Gülizar’s story brings people together

The exhibition titled ‘Spectography: Tracing the Ghosts’ opened at Depo on March 14, and Arménouhie Kévonian’s book ‘Gülizar’s Black Wedding’, published by the Aras Publishing House in Turkish, was also launched during the opening. The exhibition features the photographs and videos of three Swiss artists, Anna Barsaghian, Stefan Kristensen and Uriel Orlow, produced during their travels across Anatolia.

I briefly spoke to Barsaghian and Kristensen before the opening, and first asked them, “What is this story about the ghosts?” to which Kristensen responded: “Under normal conditions, when we die, we are buried with a funeral ceremony, and we have a gravestone. That is how our soul finds peace. But if we cannot find peace, then we become ghosts, and our souls remain here on earth. The murdered Armenians continue to live on these lands as ghosts, and do not leave this society alone”. “So what must be done for these ghosts to become free?” I asked, and this time, Barsaghian responded: “When justice is one, these souls will also become free,” to which Kristensen adds, “Justice is necessary, but justice alone may not be enough…”

History concealed in a lament

Barsaghian first came across Gülizar’s story during her childhood. The artist grew up listening to Gülizar’s lament in Armenian from her grandmother. In 2005, she attended a tour to Anatolia for the grandchildren of Genocide survivors, and listened to Gülizar’s lament this time from the villagers in her grandmother’s village: “The first thing almost everyone spoke about was Gülizar’s story. And as they told the story, I realized they were directly quoting Gülizar’s lament.”

Güle’s continuing story

Barsaghian says that the lament brings women closer together, and creates a shared zone of resistance. It was also through this lament that she came to meet Dengbej Gazin. Gülizar plays a highly significant role in Dengbej Gazin’s life, and she performs Gülizar’s lament live during the performance titled ‘Güle Is Very Beautiful’ that was staged during the opening. Gazin says: “When I was little, my grandmother always used to sing Gülizar’s song. So for a very long time, I thought Güle was my grandmother’s name. And I thought Güle wrote it, about how she fell in love with a man. Only when I eventually asked her, ‘Grandmother, are you in love, why are you singing this song?’ did my grandmother tell me Güle’s story. I felt so bad and offended about it. I was so touched by it, that the first dengbej song I learned was Güle’s lament. I also named my daughter Güle.”

Because Gazin’s grandmother did not know the true ending of the story, Gazin did not know Gülizar managed to escape, and believed she had died of grief. So Gazin was shocked when she saw Meliné Ter Minassian, Gülizar’s granddaughter, before her. Gazin finally adds that male dengbejs add “all sorts of falsehoods” when reciting Güle’s lament: “Male dengbejs say that Güle went to Musa by her own will. So if you want the true story, listen to it from female dengbejs.”

‘Spectography: Tracing Ghosts’, also featuring the video of the performance by Anna Barsaghian, Meliné Ter Minasssian and Gazin, is at Depo until April 12.

‘I thought Gülizar was a much-loved woman’

At the opening, Arménouhie Kévonian’s granddaughter Meliné Ter Minassian, staged a performance titled ‘Güle is very Beautiful’ with Anna Barseghian and Dengbej Gazin. Ter Minassian stated that the performance represented not only her personal ties with Gülizar or Arménouhie Kévonian, but also the social memory related to them, and I asked her how Gülizar’s legendary story was known in the family: “Only one side of our family is Armenian. I was closer to that side of the family as a child, so my story is strongly connected to my grandmother Arménouhie, Gülizar’s daughter. We had a very close relationship. Arménouhie was a very happy woman, she was full of life, and she loved to dance, sang, and constantly made jokes… Other than that, everyone in the family was involved in politics, and that is why everything about Armenian identity seemed very heavy and serious to me when I was a child. Of course, back then I did not know what had happened to the Armenians, you are not told when you are a child. Even after I learned, Armenouhi always seemed a woman dancing with joy to me. She created the same impression when she talked about her mother Gülizar. Until I read ‘Gülizar’s Black Wedding’ I thought Gülizar was a much-loved woman; I had no idea about the stories of abduction, violence and rape. I read the book when I was 14, in a single night. I was shocked.

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Lora Sarı