Photographer Michelle Andonian traveled to the historic land of the Armenians to chase the ghosts of her ancestors. Her grandmother was a survivor of the Armenian genocide in 1915, the first genocide of the 20th century. Retracing her grandmother’s path, Andonian discovered the churches and homes that Armenians were forced to leave over 100 years ago. She eventually arrived in the now landlocked country that remains, proudly, Armenia. However, this small nation is a shadow of the former glory of the Armenian Empire.
Over 4,000 years ago, Armenia was a large, autonomous kingdom. The country reached its peak during the reign of Tigranes the Great from 95-55 BC, when its borders stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Caspian Sea, comprising of most of present-day Turkey. This made Armenia the strongest state to the east of Rome. Armenia became the world’s first Christian state in 301 AD under Gregory the Illuminator, and, while its borders had receded, the empire still held the majority of Asia Minor, as the region is known today.
her journey to Armenia, Andonian has stated:
"I found myself in a land of past kings, queens, castles, crusades, and genocide. Here, history lay in ruins. Moving deeper into the mountains of Turkey and what is historically known as The Armenian Highlands, there were over 2,000 active churches until 1915. Evidence of them still exists in the bullet-scarred and bombed facades along with the thousands of crosses carved into the walls of the stone skeletons of worship. You cannot erase a culture or reinvent history."
Andonian has traveled to Armenia on several occasions, and her most recent trip in summer 2019 was supported in part by the Fort Wayne Museum of Art in service of this exhibition. The lands of Armenia are constantly changing, and Andonian returns to refresh her series whenever she gets the opportunity. The newest works from the series have been acquired by FWMoA and are now part of the museum’s permanent collection.