In the thirty-first year from the birth of the century
I returned, no — read: I was forcibly
Returned to Buddhist Moscow,
But before that I had, after all, seen
Ararat as rich as a Biblical table-cloth
And had spent two hundred days in the land of Sabbaths
Which is called Armenia.

Osip Mandelstam

The current exhibition features more than 80 prints from the original glass plate negatives from the collection of the History Museum of Armenia in Yerevan. These photographs were created in the early 20th century during the archaeological expeditions of the Imperial Archaeological Committee to the ancient towns of Ani (a fortress in the 5–8th centuries, and the capital of Armenia and its largest economic and cultural centre since the 10–13th centuries) and Van (the first capital of the Kingdom of Armenia, founded by the Orontid dynasty in the 6th century BC). The expeditions were led by the academician Nikolay Marr. Many renowned Armenian scholars and photographers took part in those expeditions: the architect Toros Toramanyan, the art historian and archimandrite Garegin Hovsepyan, the archeologists and historians Smbat Ter-Avetisyan, Ashkharbek Kalantar, Yervand Lalayan, and the photographers Ovanes Kyurkchyan, Aram and Ara Vruyr.

The photographs depicting the monuments of Western and Eastern Armenia of the 4–17th centuries are the only evidence of the unique cultural heritage which was fully or partially lost to time and during the dramatic events of the early 20th century.

The wonderful idea to unite in one project these splendid visual images of Armenian architectural monuments full of historical and artistic connotations with the deep and vivid poetic images from Osip Mandelstam’s series of poems Armenia belongs to Аnelka Grigoryan, who has worked with these materials for many years in the History Museum of Armenia. The project is timed to coincide with the 125th anniversary of the famous Russian poet and finalizes the commemorative activities dedicated to the tragic events in the history of the Armenian people.

The image in the Armenian spiritual culture, according to Movses Khorenatsi, the Armenian historian of the 5th century A.D., is something sacred and God-given that tends ‘bright light of mind by beautiful thoughts,’ thus being pleasing to the Fortype, the Original Image, which is God.

Photography found its way to Armenia right after its invention. Apart from professional photographers, many scholars — architects, historians and archaeologists — took interest in it as well. The displayed works were created in 1878–1920, at the time of the organized mass extermination of Armenians throughout Asia Minor. The unparalleled massacre led to hundreds of thousands of people murdered and thousands of buildings and monuments demolished. In 1915, Ottoman Turkey carried out its diabolic genocidal plan, which claimed the lives of a million and a half Armenians.

For the artists who witnessed their country’s tragedy, ‘a window to the world’ opened by photography had become a magical weapon which helped to save the country’s image from the horrors of life and real time. Photography represented, in fact, a meticulous, elaborate documentation of reality. A photographic image, being separated from the original, from its ‘source,’ acquired a timeless presence, becoming truthful and precise evidence and the memory of the original at the same time.

Posing for the camera was the main principle of those photographs, as they were to remain the representation of self for years to come. The greatest value and beauty of these photographs is in the solemn depiction of the country’s treasures — landscapes, monuments, ancient inscriptions — as well as of its people, an anonymous ethnos, standing against the background of their creations.

As if following the teachings of Movses Khorenatsi, Armenian photographers created the ‘God-sent and sacred’ image of their country, the spirit and magnificence of which were praised in the poems by Osip Mandelstam that tend the ‘bright light of mind by beautiful thoughts,’ thus being pleasing to the Fortype, the Original Image, which is God.

Director of the History Museum of Armenia Grigor Grigoryan 


With support from Karen Mkrtchyan, the head of the “Armenian National Centre — Armenia” (Saint Petersburg)