During my stay at Solitude in the summer of 2014, there were two events that were related to my work. A year later, in the spring of 2015, I was on a journey through the Balkans on the same path refugees took a month later. I was in the Budapest Keleti railway station as well, where the refugees started to walk west toward Austria and Germany, and change European history.
I started writing essays about all this, because sometimes I need time to reflect before starting artworks on a topic. Writing about it makes it clearer for me. It’s something behind the mirror. But in both ways I would say that my work is political in the way that its topics are.
I started writing essays about all this, because sometimes I need time to reflect before starting artworks on a topic.
The first event was the death of the German archeologist Klaus Schmidt on a Baltic island at the same time we built up our exhibition at Solitude. He discovered Göbekli Tepe, a place in northern Mesopotamia with the oldest temple built by hunters and gatherers 9,000 years before the pyramids. His paradigm-shifting thesis says that mankind became settlers through working on this temple.
The other was that I was reading the novel The 40 Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel and the rise of the so called islamic state in summer 2014.
Here are two short extracts:
Oriental Oddity (extract)
Panic in Sofia (Horror in the Orient)
On Tuesday April 2, I set off from Germany. A few days ago I set back the clock one hour. In Romania I set the clock one hour ahead, or was it two hours? Time zones against time shift. No orientation in the German railway’s travel plan. One or two hours are missing somewhere, always. In Bulgaria any Eastern European Time applies, too. Friday, the second day of the journey, was Good Friday in Budapest as well. The following Sunday, the Sunday before Easter Monday, I reached Sofia. In Sofia it was Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter Week. There are no palms in Sofia and people wore branches of weeping willows to the church. Easter would be here a week later. The Orthodox Easter feast. Byzantium. Constantinople. The East. Orient.
In 1933 at the age of 19, Patrick Leigh Fermor walked from Hoek van Holland through Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania to Constantinople on foot. He never said Istanbul. And he never arrived. He met a Romanian princess and stayed with her somewhere in an abandoned castle at the mouth of the Danube until the war. Then he went to Crete as a intelligence officer and kidnapped the leading German general. »Herr General, wie geht es Ihnen? Ich grüße Sie!,« he said in German on a Greek TV show where they met again in the 1960s. They stood on a Cretan mountain and recited Ovid to each other.
People stood in a line in front of the portal of the Hagia Sophia. Justinian had it build at the same time, like the Sophia church in Constantinople. It looked like a shell; only bricks, no plaster, no frescoes. Its construction and the method are visible. After 1,400 years, it is still sublime and graceful.
I forgot his name but he marveled that I know the name of his town, Idlib. He had gone all the way from there to Istanbul through all of Turkey, on foot. Then he took a smuggling route through Bulgaria. He is 27 years old and a journalist.
Patrick, have you heard, your kite green Byzantium?
The hostel was an old Greek guesthouse for travelers and merchants on the way to Constantinople. An elongated, two-story building with exterior stairways and wooden veranda, it was idyllic. An island as well.
Deir ez-Zor, Al-Raqqah, concentration camps without fences. The Armenians were brought there, into the Mesopotamian desert. They were driven back and forth until they fell over dead of thirst and hunger. One of the memorials to this tragedy was blown up by Islamists. Not much more is known.
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong.
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
He was taken aback that I travel without a passport, that my German identity card is sufficient, even in Turkey.
Up in Sofia it was cold. Snow was falling at night. From the airport at the other end of the town, planes take off and pull up higher so as not to smash into the surrounding mountains. While we had a smoke, we saw their lights outside.
The land lay there, as an infinite area, traversed by water, big rivers, tributaries, swamps, puddles, in a disoriented, confusing size that people gave the same name to all the water. Dn Dnpr Dnstr Dn. So the water is pronounced, leaving out the vowels. And so it will have sounded as the mountain rose up and the water cut in.
Don, Dniper, Dniester, Donets, Danube, the old Sarmatian, Scythian sound for water, for river, like they have heard the cutting and pushing. The waters of the Danube were already there when the mountains rose. Alps, Balkans, Carpathians, the Alpine mountain range and the remained planes in it, the endless land masses that reach deep into Asia (…)
The 40 Days of Musa Dagh and forty days on the Mount Sinjar
Essay (extract/ overview)
The Arabic word jazeera means an island or peninsula. It refers to the Arab peninsula, but it is used, as Jazira, for the island between the two rivers Euphrates and Tigris as well.
In the north of this island is a mountain range called Sinjar or Şengal, which sadly became known in 2014, during the barbaric state ethnic cleansing and genocide on the Yazidi people there. The same time I read the novel The 40 Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel.
The essay I write is called »The 40 Days of Musa Dagh and forty days on the Mount Sinjar.« It is about the novel’s relations and importance in the presence. Three topics are interesting. The first is the comparability or equality between the Yazidi people today and the Armenians in the novel (and in reality) 100 years ago. The second topic is the role of the Mediterranean Sea. The third is about the German discussion about the term “displaced people” and Franz Werfel himself.
Werfel’s novel tells the true story of around 4,000 Armenians. They fled to Moses Mountain and barricaded themselves and defended themselves with hunting weapons against the Ottoman army, which sometimes had the support of German artillery officers.
Even if they did not know how a final rescue could look and see if it would give one at all. It was clear to the Armenians that they would be deported and killed if they would be defeated. IN his 1932 novel, Werfel later called the death marches walking concentration camps.
Both were civilian groups under siege and fire by professional armies. The barbaric states’ militia is a kind of a professional army led by former Iraqi officers of Saddam Hussein with a more or less higher tactical education. I use this name because they are and I did not use the capitalization because even orthography should not become a stronghold for them.
Both the Yazidi and the Armenians were rescued over the Mediterranean. The Armenians directly by French and British warships; the Yazidi, like all refugees, later and on a much more dangerous way.
To put it briefly again: World War I began in 1914, in 2014 was its hundredth anniversary. The Armenian genocide began in 1915, so in 2014 the ninety-ninth anniversary committed and prepared for the hundredth. Actually a good time to read the novel by Franz Werfel.
I started it in spring 2014. In summer 2014, the barbaric state staged a kind of blitzkrieg. The ongoing story in the novel had the same dramatic development as the news in the media. The parallels were astonishing and confusing; interrupting the novel meant the story continued in the news.
The German word Vertriebene means »displaced people« and it was used and coined by the right-wing organisation Bund der Vertriebenen (BdV, like band of displaced people). They coined this word in the meaning of the displaced Germans from the former German territories in Eastern Europe. There is a tragic story with these 12 million people as well, but they were not the first ones driven from Germany. They were the third. The second ones were Czechs displaced by the Nazis in 1938. The first were German artists, scientists, and journalists. Franz Werfel was one of them.