Heghnar Zeitlian Watenpaugh


On her book The Missing Pages: The Modern Life of a Medieval Manuscript, from Genocide to Justice

Cover Interview of April 03, 2019

A close-up

When I first heard about the lawsuit, it resonated with me in many ways. I am an art historian, I had been a Getty Fellow, and the Armenian Genocide is part of my family history. As the lawsuit was winding its way through legal procedures and court filings in Los Angeles, I decided to go on a quest, to retrace the steps of the Zeytun Gospels, from the site where it was created through all the known stations on the journey that eventually took the manuscript to Yerevan, Armenia, minus its eight missing pages that ended up in Los Angeles. I hoped to gain a fuller understanding not only of the manuscript itself and of its history, but also of the places, landscapes, and even ruins where the Gospels had spent time during its itinerary. I hoped to learn something of how the Gospels and its communities had interacted in specific places, and how the genocide and its long-term effects had transformed these sites.

The book is structured along this “quest,” where each chapter considers a city or site where a key moment in the manuscript’s life unfolded. In the overall arc of book, the central character is the Gospels. Yet each chapter can stand on its own. Those who are passionate about medieval sacred objects can delve into the chapter on Hromkla, the castle on the Euphrates River not far from the Mediterranean, where the artist Toros Roslin created the Zeytun Gospels for his patron, the Catholicos of the Armenian Church, the great bibliophile Constantine I. Those who want to know more about the genocide and the destruction of culture will be drawn to the chapters that retrace the steps of the holy book through some of the most terrible atrocities of World War I and the Armenian Genocide. And those who love courtroom dramas and restitution battles can focus on the final chapter on Los Angeles, that follows the lawsuit and its players and places it in the context of the restitution movement for the Armenian Genocide, which was modeled in many ways on the recent wave of Holocaust Restitution.

rorotoko.comToros Roslin, Canon Tables from the Zeytun Gospels, 1256, J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 59. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Even the book’s illustrations are carefully curated and sequenced to tell a stand-alone story through narrative captions.