Historical Armenian Photography
From the 1950s until we emigrated to Canada in 1975, Hrag’s father (Samuel Vartanian) was a studio photographer in Aleppo, Syria. Armenians dominated studio photography in Aleppo and throughout West Asia and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the ease of photography expanded the pool of photographers and photo studios started to decline as point-and-shoot cameras lead to most of them going out of business, buoyed by the wedding and other specialty markets. When his family moved to Toronto, he was two and his dad left his photo archive (Studio SAMO) behind in Aleppo. The location of the archive is currently unknown.
The first historical Armenian photograph to enter the collection was in the year 2000 when Hrag was writing about the Armenian community of Massachusetts and encountered a cabinet photograph on eBay during the course of his. The strangely beautiful image from the 1920s or 30s depicts a married Armenian Apostolic deacon and his family, and it was taken by K.S. Melikian of Worcester, Massachusetts. The image is elegantly framed by a shaped paper matte with art nouveau details.
The collection has since grown to over 300 original photographs dating from the 19th until today, including photographs by Abdullah Frères (Istanbul, Cairo), Gabriel Lékégian (Cairo), Pascal Sébah (Istanbul, Cairo), G. Krikorian (Jerusalem), Z. G. Donatosian (Anatolia), Bogos Tarkulyan (Istanbul), Sarkis M. (Kenah, Egypt), Aram Alban (Cairo), Onnes Kurkdjian (Surabaya, Indonesia), S. Vartanian (Ruse, Bulgaria), Hadjolian Frères, Karakashian Brothers (Khartoum, Sudan), Van Leo (Cairo), Armand (Cairo), Garo Varjabedian (Cairo), Ida Kar (London), Studio Samo (Aleppo), Studio Haig (Aleppo), Gariné Torossian (Toronto), and Aram Jibilian (New York).
North American Armenian Literature
A unique body of literature that began with the publication of Khachadur Osganian’s The Sultan and His People (1857) and continues until today, Armenian American literature continues to forge its own identity while continuing to be in dialogue with other American and global literatures. From award-winning playwright and novelist William Saroyan in the 1930s and the 40s, the criticism of the Balakian sisters, Nona and Anna, in New York during the 1950s and 60s, to the powerful performance art of Eric Bogosian of the 1980s and the multi-novel story arcs of Arthur Nersesian and Nancy Kricorian today.
The collection predominantly includes first editions but also includes works of non-fiction and fiction that are related to the literary tradition more generally, such as Ambassador Robert Morgenthau’s memoir that extensively discusses the political realities of his post as US ambassador in Constantinople (Istanbul) during the years of the Armenian Genocide, and numerous rare genocide memoirs, including self-published books, which is a rich vein of Armenian American literature. The affluence of Armenian Americans by the 1950s and 60s meant that more of these histories have been written in the United States than anywhere else in the Armenian diaspora.
The collection of Armenian Canadian literature includes works by Ara Baliozian (a personal favorite), Lorne Shirinian, Atom Egoyan, and others.
There is also a special group of personal papers by William Saroyan addressed to an Armenian bookseller in Los Angeles. It includes unpublished passages about names and other observations about life and some photographs.