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The Ellis Island Armenian Exhibit Committee is pleased to present this catalog containing gallery photographs as well as those used in the "Armenia: Memories From My Home" exhibit which was displayed in the Sherman Gallery at Ellis Island from September 7, 1997 through February 28, 1998. In many ways it was a successful exhibit, marked by a standing-room-only gala opening and the questionable censorship of the 1915 Armenian Genocide photographs and text, one week before the opening, by the Ellis Island Administration.
The Anthropology Museum of the People of New York, sponsor of the exhibit, had originally presented the exhibit, then titled "Memories From My Home: Armenia", at the Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library located at Queens College in Flushing, New York, from May through September of 1994. The exhibit was designed by students in Margaret C. Tellalian-Kyrkostas's "Museum Anthropology" course at Queens College.
Because of the tremendous response to the exhibit from both College officials and the local community, Tellalian-Kyrkostas submitted a proposal which included the text outline, photographs and slides of the entire exhibit to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum Special Exhibits Committee, hoping the exhibit would be approved for future display at the Ellis Island Sherman Gallery. In July of 1995 the Museum received affirmation from Ellis Island National Park Service Superintendent Diane Dayson that the exhibit was scheduled for a six-month period from September, 1997 through February, 1998.
In the interim, additional materials were gathered from members of the Armenian community to expand the proposed exhibit by both the Anthropology Museum and Carl Rutberg, the curator at Ellis Island. At no time did Rutberg or any of the administrative officials at Ellis Island indicate that changes were required in the submitted photographs and text. We were also requested to raise a minimum of $15,000 to cover the cost of needed materials. Many Armenians throughout the country generously contributed toward this grass-roots fund-raising effort, enabling us to produce an exhibit that would do justice to the achievements of the Armenians.
Supporters of "Armenia: Memories From My Home" Exhibit (L to R): Dr. Charles Smith, Special Assistant to President of Queens College; Claire Shulman, Queens Borough President; Allen L. Sessoms, Queens College President; Henry Jacoby, Anthropology Museum President; Margaret TellalianKyrkostas, Director/Curator of the Museum; Theodore Kyrkostas, Museum VicePresident; and Michael Kehyaian, Armenian Collector, (April, 1997).
On August 29,1997, one week before the exhibit was to open, Deputy Superintendent Larry Steeler and Chief Exhibit Curator Diana Pardue informed TellalianKyrkostas that the massacre photographs, language and religious history segments and especially the display panel headings, "Genocide" and "Massacres," of the Armenian exhibit would not be allowed to be displayed. The reasons they gave were: "They would be offensive to young children"; " We already have a massacre photograph on the second floor and we don't want any more"; and "We have had visitors objecting to nonimmigration topics." This notice was given after they had the outline and photographs in their possession for two years. Someone didn't do their homework.
New York City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, a guest speaker at the opening ceremonies, vehemently objected to the censorship and started a campaign to reinstate the censored material by contacting Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior. Other government officials, who protested, included Rep.Pat Kennedy (DRI); Rep. Frank Pallone (DNJ), CoChairman of the Congressional Armenian Caucus; Rep.George Radanovich (RCA). On September 11, The New York Times broke the story with these headlines: "At Ellis Island Museum, Dispute on Armenian Show," with Associated Press, Bloomberg Television, National Public Radio, Radio Free Europe all covering the controversy. Lisa Cooley of C.B.S. Television News came to Queens College to interview TellalianKyrkostas and Vallone, and included the censored photographs during the evening news, A Fresno, California press conference by Armenian National Committee of America Chairman Mourad Topalian was covered by local affiliates of ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox television.
On September 29, The National Park Service officials at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum agreed to reinstate some of the photographs and text documenting the Armenian Genocide, thus ending the three week controversy. The compromise was reached between Diane Dayson, Superintendent of Ellis Island, and a delegation of Armenian American community leaders, which included Margaret TellalianKyrkostas and Edward Jamie from the Ellis Island Exhibit Committee, representing The Anthropology Museum of the People of New York; Sharistan Melconian, Armenian National Committee of Eastern United States; Shahan Avedian, Armenian National Committee of New Jersey; Rev. Anoushavan Tanielian, Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church; Aram Arkun, Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America; Rev. Nishan Bakalian, Armenian Missionary Association of America; Vartkes Vartanian, Armenian General Athletic Union; Nicole Vartanian, AIM magazine, and Harvey Fertig, Assistant Counsel to New York City Council Speaker Peter Vallone. The controversy surrounding the exhibit raised the disquieting possibility that the United States Government had engaged in censoring the exhibit's message.
Special features in this catalog are the censored photographs that were not reinstated, and objects and text regarding the history of the Armenian language and religion. In order to understand the incomprehensible, 1915 newspaper accounts of the Turkish rationale for the 1915 Genocide have also been included. The Catalog follows the layout of the original exhibit and includes pertinent subject materials that were not displayed, which would have told a more complete story. The facts, figures, photographs and graphics for the exhibit were researched by Margaret TellalianKyrkostas and Aris Sevag. Aram Arkun verified some of the data on the massacres. We hope you find this catalog informative and a valuable addition to your library.
The Ellis Island Armenian Exhibit Committee