Survivor Objects and the Lost World of Ottoman Armenians

Episode 407

hosted by Emily Neumeier

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The genre of biography usually applies to people, but could a similar approach be applied to an object? Can a thing have a life of its own? In this episode, Heghnar Watenpaugh explores this question by tracing the long journey of the Zeytun Gospels, a famous illuminated manuscript considered to be a masterpiece of medieval Armenian art. Protected for centuries in a remote church in eastern Anatolia, the sacred book traveled with the waves of people displaced by the Armenian genocide. Passed from hand to hand, caught in the chaos of the First World War, it was divided in two. Decades later, the manuscript found its way to the Republic of Armenia, while its missing eight pages came to the Getty Museum in LA. In this interview, we discuss how the Zeytun Gospels could be understood as a "survivor object," contributing to current discussions about the destruction of cultural heritage. We also talk about the challenges of writing history for a broader reading public.

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Contributor Bios
Heghnar Zeitlian Watenpaugh is Professor of Art History at the University of California, Davis. She is the award-winning author of The Image of an Ottoman City: Architecture in Aleppo (2004). Her writing has also appeared in the Huffington Post and the Los Angeles Times.
Emily Neumeier is Assistant Professor of Art History at Temple University. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 2016. Her research concerns the art and architecture of the Islamic world, particularly of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic. She is co-curator of our series on The Visual Past.


Episode No. 407
Release Date: 25 March 2019
Recording Location: New Haven, CT
Audio editing by Emily Neumeier
Music: "The Dark Cloud" by Mesrout Takakjian and "Song of Freedom" by Bedros Haroutunian, 1939, Fresno, CA. Both made available by the Library of Congress.
Images and bibliography courtesy of Heghnar Watenpaugh

Bonus Listening

In this bonus track, Heghnar Watenpaugh studies an Armenian survivor's hand-drawn map of late Ottoman Marash


A page from the Canon Tables of the Zeytun Gospels, 1256 CE, J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 59, fol. 6r. Made available through the Getty's Open Content Program.
The citadel of Zeytun seen from the southwest. From Hugo Grothe, Geographische charakterbilder aus der asiatischen Türkei und dem südlichen mesopatamisch-iranischen randgebirge (1909).
View of Zeytun (present-day Süleymanlı), 2014, photograph by Heghnar Watenpaugh.

Select Bibliography

Watenpaugh, Heghnar Zeitlian. The Missing Pages: The Modern Life of a Medieval Manuscript, from Genocide to Justice. Stanford University Press, 2019.

Bennoune, Karima. Special report on the subject of the intentional destruction of cultural heritage as a violation of human rights: United Nations Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, 3 February 2016, A/HRC/31/59, available at

Evans, Helen C., ed. Armenia: Art, Religion, and Trade in the Middle Ages. New York, NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018. Exhibition catalog.

Feigenbaum, Gail, and Inge Reist, eds. Provenance: An Alternate History of Art. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2013.

De Hamel, Christopher. Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts. London, UK: Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books, 2016.

Maranci, Christina. The Art of Armenia: An Introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Watenpaugh, Heghnar. "Cultural Heritage and the Arab Spring: War over Culture, Culture of War, and Culture War," International Journal of Islamic Architecture 5:2 (2016): 245-263.

Watenpaugh, Heghnar. "Preserving the Medieval City of Ani: Cultural Heritage Between Contest and Reconciliation," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 73:4 (December 2014): 528-555.

Watenpaugh, Heghnar. "When Art and Religion Collide." Los Angeles Times, July 19, 2010.


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