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Zabel Yessayan Writings Appear in
New Cambridge Literary Journal



Pangyrus , Editor Greg Harris, center, with (from left) Joy Renjilian-Burgy from AIWA, Ahna Wayne Aposhian from Pangyrus, Judy A. Saryan, and Danila Terpanjian, both from AIWA, at the June book reading at Porter Books.
Cambridge, Mass. – The new literary journal Pangyrus includes several pieces by the Armenian feminist writer Zabel Yessayan in its recently released third issue.

Originally published in 2015 as an online journal, Pangyrus appears in this third issue in hard copy as well as online.

The Yessayan pieces consist of a chapter titled “My Home,” from the Istanbul-born Armenian writer’s memoir, The Gardens of Silihdar; a few pages from the author’s eyewitness account of the aftermath of the 1909 Adana massacres, In the Ruins; and the chilling mystery story “The Man,” published in the collection titled My Soul in Exile and Other Writings.

The Yessayan material is reprinted from the three books of Yessayan’s writings translated into English and published by the Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA) as part of its series titled Treasury of Armenian Women’s Literature. Along with the excerpts, is a description of Zabel Yessayan’s life and literary significance and several photographs.

Almost forgotten until recently, Yessayan (1878-1943) was a leading figure in the literary renaissance that took place in Western Armenia in the late 19th and early 20th century. After receiving her primary education at the Holy Cross School in Istanbul, Yessayan became one of the first Ottoman women to study abroad when she went to Paris and enrolled in the Sorbonne. Her articles, essays, and books quickly established her reputation as a leading writer associated with progressive circles in Paris and in Istanbul.

Yessayan’s life reflected the tumultuous events that accompanied the fall of the Ottoman Empire, World War I, and its aftermath. The only woman on the list of Armenian intellectuals arrested and exiled in April 1915, she went into hiding and managed to escape to Bulgaria and, later, to the Caucasus, where she devoted herself to interviewing Armenian Genocide survivors and providing information to European (especially French) journalists about the condition of the Armenians.

Later Yessayan moved to Armenia, where she taught French literature at Yerevan State University and continued her writing. But soon she became a victim of the anti-intellectual policies of the Stalinist Armenian government, was arrested, and died in prison under unknown circumstances.

Editing and publication of the English-language translations of Zabel Yessayan’s works is carried on by AIWA’s Publications Committee: Judy Saryan, Barbara Merguerian Daniela Terpanjian, and Joy Renjilian-Burgy. Support was provided by the Dolores Zohrab Liebmann Fund and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Publication is part of AIWA’s mission to gather and distribute information about the history and current status of Armenian women.

Pangyrus is produced by a Boston-based group of writers, editors, and professionals who came together with a new vision to foster a community of creative individuals and organizations dedicated to art, ideas, and making culture thrive. Its aim is to publish well-crafted, thought-provoking writing and multimedia storytelling in every genre, including short stories, investigative reporting, reviews, essay and memoirs, flash fiction, poetry, journalism, short documentary film and visual arts.

Editor of Pangyrus is Greg Harris, who has taught writing at Harvard since 2003, and the staff includes Fiction Editor Anne Bernays, Poetry Editor Cheryl Clark Vermeulen, Comics Editor Dan Mazur, Managing Editor of the Print Edition Ahna Wayne Aposhian, and several others.
Further information is available from www.pangyrus.com and info@aiwainternational.org.

Archives and Publications

The Alice Kanlian Mirak 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

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 Zabel 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.