Glimpses into the ARF Photo Archives: What is an Archive, Anyway?

For the past few months, I have had the great privilege of working through the collection of over 3,500 photographs in the archives of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF).

The photographs have been meticulously scanned and thoroughly cataloged already by some colleagues. My job has been to go through the list, fix or fine-tune whatever needs an extra pair of eyes – at times involving some engaging and surprising supplementary research – and upload the images onto the photographs section of the website. Some finishing touches have often been further supplied by more colleagues still. It is a real team effort.

Now that we are past the 1,500 mark of uploaded photographs, I have put together a few brief articles for the pages of the Weekly highlighting some themes and takeaways from the collection. This venerable newspaper has shared insights from the ARF Archives on more than one occasion in recent years. Beyond anything else, I would like to invite readers to have a look at the images for themselves at Maybe you will find a great illustration for a report, a fun tidbit to share with family and friends, or a familiar face or two – relatives or ancestors, perhaps?

To start with, it is worth asking: just what is an archive, anyway? What gets to be called an archive – as opposed to, say, a scrapbook? How are archives even made?

The term “archive” can be quite broad. It comes to English via French and Latin, ultimately from the Greek arkhe, meaning “beginning” or “first,” the same root for “archeology.” That is also the same root possibly shared with the Armenian arka [արքայ], meaning “king.” In Armenian itself, the word bahots [պահոց] could be used to mean an archive – suggesting a place for storage. Another word is tivan [դիւան], which is more associated with courtly, official record-keeping. 

All of the above suggest a systematic documentation of materials – so, maybe indeed like a scrapbook, but much bigger, covering a longer period of time and including information and objects that have probably had some measurable impact on society. Official archives have public significance, after all – history worth preserving and sharing. The archives of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation are now in the process of being made more and more accessible for that very reason.

At the same time, how archives are compiled requires judgment and pointed effort. Getting up to the level of “systematic documentation” can be tricky, costly and time-consuming. In addition, some items never get preserved or get lost along the way, for all sorts of reasons (wars, natural disasters, conspiracies, carelessness…). For scholars studying the origins of government and statehood, the spread of bureaucracies serves as a strong indicator of the organized regulation of public life. Their activities tend to be especially directed towards conscription and taxation – controlling armies and money have long been the most important characteristics of governments. The establishment of archives forms part of such processes.

However, if there ever were a nation that could not claim a regular, stable political path, it would be the Armenians. And so it comes to pass that the ARF Archives present, in fact, a motley and not-necessarily-systematic collection of materials, whatever has managed to survive. In one of his very last public lectures – delivered at Soorp Khatch Church in the Washington, D.C. area in May 2023 – the late Prof. Richard Hovannisian recounted how he first came across the boxes of documents pertaining to the Republic of Armenia in Boston covered by a thick layer of dust. That was probably sometime in the 1950s or 1960s. The record-keeping of the young republic of 1918 is certainly included in the ARF Archives – to whatever extent possible given the upheavals of 1918-1921. Papers from the ARF as a political organization are likewise there. The photographs, for their part, stretch from the era at the beginning (arkhe!) of the Federation of Armenian Revolutionaries (as it was first called) of the late 19th century, all the way up to the 1970s, possibly later still.

One reason why it is important to share the photographs far and wide is the first theme from the collection that would strike anyone clicking through the website – a lot of unknowns.

One reason why it is important to share the photographs far and wide is the first theme from the collection that would strike anyone clicking through the website – a lot of unknowns. Many of the posts are entitled “Unknown Man” or “Unknown Group.” One of my favorite parts of the job is deciphering the handwriting that appears on the back of many photographs. Sometimes it is quite clear. Other times, a few good guesses need to be thrown in with accompanying question marks. And then, very often, there is no information at all accompanying the pictures. But they still need to be shared. So they go on the website as an “unknown.” I hope that someone somewhere will recognize the subject or the event and eventually chime in.

My colleagues and I recognize these imperfections in the archives. We also acknowledge our own limitations in the way we document and share them. Library science and database management are well-established disciplines and practices. We are doing our best with the chief aim of opening up the materials at the ARF Archives to the public. In future, we hope to be able to preserve and present these materials even more professionally, with more detailed records. Right now, we intend for the website to serve as a tool and resource for a broad audience.

(The ARF Archives is glad to hear even now from scholars and researchers, if anyone wishes to make a specific project proposal for a closer look and first-hand access to materials, depending on their availability.)

For my own part, I can say that, for example, choosing to transliterate between Western Armenian and Eastern Armenian pronunciation standards has been challenging when putting up the materials in English. Publishing information in the original Armenian would also be worthwhile at some point down the line. That is just one detail that comes to mind as I sift through episodes of history and understand my own responsibility in shaping how generations to come will perceive generations past. That is another impact archives have, directly or indirectly.

In the meantime, going through the collection is like unwrapping a Christmas present with every click. You never know what’s going to happen, who’s going to show up next! We Armenians already get two Christmases every year. People working on archives evidently get multiple Christmases a day.

In future glimpses into the ARF photo archives, I shall curate some images from the collection – many of them thought-provoking, some surprising, at times funny and always interesting. They form a part of our collective story and now give us the chance to form a fuller picture of our past.

Nareg Seferian has lived, studied and worked in New Delhi, Yerevan, Santa Fe, Boston, Vienna, Istanbul and Washington, DC. His writings can be read at

Georgian President wishes “peace, welfare” to Armenians on Christmas, Epiphany holidays

Agenda, Georgia
Jan 7 2024

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili on Saturday wished the Armenian Apostolic Church and its congregation in Georgia and abroad “peace, health and welfare” on their Christmas and Epiphany celebrations. 

In her social media post, Zourabichvili “heartily” congratulated the Armenian people, while also extending her congratulations to the representatives of the denominations who are celebrating the Annunciation of the Lord today.

Earlier today, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili also congratulated Armenian compatriots, as well as Armenians “all over the world”, on the holidays.

Japan earthquake death toll tops 126

 14:40, 6 January 2024

YEREVAN, JANUARY 6, ARMENPRESS. The death toll from Japan's New Year's Day earthquake topped 126 on Saturday with more than 222 people still missing, as follows from the data published by the regional authorities.

According to the recent data, at least 516 people have received injuries of various degree of severity. So far, emergency services have not detected location of 222 residents. A search and rescue operation is underway in the disaster area, involving the Japan Self-Defense Forces.

The greatest damage was caused to Ishikawa Prefecture where more than 250 houses were destroyed, and fires destroyed about 300 buildings. The region continues to experience power and water shortages and fuel shortages.

Armenian Ambassador to U.S. attends holiday reception hosted by Secretary Blinken


YEREVAN, DECEMBER 29, ARMENPRESS. Armenian Ambassador to the United States Lilit Makunts has attended a holiday reception hosted by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“It was wonderful to attend the warm holiday reception for Chiefs of Mission hosted by Secretary Blinken and Ms. Ryan,” Ambassador Makunts said on X. “Looking forward to a more robust Armenia-U.S. partnership in 2024!”

Azerbaijani President and Armenian PM Shake Hands: A Step Toward Peace?

Hong Kong – Dec 26 2023

By: Momen Zellmi

In an unanticipated turn of events during an informal summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan made a significant gesture, extending hands to each other. This handshake, simple yet profound, carries weight in a context of strained relations and unresolved issues, particularly in the wake of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The conflict, an intense six-week battle, concluded with a ceasefire orchestrated by Russia. However, the ceasefire, while halting immediate hostilities, left many issues hanging in the balance, keeping the diplomatic atmosphere between Azerbaijan and Armenia taut. It’s in these troubled waters that the handshake between the two leaders emerges, a potential beacon signaling a willingness to engage in dialogue.

Being an informal summit, the CIS provides a unique platform for leaders to engage in direct, less rigid discussions. This setup can sometimes pave the way for progress in diplomatic relations, as it allows for more relaxed, personal interactions. The handshake between President Aliyev and Prime Minister Pashinyan, while not necessarily indicating a breakthrough in Azerbaijani-Armenian relations, is a gesture that could be interpreted as a step towards more constructive engagement in the future.

While it’s crucial not to overstate the handshake’s significance, it’s equally vital not to dismiss it outright. The broader implications of this interaction are yet to unfold. Given the lingering tension from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the historical rivalry between the two nations, this handshake might just be the seed of a more conciliatory phase in Azerbaijani-Armenian relations. It could be the beginning of a dialogue that brings these two nations closer to resolving their differences and fostering peace in the region.

Economic calculations have been made for Crossroads of Peace project – PM

 17:10, 6 December 2023

YEREVAN, DECEMBER 6, ARMENPRESS. Economic calculations for the implementation of the Crossroads of Peace project have been made, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has said.

The Prime Minister was asked during question time in parliament on the potential economic benefits of the Crossroads of Peace project and whether calculations have been made. 

“We have such calculations and we can provide them to you, they are calculations made by an international organization,” the Prime Minister said in response to a question by MP Arthur Khachatryan. “The Crossroads of Peace concept isn’t simply an economic calculation, it is a broader and more comprehensive project, it doesn’t only have an economic significance, it has huge political, security and regional significance,” Pashinyan said.

Armenia convenes talks after Russia bars its trucks amid diplomatic spats -Armenpress

Nov 29 2023

TBILISI, Nov 29 (Reuters) – Armenia has convened emergency talks at the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union after Russia refused to allow in a growing number of its trucks amid a deepening diplomatic chill between the two nations, state news agency Armenpress reported on Wednesday.

Armenpress quoted Vahan Kerobyan, Armenia's economy minister, as saying that the number of Armenian vehicles denied entry to Russia had increased dramatically in recent days.

"It is simply strange that 35 trucks get turned around in a whole year, and then just within two days another 35 trucks (get turned around), when no changes have been made in our regulations or the quality of products of the suppliers,", Armenpress quoted Kerobyan as saying.

It cited Kerobyan as saying that emergency consultations on the matter would take place within the next two days.

Russia's agricultural watchdog said in a statement on Tuesday it had noted "a sharp increase" in sanitary violations in imported Armenian agricultural products.

The bulk of Armenian exports go via Georgia to Russia, with the only land link between the two countries being a single road connecting Georgia and Russia through the Caucasus mountains.

As of 1230 GMT on Thursday, a Russian government website said that 3,231 trucks were waiting at the Verkhny Lars border post, which is often closed due to weather conditions. It was not clear how many trucks had been turned away.

Relations between Russia and Armenia, a treaty ally of Moscow that is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union, have sharply deteriorated in recent months.

Armenia has blamed Russia for the loss of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan in September – something which resulted in a mass exodus of ethnic Armenians – while Russia has reacted angrily to Armenian attempts to deepen its ties to Western countries.

Reporting by Felix Light Editing by Andrew Osborn

World Bank Regional Director briefs Armenian Deputy PM on possible directions and tools of cooperation


YEREVAN, NOVEMBER 28, ARMENPRESS. Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigoryan received World Bank Regional Director for the South Caucasus Rolande Pryce.

At the beginning of the meeting, the participants discussed the basic needs of the forcibly displaced refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh and the programs developed by the government to address them, Grigoryan’s office said.

"Rolande Pryce reaffirmed the World Bank's readiness to support Armenia and presented possible directions and tools of cooperation," the statement reads.

 According to the source, the interlocutors exchanged ideas, particularly focusing on infrastructure development and public administration reforms in Armenia.

It is noted that, as part of the meeting, Mher Grigoryan presented the "Crossroads of Peace" project to the World Bank Regional Director for the South Caucasus, outlining its main goals and the development trends of the region in case of its implementation.

Turkish Press: There is historic opportunity to forge peace in South Caucasus, says Turkish defense chief

Nov 28 2023

There is historic opportunity to forge peace in South Caucasus, says Turkish defense chief

Türkiye believes path to regional peace is through comprehensive peace agreement signed between Azerbaijan and Armenia, says national defense minister

There is an opportunity to establish peace in the South Caucasus, the Turkish national defense minister said on Monday, but added that so far Armenia has passed this up.

"Although they have a historical opportunity to establish peace, tranquility and cooperation in the South Caucasus, we see that Armenia has not been able to adequately utilize this historical opportunity," Guler said at a meeting with his Azerbaijani and Georgian counterparts in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital.

Guler met with Azerbaijan’s Zakir Hasanov and Georgia’s Juansher Burchuladze to discuss regional defense issues and defense cooperation.

Türkiye will continue its solidarity with Azerbaijan and Georgia for the sake of peace and stability in the region, Guler said.

"We have supported the negotiation process between Azerbaijan and Armenia from the beginning and continue to do so," he stressed.

"We believe that the path to regional peace and stability is through a comprehensive peace agreement signed between Azerbaijan and Armenia."

Relations between the two former Soviet republics have been tense since 1991, when the Armenian military occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions.

Most of the territory was liberated by Azerbaijan during a war in the fall of 2020, which ended after a Russian-brokered peace agreement and also opened the door to normalization.

This September, the Azerbaijani army launched an anti-terrorism operation in Karabakh to establish constitutional order in the region, after which illegal separatist forces in the region surrendered.

Having established full sovereignty in the region, Azerbaijan then urged the Armenian population in Karabakh to become part of Azerbaijani society.

Türkiye believes that a lasting peace in the South Caucasus can only be achieved through a comprehensive and permanent peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Turning to the Black Sea region, Guler said: "We believe that turning the Black Sea into an area of strategic competition and further escalation of tension should be avoided."

*Writing by Diyar Guldogan from Washington

Armenian police ‘forced Ingush domestic abuse victim to meet family’

Nov 17 2023

An Ingush domestic abuse victim seeking asylum in Armenia was allegedly temporarily placed in police custody after being reported missing by her uncle, who rights groups claim was allowed to meet her at the police station.

On Tuesday, the Armenian police found Fatima Zurabova, 21, in Ashtarak, a town northwest of Yerevan, and took her into their custody in Yerevan.

Armenia’s Investigative Committee said that a friend of her relatives had reported her missing to the Armenian authorities on 10 November.

Before being taken into police custody, Zurabova published a video stating that she had left Russia voluntarily after being subjected to abuse by her family. She added that she taken nothing valuable from her home, and asked her family not to look for her. 

On the day that Zurabova was taken to Yerevan, her uncle, Yusup Zurabov, who is an Ingush MP, flew to Armenia’s capital and went to the police station where his niece was being held. Marem, a North Caucasus women’s rights group that facilitated her escape, claim that the police confiscated Zurabova’s phone and locked her in a room with her uncle.

Zurabov also served as Ingushetia’s minister of economy and is an active member of United Russia, a party that supports Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A spokesperson for the head of Armenia’s Investigative Committee stated on Thursday that Zurabova was not under arrest, and did not meet with any relatives during her time in Armenia’s investigation department. 


Armenia’s Human Rights Defender’s Office added that police reported that Zurabova had been transferred to a ‘safe space’. 

On Wednesday, Marem told Holod Media that Zurabova had approached them for help in late September, saying that since she was 15, she had been frequently beaten by her family for ‘preventative purposes’.

‘They beat her with a belt for being insufficiently religious because of suspicions that at some point she might behave in a way that was inappropriate for Ingush society’, said Marem.

They also said that after each beating, the family would confiscate her phone so that she could not record evidence of her abuse.

Zurabova’s mother reportedly told her that her family planned to marry her off, while her brother pressured her into quitting her job.

Cherta Media quoted Zurabova as saying that her family would kill her if she returned to Ingushetia.

Marem added that Zurabova’s uncle had told the group that he had contacted his connections at ‘the top of Armenia’s Interior Ministry’, and had gained access to Zurabova’s phone, correspondence, and contacts.

He also demanded that Zurabova return to Ingushetia accompanied by lawyers, where she could declare ‘in front of all her relatives’ that she left Ingushetia of her own volition. He stated that he would subsequently ‘disown her because he does not need such a niece’.

He threatened to otherwise ‘deal with’ everyone who helped Zurabova, including the taxi driver who had taken her to the airport in Mineralnye Vody.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Marem said that Zurabov appeared to be ‘well-connected’, and that he had threatened to do ‘everything within his capabilities and character to those who organised it all’.

Marem’s founder, Svetlana Anokhina, added that Zurabov had threatened to accuse his niece of theft. Women fleeing domestic abuse in the North Caucasus are frequently detained on charges of theft and later returned to their abusers.

[Read more: Chechen domestic abuse victim ‘abducted and sent to Grozny’]

According to Marem, Zurabova has sought protection from the police in Armenia, who reportedly said that they could not assist her since she was subjected to abuse in Russia. The police also reportedly told her that she needed to apply for refugee status from the migration service in order to be eligible for state protection.

Armenia’s Human Rights Defender’s office told that their rapid response team had visited Zurabova on Wednesday. 

RFE/RL also stated that Zurabova’s mother had flown to Armenia to see her daughter. Mamikon Hovsepyan, a human rights activist, criticised the police for letting Zurabova’s family see her in the police station.

‘Firstly, the support of the police and law enforcement officers was needed, which is not there’, Hovsepyan told RFE/RL. ‘They say if the abuser is the brother, and he is not in Armenia, then she is not in danger. They do not take into account that the whole family is in the police, that she is threatened, and they are just ready to let her go.’