A century later, Private Sarkis returns to the streets of Çanakkale

Lebanese director Nigol Bezjian’s work titled ‘Çanakayna’ is on view at the 4th Çanakkale Biennial, open from September 27 to November 2



Bezjian was inspired by his research on Çanakkale to realize this project. Composed of a video and photographs, the name of the work, ‘Çanakayna’ is a pun on the city’s name. Bezjian explains: “To return to look again is similar to looking at yourself in the mirror. I first went to Çanakkale for the screening of my film ‘I Left My Shoes in Istanbul. I returned for this project, and I created this work entirely by thinking about the history and streets of Çanakkale.”

In the work, the 15-minute video to be shown as a loop from a screen mounted on a wall, contains the conversations made by an actor who wanders the streets of the city wearing the uniform worn by soldiers who fought at the Battle of Çanakkale (also known as the Battle of Gallipoli, during the Dardanelles Campaign). The actor introduces himself as ‘Sarkis’ and asks the people he meets how they are. Bezjian continues: “Sarkis asks the people he comes across on the street, ‘How are you?’ and tries to find out if they need anything. Because he is a soldier who fought for them a century ago; he wants to know if the people he went to war for are enjoying themselves, if they are happy. There were some warm dialogues. Only a single person reacted to the name Sarkis, and began to talk, saying ‘Before us, Armenians and Greeks lived here.’”

The other walls of the section allocated to Bezjian’s work features photographs of Armenian soldiers that served in the army from the Ottoman period to the present day. There is also a photo of Sevag Balıkçı in the series, who was murdered on 24 April 2011, the remembrance day of the Armenian Genocide, whilst carrying out his military service in Batman. “The history of the army goes further back than the Republic. As I began to produce this work, I took into consideration a history of six centuries, because tradition is continuous,” says Bezjian, and adds that his research has not ended: “I can’t say the project has concluded. Two days ago, I found a photograph of an Armenian who served as a pharmacist in the Ottoman army. I read the diaries of Avedis Cebeciyan. He was a doctor in the army. In the diaries he kept during the years 1914-1918 he describes the Battle of Çanakkale. This is a simple answer to the rhetoric that goes, ‘The Armenians were traitors, they joined the Russian Army,’ which is constantly repeated and used as a pretext for the Genocide. If there were Armenians on that side, there were Armenians on this side as well. They were at Çanakkale together with the Turks.”


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