David Ohannessian: Art, Exile, and the Legacies of Genocide

Episode 471

David Ohannessian is one of the foremost pioneers of the ceramic styles associated today with the city of Jerusalem, but the remarkable story of how he ended up there has never been properly told. Born in 1884 outside of Eskişehir (modern-day Turkey), David Ohannessian became a master in the iconic Kütahya style of Ottoman ceramics. He worked on important architectural projects of the Ottoman government, only to be deported during the Armenian Genocide. He managed to survive, however, and continued his craft afterward in Jerusalem, where he became involved with restoration of the Dome of the Rock and opened his own ceramics studio in the Old City. Yet the past stayed with him, especially the weight of his experience during the genocide. In this episode, Sato Moughalian discusses Feast of Ashes, her recent biography of Ohannessian. She also talks about his story's personal resonance for her as Ohannessian's granddaughter. His artistic persistence provided a model of resilience to emulate in her own art, but the violence and displacement experienced by Ohannessian and his family also left a legacy of secrets and complicated grief in Moughalian's life that was long felt but seldom addressed. 

Click for RSS Feed

Contributor Bios

Sato Moughalian is a flutist and writer based in New York City. Her biography of her grandfather, Feast of Ashes: The Life and Art of David Ohannessian, was published by Redwood Press/Stanford University Press in 2019, longlisted for the PEN/America Jacqueline Bograd Weld Biography Award, and was a finalist for the AAP PROSE Award in the Biography & Autobiography. With Perspectives Ensemble, a chamber group she founded at Columbia University in 1993, she explores and contextualizes the works of composers and visual artists and was awarded the 2013 Ramon Llull Prize for Creative Arts. She is principal flutist of Gotham Chamber Opera, American Modern Ensemble, and has made more than 35 chamber ensemble recordings, most recently Manuel de Falla: El Amor Brujo/El Retablo de Maese Pedro (Naxos).
Sam Dolbee is a lecturer on History and Literature at Harvard University. His research is on the environmental history of the late Ottoman Empire told through the frame of locusts in the Jazira region.

Further Listening
Heghnar Watenpaugh 407
Survivor Objects and the Lost World of Ottoman Armenians
Özlem Gülin Dağoğlu 378
Mihri Rasim Between Empire and Nation
Sylvia Alajaji 461
Music and Silence in the Armenian Diaspora
Armen T. Marsoobian 255
Armenian Photography in Ottoman Anatolia
Nefin Dinç 387
The Incredible Life of Antoine Köpe


Episode No. 471
Release Date: 13 August 2020
Recording Location: New York and Somerville, MA
Audio editing by Sam Dolbee
Music: Blue Dot Sessions, "Um Pepino"; Sato Moughalian accompanied by Jacqueline Kerrod and John Hadfield, "Kamancha (Sayat-Nova)"; Zé Trigueiros, "Petite Route"
Special thanks to Chris Gratien
Bibliography and images courtesy of Sato Moughalian


Feast of Ashes: The Life and Art of David Ohannessian.

The Hobyar Mosque, rebuilt c. 1910 with Kütahya tiles. Photo by Orhan Kolukısa.

“Turkish Room,” Sledmere House, home of the Sykes family. Tiles by David Ohannessian c1913. Photo by Sato Moughalian, 2007.

Ohannessian's 1919 sketch of the extant kiln at the Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem, used by itinerant ceramicists who came to Jerusalem during the nineteenth century to create renovation tiles for the Dome of the Rock. From Feast of Ashes, courtesy of Sato Moughalian.

Girls decorating ceramics at the Dome of the Rock Tiles workshop (1920). American Colony Photo Dept., Matson Photo Collection, Library of Congress.

Façade of the Dome of the Rock (detail, c. 1934-39), prior to the full 1966 restoration; American Colony Photo Dept., Matson Photo Collection, Library of Congress.

The Dome of the Rock on the Haram al-Sharif, Jerusalem. The current gilded dome was a 1992 gift from King Hussein of Jordan. Photo by Sato Moughalian, July 2013.

David Ohannessian ceramics, Dome of the Rock Tiles studio, Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem, 1930s. Photo by Olympia Shannon.
David Ohannessian ceramics, Dome of the Rock Tiles studio, Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem, c. 1930. Photo by Olympia Shannon.

Sato Moughalian with pieces attributed to David Ohannessian, March 2016. Photo by Chris Gratien.

Select Bibliography

ASHBEE, Charles Robert., Ed. Jerusalem, 1918-1920, Being the Records of the Pro-Jerusalem Council during the period of the British Military Administration. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, W., 1921.

ATASOY, Nurhan, Julian Raby, and Yanni Petsopoulos. Iznik: The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey. London: Alexandria Press in association with Laurence King, 1994.

AULD, S., R. Hillenbrand, & Y.S. Natshah. Ottoman Jerusalem: The living city: 1517 - 1917. London: Altajir World of Islam Trust., 2000.

BILGI, Hülya, and Idil Zanbak Vermeersch. Sadberk Hanim Museum Kütahya Tiles and Ceramics Collection. Istanbul: Sadberk Hanim Museum, 2018.

CARSWELL, John, and C. J. F. Dowsett. Kütahya Tiles and Pottery from the Armenian Cathedral of St. James, Jerusalem, 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972.

CELIK, Zeynep. "Reflections on Architectural History Forty Years after Edward Said's Orientalism." Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. 77.4 (2018): 381-387.

ÇİNİ, Rifat. Kütahya in Turkish Tilemaking. Translated by Solmaz Turunc and Aydin Turunc. Istanbul: Uycan Yayinlari A. S., 1991.

DAVIDIAN, Vazken Khatchig. “Reframing Ottoman Art Histories: Bringing Silenced Voices Back into the Picture,” Études arméniennes contemporaines [Online], 6 | 2015. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/eac/875

DEMIRSAR ARLI, Belgin, and Ara Altun. Tiles: Treasures of Anatolian Soil: Ottoman Period. İstanbul: Kale Group Cultural Publications, 2008.

DER MATOSSIAN, Bedross. “The Armenians of Palestine 1918–48,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 41 No. 1, Autumn 2011: 24-44 http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/historyfacpub/121

DERINGIL, Selim. Islam, Conversion and Apostasy in the Late Ottoman Empire: Religion, the Turkish State and Great Power Diplomacy, 1839-1921. I.B. Tauris, 2017.

ERSOY, Ahmet. Architecture and the Late Ottoman Imaginary: Reconfiguring the Architectural Past in a Modernizing Empire. London: Routledge, 2016.

KENAAN-KEDAR, Nurith. The Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem: Three Generations, 1919-2003. Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 2003.

KEVORKIAN, Raymond. The Armenian Genocide: A Complete History. London: I.B. Tauris, 2013.

KOUYMJIAN, Dickran. “Armenian Potters of Kutahia,” Richard G. Hovannisian, ed., Armenian Communities of Asia Minor. Costa Mesa: Mazda, 2014.

KUPFERSCHMIDT, Uri. The Supreme Muslim Council: Islam under the British Mandate for Palestine. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1987.

KÜRKMAN, Garo. Magic of Clay and Fire. Istanbul: Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation, 2006.

MONK, Daniel Bertrand. An Aesthetic Occupation. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2002.

MOUGHALIAN, Sato. Feast of Ashes: The Life and Art of David Ohannessian. Redwood, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019.

MOURADIAN, Khatchig. The Resistance Network: The Armenian Genocide and Humanitarianism in Ottoman Syria, 1915–1918. Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Press, 2020.

OLENIK, Yael. The Armenian Pottery of Jerusalem [Exhibition Catalogue, Ceramics Pavilion, Haaretz Museum, Tel Aviv, Summer 1986]. Tel Aviv: Haaretz Museum, 1986.

RICHMOND, Ernest Tatum. The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924.

SUNY, Ronald Grigor. They Can Live in the Desert But Nowhere Else: A History of the Armenian Genocide. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017.

SYKES, Mark. The Caliphs' Last Heritage; A Short History of the Turkish Empire. London: Macmillan and Co, 1915.

WHARTON, Alyson. The Architects of Ottoman Constantinople: The Balyan Family and the History of Ottoman Architecture. London: Tauris, 2015.

YAVUZ, Yıldırım. “The Restoration Project of the Masjid Al-Aqsa by Mimar Kemalettin (1922-26),” Muqarnas. 13 (1996): 149-64.


Ottoman History Podcast is a noncommerical website intended for educational use. Anyone is welcome to use and reproduce our content with proper attribution under the terms of noncommercial fair use within the classroom setting or on other educational websites. All third-party content is used either with express permission or under the terms of fair use. Our page and podcasts contain no advertising and our website receives no revenue. All donations received are used solely for the purposes of covering our expenses. Unauthorized commercial use of our material is strictly prohibited, as it violates not only our noncommercial commitment but also the rights of third-party content owners.

We make efforts to completely cite all secondary sources employed in the making of our episodes and properly attribute third-party content such as images from the web. If you feel that your material has been improperly used or incorrectly attributed on our site, please do not hesitate to contact us.