The early-20th-century rare photography of Mush Armenians taken by a Norwegian nurse
The rare photography showcases Armenian national costume and traditional Armenian dances harmoniously intertwined. The silverware accessories, elaborate headgears, richly-embroidered aprons of women, and vests with the furry shoulders, turban-shaped headdresses, sashes, and wide-leg pants of the men from the united ensemble of Armenian cultural heritage.
The photography is considered noteworthy also from the perspective of revealing the curiosity of foreigners towards Armenian culture; it was taken by a Norwegian missionary nurse Bodil Biørn (1871-1960) during the celebration or the feast at Surb Karapet Monastery (4th century, Mush), that was demolished in the year 1915, as a consequence of the Armenian Genocide.
Biørn was born on 27 January 1871 in Kragerø, Norway, to the family of a wealthy shipowner. In 1905, after studying nursing in Germany, she was sent by the Women’s Missionary Organization to the Ottoman Empire and worked as a missionary nurse in Mezereh, Kharberd Province, and later in Mush. She opened schools and a clinic for widows and orphans in cooperation with German missionaries. A witness of the Armenian genocide, she and her colleagues, saved the lives of many homeless women and children. She also documented the horrifying and tragic events she witnessed through her testimonial diary and photography. In the Near East, Biørn took care of Armenian orphans in Syria, Armenia, and Turkey. In 1922 she founded an orphanage named “Lusaghbyur” in Alexandropol, Soviet Armenia. She continued her work by helping Armenian refugees in Syria and Lebanon. She died in Oslo on 22 July 1960.
At the initiative of the Armenian community of Aleppo, a statue honoring Bodil Biørn was created and shipped to the city of Kragerø and erected there in 2004. A delegation from Aleppo headed up by Jirair Reisian attended the ceremony.