Massachusetts State House Exhibits Photos of Genocide Survivors

Students, teachers, and parents from the Atlantis Charter School in Fall River, Mass., viewing the exhibit

WATERTOWN, Mass.–The Massachusetts State House this week displayed “iwitness,” a unique photography exhibit of portraits of Armenian Genocide survivors.

Hosted by State Representative Jonathan Hecht (Middlesex 29) and sponsored by the Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA) and the Armenian National Committee of Massachusetts (ANC-MA), “iwitness” is the work of Los Angeles-based photographers Ara Oshagan and Levon Parian. The exhibit paired powerful black-and-white portraits of the survivors with their oral histories.

On March 24, Representatives Jon Hecht and Peter Koutoujian and Senator Steven Tolman hosted a guided tour of the exhibit with photographer Levon Parian.
(L-R) State Representative Jason Lewis (Middlesex 31), Governor’s Council member Marily Pettito Devaney, State Representative Peter Koutoujian (Middlesex 10), photographer Levon Parian, State Representative Jon Hecht (Middlesex 29), ALMA curator Gary Lind-Sinanian, and Ara Nazarian at the "iwintess" exhibit

(L-R) State Representative Jason Lewis (Middlesex 31), Governor’s Council member Marily Pettito Devaney, State Representative Peter Koutoujian (Middlesex 10), photographer Levon Parian, State Representative Jon Hecht (Middlesex 29), ALMA curator Gary Lind-Sinanian, and Ara Nazarian at the "iwintess" exhibit

“It is important that we view these pictures,” said Hecht, who spoke of the history learned through the powerful photographs and oral histories brought forth in the exhibit.

Koutoujian also spoke at the guided tour, noting that his own grandfather fled from the city of Marash. “These images are sometimes difficult to look at but we must look at them. We must see their faces and read their stories of survival.”
Speaking on behalf of the hosts, ALMA and the ANC-MA, Ara Nazarian noted that in light of the International Criminal Court’s indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, it is even more important than ever that we not only view these images but commit ourselves to ending genocide.

“The kindness and generosity of the American people helped these survivors to rediscover the beauty in mankind,” said Nazarian. But we know that “mankind has been led down this path time and again by the silence and indifference of good men and women who are too afraid to do anything,” he added. “We have come together today to stamp out genocide and genocide denial.”

Photographer Parian then spoke of the inspiration behind the exhibit. “Denial,” said Parian. “Denial is the reason that we felt so compelled to bring this to life.” He talked about the denial of the genocide by the Turkish government and how important it was for them to document these histories of survival before it was too late. “Soon these survivors will be gone. We are working to ensure that their history will be with us forever.”
Students, teachers, and parents from the Atlantis Charter School in Fall River, Mass., viewing the exhibit

Students, teachers, and parents from the Atlantis Charter School in Fall River, Mass., viewing the exhibit

Oshagan and Parian worked with a team of oral historians and created “iwitness” as part of the Genocide Project, which aims to raise awareness about the genocide through visual and oral documentation.

“We wanted to do something to somehow artistically reflect upon the genocide,” said Oshagan. “Even though we’re three generations removed from the actual fact, it is still very much part of our community and part of our consciousness.”

The “iwitness” exhibit was accompanied by ALMA’s traveling genocide exhibit, which combines statistics and other accounts in text and photographs in an effort to educate the public about the first genocide of the 20th century.

Other officials in attendance at the guided tour were State Representatives Jason Lewis (Winchester) and Alice Wolf (Cambridge), and Governor’s Council member and Watertown town councilor Marilyn Petitto Devany.

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