THE OPENING OF NEW TEMPORARY EXHIBITION AT THE AGMI
“Far from the Fatherland, in the Fatherland: Fates of Armenian Soldiers in World War I”
On 31 August, at 12:00 PM at the temporary exhibition hall of the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute Foundation the opening of a new trilingual (Armenian, English, German) exhibition and the presentation of the catalogue took place.
A welcome speech was delivered by Dr. Harutyun Marutyan, Director of the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute Foundation, and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Jasmine Dum-Tragut, author of the exhibition, Armenian studies scholar and Head of the Center for the Study of the Christian East at the University of Salzburg, as well as Alfred Bratranek, representative of the Austrian Embassy (residence in Vienna).
In her speech the author of the exhibition Jasmine Dum-Tragut expressed her gratitude to the AGMI Director Harutyun Marutyan and the institute staff for the support in organizing the exhibition.
“Countless villages in Armenia were visited in search of traces of these prisoners of war, and the stories of the village elders, of relatives who were found, and even of the children of these Armenian prisoners were written down. Their fates explain how these Armenians had to leave their fatherland, then a part of the Tsarist Russian Empire, to serve the Russian Army in World War One, how they fought and how they fell into enemy hands and how they got back to their fatherland after escape or liberation and their future fate in the homeland. Stories that were written by those living in troubled times and which are as different as the individual prisoners. Far from the fatherland, in war and in captivity, they often experienced and saw unspeakable things, they suffered pain, homesickness and grief, but they could also experience humanity, respect and even enjoyment and learn new things”,
mentions Jasmine Dum-Tragut.
Being a prisoner of war, overcoming the insurmountable, violence, starvation, illness, stress, death or home return, trying to integrate into society, whose attitude was unequivocal, many of the prisoners of war would still have to bear the label of a betrayer.
The exhibition is a unique platform to screen one of the heaviest consequences of any war. POW camps have been erected for about 1 million soldiers and 10,000 officers in Austria-Hungary. Of a total of 50 camps and stations, far less than the half were located in the territory of present-day Austria.
“This is a unique study in its nature, so the exhibition, too. The questions relate to the past and present of the Armenian people driven, not by their own will, far from their fatherland in the hustle and bustle of World War One.
The lives of the Armenian prisoners of war in WW1 have not been studied at all.
Far from their fatherland, they lived in a state of longing for home.
Their subsequent fates diverged. Most of them returned to that fatherland, either to their families or to found new families, some fell victim to Stalin, some lived peacefully, some kept their past a secret.
Jasmine, a researcher and Jasmine, a human have succeeded in uncovering the many stories of the former prisoners of war. With the help of her Armenian colleagues, she found the descendants of many prisoners of war and talked with them. Exchanging information, she rejoiced with them and was touched, saddened and wept with them”,
mentioned the AGMI Director Harutyun Marutyan.
The opening ceremony was held in presence of descendants of prisoners of war, guests, state officials, diplomats, academics, journalists and other guests from Armenia and Austria as well.
The exhibition consists of two main headings - Tracing Armenian Prisoners of War from Austria-Hungary and Far from the Fatherland, with No Return, as well as, 10 auxiliary headlines - World War One: Reasons and Consequences, Millions in the Enemy’s Hands, POW Camps in Austria-Hungary: Barack Towns, Work and Employment, Illness and Death, Freedom and Return to the Fatherland, Rudolf Pöch and Anthropological Research, Carrying Out the Anthropological Research, Phonogram (Sound) Recordings, Rudolf Pöch and Armenians.
The exhibition is equipped with unique archival photos, videos and exhibits, through which and through accompanying explanatory texts, an attempt is made to reveal the unusual life of the soldiers. 100 years old soldiers’ song and poems forms an important part of the exhibition. The voice record of Arshak Manukyan, a prisoner of war, is especially touching. It tells the following: Armenian born in Lcen, lived in Yekaterinoslav, 30 years old, confectioner by profession, recites and sings the Armenian folk “The Armenian Crane”, Arshak labeled this song as “The bird of an unfortunate POW” (15.08.1915).
The visitors will be able to listen to the above mentioned and other recordings through headsets.
Hand-made items by the prisoners during their captivity, as well as, maps depicting the period, postcards, little soldiers made of tin representing various types of Russian combat arms, ID cards of POWs, permissions for moving in a limited area, camp currencies and camp newspapers have a unique place in the exhibition.
Most of the exhibits used in this exhibition, as well as in the catalogue, were obtained from the archives of Austria, Armenia and Russia.
The research team managed to visit countless villages in Armenia in search of traces of the immediate heirs and relatives of these prisoners of war. Their narratives and memories, pictures from family albums, along with the historical documents from various archives, allow us to compose the life stories of these Armenian prisoners of war. Many families knew about their relatives’ time in captivity, while for the others it was completely new.
The guests had the opportunity to obtain examples of the exhibition catalogue with the author's signature, as well as Austrian chocolates ordered for this special event with the exhibition title.