YEREVAN, AUGUST 4, ARMENPRESS. French-Armenian photographer Antoine Agoudjian, a descendant of the witnesses of the Armenian Genocide, has been presenting Armenia and the heritage of Armenians to the world through his camera for years. He is presenting not only Armenia, but also the countries which have had a direct link with Armenians in other periods. Antoine Agoudjian’s photos depict human suffering, pain, love and belief to the God. The photographer admits that his photos are not easy to understand, but notes that there is a light in each of his work, because, as he says, Armenians are happy people by nature.
Antoine Agoudjian belongs to the third generation of the Armenian Genocide survivors. He was born in the French city of Alfortville, which he compares with a little Armenian village as there are many Armenians in the city, thanks to which Agoudjian learnt about Armenian traditions, songs and dance from early childhood. “There were Armenian dance groups in the city, and I remember that my father was taking me to dance. When you dance, you can imagine yourself as living in Western Armenia. I grew up in an Armenian environment and got acquainted with the Armenian heritage. My grandfather was a soldier during the Armenian Genocide and has saved many Armenians. All these had an impact on me”, he said in an interview to ARMENPRESS.
The photographer also faced a great shock during the 1988 devastating earthquake in Armenia’s Spitak town. “That time we were watching the photos of ARMENPRESS photojournalist Mkhitar Khachatryan taken on the spot. We were in a very emotional situation when Charles Aznavour visited Armenia to provide help. We also wanted to assist in some way. I arrived in Armenia and stayed here for a year. I started photography at that period, but as an amateur. I was photographing for foreign organizations. When I came back to France, a book-album based on my works has been published. And that’s how my story began”, the photographer says.
It was that period that Agoudjian decided to tell the world about Armenians and the heritage of Armenians through photography. Since 2000 he has started visiting different countries aimed at finding an Armenian trace. He has been in Georgia, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Israel and Turkey. He photographerd wars, conflicts and sold his works to international media outlets. He says he has always followed and listened to the little ghosts – the Genocide survivors, who are with him. Agoudjian compares photography with the process of climbing a mountain, as he says that either you need to go up to the end or go down. He has decided to go up to the end and create his unique world.
“When I traveled to Turkey in 1997, there was a fear but also a pleasure. I knew that what I am doing has not been done by any other. I should transfer our heritage to our children, our generations. Why should we live if we do not create anything? We should create something by which we could help others. I have always thought so. I have read history a lot because the places I had to visit had a connection with our history. That’s how I matured and now I can talk freely”, the French-Armenian photographer said. He also stood by his compatriots in Armenia during the 2020 Artsakh War.
In Artsakh, he wanted to work like he did in Iraq by cooperating with a squad, but the photographer has not been provided much with that opportunity. “Sometimes I went to the battlefield with a squad and then returned, and sometimes I went with my driver. I have been in Martuni, Martakert, Aghdam and Karvachar. I needed a lot to light a candle in Shushi’s St. Ghazanchetsots Church and I managed to do that. I seek to photograph for history. Whether it’s dangerous or not, you need to find good photos for our history, and the topic of war was very important. When wars started in Iraq and Syria, I left without delay because I was seeing a link with us. I didn’t go there as a military reporter, but a person who will document the history. If a photographer is creating beauty, he/she should also depict the hell. It is so in my works”, he added.
“The Cry of Silence, Traces of an Armenian Memory” exhibition, covering the author’s 30-year-old searches, contains photos that are heavy, dramatic, but have a light. Antoine Agoudjian doesn’t consider himself a sad person. He says he likes to have fun a lot and is sincere when taking photos.
“What I present is a difficult heritage. I don’t want people to get sad while viewing my works, I want them to understand that history is dialectical. Why is Turkey pressuring Kurds? Because it does not acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. As long as they have not acknowledged, they will run the same policy. In my works you should see the policy not sadness. There are people who say that there is no need to talk about the Armenian Genocide anymore, but until Turkey acknowledges the Armenian Genocide, we are in danger. The 44-Day Artsakh War proved that”, he said.
Antoine Agoudjian wants to frequently visit Armenia and work a lot. He doesn’t want to do anything else besides photography. He admits he feels well with the Armenian people. He plans to display the exhibition “The Cry of Silence, Traces of an Armenian Memory”, which he held in Yerevan in June, also in Artsakh. “The exhibition should be organized in a special place: that place must have a special architecture. I always think that place is also a living body and we should listen to it in order to understand how to build the exhibition. I was guided in this way in Yerevan when initiating the exhibition in the “Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art”. I have many goals and must continue taking interesting photos. If 100 years later ethnic Armenian or foreign historians, sociologists want to understand what had happened 100 years before, maybe they will use my photos as well”, he said.
The French-Armenian photographer assures that he will continue photographing as long as there are opportunities to do that.
Interview by Angela Hambardzumyan
Photos by Mkhitar Khachatryan and Hayk Manukyan
Archival photos have been provided by Antoine Agoudjian