The AIWA Archives and Information Center was established to:
- increase awareness of the lives and contributions of Armenian women and the issues of importance to them;
- enable and encourage the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge about their history and status, both in the homeland and the diaspora;
- collect, preserve, exhibit, and make available for research information about them.
To these ends the Archives and Information Center seeks published and unpublished materials that document the lives of Armenian women of all countries, religions, and socio-economic classes and elucidate the many viewpoints surrounding issues of concern to them.
In view of the scarcity of readily available material, AIWA has embarked on efforts to encourage research and to publish and distribute information dealing with the past history and current status of Armenia women.
AIWA’s initiates in this area have been facilitated through a cooperative arrangement with the Armenian Cultural Foundation in Arlington, Massachusetts, which houses our archives and provides the facilities for many of our programs.
In 2001 the Archives were named in memory of Alice Kanlian Mirak, an active AIWA Board member during our early years and an enthusiastic supporter of the Archives.
Annual programs during Women’s History Month in March provide a forum for program focusing on the status and role of Armenian history.
History of the Archives
The Armenian Women’s Archives were established in 1996 in pursuit of AIWA’s goal “to gather information about the changing role of women in the world, and to monitor the activities of Armenian women.” During the past several decades, the field of Women’s Studies has expanded rapidly throughout the world, but very little had been done about the history of Armenian women until recent years. The purpose of the AIWA Alice Kanlian Mirak Archives is to collect and preserve for posterity the books, papers, and records of Armenian women and to make them available to researchers and the public. An understanding of the roles of Armenian women in the past can enlighten the current generation and provide useful insights into overcoming common misconceptions.
The Archives also gathers statistical and other information about the current status of women. We are indebted to many donors for much of the books, papers, and music in our collection. The value of the Internet as a means to provide and distribute information is becoming increasingly apparent, and our goal is to enrich the material available and expand its reach through such means as the AIWA website. AIWA’s efforts in this area have been facilitated through a cooperative arrangement with the Armenian Cultural Foundation (ACF) in Arlington, Massachusetts, which has generously provided a room to house the Archives. The Foundation also makes available to AIWA its beautiful facility for our programs.
In recognition of her support for the principles and goals of the Archives, the Board of Directors voted in 2001 to name the Archives in memory of the late Alice Kanlian Mirak. Programs In March of every year, a program is offered to commemorate Women’s History Month. It may be a scholar reporting on her recent work, an author who has just published a book, or a concert. One of our more ambitious projects was an exhibit in 2004 about the pioneering Armenian writer, diplomat, and humanitarian Diana Agabeg Apcar (1859-1937), who was named honorary consul in Yokohama, Japan, by the First Armenian Republic and was able to save countless Armenian survivors following the 1915 Genocide. The exhibit was co-sponsored by Project SAVE and ACF. Members of the Apcar family from different parts of the world were present for the opening, as was the Japanese Consul-General in Boston. The Archives are often contacted with requests for information about Armenian women. It might be a college student writing a paper, an advanced researcher, or someone working on family genealogy. In 2012 we were asked to provide information about early Armenian women writers and editors for one section of an Armenian Book Exhibit at Harvard University’s Lamont Library commemorating the 500th anniversary of Armenian printing. The exhibit later moved to the Armenian Museum of America.
Publications form an important means of gathering and distributing information about Armenian women. Our first book, Armenian Women in a Changing World
, consisting of the papers presented at our London Conference, was published in 1995. It was followed by the papers from our Paris Conference Voices of Armenian Women
, 2000 and the first Yerevan Conference, Armenian Women: New Visions, New Horizons
in 2003. These books are still in print and in demand.
Turning to history, our publication, Queens of the Armenians: 150 Biographies Based on History and Legend
, by Hayk Khachatrian, was translated from Armenian into English and includes a dozen charming illustrations in color.
This was followed by two books of poetry: The Other Voice: Armenian Women’s Poetry Through the Ages
, a collection of poems translated into English by Diana Der-Hovanessian (2005); and I Want to Live: Poems of Shushanik Kurghinian
(our only bilingual, English and Armenian, book, 2006). On a different note, we published in 2008 the English translation of My Odyssey
, by Antonina Mahari, wife of the noted Armenian poet and intellectual Gurgen Mahari. The memoir is of interest on many levels: as a chilling account of life under totalitarian rule, both Nazi and Communist, in the 20th century; a sympathetic portrait of the character and literary talent of a leading Armenian writer; and an insightful glance into the literary atmosphere in Armenia in the post-Stalin years — all this wrapped up in a touching love story.
The theatre is represented by our next publication, Notable Women in Modern Armenian Drama: An Anthology
, edited by Nishan Parlakian and including five plays translated from the Armenian. Represented are the playwrights Aleksandr Shirvanzade, Gabriel Sundukian, Hagop Baronian, Suren Partevian, Zabel Asadur, and Aramashot Babayan. The National Association for Armenian Studies and Research was the co-publisher of this book, which was released in 2009.
In recent years the Archives Committee has concentrated attention on our “Treasury of Armenian Women’s Literature” series, and specifically on translating into English and publishing works of the Ottoman-Armenian author, feminist, and political activist Zabel Yessayan (1878-1943). The first two books by Yessayan, The Gardens of Silihdar
(a memoir) and My Soul in Exile
(a novel), were released in 2014. in 2016, we released our third book by Yessayan, In the Ruins
, an eye-witness account of the aftermath of the 1909 massacres of the Armenians in Adana, Turkey. Sales of all the books have been brisk, and we have gone into a second printing of Gardens
and of My Soul in Exile
. Generous grants from the Dolores Zohrab Liebmann Fund and the Gulbenkian Foundation have been a major help in meeting the costs of translation and printing the books.
The Yessayan project has been spearheaded by AIWA member Judy Saryan, who has worked along with committee members Danila Terpanjian, Barbara Merguerian, and Joy Renjilian-Burgy. Judy has been particularly active in the distribution of books, having led book receptions in Chicago, Racine, Los Angeles, Greater Boston, and most recently in Armenia. We are especially encouraged by the fact that the remarkable life and writings of Zabel Yessayan, formerly almost forgotten except by a small cadre of Armenian literary scholars, are becoming much better known and appreciated.
Ensuring the words, stories and history of Armenian Women are translated and shared has been an important part of AIWA tradition and focus to ensure that women everywhere and generations to come are able to read these important works of art.
Novelist, short story writer, and essayist, she is one of Armenia's most talented prose writers of the twentieth century.
Zabel Yesayian, Constantinople born, and Sorbonne educated, published essays on French literature, and women's and social issues. She survived the 1915 genocide only to fall victim to Stalin's purges.
She leaves a legacy of social concerns, a strong sense of patriotism, and her literature.
Armenia's foremost novelist, short story writer and essayist, Zabel Hovanesian, was born in 1878 in the district of Silihtar, in Constantinople. After her graduation from the Holy Cross Armenian school in Scutari she went to Paris to study literature and philosophy at the Sorbonne in 1895. Here she met and married Armenian painter Dikran Yesayian (1874-1921). Already a professional writer, Yesayian returned to Constantinople in 1902. Refusing the only career path for literary women as public educators, she began publishing essays on French literature, women’s, and social issues. In 1909 Yesayian was sent to investigate the aftermath of the Armenian massacres in Cilicia, which became material for her book Among the Ruins (1911), a chilling witness account and interviews with survivors.
During World War I Yesayian was listed as one of the Armenian intellectuals to be arrested in April of 1915; she escaped the arrest by chance and hid several months in Constantinople before eventually fleeing to Bulgaria. In exile Yesayian served as a spokesperson and missionary for the Armenian refugees and orphans, traveling through the Caucasus, Iran, Iraq and Egypt, and helping set up orphanages. She wrote and published numerous articles on the plight of the Armenian people and the survivors of the Genocide, among which “The Agony of a People” (1917) and “Le role de la femme armenienne pendant la guerre” (1922).
After her husband’s death, in 1922 Yesayian settled in Paris with her mother and two children, where she lectured and continued writing. In 1933, at the invitation of the Soviet Armenian government and the campaigns to “return to the land,” Yesayian moved to Yerevan. She read lectures on French literature at the Yerevan State University and wrote important new works including Shirt of Flame (1934), the autobiography Gardens of Silihtar (1935) and her last book Uncle Khachik (1966), which appeared only posthumously. Marked as an antirevolutionary and a nationalist, Yesayian was heavily criticized and hounded by Stalin’s people. During the height of the Great Terror involving the 1936-37 “show trials” and the mass arrests of “people’s enemies,” Yesayian was arrested along with Yeghishe Charents, Aksel Bakounts and Vahan Totovents, and deported to Siberia. According to the official death certificate, Zabel Yesayian died in 1937, the year of her arrest, but her daughter, Sophie, recorded that her mother’s death occurred sometime in 1942-3, place unknown. In her appeal to the Soviet government, Sophie wrote: “I would have liked to bury her in the Pantheon, in her dear homeland, among her people. That would have been her most desired final home, “at the foot of Mount Ararat” as she liked to say.”
Autobiography [Inknakensagrutiun]. Yerevan: Sovetakan grakanutiun, 1979. Out of Print.
Among the Ruins [Averaknerun mej, 1911]. Out of Print.
Civilized People. [Shnorkov mardik]. Constantinople: Sagsian, 1907. Out of Print.
Hours of Solitude [Andzkutian zhamer, 1924]. Out of Print.
Fake Geniuses [Keghts hancharner]. Constantinople: Biuzandian Gratun, 1909. Out of Print.
Gardens of Silihtar [Silihtari parteznere]. Yerevan: PetHrat, 1935. Out of Print.
In the Waiting Room [Spasman srahin mej]. Tsaghik, 1903. Out of Print.
The Last Chalice [Verjin bazhake]. Constantinople: Cilicia, 1924. Out of Print.
The Man [Marde]. Masis, (March 26, 1905): 68. Out of Print.
Meliha Nuri Hanem. Paris: Taron, 1928. Out of Print.
Murat’s Journey [Murati chambordutiune, 1920]. Out of Print.
My Exiled Soul [Hogis akslorial]. Out of Print.
Retreating Forces [Nahanjogh uzhere, 1923]. Out of Print.
Shirt of Flame [Airvogh shapik, 1934]. Out of Print.
Uncle Khachik [Barpa Khachik, 1966]. Out of Print.
When They Don’t Love Anymore [Yerb ailevs chen sirer, 1914]. Out of Print.
Interview with Judy Saryan and Isabella Sargsyan from the Eurasia Foundation Institute in Armenia, an institute that supports civil society.
One evening in March, 2011, after watching the documentary, Finding Zabel Yessayan, a group of women from AIWA decided to band together to introduce Yessayan’s writing to a wider audience. When we began our project to translate Zabel Yessayan’s books from Armenian into English, we had little idea where our journey would take us. We spent months researching Yessayan’s life and literary contributions. She wrote prodigiously, and during her lifetime she published several works in a variety of literary formats including novel, memoir, essays, plays, and testimony. We decided to start with one of her great psychological novels, My Soul in Exile, which confronted the themes of alienation and isolation. We then turned to her lyrical memoir, The Gardens of Silihdar, which she wrote in Soviet Armenia and published in 1935. Our third book was an earlier work ,which we chose to highlight the 2015 centenary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide. In the Ruins was Yessayan’s first-hand account of the aftermath of massacres in Adana, Turkey – often considered a key historic event in the lead-up to the Armenian Genocide.
Zabel Yessayan’s Turbulent Life
Zabel Yessayan was born into the tumultuous, multiethnic world of late 19th Century Constantinople (Istanbul). By the time Yessayan was a young girl, the Sultan had unleashed his fury on both Christian minorities and the progressive elements of Ottoman society. Despite being surrounded by family members beset with mental illness and alcoholism, she learned about the importance of human dignity and respect from her father, a progressive and worldly thinker. At the age of 17, she published her earliest works and she traveled to Paris to study at the Sorbonne. Yessayan was one of the first Ottoman women to get a higher education and to study overseas. She wrote her first novel, The Waiting Room, about an émigré North African Jewish woman who was married to a man with a terminal illness. Yessayan examines the themes of exile, isolation and “the other” – ideas she would return to again in her later works. In 1902 Yessayan returned to Constantinople where she edited the women\'s pages of a literary journal and continued to write essays and novels. She created a furor in the Armenian community when she published Phony Geniuses, a satire about fellow Armenian writers. During the next few years, she tried to start an Ottoman Women's peace organization in which all religions and ethnic groups in the empire would be represented. Her influential voice brought her to the attention of the Armenian religious leadership of Constantinople who asked her to join a delegation to provide relief for the victims of the 1909 massacres of Adana. She traveled to Adana and upon her return wrote her most powerful appeal for human rights, In the Ruins. Her experience in Adana and the uprising in the Balkans shaped her views of war, and in 1912-1913 she wrote Enough! which decried the horror of war on the innocent of both sides. It is unclear whether the Turkish government had read any of her work, but nonetheless she was considered a potential danger. She was the only woman on the list of approximately 250 Armenian intellectuals who were targeted for arrest and murder at the early stages of the Armenian Genocide. Yessayan eluded arrest and went into hiding in the city until she was able to escape to Bulgaria using a false identity. A few months later when Bulgaria entered the war on the side of the Germans and Turks, she escaped again, this time to Tiflis and then Baku where she feverishly recorded testimony from survivors of the Genocide. The work exhausted her, and she envisioned a new novel in order to find a mental space of peace and beauty in the midst of war. Soon after, Yessayan penned her psychological novel, My Soul in Exile about an artist who returns to her native city of Constantinople. The story is set in a time before World War I, before the erasure of the Armenians from their Western Armenian homeland. After writing several more novels including one about a Turkish woman Meliha Nuri Hanim (which was recently translated into Turkish and published in Turkey), she became disillusioned with life in France and decided to emigrate to Soviet Armenia. There she found a brief period of stability, and she wrote the lyrical memoir of her childhood, The Gardens of Silihdar . This time, her outspoken support for fellow writers caught the attention of Stalin's henchmen. The target of another empire, she was arrested and sent to prison where she survived six years and then died in obscurity.
The Power and Beauty of Zabel Yessayan’s Writings
The psychological novel, My Soul in Exile follows the artist Emma as she returns home to Constantinople after finding success abroad. In her innovative, impressionistic style which the author and critic Krikor Beledian calls a “poetic recital”, Yessayan explores universal themes of alienation and the conflict between the individual and society. In beautifully drawn sketches, the city of Constantinople comes to life in vivid colors. My Soul in Exile is translated by G.M. Goshgarian. This publication includes essays and other short works. The Gardens of Silihdar is a memoir of a young Armenian girl growing up in Constantinople in the late 19th century. Yessayan reveals how early on she developed the ambition to become a writer in a world hostile to the contributions of women. Despite family alcoholism and depression, and against a backdrop of impending doom, Yessayan finds and uses her voice. Growing up in the multiethnic city of Constantinople, Yessayan traces her philosophical and artistic evolution in a memoir of her childhood and early teen years. The book is translated into English by Jennifer Manoukian, who recently won the Dr. Sona Aronian Book Award from NAASR for this translation.
At age 31, Yessayan journeyed to the scene of the 1909 massacres of Armenians in Adana to provide relief for the victims and to observe conditions. She returned to Constantinople and penned In the Ruins, which heralded a new literary form. A literature of testimony, Yessayan documents the voices of the survivors who tell her their horrific stories and describe their emotional turmoil and terror. The book includes an appendix with selected articles and letters by Yessayan that elucidate the events of 1909 and their immediate aftermath. Translated by G.M. Goshgarian, the official publication date is March 8, 2016, coinciding with the 2016 celebration of International Women’s Day. These three volumes contain arguably the best and most influential works of a gifted artist, human rights activist and pioneer. They provide a picture of the scope, breath and historical significance of her writing and bring the reader into a world delicately balanced between intense beauty and unpunished cruelty.
The books are the latest releases in AIWA’s “Treasury of Armenian Women’s Literature” series, which makes available English-language translations of works by pioneering women authors who wrote in Eastern or Western Armenian. The translation and publication of The Gardens of Silihdar and My Soul in Exile and Other Writings were supported by a generous grant from the Dolores Zohrab Liebmann Fund. In the Ruins was made possible by a generous grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation.