery on the Cathedral walls see https://groong.org/orig/ak-20170101.html “All Saviour’s Armenian Cathedral, Isfahan, Iran.” A recent addition to our Conscience Films video site on YouTube, expands on some of the imagery in the 2017 calendar of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern). Some relevant early 20th century photographs of the dreaded falaka or bastinado (foot torture) are presented as well and attested precisely by Eugene L. Taylor and Abraham D. Krikorian (January 1, 2017).
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