Armenia: Portraits of Survival

Note: This exhibit is still in the process of being installed, and thus considered experimental.

Photographs by: Jerry BerndtIntroduction by: Donald E. Miller

Yerevan is a modern city with many high rise apartments and office buildings. Without electricity, people are forced to carry their water up multiple flights. The elevators do not work, and public transportation grinds to a halt. We were told that the average weight loss last winter was tvventy to thirty pounds.

This well-educated populace - one of the most prosperous republics of the former Soviet Union - is now issued ration coupons for bread. People have exhausted their savings, and on weekends citizens are selling the most common household items in huge outdoor flea markets. In interviews, several people saicl they knew of individuals who had sold the gold fillings from their teeth in order to feed their children.

With great ambivalence, people have been cutting down trees in order to heat their homes and cook. They know that it is an ecological travesty, but survival demands compromises. Elderly people told us that they had literally hibernated during the vvinter, leaving their beds only for the hour or two when there was electricity. Without light and heat, children also spend much of their time in bed, dressed in all of their clothes.

The images on the pages that follow document the struggle of the people of Armenia for survival. The quotations at the bottom of the pages are drawn from the more than 250 interviews done by our research team. These brief quotations tell their own story, and they are not necessarily keyed to the images on the page. Our photographer, Jerry Berndt, wandered on his own as the research team interviewed, and these photos reflect the eye of a non-Armenian as he shot more than 100 rolls of film.

The goal of this photo essay is to heighten awareness of the needs of the people in Armenia. Regardless of one's personal opinion of the war with Azerbaijan, the civilian population continues to suffer enormously. Their survival requires your help.

Donald E. Miller
Professor of Religion
University of Southern California


Jerry Berndt grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His photographs appear in major magazines in Europe and the United States. He has received three Massachusetts Artists' Foundation Fellowships, a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts Fellowship for his book, Missing Persons, and three Massachusetts Arts and Humanities Grants to complete photographic projects. He has taught photography at the Art Institute of Boston and University of Massachusetts. His photographs are included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York City; The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA; The Museum of Fine Art, Houston Texas; the International Center of Photography, New York City; and the Bibliotheque National, Paris, France. He currently lives and works in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Copyright by Donald E. Miller 1994. All rights reserved.
No part of this exhibit may be rcproduced in any form without
written permission from the publisher.
For information regarding photographs and
for additional copies, write or fax:

Donald E. Miller
P.O. Box 6052
Altadena, California 91003
Fax (818) 794-7892