December 3, 2021: The Zoryan institute is pleased to announce that it has digitized the 900 photographs contained within its Cole Collection archive. The digitization of these photographs is an important first step in the considerable task of digitizing the Cole Collection in its entirety. The archival documents in the Collection hold invaluable historical significance, offering firsthand insights into life in Armenian and Kurdistan Turkey between the years of 1868 and 1908.

Rev. Royal M. Cole and his wife Lizzie Cobleigh Cole served as Congregationalist missionaries for forty years in 19th century Armenian and Kurdistan Turkey, under the sponsorship of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. The Coles arrived at Erzurum in August 1868, and over the next sixteen years, Rev. and Mrs. Cole were engaged in various relief work, and the building and maintenance of educational institutions in Erzurum. In 1884, Rev. Cole assumed the position of Director of the American Mission at Bitlis, organizing extensive relief assistance throughout the province (particularly following the widespread massacre of Armenians in many locations across this vilayet in August 1894), and directing a number of schools and orphanages there. In May 1908, the Coles retired to the United States.

Throughout his time in the region, Cole extensively documented his encounters and experiences in the forms of notes, journals, diaries, tables and charts, hand-drawn maps, relief records and lists, miscellaneous documents and photographs. The Zoryan Institute felt it had the obligation, as well as the pleasure, to purchase this invaluable archive, containing over 9,000 densely handwritten pages of documentation, in 1997.

By reviewing the documents contained within the archive, researchers are able to develop a better understanding of the forces and factors that influenced the realities of those residing in Armenian and Kurdistan Turkey between 1868 and 1908.

In the words of Dr. Yilmaz Kuskay, a scholar whose forthcoming publication, titled American Protestant Missionary Station in Erzurum, Turkish Nationalists, and the Lausanne Treaty was supported by documents within the Cole Collection:

“Royal M. Cole was one of the most important American Protestant missionaries in Erzurum. His handwritten notes provide important insights into the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War, and the Collection is an invaluable resource for research on Eastern Turkey between 1868 and 1908.”

Dr. David Low, whose research looks at the photographic studios of the Ottoman East and the role of photography in Ottoman Armenian lives, and whose book titled Picturing the Ottoman Armenian World: Photography in Erzurum, Harput, Van and Beyond is to be published in 2022, stated:

“The Cole Collection has proved a rich resource.  Of particular value to my own work has been a number of rare prints from Ottoman Armenian studios, studios of which few vestiges remain, despite their having been important fixtures in their homes, cities, and communities.  Cole evidently possessed a natural archival instinct, one which is traceable not simply in the photographs he collected but also in those he made himself, and one which we benefit from today.  His collection offers unique opportunities for the study of the photographic medium and the Armenian world that he was part of and witness to for many decades.  Now more easily accessible thanks to the Zoryan Institute’s digitization efforts, I look forward to it being utilised further by historians of photography as well as historians more generally, whom I encourage to explore the capacity of photographs to serve as source material.”

Below please find a sample of some of the photographs found in the collection.

The digitization of the Zoryan Institute’s archives will dramatically increase their accessibility, allowing them to be readily available to a wider network of scholars and researchers. The urgency of digitization has been further illuminated during the COVID-19 pandemic, as due to travel restrictions and health and safety concerns, researchers who were previously able to access the archive in-person at the Zoryan Institute’s Toronto and Arlington offices, were no longer able to do so.  Additionally, digitization will protect delicate documents contained within the archives from deterioration, and allow them to be backed-up on multiple platforms, thus ensuring their preservation for future generations.

While the Zoryan Institute is delighted to have digitized  the Cole Collection photographs, the digitization of the rest of the 9000 handwritten documents contained within the Collection remains a significant undertaking. Given the shift to online research and learning, especially with the uncertainty of the pandemic, Zoryan Institute hopes to complete the digitization of this  extensive collection by the end 2023.

For more information on the Cole Collection, please visit For researchers seeking access to the digitized archive, please contact

In order to digitize and actively maintain the Zoryan Institute’s invaluable archive collections, we need the support of our donors. Archive digitization and maintenance is a costly endeavour, involving substantial technological, human, and financial resources to maintain the integrity of documents, and ensure that they are stored and backed up in an organized, secured, and accessible manner. Please assist the Institute by making a donation today.


Donors will receive a tax deductible receipt for their contribution (if in Canada or the United States).

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