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Photographer connects Armenians displaced around the world

One hundred years ago this week, thousands of Armenians were rounded up in modern-day Turkey and deported or executed -- just the beginning of a mass elimination of Armenian Christians. Margaret Warner sits down with Armenian-American photographer Scout Tufankjian, who has spent years photographing and interviewing members of the Armenian community around the world.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    One hundred years ago this week, as the Ottoman Empire was disintegrating, thousands of Armenians were rounded up and deported or executed. It was the beginning of a mass elimination of Armenian Christians from what is modern-day Turkey, killing an estimated one million, and driving millions more into exile.

    Today, some seven million Armenians live outside the tiny country of Armenia.

    Armenian-American photographer Scout Tufankjian spent years photographing and interviewing them in more than 20 countries, from Ethiopia to India, from Brazil to the United States.

    They're the subject of her new book, "There Is Only the Earth: Images from the Armenian Diaspora Project."

    Tufankjian sat down with NewsHour's chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, in our New York studio to talk about the project.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Scout Tufankjian, thank you for joining us and talk about this fascinating book.

    SCOUT TUFANKJIAN, Photographer, "There Is Only the Earth": Thank you.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Now, what drew you to this project?

  • SCOUT TUFANKJIAN:

    So, when I was a kid growing up in Massachusetts — and I'm going to show you a picture — I spent weekends with my grandparents, who are in the book.

    There's my beautiful grandmother and my grandfather, who has got a dog and a goat, as one does.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    From 1948.

  • SCOUT TUFANKJIAN:

    Exactly.

    So, I spent weekends with my Armenian grandparents. And we would go from house to house, visiting their friends, drinking some Armenian coffee or some tea. And I would go through the Armenian magazines and newspapers that were inevitably on the coffee table. And I would search for kind of glimpses of myself in an Argentinean soccer player or a Parisian schoolgirl.

    And I was always looking for the — this — the answer to this question, what do I have in common with these kids? Is there any connection between our people, or have the kind of differing paths taken by our refugee grandparents and great-grandparents really changed us?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And so what did you find? I mean, is there a collective spirit?

  • SCOUT TUFANKJIAN:

    Oh, definitely.

    It's actually hard to define. And, as a photographer, I kind of tried to define it in images, which is what this book is. But there is a thread that ties this kid in Paris blowing bubbles at a wedding to, you know, this girl in Armenia, in the Republic of Armenia, who's a traditional dancer to this Armenian girl in India who's experiencing monsoon season for the first time.

    There is this thread that ties people together. Is it the religion? Is it the language? Is it the schools? Is it the organizations? Or is it something kind of more ephemeral? Which is what I — I actually think it is. It's — I talked to a women in Argentina and she said, it's like belonging to a club that is invisible to everyone but the members.

    And I think that has a lot to do with the things that tie us together. It's not — it's not the genocide. Armenians don't define themselves by the genocide. It's this kind of sense of survival.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    So, you have a number of religious photographs here.

  • SCOUT TUFANKJIAN:

    Yes.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Talk to us about important the common Armenian Christianity is and how that transcends these continents.

  • SCOUT TUFANKJIAN:

    Yes. OK.

    For one thing, having a church that belongs to just your community is something that keeps the community together. The Sao Paulo community, for instance, people used to live around the church. And now people live all over this huge massive city. But every Sunday, people get together with their fellow Armenians in mass.

    And so that alone can keep a community together. It keeps young people knowing the language, which is also hugely important. And it is also an incredibly beautiful — the music is beautiful. The mass is — the badarak is really — it is an incredible experience.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    This has been a diaspora that has gone on for — I mean, it's been a hundred years.

  • SCOUT TUFANKJIAN:

    Yes.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    How different and distinctive have the communities become, though, say, the large one in Brazil, which is one — you have a lot of images here from India, a lot from the United States.

  • SCOUT TUFANKJIAN:

    Yes. Sure.

    The novelist Aline Ohanesian says, in America, I felt so Armenian, yet, in Armenia, I realized I am in many ways an American.

    And that is the kind of essential issue facing the identity. And of course people have been affected by their new countries. You can't live somewhere for 100 years, you can't be in exile for 100 years without being affected by the place in which you live, unless you're in a situation like Lebanon, where there are external pressures to keep you apart from the other communities, interests case the Lebanese civil war.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Some of your photos from Lebanon really show that sense of community.

  • SCOUT TUFANKJIAN:

    Oh, yes. Absolutely.

    Lebanon — there is a village in Lebanon called Anjar that is — it's very special to me. So, this picture is from my first trip to Anjar.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Oh, yes. This is one of my favorites.

  • SCOUT TUFANKJIAN:

    Yes.

    So, this is from a henna party. And it's the night before the wedding. And the groom is right there. The groom's family throws a party. And then, kind of midway through the party, everyone walks, parades with the musicians. We call this the dao zurna. It's the old traditional instruments.

    And it's this amazing tradition that they have kept. So the backstory with this village is that all of the people are from this area called Musala, which is the — or Musalair, as we call it.

    And it is the one place where the genocide has a happy ending, which is that the people from the village went up into the mountains and they held off the kind of onslaught for about 53 days, and then they were rescued by a French warship, because it is right on the Mediterranean, and so everyone lived.

    I felt very connected to my family in a way that I had throughout the whole project, but hadn't — that was the most connected I had ever felt.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    But yet you have a photo in here of some Armenian Americans in L.A.

  • SCOUT TUFANKJIAN:

    Oh, I love those kids. You have these kids and you had the palm trees and the car. This picture is actually quite controversial within the community. A lot of people have complained about it. And…

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Why?

  • SCOUT TUFANKJIAN:

    Well, they say, these kids, you know, they don't look like good Armenian boys. They don't fit the image of what good Armenian boys are.

    But these kids are up early in the morning on a Saturday. They got all dressed up. They fixed up their cars because their Armenian identity is important to them. And this an April 24 march. It's important to them.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    On the anniversary, a different anniversary.

  • SCOUT TUFANKJIAN:

    Yes, exactly.

    And showing this kind of diversity is really a huge part of what this project is.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Now, let me ask you this. Of course, there is this whole controversy about the genocide and the Turks' unwillingness to call it a genocide and so on.

    How important is that to members of your generation?

  • SCOUT TUFANKJIAN:

    Of course, we think genocide recognition is important, in the same way that I think everyone watching this probably thinks Holocaust recognition is important.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Yes.

  • SCOUT TUFANKJIAN:

    At the same time, I have never — I met hundreds and hundreds of Armenians throughout this project, and I have not met a single person who defines themselves solely by the genocide.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Yes.

  • SCOUT TUFANKJIAN:

    It is something that runs through our past, and it is something and is an important part of our history, but no one thinks that's all we are.

    I think it's more people in the outside world think, oh, Armenians, the genocide.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Yes.

  • SCOUT TUFANKJIAN:

    But, for us, we know we are more than that. And that's…

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And that's what you're trying to tell in this book.

  • SCOUT TUFANKJIAN:

    Exactly.

    We are mothers and children. We are schoolgirls. We are rugby players. We are lawyers. We are — we are just so much more than that, you know?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Well, Scout Tufankjian, thank you so much.

  • SCOUT TUFANKJIAN:

    Thank you.

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