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“Ruins Of Ani” Is Breaking New Ground

“Ruins Of Ani” Is Breaking New Ground

A new exhibit of the Armenian Image Archive and webinar.

By Carla Garapedian, Ph.D., Filmmaker and Member of The Armenian Film Foundation

“Kurkdjian's photographs of the ruins of Ani are part of a very rare and comprehensive collection of a revered medieval Armenian site.” Joseph Malikian

The forty images were doubled. Joseph Malikian knew he was looking at something special.

“About eight years ago, I acquired some photographs of Ani from a collector in Turkey. What I got was a stereoscopic set of 40 images, taken of Ani more than a century ago.” 

The photographer was an Armenian, Ohannes Kurkdjian who, in 1879, had spent five months photographing the ancient city of Ani after serving in the Russian Army.

“Kurkdjian’s photographs of the ruins of Ani are part of a very rare and comprehensive collection of a revered medieval Armenian site,” says Malikian, curator of the Armenian Image Archive, which is launching a new exhibit of Kurkdjian’s photographs on March 7.

“They represent the work of a highly skilled Armenian photographer who mastered the craft during a rapidly changing period in the history of photography. In spite of the early challenges in capturing and developing images outside of the studio, he succeeded in chronicling a detailed and evocative record of the ancient ruins of Ani.”

Ani, also called “the City of a 1001 Churches,” is situated in Turkey’s province of Kars and is adjacent to the closed border with the Republic of Armenia. This revered UNESCO World Heritage site is regarded as, according to Heghnar Watenpaugh, “so symbolic and central for Armenians as a religious and cultural site, as a national heritage symbol, and as a symbol of nationhood.”

Kurkdjian’s photographs, taken 144 years ago, show the remnants of an ancient kingdom. They sparked strong nationalist sentiments amongst Armenians in the late 19th century. The photographs were used in western publications, says Malikian, to enlighten the world about Armenians and their rich history, as well as to show the neglect and desecration of an ancient site by past and present conquerors.

“Kurkdjian’s photos of Ani highlight the power of this fairly new medium of photography which shaped one’s understanding and perception of a historic place that had receded into the mists of time.”

Ohannes Kurkdjian was eventually forced into exile from his homeland in Armenia. He sought new adventures in the Dutch East Indies by relocating there in 1886. Part Two of the Armenian Image Archive exhibit features his photographs of volcanic eruptions in Surabaya, Indonesia. “Kurkdjian possessed the drive, ambitions and artistic skills that enabled him to achieve considerable renown within the field of photography in this new world,” says Malikian.

The new exhibit also showcases the contemporary photographs of Steven Sim. Sim, based in Scotland, is an independent researcher with a particular interest in the architecture of historical Armenia, and how recent history and politics has impacted its preservation. He has travelled extensively in Eastern Turkey since the mid-1980s, during which has taken around 150,000 photographs of Armenian monuments and related structures.

In 1999, responding to troubling Turkish and foreign archaeological interventions at the deserted medieval city of Ani, Sim launched the website, He has since given presentations about Ani and Armenian architecture in London, Boston, Montreal, Los Angeles and New York.

He has also worked with the renowned organization, Research on Armenian Architecture, spearheaded by Samvel Karapetian in 1982. In 2005, on behalf of RAA, Sim visited Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan region to assess the condition of its Armenian monuments. Along with a delegation in October 2006, Sim met with Koichiro Matsuura, the Director-General of UNESCO, in Paris, to protest UNESCO’s inaction over the Djugha (Julfa) medieval cemetery destruction.

Steven Sim has recently made his mark in the United States. He is prominently featured in the PBS documentary, The Hidden Map, which charts Sim’s various journeys to Turkey, starting with his search for Khtzkonk Monastery in eastern Turkey. Along with filmmaker Ani Hovannisian, Sim expresses the hope that by documenting historic Armenian sites, we can encourage the preservation and recognition of Armenian culture and heritage in Turkey.

Dr. Joseph Malikian and Steven Sim will participate in a Zoom Webinar, on March 7, at 10 AM (Pacific Time), hosted by the Promise Armenian Institute and the Armenian Film Foundation. The new exhibition “Ruins of Ani” and “Suribaya” will launch on March 7, 2023 on 


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Published: Friday, February 17, 2023