Armenians In Ottoman Empire Through Postcards

Posted on May 24, 2011


Armenians in Turkey 100 Years Ago With the Postcards from the Collection of Orlando Carlo Calumeno by Osman Koker

Each of us got one black and white post card. As we peered at the copies of picturesque landscapes and faces of our ancestors, Osman Köker, founder of BirzamanlarYayincilik (Once Upon a Time) Publications opened his notes.

“Have you ever been to Turkey?” asked Köker with his weighty Turkish accent resonating from under his thick mustache. “We will go to Turkey, but not now, some 100 years ago,” he continued apologizing for his English as he spoke in front of a small audience at the University of Chicago where he was presenting his book “Armenians in Turkey 100 Years Ago: With Postcards from the Collection of Orlando Carlo Calumeno.”

And so, Köker took us on an hour-long expedition through the Ottoman Empire where we learned about the lives of Armenians through postcard images and personal notes.

From Istanbul to Kars, from Turkish Revolution of 1908 to modern days, from schools and libraries to carpet weaving factories owned by Armenians, Köker’s research portrays a story of a nation in the Ottoman Empire once strong and affluent now reduced to ruins and altered last names.

Listen to a fragment of his speech on the Vilayets of Erzrum and  Diyar-i Bekr.

The collection contained postcards with stamps and notes. The majority of the notes on the post cards reflected a correspondence between two brothers and read “Sireli Eghbayr” “My Dear Brother, …”. Köker launched an eponymous exhibition of post cards in Turkey in 2005.  Some 10,000 people attended the display featuring hundreds of images.

Christian quarter in Antakya

The Monastrey of Sourb Nshan to the south of Lake Van

Köker originally intended to write a book about the lives of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, but with the discovery of the postcard collection the scope of the project changed.

Since then, the exposition has also been mounted in Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt, Valence, Paris, Geneva, London and Yerevan.

“There was a lady who attended the exhibition in Istanbul who actually recognized the author and the recipient mentioned on one of the post cards,” translated Köker’s interpreter who was a staff members at the Center of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago.

Presentation of the "Armenians in Turkey 100 Years Ago With the Postcards from the Collection of Orlando Carlo Calumeno" at the University of Chicago"

“Another attendee recognized a family photo and said that she had the same image saved in her family photo album at home,” continued the interpreter as Köker shared his recollections of the first exhibition.

Originally from Marash, Köker showed us an image of his hometown and a library

near his house. The library was founded and maintained by an Armenian family. Growing up Köker used to spend a lot of time reading, studying and wondering through the countless shelves of books. Today there is no indication of the library let alone who founded it. Just the post card from the collection of Orlando Carlo Calumeno.

As we listened to Köker comparing the images on the post cards with the images of his recent trips to the same places, it became more apparent that a lot of our heritage was simply lost and all we had was a copy of a post card Köker distributed earlier that day.

An elderly professor of Indian History and Religion seated next to me was taking in all the images with deep sighs and short head shakes. Closer to the end of the presentation he turned to me handing his post card: “Here, it is better if you have it.”

About Osman Köker

Founder and editor-in-chief of Birzamanlar (Once Upon a Time) Publications, Osman Köker publishes books about Turkey’s multicultural society, and how that structure vanished over time.

Osman Köker at the University of Chicago

Osman Köker was born in Marash, and worked as a correspondent and editor at a number of daily newspapers and weekly magazines. He was one of the founders of the Minority Rights Watching Committee in the Human Rights Association (1993) and has been one of the contributors of various initiatives on minority rights in Turkey since then.

Osman Köker was also involved in the creation in 1996 of the Istanbul Turkish-Armenian daily Agos and Aras Publishing House, the only publishing house which publishes books in Armenian and books translated into Turkish from the Armenian.

As an editor, Köker focused on the publication of historical subjects. Between 1997-2001, he was the editor-in-chief of “Toplumsal Tarih” (Social History) monthly, published by the Turkish Economic and Social History Foundation. He completed the publication of Armenian historian Kevork Pamukciyan’s entire works (“Ermeni Kaynaklarindan Tarihe Katkilar” -Contributions to the History from Armenian Resources-, 4 volumes, Aras Publications, 2002-2003), and published the album “Armenians in Turkey 100 Years Ago: Postcards from the Collection of Orlando Carlo Calumeno” in 2005 and its accompanying exhibition titled “Sireli Yeghpayrs” (My Dear Brother).