By Elif Ozmenek
If there is anyone who thinks that Turkish-Armenian reconciliation is impossible they should get to see Mihran Adman's stamp collection.
Adman, an Armenian who was born and raised in Istanbul, now resides in New York and brings two communities together every time he exhibits his amazing collection of Armenian postal history in the Ottoman Empire.
Quite different from the history books when one looks at this incredible collection one realizes that the past of the two communities is inseparable and closely knitted. The stamps in his collection are not only an important part of Armenian history but also Ottoman/Turkish history. “A lot of nations' postal history starts with the Ottoman Empire,” Adman says in explaining the intricate connection.
His collection goes back to 1840, the first year official seals were used as a part of the Ottoman postal service. However Adman also owns every single stamp that was printed in the republic's history.
With his remarkable collection one almost travels in time.
Adman started collecting stamps when he was 15. “I bought my first collection of stamps for $1,000. That was an incredibly high amount in 1960. This almost led to a family tragedy,” Adman smiles. As a fifteen year old visiting his aunt in Paris he realized a book of Anatolian stamps and asked his aunt to help him out to buy the collection but of course she said no. Then Adman managed to entice his grandmother as the only grandchild in the family. His father went ballistic when he heard that Mihran paid that much for this one collection. That was the starting point of his life long journey.
I would have never thought a stamp collection could tell so many different stories. “If you do not know history well you won't be able to collect stamps, or let's say you won't be able to form a collection,” Adman says. “For example stamps have deckle edges. In my collection two of the same stamps have different edges. One has twelve punched deckle edges the other one has five. The reason for that was during the war the hole-puncher broke and they used sewing machines instead to punch holes for the stamps in Istanbul.”
The first stamp was published in Istanbul in 1860. “Greece for example published its first stamp in France because they did not have the technical capacity. The Ottoman Empire published its first stamp in Istanbul,” said Adman.
Armenians played a crucial role in establishing such a strong postal service in the empire. Krikor Agaton, the director of general of the Ottoman postal administration in the 1850s, convinced the Europeans to use the Ottoman postal service instead of their own.
This way the empire could both control what was being sent and collect postal taxes. However, after Agaton's sudden death the Europeans withdrew from the agreement and never gave up their postal services until the foundation of the republic. Adman says he feels upset that today Armenians' role in such a strong postal service are not remembered at all. “On some of the envelops I collected over the years from the Ottoman years the addresses were only written in Armenian and they reached their destinations just fine because most of the postal service workers knew Armenian.” However, Adman does not want his stamp collection to be a part of a long lasting political debate. The Armenian diaspora asked Adman to give his stamps to be exhibited in the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. He, without hesitating, refused. In May Adman will be exhibiting his collection in the Turkish Cultural Center in New York. He also says one day he wishes to exhibit it in native Istanbul as well.
Adman, who loves Istanbul very much, had to leave his hometown in 1980 because of the increasing attacks on minorities. However, he never lost touch. Adman is very well known and respected among the Turkish community in Long Island as well.
“On this boat ticket,” he says, showing one interesting piece from his collection, “There are four languages, Ottoman, Greek, Armenian and French on four different corners. That is how multicultural the empire was,” Adman says with a hope that one day Turkey can embrace its multicultural past full heartedly.
On April 24 of this year, like the last 92 years, many think that Turkish-Armenian reconciliation is impossible: To those who think this way I recommend that they find Adman and look at his amazing stamp collection.
Source: Turkish Daily News, Turkey
28 April 2007
28 April 2007