By Hagop Vartivarian
FAIR LAWN, N. J. – Boston-born Brooklynite Scout Tufankjian is a well-known name in international photojournalism, becoming particularly prominent after her book documenting Barack Obama’s 2007-8 presidential campaign. This followed four years of difficult and dangerous work in the Middle East. She was in Gaza (Palestine) during a period of Israeli aggression and then in Egypt during the revolution, whereby the government was changed and the Muslim Brotherhood came to power. She documented both situations through her photography, which helped influence international public opinion.
Tufankjian’s book Yes We Can: Barack Obama’s History-Making Presidential Campaign appeared in December 2008, and was ranked by the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times as a bestseller.
Her newest publication, There Is Only the Earth: Images from the Armenian Diaspora Project, is a gift to Armenian and non-Armenian readers at the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. On October 16, the Tekeyan Cultural Association of Greater New York (TCA) together with St. Leon Armenian Church organized a presentation on this book in the church hall of the latter. The Armenian Network of America-Greater NY and the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) were also cosponsors.
Ara Araz welcomed guests, and then NY TCA executive member Shemavon Atamian introduced Tufankjian, remarking that they have been friends for years.
Thanks to her continuing interests in Armenian affairs and her visits to various communities, Tufankjian was able to present different facets of Armenian life to the audience. She focused on aspects of daily life, staying away from secular and clerical leaders, and the luxurious and dissolute lives of some of the former (who in any case only constitute a small percentage of the Armenian people).
Her focus was on the Armenian in his everyday environment. She was able to connect with the Armenian mother, student, worker and craftsman, which gives greater value to this volume with its contemporaneity. During her lecture, she frequently quoted Armenian-American author William Saroyan, for whom she has great love and respect.
She has apposite photographs of Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Calcutta (India), Anjar (Lebanon), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Hong Kong, Sydney (Australia), Alexandria (Egypt) and Latakia (Syria). Not only does she document the Armenian-populated village of Vakiflar in usurped Musa Dagh (she is on her maternal side descended from Musa Lertsi ancestors), and Hajin in Cilicia, but also gives prominent coverage to Karabagh and Armenia.
She has parallel and comparable pictures of daily life from different communities preserving the same way of life, cuisine and traditions. During the course of her lecture, she periodically related various adventures and personal memories, especially those taking place in Turkey. Her pictures of Syrian-Armenian refugees in Karabagh and adjacent liberated territories are eyewitness records of the realities of our present life.
Her work is certainly one that inspires hope, and it will serve as a guide and primary source for future historians and researchers interested in Armenian life. It is a tasteful album, with a foreword penned by film director Atom Egoyan. Its 160 large, colorful pages make it a wonderful present for libraries and readers, Armenian or non-Armenian.
This is the fourth photography album presented in the greater New York area this year. The first was Hrair “Hawk” Khatcherian’s One Church, One Nation, followed by Ariane Ateshian Delacampagne’s Portraits of Survival: The Armenians of Bourj Hammoud. The third is Armen Marsoobian’s Fragments of a Lost Homeland.
These are all publications worthy of encouragement and praise. Each was prepared and published through its respective author’s initiative and financing. How wonderful it would be if our Armenian philanthropic associations undertook the responsibility of their publication. Such thoughts should not only belong to the past…The first two authors are Lebanese-Armenians, while the latter two were born in the United States, yet it is clear that the same Armenian concerns and patriotic feelings are shared by all.