The Last Temptation of Ani: Backdrop for Models

The online Armenian independent journal Ianyan (www.ianyanmag.com) has featured an article about a curious yet highly controversial new use of the famous ruins of Ani in Western Armenia (currently Eastern Turkey), very close to the border with the Republic of Armenia. While posing among the ruins could be tolerable, posing inside a church becomes simply another chapter in the endless saga of desacralization whose penultimate chapter was written a few months ago. As the readers may recall, days after the Armenian mass at the restored church of Aghtamar on the lake Van (September 2010), a group of Turkish right-wing nationalists had not better idea than having a Muslim prayer around the ruins of Ani. Needless to say that, either for a Muslim prayer or for a photo spread in Ani, some kind of government permit must be secured first.
Elle Turkey’s December editorial spread in which models Ana Zalewska and Karolin Machova prance through and pose in the now ruined and abandoned Armenian city of Ani has been met with criticism from Armenians angry at the use of the 5th century medieval capital whose population was slaughtered by Seljuk Turks and now has been identified as one of the 12 worldwide sites most “On the Verge” of irreparable loss and destruction according to the Global Heritage Fund.
The spread, photographed by Senol Altun and styled by Melis Agazat, shows the models in striking knits and patterns in and around the “City of 1001 Churches” but the sacrifice of an ancient site in the name of fashion has left many up in arms.
The photos, posted on Fashion Gone Rogue, have received an influx of comments condemning the shoot.
“By murderin people, occupyin their churches, leavin them in ruins and the mercy of nature and then using them as a background for some fashion show….and the civilized west simply “falls in love….[sic],” wrote a commenter named Ari.
Another commentator named Nat regretted the idea of politicizing fashion, but called the photo shoot “pretty tasteless” and drew parallels to other hypothetical situations.
“Would we want to see Naomi Campbell posing with a nice faux fur in a burned out synagogue somewhere? Or perhaps Gisele [Bundchen] posing in work clothes around the gates of Auschwitz.”
While it’s considered a ghost city and has been uninhabited for over three centuries, Ani’s fallen churches and rubble against a backdrop for use in a fashion editorial in Turkey has clearly reopened old wounds for Armenians.
“How about a mountain of bones in the background? Armenian bones,” wrote a commenter named Ruben.
The Cathedral of Ani, constructed in the year 1001 and designed by celebrated Armenian architect Trdat is prominently featured in the spread.
Though it remains unclear who designed the clothes, which feature long floral and animal print skirts in vivid colors as well as knit jackets and cardigans, the scenery captivated one anonymous commenter more than the fashion: “I didn’t even notice the clothes. I was too distracted by the beautiful setting.”
Recently Kuriositas, a blog about science, art and “everything in between” posted a long photography feature on Ani that includes its tragic history.
Twitter user @hkubra alerts us to the fact that in a slightly similar fashion, a portion of the Turkish public were angry that a fashion show was being staged in a historical 15th century madrasah or learning institution last September. The show was meant to be held there in an effort to highlight the cultural and historical significance of the Turkish city of Mardin. Hurriyet Daily News provides further context.
Another Tweeter, nhacizade, pointed us on the Turkish site Ermeni Haber about the shoot. “This show at the Ani ruins is a sign of Turkey’s disrespect towards Armenian cultural heritage,” the text was translated as saying.
Liana Aghajanian

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