Feast of Ashes

9781503601932: Hardback
Release Date: 23rd April 2019

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 440

Edition: 1st Edition

Stanford University Press

Feast of Ashes

The Life and Art of David Ohannessian

Hardback / £24.99

The compelling life story of Armenian ceramicist David Ohannessian, whose work changed the face of Jerusalem—and a granddaughter's search for his legacy.

Along the cobbled streets and golden walls of Jerusalem, brilliantly glazed tiles catch the light and beckon the eye. These colorful wares—known as Armenian ceramics—are iconic features of the Holy City. Silently, these works of ceramic art—art that also graces homes and museums around the world—represent a riveting story of resilience and survival: In the final years of the Ottoman Empire, as hundreds of thousands of Armenians were forcibly marched to their deaths, one man carried the secrets of this age-old art with him into exile toward the Syrian desert.

Feast of Ashes tells the story of David Ohannessian, the renowned ceramicist who in 1919 founded the art of Armenian pottery in Jerusalem, where his work and that of his followers is now celebrated as a local treasure. Ohannessian's life encompassed some of the most tumultuous upheavals of the modern Middle East. Born in an isolated Anatolian mountain village, he witnessed the rise of violent nationalism in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, endured arrest and deportation in the Armenian Genocide, founded a new ceramics tradition in Jerusalem under the British Mandate, and spent his final years, uprooted, in Cairo and Beirut.

Ohannessian's life story is revealed by his granddaughter Sato Moughalian, weaving together family narratives with newly unearthed archival findings. Witnessing her personal quest for the man she never met, we come to understand a universal story of migration, survival, and hope.

Contents and Abstracts
Prelude: The Search
chapter abstract

Prelude: The author, an immigrant growing up in the United States, discovers a passion to discover more about the life and art of her grandfather, David Ohannessian, who founded the art of Armenian ceramics in Jerusalem in 1919. To learn about her heritage, she must confront her family's traumatic experience during the Armenian Genocide and search for the art and other traces her grandfather left behind.

1Mouradchai: The Armenian Village
chapter abstract

This chapter explores the ethnically Armenian mountain village in western Anatolia in which David Ohannessian was born in 1884 and where his ancestors lived for four centuries. The narrative describes daily life, wedding customs, the agriculture, and commerce of the village, and the encroachment of economic and social factors from the larger world on the inhabitants of this isolated hamlet at the end of the nineteenth century.

2Eskishehir: The Engagement
chapter abstract

The Ohannessian family resettles in Eskishehir, where David Ohannessian attends a French Catholic school, and discovers a variety of possible professions in a larger and more European-influenced city. The chapter briefly reviews the presence and distribution of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and the challenges faced by this minority. David Ohannessian falls in love with Victoria Shahbazian and asks for her hand in marriage.

3Constantinople and the Art of Kutahya
chapter abstract

In 1902, David Ohannessian spends several months in Constantinople and discovers his vocation: ceramic-making. He moves to Kutahya to apprentice in the craft and learns that the region is rich in the clays and other minerals that gave rise to the art of glazed painted ceramics around the fifteenth century. The chapter follows the tradition of ceramic making in Kutahya in the ensuing eras. By 1907, Ohannessian masters the art and following year, he married and deepened his connection to the city's longstanding Armenian community.

4Kutahya: Princes, Sheikhs, and a Baronet
chapter abstract

Ohannessian establishes an independent ceramics studio in Kütahya, the Société Ottomane de Faïence, and enters partnerships with Mehmet Emin and Garabed and Harutyun Minassian to tile the growing number of buildings in the new Ottoman revivalist style and to produce glazed pottery for domestic sales and export. The 1908 Revolution brought a surge of interest in nationalist architecture along with many orders for new works as well as tiles to restore important mosques through Ottoman and Arab territories—Bursa, Konya, Mecca, Damascus, and Cairo. Ohannessian meets Mark Sykes, who commissions several substantial orders for his baronial estate in Yorkshire, Sledmere House. As Ohannessian and his partners work with architect Ahmet Kemalettin on new buildings and restorations, they become intimately acquainted with ceramic traditions from the thirteenth through the eighteenth centuries and amass a technical knowledge and a wide-ranging decorative repertoire. The Great War begins.

5Exile
chapter abstract

Huge numbers of Balkan Muslim refugees enter western Anatolia, posing new threats to Greek and Armenian communities. As the Ottoman Empire embarks on battles along its borders, the government places blame for early defeats on Armenians, painting them as traitorous and disarming Ottoman Armenian soldiers. On April 24, in the capital, Ottoman police and irregular forces round up more than two hundred of the most influential Armenian intellectuals, merchants, priests, and artists, and deport them into the interior, where many of them are murdered. The entire village of Mouradchai is deported on twenty-four hours' notice. In Kutahya, Ohannessian is arrested and then deported with his family.

6In the Mountains, Aleppo, and Meskene
chapter abstract

The Ohannessian family follows the path of deportation taken by Armenians living in the western provinces of Anatolia—traveling by train to Bozanti, and traversing the Taurus Mountains, the province of Adana, and the Amanus Mountains. The family enters the community of Armenian refugees in Aleppo, but is deported again, this time to Meskene, the site of a desert death camp near the Euphrates. The Ohannessians return to Aleppo. After the British take the city, Mark Sykes finds Ohannessian subsisting as a refugee and recommends him to Ronald Storrs, the new Military Governor of Jerusalem, to produce new tiles for the planned British restoration of the Dome of the Rock.

7Jerusalem I: The Haven
chapter abstract

The Ohannessians arrive in Jerusalem and join other Armenian survivors in the Convent of St. James. Ohannessian meets with Ernest T. Richmond, the consulting architect brought by the British to evaluate the Dome of the Rock. Ohannessian experiments with tile making using the unsatisfactory local materials. He returns to Kütahya to recruit workers and obtain clays and other minerals. Ohannessian trains Armenian orphans in the art of ceramic making. Outbreaks of violence between Jerusalem's Arab and Jewish communities in 1920 and 1921 lead to the establishment of the Supreme Muslim Council as a vehicle for greater Arab self-governance. The SMC appoints Ahmet Kemalettin to oversee the restoration of the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque. Ohannessian and his artisans are dismissed from the project, but continue to produce ceramics, perfect their technique given the lack of materials in Palestine's parched environment, and forge relations with distributors.

8Jerusalem II: The Feast
chapter abstract

Ohannessian's studio adds workers, begins to exhibit at international expositions, and receives many commissions for tiled works in Jerusalem, transferring the Ottoman tradition of glazed, painted tile ornaments for domestic architecture to Jerusalem and creating elaborate tiled installations in new government and private structures. He establishes distribution outlets in Europe, the United States, Africa and through the Middle East. Arab-Jewish tensions lessen with the outbreak of World War II, but intensify upon its conclusion.

9The Scattering
chapter abstract

One by one, members of the Ohannessian family leave Jerusalem, terrified by the intensifying violence. Thousands of Palestinian Armenians flock to St. James Armenian Convent seeking refuge. The Ohannessians leave for Damascus and then Egypt. Fimi Ohannessian finds a job in the British Council Library in Cairo and survives Black Saturday, the arson and violent destruction of 400 British and European-related businesses in the downtown district. The family flees Cairo's violence for Beirut and scatter after Ohannessian's death in 1953.

Postlude: The Return
chapter abstract

The author decides to write a biography of her grandfather and travels to the places in Turkey where he lived and worked. She locates the remnants of Ohannessian's birth village and travels there. She searches for his surviving works in the world today.

Sato Moughalian is an award-winning flutist in New York City and Artistic Director of Perspectives Ensemble, founded in 1993 to explore and contextualize works of composers and visual artists. Since 2007, Ms. Moughalian has also traveled to Turkey, England, Israel, Palestine, and France to uncover the traces of her grandfather's life and work, has published articles, and gives talks on the genesis of Jerusalem's Armenian ceramic art.

"Feast of Ashes is an exceptional story of Armenian artisanship and one of its luminaries, David Ohannessian. As told by his granddaughter, Sato Moughalian, the tumultuous events at the end of the Ottoman Empire and the lasting legacy of Armenian ceramics unfold through her family history."

Dickran Kouymjian
author of The Arts of Armenia

"Feast of Ashes is a passionate journey of discovery, an exemplary work of craft and design history, and a powerful narrative of the meaning of family identity. An extraordinary book—I loved it."

Edmund de Waal
author of The Hare with Amber Eyes and The White Road

"A hundred years after David Ohannessian brought the art of Armenian ceramics to Jerusalem, his creations still glint from the walls of buildings and in cabinets there—and still testify to his singular talents, his mastery of a time-honored tradition, and his admirably stubborn belief in the possibility that beauty might emerge even out of terrible suffering. With love, care, and an attention to detail as exacting as his own, Sato Moughalian offers a moving tribute to her grandfather and his radiant handiwork."

Adina Hoffman
author of Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architects of a New City

"More than merely a tribute to the talents of her grandfather, Moughalian's book is a work of alchemy—combining the personal, tragic history writ large, and the somehow uplifting power of enduring art."

Elizabeth Taylor
National Book Review

"Feast of Ashes is a lovingly crafted account of family, loss, and home. Chronicling the last century's unresolved tragedies and injustices on a most personal level, Sato Moughalian forces us to acknowledge what these events have truly cost us all—a necessary insistence, if we ever hope to be free of the grievous mistakes we too oft repeat."

Alia Malek
author of The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria

"Sato Moughalian embarks on a sweeping journey from the Armenian Genocide to the present day to tell the story of how her grandfather became a master ceramist. Feast of Ashes is a compelling, brilliant work, revealing how one survivor of that infamous crime honored Armenian culture and created glorious art."

David Scheffer
former U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues, author of All the Missing Souls: A Personal History of the War Crimes Tribunals

"Sato Moughalian is a born storyteller. Her account of the remarkable life of her grandfather, the Armenian ceramicist and tile-maker David Ohannessian, should be read by artists, by historians of the Middle East and, above all, by anyone sensitive to the power of the human spirit to make great art in the face of persecution, migration, and exile."

Tanya Harrod
coeditor of The Journal of Modern Craft