AWOL (Armenian Weekly On-Line), March 3, 2007

The Armenian Weekly On-Line: AWOL
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AWOL (Armenian Weekly On-Line), Volume 73, Number 9, March 3, 2007

1. To Hell with the Roses!
By Khatchig Mouradian

2. Janus Revisited: A Duality of Identity
By Tatul Sonentz-Papazian

3. The Russians Have Gone Too Far
And the Silence of Armenians is Not Understandable
By Khajag Mgrditchian

4. ‘It is One of the Greatest Tragedies’
An Interview with Paulo and Vittorio Taviani
By Marc Hairapetian
Translated from German for the Armenian Weekly by Kristen Heim

5. Activist of the Hye Plains
Up-and-Coming Denver Blogger and Filmmaker Simon Maghakyan Tells it Like it
By Andy Turpin

6. Sing It, Kuyr!
A Celebration of International Women’s Day
By Andy Turpin

7. The Armenian Woman
By Anahide Ter Minassian
Translated from French by Tatul Sonentz

8. Two Poems by Krikor Ficici
Translated from Armenian by Tatul Sonentz

9. Hovannisian Lectures on the Changing Landscape of Historic Armenia
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1. To Hell with the Roses!
By Khatchig Mouradian

On March 8, women in Armenia will be expecting roses, gifts and other
expressions of love from their husbands, fiancés or boyfriends. It is
International Women’s Day (IWD), after all. It is the day they will feel

But like every year, that atmosphere of celebration will conveniently ignore
the political message of IWD. In many cases, the roses will read "I am your
caretaker," and "I am (or will be, or want to be) the head of our home."
Rarely will they say "You and I are equals" or "Armenian women have been the
pillars of Armenian society in the best of times and in the worst of times."

Few men will remind the woman they give the roses to about the Armenian
women who bore the torch of the feminist movement in the Ottoman Empire.
Very few will remember the women who fought alongside the men when Turkish
regulars and irregulars attacked their villages.

Many will continue believing that while Srpouhi Dusaps and Sose Mayrigs are
heroes, "our women" should not resemble them.

"Our women" ought to be obedient (hnazant), and us men shall remain the head
and the master (der).

Few will remember that after the Yeghern of 1915, when most of the
able-bodied Armenian boys and men were killed, it was the Armenian women who
took up the survival of an entire nation on their shoulders.

And on their shoulders this nation-with its two wings-still rests today.

>From our mothers to our teachers, to our partners in the workplace and our
partners at home, Armenian women continue to carry this nation on their
shoulders, while we, the men, stay busy showcasing our muscles.

Not only should we acknowledge and treat them as equals, but we must thank
them for conceding to be equals with us.

This is not a message of feminism as much as it is a message that we will
grasp when we, as Armenians, look behind us and around us.
———————————————- ————————

2. Janus Revisited: A Duality of Identity
By Tatul Sonentz-Papazian

Fifteen long years after the emergence of the Third Armenian Republic from
the (still smoldering) ashes of the Soviet Union, Armenia’s National
Assembly has passed a bill giving some six million ethnic Armenians the
right to hold Armenian citizenship while keeping their allegiance to the
country of their residence abroad.

Today, there are probably around nine million Armenians living on this
planet-no one knows for sure. We do know, however, that at this time, around
3 million of them live within the boundaries of the present Armenian and
Artsakh Republics, while the rest, some 6 million of them, are spread out
over the disparate landscapes of two distinct diasporas: the inner
Diaspora-confined to the lands that constituted the former Soviet Union and
its satellite states-and the world-wide Diaspora-survivor and heir to that
other Armenia, miscarried at Sèvres and buried in Lausanne-now consisting of
a global dispersion, with major concentrations in the Middle East, Europe
and the Americas, emerging on the world political stage as Ankara’s bête

No one today denies the fact (except maybe clueless Turks afflicted by over
eight decades of Kemalist brainwashing) that Armenia, as a distinct entity
among the nations of the world, emerges from the earliest pages of recorded
history as a recognizable entity with a well-established identity. This
identity stems not only from cohesive populations conscious of their unique,
enduring culture, but also from a historic attachment to a well defined
territory-both eastern and western-that constitutes its presently split
patrimony. One also cannot deny that deprived of these basic attributes,
people cease to function as a distinct nation; they become "millets" or, in
contemporary terms, "ethnics", distinguished mostly by racial, religious and
eventually diluted cultural attributes, their history and identity defined
by dominant forces whose imposed perceptions-benign or hostile-remain way
beyond their control.

Absolutist delusions aside, strict homogeneity is seldom the defining factor
in a nation’s identity. Thus, within their own contexts, Armenian
communities of the Diaspora-looking eastward-as well as Armenian populations
in the homeland-looking westward-are far from homogeneous within themselves.
To speak of "typical spiurqahais" or "typical Haiastantsis" will only lead
one to tenuous generalizations disproved by the realities that face us.
Regardless of the differences, the fact remains, that the two segments’
collective gaze (one looking east the other west) meet and lock somewhere
around Vaspurakan.

Indeed, the populations of Armenia, Artsakh and Javakhk-not to mention
countless multitudes of Kurdish and Turkish speaking, semi-assimilated
Armenians still surviving in Western Armenia under a Kemalist rule living
its twilight under the ascending Islamic crescent-display distinct cultural
diversity in speech, folklore and traditional concepts and perception
concerning the nature and destiny of our nation. There are the traditional
differences between the land-bound, conservative rural populations and the
more sophisticated, permissive, footloose and emigration oriented
inhabitants of the metropolitan areas. As is the case in all nations, there
are also noticeable differences in speech, lifestyle and world outlook
between our Homeland’s inhabitants of Yerevan and Gyumri, Stepanakert and
Shushi-perhaps not as glaring as those between Persian, Lebanese, French, or
American-Armenians of the global Diaspora, but equally meaningful in the
manifestation of a proliferating diversity, grouped within the two main
segments of a linguistic and political duality.

We are, after all, a nation that over eons has assimilated countless
cultures into its pantheon of values. Almost all the cultures of the world
have left their imprint on the Armenian mind and soul. They have shaped our
lexicon and molded both the individual and communal life-styles of our
scattered communities. In keeping with prevailing political situations and
trends, they have enhanced or restricted the natural development of our
ethnic structures-school, church, social and political organizations. They
have influenced our thinking, our perception and evaluation of
history-theirs and our own-our very concepts of nationhood and collective
destiny have not been immune to these influences. It follows that in these
conditions, in the name of national harmony, the primary task of our nation’s
leadership-such as it is-should be the formulation of a shared concept of
our past, our present and future goals and the creation of much needed
structures to pursue them in an effective, unified manner.

In essence, the question before us is more than just a matter of duality in
the future cohabitation of Homeland and Diasporas in the context of our
collective, national psyche. In pan-Armenian terms, it deals with a far more
complex and, thus far, uncharted realm of reality where, in the absence of a
visible direction set by an adequate leadership, foreign interests and their
surrogates are given free rein to define and decide the policies that
eventually will affect the future of our nation. Again, the necessity to
create a leadership with global concerns that transcend the fragmented and
divisive trends of the scattered components of our nation becomes paramount.
Ideally, that leadership should come from the Homeland, with a credible
legal and moral mandate from the communities of both the Republics and the
Diasporas. However, it is hard to achieve such an end without the
realization of a strong, legitimate, democratically assembled edifice of
national sovereignty that has realized a modicum of territorial and
demographic progress that can accommodate the long awaited aspirations of
all Armenians.

Needless to say, those aspirations are legitimized by the acceptance and
performance of duties; they should imply a true and actively proven
commitment to the security and welfare of the Homeland, whose citizenship,
now available if desired, must be given meaning by those who hold it, with a
true commitment to our sorely tested Homeland’s protection and development.
Over the last decade, half a million Armenians have abandoned the Republic
to seek their fortunes abroad, trusting their future to the restless,
constantly shifting sands of the Diasporas, adding a new, disturbing
dimension to an already baffling Haiastan-Spiurk interaction. Let’s face it,
a "Haiastantsi", saying good bye to his native land under the relentless
pressures of present trying conditions, is more of a "diasporan" at heart
than a youngster born in France, Lebanon, or America, raised in an Armenian
home, nurtured within the ethnic circles of educational, religious, social,
and other national organizations, who, given a chance, is ready and willing
to spend the rest of his life in the Homeland. The concepts of "Haiastantsi"
and "Spiurkahai" cannot, and should not be applied on an arbitrary basis of
geography. Being an Armenian, in this day and age, requires a broader
tolerance for the unusual, the unorthodox, and the yet-to-be-tried roads of
the unconventional.

We should also remind ourselves, that we are not the only nation faced with
the realities of imposed dispersion, trying to weather its storms, while
connected with a homeland distanced by present realities, yet accessible by
the call of history. On different levels, we are all inhabitants of that
state of mind-ethnicity yearning for recognized nationhood, for normalcy,
for the conventional. To a scattered and embattled nation fighting for a
comeback, it is the location of the commitment in its children’s hearts and
minds that counts, not the landscape of conventional geography, often
mangled beyond recognition by arbitrarily imposed boundaries.

Getting back to our own immediate problems, the threat of a drift between
Homeland and Diaspora, can be averted if we set aside old and obsolete
concepts and opinions totally outdated in today’s realities. The
twenty-first century, accelerated by constant innovations in transportation
and communication technology-shakes the very essence of distance and time,
while our communal thinking is still expressed with the semantics and
terminology conceived and coined in the 19th century. While through e-mail,
internet, fax machines and supersonic air travel our world-wide communities
and our Homeland are only a few seconds and a few hours apart, we still sing
and teach our children sad songs of distance and separation-there is no harm
in singing folk songs of exile, but we don’t have to function in a frame of
reference that went out with the horse and buggy. Not any more.

Whether we like it or not, along with a number of other nations, we are
scattered to the four winds and constitute a global presence in a gradually
shrinking world. Our presence is felt in many locations, our voice can reach
the multitudes that seemed inaccessible only yesterday. We can make people
listen and hear the logic of the righteousness of our Cause if we learn to
speak as one nation. If we must speak in several voices, at least, let us
try to harmonize our messages before making our appearance on the world
stage. In a well-planned diplomatic thrust, it is possible to reach the same
objective even with outwardly disconnected approaches, as long as they are
guided by the dictates of long-range national goals.

Arming themselves to the teeth, the intentions of the enemies of our
sovereign national existence are no secret. Against this petroleum stained
gauntlet hurled at the split face of our duality, at this critical juncture
of our history, both Homeland and Diaspora-lacking in real unity and common
purpose, remain in grave danger. The truth is, that our nation, since the
opening salvos of World War I, is engaged in a life and death struggle
against powerful enemies in the name of a long established and legitimized
national cause, a cause that in the past has successfully united Homeland
and Diaspora around a common national struggle. The present move of the
National Assembly, legislating dual citizenship for all Armenians,
legitimizes the naturalization of a duality that is a fact of life for the
majority of our people.

It is time for the two segments to open their minds and eyes wide and follow
their eastward and westward gazes and meet halfway in the very cradle of
their emergence as a nation, forcing a jaded, anachronistic Janus to turn
around and face itself.
—————————————— —————————–

3. The Russians Have Gone Too Far
And the Silence of Armenians is Not Understandable
By Khajag Mgrditchian

Russian authorities are now saying they found the body of an Armenian
stabbed 21 times in a residential building on Feb. 21. Similar crimes were
reported on Feb. 12, Jan. 19, etc.
So far these events have been seen as part of a rising wave of intolerance
towards immigrants from the South Caucasus in Russia, or as part of rising
Russian nationalism. It is natural that the murder of an Armenian in a
country that has a strategic partnership with Armenia will be viewed
differently than the murder of an Armenian reporter in Turkey, a nation
guilty of genocide and genocide denial.
But hasn’t the phenomenon of Armenians murdered in Russia gone beyond the
point where it can be tolerated? We think a line has been crossed. What’s
happening in Russia is not very different from what happened in Turkey with
the Hrant Dink’s murder.
If what happened in Turkey was the manifestation of extreme intolerance
toward freedom of opinion, then what has been happening in Russia could be
seen as a manifestation of extreme intolerance toward freedom of movement.
If what happened in Turkey was the result of the government’s inability or
unwillingness to tame jingoistic tendencies within its borders, then what is
happening in Russia is the result of a similar unwillingness or inability to
stop this wave of murders.
And finally, if what happened in Turkey was the result of a poisonous
atmosphere created by government policies, the same can be said about
Russia, whose government hasn’t done enough to ensure the integration of
immigrants into Russian society. Of course, there is no doubt that the
Russian government can effectively neutralize these extremist groups.
What happened in Turkey resonated around the world, and naturally initiated
a wave of anger among Armenians in Armenia and the Diaspora. What cannot be
explained, however, is the relative silence of Armenian political and social
organizations toward the murders in Russia. At best, the Armenian government
and some organizations have published tacit condemnations.
If our national unity compels us to condemn the murder of Hrant Dink in
Turkey, the same feeling of unity and solidarity with our fellow Armenians
should compel us and the Armenian government to condemn the events in Russia
and demand that the Russian government curb these crimes and the
nationalistic groups behind them.
——————————————– ————————

4. ‘It is One of the Greatest Tragedies’
An Interview with Paulo and Vittorio Taviani
By Marc Hairapetian
Translated from German for the Armenian Weekly by Kristen Heim

The Taviani brothers’ new work both impressed and unsettled viewers with its
world premiere at Feb. 14. The Turkish genocide of the Armenians is
addressed in "La masseria delle Allodole" ("The Lark Farm") in all its
vileness. The following is a discussion with the legendary directors
Vittorio and Paolo Taviani about their adaptation of Antonia Arslans’
Marc Hairapetian-How did you come across this topic as Italians?
Vittorio Taviani-Of course we already knew a bit about the genocide of the
Armenians. But as we read the book La masseria delle allodole by Antonia
Arslan, a world of pain and injustice suddenly revealed itself and really
opened our eyes. Afterwards, we looked into the unthinkable wars of the
present and those from early history. Let’s take Kosovo or Rwanda or what’s
happening today in Asia and Africa. We believe that there are no wars worse
than those fought between people that are actually very much connected. As
we read Arslan’s book, it became clear to us that we could tie the past with
the present together. As we were shooting the film, the entire team had the
impression that this was the most newsworthy and up-to-date film that anyone
could ever make.

MH-Was the financing difficult? The German producer Ottokar Runze has gone
to great lengths over the past 20 years to put the money together for the
adaptation of Franz Werfel’s novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.
Paulo Taviani-It was quite difficult to put the budget together. That’s also
why it has become a co-production between France, Spain, Bulgaria and Italy.
On the other hand, because of that, we were really free to choose from a
wide range of performers in Europe. We really liked being able to give the
green light to our dream performers, whether it was Paz Vega representing
the young Armenian deportee, Nunik, or Moritz Bleibtreu playing the
lovestruck Youssouf. It was important to us as well to cast an Armenian as
the main character, with Arsinee Khanjian.
Regarding Musa Dagh, it is really unfortunate that this masterpiece of world
literature has yet to be filmed. But maybe Sylvester Stallone, who would
like to clear the way, will make it happen.

MH-A lot of commotion was expected at the premier yesterday, but luckily
that did not break out. Did you cancel the press conference because you
feared a riot?
VT- No, we weren’t scared whatsoever and didn’t cancel the press conference
because of that. We made this film as an expression of a particular moment
in our lives and we will take the film with us anywhere, regardless of what
sort of fate awaits it. The press conference was canceled because there were
disagreements between the different press offices but also because we had
left Italy at five in the morning and simply arrived too exhausted. As you
know, Paolo and I are not so young anymore.

MH-You also gave Turkish journalists interviews. How was the film received
by them?
PT-Astoundingly well. A female Turkish reporter, who we spoke with in front
of them, said "This film is important. This film should be shown."

MH-How intensive was your research?
PT-During the course of our research, we primarily read two very important
books-one from the well-known Italian historian Flores, titled The Genocide
of the Armenians, and the second from a German historian teaching in
Massachusetts who wrote more about the Massacre of the Armenians. Apart from
that, Antonia Arslan provided us with a lot of material. We also researched
on our own, in archives and libraries. Admittedly, when we shoot a film, we’re
not looking to write a historical piece.

MH-Do you think the term "genocide" is appropriate?
VT-We are not historians. We’re not obliged to choose the right terminology.
To us, it was one of the greatest tragedies in the often-barbaric history of

MH-Your film is excruciatingly brutal-unbearably so-but it had
characteristics of an intimate play. What was more important for you, the
intense realism or the style?
PT-Both, but of course we want to shake up the viewers. Besides, that’s
unfortunately just how it was. The newspapers primarily put the beautiful
pictures on display, of course. This may have a misleading effect. The
development needs to be shown in a photo series, or at least two pictures: a
before and after.
VT-Our motto while making the film was simply: realism plus imagination.

Berliner Zeitung
Feb. 16, 2007
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5. Activist of the Hye Plains
Up-and-Coming Denver Blogger and Filmmaker Simon Maghakyan Tells it Like it
By Andy Turpin
WATERTOWN, Mass. (A.W.)-When you think of Colorado, you likely picture the
Rocky Mountains, rough-and-tumble cowboys, granola-munching trust fund
hippies, or perhaps the enjoyment of a Coors beer.
But it doesn’t usually scream Armenian.
There is a vast land of tumbleweeds between Racine and Glendale where few
Armenians reside. That is changing, though, with high profile Armenians like
David Barsamian broadcasting his views from Boulder, Colo., and a younger
generation shaping itself out of Denver.
Simon Maghakyan, 20, currently a student at the University of Colorado in
Denver, is part of a recent wave of immigrants who have come to Colorado
from Armenia or Russian-Armenian communities like Sochi.
In 2006, Maghakyan was named the USA TODAY All-USA Academic First Team
recipient for community colleges students. He was also selected as Colorado’s
New Century Scholar, which is an award given each year by the American
Association for Community Colleges to a top student from each state.

Armenian Weekly-When did you and your family come to the U.S.?
Simon Maghakyan-I came to America in July 2003 with my mother. My father and
older brother had moved to America before that.

AW-Why did you choose Colorado?
SM-Colorado wasn’t my choice. My father had originally moved here from
California. That’s how I ended up coming here. But I am glad I have the
chance to go to the University of Colorado in Denver and work at the State

AW-Tell me about the Denver Armenian community and your experiences.
SM-Colorado’s Armenian community is diverse, like almost any Armenian
community. There are Armenians from Armenia, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Turkey,
Russia and refugees from Azerbaijan. And there are many Armenians who have
come from California.
The earliest mention of Armenians in Colorado dates back to the late 1800s,
when Denver’s oldest newspaper, The Rocky Mountain News, wrote about
Armenian merchants who hoped to return to their homeland. A flood of
articles about the Armenian Genocide reached many of Colorado’s newspapers
between 1915 and 1923. Even today, Colorado’s State Capitol honors the
Armenian Genocide with a quarter-century-old memorial in an Armenian garden
in its northeastern grounds.
The Genocide was part of Colorado’s daily life during WWI, when many joined
together to raise funds for the "starving Armenians." One local newspaper,
The Littleton Independent, was so outraged that it published an editorial
suggesting massacring the Turks in order to save Armenian lives and American
money sent for the Armenians.
In Colorado, you will always meet people who have Armenian last names or
will tell you that they have some Armenian blood. When I was visiting a
friend at the hospital, her doctor walked by and had an Armenian last name
on his nametag. I asked him in Armenian whether he spoke Armenian, and his
answer in English was, "I don’t speak Arabic" and ended up saying that his
father spoke Arabic and so he had assumed that Arabic was the language of
the Armenians.
There was also this former deputy cabinet minister (I think of environment
or forestry) from Armenia who suddenly appeared, and soon disappeared, from
nowhere in 2005. While here, he decided to "unite" the Armenian community by
establishing The Armenian Heritage Center of Colorado, and purchased a
church building in order to "do business in Colorado." In addition to
hosting church services, he was planning to open a tourist agency and bingo.
He had apparently earned his millions from Armenia’s poor population and
through deforestation, and then had escaped to America. He once threw a huge
party for his birthday at an Armenian restaurant and invited every Armenian
in Colorado. Of course, I did not attend. I’ve gotten my share of Armenia’s
deforestation already. My little niece in Yerevan has trouble breathing in
the polluted streets.
Even though I had no respect for this individual, I was still surprised that
he wanted to use the stolen money in an Armenian community and make money
out of it again. Most former bosses like him-there are dozens and
dozens-just run to places where no Armenians will find them, such as Spain.

AW-Is there much solidarity among Armenians in Colorado?
SM-The answer can be both yes and no, depending on several factors. If you
are an Armenian from Sochi, you will tend to be friends with Armenians from
Sochi more than with Armenians from Lebanon. I think this is human nature. I
should also note that I live in a Denver suburb that has few Armenian
families, so I don’t really get to experience the daily Armenian life in
Colorado. But every time I go to an Iranian store (where many, if not most
goods are imported from Glendale), I will meet new Armenians who always ask
who my father is. I guess that’s solidarity, because Armenians think they
know every other Armenian in this world. Lots of Armenians will share their
phone numbers, having just known each other for five minutes. Yet most of
the time, we don’t end up calling each other.

AW-What is the general public’s view on the Genocide in your experience?
SM-On political level, the State of Colorado has acknowledged the Armenian
Genocide for five consecutive years. Even so, the average person doesn’t
know about such resolutions. However, there is the Colorado Coalition for
Genocide Awareness and Action, which is a unique and diverse organization
founded by Roz Duman that deals with contemporary genocide education and
tries to prevent the continuation of the Darfur genocide. It is an inclusive
organization that has tried and continues to try and reach all communities
in Colorado. On Jan. 22, I, along with other members of the Armenian
community, was invited to speak at a comparative genocide studies seminar
for Colorado seniors. This was a very well informed group, and I wish there
were more Coloradoans like them.

AW-What are some of your current and future projects?
SM-I continue to develop and update my website when time
permits, and help with organizing Armenian Genocide commemoration events for
this upcoming April 24. With the mentorship of Native American studies
professor Glenn Morris, I am researching the destruction of the Julfa
cemetery and the oil politics behind it for my Cultural Rights. I am also
planning to work on a short video about human trafficking for my
International Women’s Resistance class. I hope students from the class will
help me with the project. I am also trying to get more involved with the
Colorado Coalition for Genocide Awareness and Action, which has invited me
to serve on their board of directors.

Simon Maghakyan’s short documentary films on Armenia’s deforestation crisis
and the destruction of Armenian monuments in the old Julfa region of
present-day Azerbaijan may be seen on , keyword: Blogian.
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6. Sing It, Kuyr!
A Celebration of International Women’s Day
By Andy Turpin

WATERTOWN, Mass. (A.W.)- If nothing else, humanity will always be
permanently indebted to its women. Certainly they are the point from which
all life emanates and the quintessential personification-and for some even
deification-of creation.
On earth, they are the real Alphas-no matter what any number of males might
bluster-and as such deserve at least one day of what Aretha Franklin may
call "Respect."

Mario Puzo, who wrote his first novel The Fortunate Pilgrim as homage to
wives and mothers, said, "Whenever the Godfather opened his mouth, in my own
mind I heard the voice of my mother. I heard her wisdom, her ruthlessness,
and her unconquerable love for her family and for life itself. The Don’s
courage and loyalty came from her; his humanity came from her.and so, I know
now, without Lucia Santa [the novel’s heroine], I could not have written The

The history of celebrations regarding women, femininity and motherhood is
far-reaching into the annals of history, but the celebration of March 8th’s
"International Women’s Day" is relatively recent, developing over the course
of the early 20th century in conjunction with world suffragist, unionist,
communist, anarchist and socialist movements.

Activists gained momentum in their struggles during the 1890’s as they
lobbied for greater workers’ rights, unions and a better quality of life for
their children in the "Gay Era"-one that was stimulating for scientific
progress and industrial robber barons, but still a living hell for the
working classes of most world cities, especially women living in tenements
who were often undernourished, uneducated, under skilled, and burdened with
the cost and care of their children.

Women like Jane Adams in Chicago and Jewish anarchist Emma Goldman in New
York led the way in America alongside names like Susan B. Anthony and
Elizabeth Cady Stanton in demanding greater rights for and input by women in
the public sphere.
In 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours,
better pay and voting rights. By 1909, in conjunction with the Socialist
Party of America, the first National Woman’s Day (NWD) was observed across
the U.S. on Feb. 28. Women continued to celebrate NWD on the last Sunday of
February until 1913.

A tragic milestone for political activism was in 1911, with New York’s
infamous Triangle Fire" on March 25. The fire was the worst industrial
disaster in the history of New York City, culminating in the deaths of 146
workers, mainly females of Jewish and Italian descent.

Along with catapulting the plight of heinous working conditions for factory
laborers to the forefront of public debate, the incident became a rallying
cry of advocates for an International Women’s Day.

During WWI, when women took on limited responsibilities of running heavy
industry around the world, female suffrage achieved greater political clout.
The provisional Kerensky government in Russia granted women the right to
vote in 1917, after the abdication of the Czar. The ratification of women’s
suffrage laws followed suit around the globe following the war-except in
France which suffered a male cultural backlash after heavy losses in the
conflict and did not grant women suffrage until 1945 (although French women
had formerly been granted suffrage in 1871 under the Paris Commune).
In 1975, the United Nations deemed that year officially "International Women’s
Year." And the propagation of the holiday as an honoring of the equality and
struggles of women has continued to the present day.
——————————————— ———————

7. The Armenian Woman
By Anahide Ter Minassian
Translated from French by Tatul Sonentz

This article first appeared, in French in the "Hask" Armenological Annual,
Vol. IX, 2001. The present, slightly abridged English version was translated
by Tatul Sonentz-Papazian.

For over a century, the condition of the Armenian woman has known
extraordinary mutations, in Armenia-Soviet or independent-as well as in an
extensive Diaspora, spreading today over five continents with some 50
communities. In 2001, over 60 percent of the Armenians, amounting to 6-7
million people, lives in the Diaspora, and women represent more than half of
this population. More numerous than men, their "superiority" manifests
itself first in terms of life expectations. To be sure, "being woman" has a
sexual character that determines common traits: women bring forth and raise
the children, shape, and maintain the families. To be-or want to be-an
"Armenian woman" is to put the accent on the difference and on the
demonstration of that difference. In the Diaspora, the condition of the
Armenian woman never was, or is, unique. It varies from the Orient to the
Occident, from the northern hemisphere to the southern. It depends much more
on the political, economic, and social conditions of the host societies than
the mass of Armenian traditions.

It is not a matter of describing the life of the Armenian woman in the
Diaspora per se: that is immaterial. What is important is the perception of
the role and function of women as partners of men, actively involved in the
formation and evolution of the Armenian Diaspora. The history of the women
of the Diaspora-and this equates with the history of the women of Armenia-is
a transverse theme proceeding through the history of the Armenians in the
19th and 20th centuries. But, thus far, among the Armenians, a "sex-oriented
approach" of history is non-existent-that is, the effort to introduce into
the general history of the Armenians the dimension of man-woman interaction
has not been made.

The feminine condition in past ages, in Armenia as well as in the
communities of the Diaspora, is not well known to us. The sources are rare.
Over centuries, historians and travelers have been men. They have shown
little interest in women or, simply, had no contact with them, with the
exception of the missionaries-Catholic and Protestant since the 19th
century-who knew how to locate feminine props in their strategy of religious
conversion. Even more hard to find are those who have examined the sources
(archives, literature, popular traditions, songs) on relations between men
and women in Armenian society. If stories, epic narratives, and songs of the
ashughs (troubadours) put on the stage female personalities-good or bad
women, beautiful or ugly women, inaccessible or forbidden women-it is in
conformity with the rules of literary genres not found in Armenian culture.
Thus, the names of women that have reached us belong to goddesses, martyrs,
saints, or princesses.

Of the galaxy of feminine deities worshipped during the pagan period, Anahit
(goddess of motherhood and hearth), Astrik, Naneh, et al, one can conclude
the importance of the role woman played in pre-Christian Armenia. The
martyrdom at Ejmiatsin of Hripsimeh, Gayaneh, and their companions, the
proselytizing by Maneh and Nuneh has marked, at the beginning of the 4th
century, the apex of the Christianization process in Armenia. The royal
annals have conserved the memories of influential women like Ashkhen and
Khosrovidukhd, the spouse and sister of King Tiridates III. Historians of
the 5th century, Yeghisheh and Ghazar Parpetsi, evoked the fate of 500
noblewomen, these "very delicate ladies of the land of Armenia" who, after
the defeat inflicted upon the Armenians at Avarayr by the Persian army in
the year 451, submitted to trials and humiliation without denying their
faith and fatherland, inaugurating thus a series of exemplary mothers,
spouses, and sisters.

In medieval Armenian communities, the women whose memory has been preserved
are always princesses. During the Crusades, their marriages strengthened
political alliances between the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia and the Frankish
kingdoms of the Orient. Thus, the Armenian Arda, wife of Beaudoin I, became
the first queen of Jerusalem (1100-1113). Also, Morfa of Melitene, another
Armenian, married Baudoin II, at first, Count of Edessa, later, King of
Jerusalem. Three of their daughters would make "good marriages": Melisende
married Foulque d’Anjou, ruling Jerusalem with him. Haalis (Alice) wed
Prince Bohemond II of Antioch, and Hedierne married the Count of Edessa,
Raymond II. Another Armenian, of the Roubenian family, Princess Rita would
marry Jean de Brienne who, in his turn, would become King of Jerusalem in
the year 1210. In the 13th century, another Armenian princess, Rouzan,
apparently, after accepting to marry a Mongol khan, committed suicide before
the consummation of the wedlock. Let us stop here the enumeration of noble
women, exemplary or heroic. Its purpose was to underline our ignorance of
the realities of life concerning "ordinary" Armenian women.

The Traditional
Armenian Family
Until the close of the 19th century, i.e. until 1914, the Armenian family,
particularly in the rural world to which 80 percent of the Armenians
belonged, consisted of the large patriarchal and patrilineal family, often
expanded to include, under the same roof, 40 to 60 people. Naturally, in
Armenia’s townships as well as the urban colonies of the Diaspora, the size
of the family was smaller, but its structure was identical. The foundation
of Armenian society, the large family realized the economic unity of the
"Great House" whose members were tied together both by blood and labor. In
the traditional Armenian family, there was a strict codification of
relationships between men and women and the interaction of generations, as
there was a firm delimitation of each one’s role. Inside this family, moral
regulations and Christian religious values imposed a code of decent behavior
particularly strict for the young and the women. In the Armenian community,
as in neighboring Christian and Muslim communities (Georgian, Kurdish,
Turkish, Arab) the concept of honor was associated with realities such as
marriage and family. Even with most humble, the "sense of honor" involved,
and continues to involve in Armenia, a certain image of one’s self at the
eyes of "others" in a common sense of reciprocity. Thus, as in all
"Mediterranean" societies, the honor of the family was largely founded on
the women’s virtue.

In the traditional family, the situation of the Armenian woman was one of
inferiority and submission. The woman was always submissive to a male
authority, often exercised in brutal fashion. Starting with the authority of
her father and brothers, she was placed under the authority of her husband
and his parents. She was destined to leave the paternal house for her
husband’s at a very early age-marriages were always arranged by the parents
and the future couple did not know each other. On the wake of the wedding
night, the bride had to submit to a peculiar test- the public exhibition of
the nuptial bed sheets soiled with blood-to prove virginity and to found the
legitimacy of future progeny. In her new home where she participated in all
domestic and field chores, she was to remain silent in the presence of her
elders. This silence, symbol of her subordination, lasted until the birth of
her first child, preferably a male. She owed obeisance to her mother-in-law
whose authority was acquired through age, not merit, when her sexuality
ceased to be considered troublesome. As in many patriarchal societies, the
figure of a mother was dominant. It is this idealized image of the mother,
which is imposed on the Armenian woman to this day.

For centuries, Armenians lived in Muslim empires either forcibly relocated
or through voluntary migration. As an ethnic Christian minority, recognized
and "protected" by the sultans and shahs, they resided in separate
districts, owned segregated burial grounds and were required to display
specific signs of their identity in public. Thus, in the Ottoman Empire,
until the Tanzimat era, the Armenians had to wear dark red or crimson
clothes, while the Greeks wore black and the Jews blue. Any woman prone to
be an object of desire and dangerous competition for family and community
was generally confined to her domicile; if she stepped out, her clothes and
demeanor were to conform to the modesty of her minority status.

In 1568, the Sultan proclaims with an edict that Armenian and Jewish women
are not allowed to wear luxurious clothes, silken garments, high heeled
sandals, or collars and bonnets like Muslim women. In 1630, a reminder to
the effect that Armenian women and their husbands should not be seen wearing
furs, or Persian costumes. In 1844, an English traveler, Charles White,
observes that in the streets, Armenian and Turkish women wear the yashmak
(veil), but the yashmak worn by an Armenian, while covering the mouth, must
leave the nose visible, contrary to the yashmak worn by a Turk. This
distinction is crucial since, otherwise, the Armenian could be suspected of
trying to pass for a Turk. In 1881, during the Hamidian period, the
authorities, intent to enforce a moral code, issued a circular regulating
urban locations of Constantinople used by Muslim women: they were forbidden
to travel in carriages or proceed on foot in certain districts, to enter the
Grand Bazaar or to wear too thin a veil. Of course, in those days, the
Armenians were not particularly concerned. But, even those in
Constantinople, Smyrna, Edirneh and other large urban centers of the Empire,
who have abandoned traditional garb for "a la franka" clothes, exposing
their faces, were still restricted in their movements.

Because modesty-in the West they talked about "Christian modesty"-humility,
demeanor, and obedience are uppermost feminine virtues upheld in Muslim
lands. Customs vary from region to region, but well grooming demands that a
woman-especially when she is young-stifle her laughter in the presence of
elders and people of the opposite sex. She must not show her mouth, tongue,
and teeth, considered indecent parts of a woman’s body-a body that offers
itself generously to the critical or amorous eyes of other women at public

Up to the second half of the 19th century, the personal status of the
Armenian woman and the rules governing matrimony are not well known.
Marriage is a sacrament between consenting individuals and the Armenian
Canonic Law, founded on decisions reached by the councils of the Armenian
Apostolic Church, which specifies its ritual and rules. In a betrothal, the
young woman brings a dowry, no matter how modest, and retains its benefits.
The Armenian Church, not recognizing divorce or granting it very rarely,
forbids outright the repudiation of the spouse authorized by Islam. But the
rules of remittance of the inheritance seem to have been similar to those
practiced by Islamic communities: every girl has the right to half of the

Two examples, chosen in the Diaspora, allow us to grasp the evolution of the
status of the Armenian woman in modern times. The research by a French
historian, Anne Le Galle-Kazazian on the Armenian Community of Egypt led to
the examination of archives located at the Archbishopric of Cairo, where
dates of baptisms, marriages, and demise of the faithful are registered. Up
to 1865, the woman, generally, is nowhere to be found under her surname. She
is inscribed in terms of affiliation ("Mariam, daughter of.") or an alliance
("Mariam, spouse of."). The Armenian National Constitution, revised in 1860,
ratified in Constantinople by the Sultan in 1863, is applied in Egypt
starting 1865. The Patriarchate of Constantinople then imposes a reform in
the process of registration and the style of writing reveals, the way the
community administration conceives issues concerning women. She has become
"a person," individualized in the same manner as a man. The registers
consign, under common headings, the name, the surname, the profession, and
the dates of birth, baptism, marriage, and death of both man and woman.
A few decades later, in Iran, the Law on the Personal Status of Non-Shiite
Iranians (July 22, 1933) regulated litigations in matters concerning
marriage, divorce, and inheritance favoring the husband’s religion. In
connection with "Armenian Gregorians" living in Iran, the Code ratified by
the Catholicos of Ejmiatzin, Khoren I, and the Iranian Minister of Justice
reproduces a Code of Customs consisting of 74 articles. One sees a
progressive emancipation of the Armenian woman in Reza Shah’s Iran. In
matters of inheritance, a girl receives a share equal to the one received by
a boy. At the death of a husband, the widow has the right to a share equal
to that of each child. But, if a woman dies before her spouse, the latter
inherits all of his wife’s estate in the name of their children.

Modernization of Society and Discovery of the Feminine
If, in the provinces of "historic Armenia" the destiny of the Armenian women
took shape by the beginning of the 20th century under the collective cover
of anonymity, in contrast, as early as the first third of the 19th century,
in cities like Constantinople, Tbilisi, Smyrna, Moscow, Rostov-on-Don, etc.,
where Armenian colonies prospered, one can find the proof of autonomous
activity on the part of the Armenian woman in the Diaspora.

The economic migrations of the Armenians were masculine at the beginning,
but they have also affected the women. Family migrations or migrations for
family reunion led them to Constantinople, Baku and even the United States,
where the Armenian immigrants already numbered 100,000 in 1914. Around 1900,
pushed by poverty and necessity, Armenian women take the risk of leaving
their villages on their own to fit in city life as wet nurses, maids, or
manufacturing workers. On the other side of the coin, in the villages,
thousands of women, wives, or widows of pandukhts (immigrant workers and
exiles) are "abandoned" women. Their miserable lot is denounced in petitions
addressed to the Constantinople Patriarchate by pandukhts, prior to alerting
the Armenian intelligentsia.

Thanks to the novel-there is no Armenian novel before 1848-thanks to the
theatre, the press, and the satiric literature, and thanks to reports
written by missionaries, one can follow, in both old and new colonies of the
Diaspora, the modernization rhythm of Armenian society. An active interest
in women’s education-followed by efforts of scholastic
involvement-constitutes both cause and effect.

Available in the family circle, women’s education remained in the domestic
sphere at first before being trusted, by wealthy families, to female
instructors and competent Armenian or foreign pedagogues. Later, the
schooling of women, displaying until 1914, a great regional disparity, was
the work of Catholic missionaries (French and Italian), Protestant
missionaries (American, English, German), schools called azgayin (national),
private Armenian institutions, and Russian gymnasia. It is in Tbilisi and
Constantinople that a feminine identity/culture manifests itself first. That
is where come forth the first Armenian women who dare enter public life,
acquiring an autonomous social personality. They distinguish themselves in
four fields of activity: associative life, literature, the arts, and
revolutionary parties.

The Associations
Inspired by the philosophy of the Lumieres and the philanthropic movement
born in Western Europe, the associations are started by the initiative of
men. In the Armenian world, they can be grouped within Societies of Culture
and Societies of Relief, albeit the frequent irrelevance of this
distinction. The Cultural Societies, non-profit, striving for the promotion
of popular education, had as an objective the creation of schools and the
preparation of teachers for the Armenian communities of the Ottoman,
Russian, and Persian empires. A few of these societies were founded by women
and paid particular attention to the education of girls.

This trend was very slow in the Ottoman Empire: Just as in the West, but
more so, it confronted many prejudices. In 1821, a school dispensing a
specifically feminine curriculum-sewing, embroidery, etc., along with basic
reading, writing, and arithmetic-and favoring poor yet deserving Armenian
girls, was created by workers of Constantinople. But the first of these
schools worthy of the name, the Hripsimian, was yet to open its doors in
Smyrna, in 1845, with the efforts of the Suniats Enkerutiun (Suniats
Society). This society, which, from 1841 to 1847, had a membership reaching
600-recruited mostly from the well-to-do sector, often with membership in
the Free Masons-had contributed in making the boys’ Mesropian College of
Smyrna an "Armenian Athens!" However, no doubt that it is the missionaries,
of all orders, who had first fought against prejudice and established a
trend by welcoming into their schools young ladies, Christian, Jewish, or
Muslim. It is in those ranks that a feminine avant-garde took shape.

Among the dozens of associations appearing at the beginning of Abdul Hamid
II’s reign, two women’s associations, both created in 1879, following the
Congress of Berlin and the appeal of Khrimian Hairik, heralding a change of
mentality, merit attention. It is upon the initiative of a young lady called
Zabel Khanjian, of a good family, only 16 years of age but firm and resolute
who, through marriage, will come to be known as Zabel Assadour-pen name
Sybille-one of the first Armenian novelists, one of the founders of the
Azganver Hayuhiats Enkerutiun (Society of Armenian Women Devoted to the
Nation). With a few enthusiastic companions gathered at her parents’ home,
in Skutari, an Asiatic suburb of Constantinople, she elaborates, in broad
terms, an educational program for Armenian girls of the provinces:

"They will be given moral and material support. They will be taught manual
trades so that they may be able to take care of their families’ needs. They
will be taught to read, write, and count. They will learn about religion and
history, so that they may know their rights and their human duties and find
their own place in society."

In a matter of months, the society attracts 150 adherents, publishes its
statutes, and collects funds. By December 1, 1880, it is capable of opening
a rural school in Kghi, vilayet of Erzrum. It is a four-year school; at the
opening, 99 pupils are admitted, with only two "graduates" in 1884. This
illustrates the extent of difficulties that had to be surmounted. In spite
of this, new achievements followed each other: in Hajin (1881), a school for
six-year-olds with 71 pupils; in Moush (1883), a school for four-year-olds
with 81 pupils; in Siirt (1885), and Charsanjak in Dersim. In 1884, in
Erzinga, the Society takes charge of a "Christian" school for young ladies,
with 163 students. The numbers and results are rather modest, same as the
means of the Society’s members. But this Society, the most important of
women’s organizations, created new dynamics. The interest of the Armenian
elite of the Diaspora in the education of the Armenian woman and those in
the yerkir will never diminish. These themes are openly debated in a
conference organized by the Society in Scutari. Eventually, a network of
chapters is created in the vilayets with substantial Armenian populations,
such as Erzerum (1880), Erzinga (1881), Ruschuk (1882), Smyrna (1882),
Boursa (1884), Adrianopolis (1884), Rodosto (1890) and, sometime later, in
Adabazar (1913). However, in the middle of the political crisis following
radical activities by the Social Democratic Hnchakian Party (Kum Kapu
demonstrations in 1890 and the 1894 rebellion of Sassoun), the Ottoman
Government forbade the collection of funds and ordered the schools shut
(1893). The Society is forced to liquidate its accounts and turns over its
treasury-150 gold mejidiehs-to the Patriarchate, ceasing its activities
until better days. It will be a long wait of 15 years: the Society will
restart its activities only in Sept. 1908. Dprotsasirats Hayuhiats
Enkerutiun (Association of School-loving Armenian Women) was also founded by
a group of 37 wealthy and educated women in Ortakiugh, a suburb of
Constantinople, with the precise objective of educating orphaned girls
dedicated to become teachers in Armenian schools of the provinces.
Dprotsasirats functions like a small "feminine democracy," with decisions
reached by majority votes. Men are encouraged to bring their financial
support, but they are not allowed to be part of management. The Society
opens a school in Constantinople (1880-1881) where it succeeds to garner 45
pupils, five of whom are from Anatolia. In 1889, the school settles in Kum
Kapu, near the Patriarchate. The following year, it has 110 pupils, 60 of
whom pay no tuition and 10 alumni who have already started to teach in the
provinces. In 1895, the school can boast the training of 26 teachers with
"diplomas." But, the events of 1896 interrupt its activities. It has to
close its doors. An attempt to reopen it fails in 1904. The school will
become functional again only after the 1908 revolution.

Natural catastrophes, famines, and epidemics, wars and massacres were the
lot of the Armenian provinces during the 19th century, giving rise to the
creation of many mutual help and humanitarian relief organizations. These
associations were the expression of solidarity between communities on a
national level, since, very often, they owed their existence to the
financial mobilization of remote Armenian communities in India, Russia,
England, and the United States. During the last third of the century,
Armenian women played an increasing role in these associations and
committees assembled in urgency. They tackled organizational problems, legal
matters, assumed responsibilities of governance, etc. In this sense, these
associations served as schools of feminine emancipation.

Thanks to reading foreign western literature, and the practice of writing,
some Armenian women discovered in poetry and the novel forms of creative
expression. They dared to speak out, to describe their condition, to express
their sentiments about dreaming of love.
First must be mentioned one who was a pioneer: Srbuhi Dusab (1842-1901).
Born in Constantinople, daughter of Nazle Vahanian, a wealthy man of culture
and a philanthropist. Srbuhi marries a French musician, bearing him a
daughter. Under the influence of the poet Mkrtich Beshiktashlian
(1828-1868), she writes, in 1883, the first feminist novel in Armenian,
Maida. It is an epistolary novel in the manner of the Nouvelle Heloise,
followed, in 1884, by Siranush, and Araxie the Schoolteacher in 1887.

In Araxie, the heroine is a "modern" Armenian woman who works for a living.
A young woman of modest origins who has taken up teaching, she will not be
able to marry the man she loves who returns her love but cannot defy
maternal objections. From one work to the next, Srbuhi Dusab uses the same
theme treating it in a didactic style: conjugal bliss cannot be founded
except on an honest love between man and woman. She denounces the rigors of
the traditional family that subjugate the individual and the class
prejudices that victimize mostly women.

One must also cite Sibyl (1863-1934), Anais (1872-1950) and, mostly, Zabel
Yesayan (1878-1943). The latter was not only the most original and the most
modern of Armenian women of letters of the first half of the 20th century,
but she was also a partisan intellectual. And, both in the tumultuous
episodes of her private life and her public life, she remained a free woman
and an exemplary feminist.

These women of letters were all born in Constantinople and lived there. As
early as 1922, Costan Zarian remarked about the role played by that city in
the formation of the Armenian feminine literature:

"Here is the reason why women in ‘Bolis’ take up literature. The city is
feminine; she is organically weak and supremely enamored. Thereby enslaved."

This particular vocation of "Bolis" will be confirmed later by the likes of
Armine Tatrian, Armenuhi Terzian, Hermine Sinanian, Irma Adjemian, and those
who will emigrate to Paris-with their literary heritage and their
"Istambulian" sensibilities as baggage-such as the poet Perdjuhi Barseghian,
Helene Buzant, Lass, Hilda Calfayan, or like Bahri, author of a romantic
novel on life in Constantinople. Prior to 1914, in Caucasian circles, the
proletarian poet Shushanuk Kurghinian (1876-1927) is an exception in

The women writers may be edited, because now there is a press, Armenian
journals, and a public sensitive to the feminine. It is very hard to
evaluate the results of the efforts to educate women. But Armenian readers
of the feminine gender do exist and their numbers increase up to the Great
War. Since the middle of the 19th century, dozens of novels-especially
French and English, translated into Armenian-were published as popular
editions. These novels contributed in the fashioning of the imagination and
aspirations of female readers. Who can tell what was the effect of Les
Miserables, Madame Bovary, or Jane Eyre on the emotional response of
Armenian women?

Professional Application
of the Arts
In the Western manner, artistic training took precedence in every proper
young lady’s education in Constantinople, Smyrna, Tbilisi, Moscow, or
Tabriz. Privilege of the wealthier classes, it soon became a visible symbol
of social success and modernization. The grand piano, at the same time a
keyboard instrument of ostentation and a sign of rupture from oriental
music-to this day an obligatory prop in all self-respecting residences, from
Los Angeles to Beirut-remains the symbol of that success. It is an
instrument more feminine than the violin, whose apprenticeship is more often
reserved for boys. In any case, it is the Calvary of children in Warsaw,
Vienna, Moscow, Paris, Tbilisi, and Istanbul. Music, song, drawing,
painting, and dancing are taught at home by private masters-French, Italian,
German, Russian, but also Armenian "artists" who, sometimes instigated
romantic entanglements in the family, initiating the beginnings of a
cultural revolution. In the oriental cocoon, the surging "art world" becomes
a promoter of feminine vocations. In "Bolis," Goharik Ghazarosian starts a
career as a pianist and composer while Father Komitas’s choral group serves
as a training ground for future bel canto singers.

The stage occupies a place apart. Early in the mid-19th century, a popular
interest in the theater is apparent in Bolis, and the role of the Armenians
in the genesis of the Turkish theater is well known. As in the West, to make
an appearance at the theater is a fashionable obligation as well as
enjoyment. Soon, in Bolis, as in Tbilisi and later in Baku, Armenian women
mount the boards as professional actresses. In Constantinople, Siranush
(1857-1932) is a subject of adulation. In a short time, the figure of the
actress, making young girls dream and Armenian mothers tremble, becomes a
synonym of the emancipated woman.

Armenian Revolutionary Parties
The first female Armenian students were from the Caucasus and the Russian
Empire. Between 1900 and 1914, in German universities, out of a total of 403
Caucasian students, 333 are Armenian and, among those, 17 are young women.
Armenian families of Russia, Turkey, or Iran who adopted secular habits and
authorized their daughters to travel abroad-alone or accompanied by a male
member of the family-belonged to economically and culturally privileged
circles. While Paris and Berlin were often perceived to be localities
leading to depravity, the reputation of Geneva-orderly, hygienic and
Calvinistic in morality-weighed in its favor. Thus, a greater number of
young Armenian women went to study in Geneva rather than in Germany, and 35
of them completed their cycle of studies and graduated from the University
of Geneva between 1885 and 1914. They were, without contest, the pioneers in
the struggle of Armenian women to acquire higher learning. It is in this
intimate environment, in contact with and emulating Russian
students-peaceful populists or members of the radical Narodnaya Volya
organization-that appeared the first politically militant Armenian women.
Without exception, they came from wealthy and cultured families. They
demanded their freedom as well as the freedom and emancipation of their
people. They are the proof that there exists a relationship between
"nationalism" and "feminism."

Maro Vartanian (?-1941), co-founder with five other students in 1887, in
Geneva, of the Social Democratic Hnchakian party, is one of the most
astounding figures of militant Armenian women. Born in Tbilisi, she joins
the narodnik, close to Plekhanov, who converts her to the first Russian
version of Marxism; she launches, with her comrades, an Armenian
revolutionary organ, Hnchak (Bell). From 1890 to 1896, she runs the party
with her husband, Avetis Nazarbekian and a few loyal Caucasians forming the
"Hnchak Center." It is the aggressive period of the Hnchakists with multiple
actions and demonstrations in the Ottoman Empire. The Hamidian massacres
cause the disintegration of the party and her marriage (1896), do not put an
end to Maro’s militantism; she joins the Bolsheviks in 1917.

Although the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, founded in 1890 in Tbilisi,
has been a party consistently led by men, it has succeeded to recruit a good
number of dedicated militants from the ranks of female students, to serve in
the ARF ranks as enkeruhis (female comrades), a status implying equality
with the men, in principle, neutralizing at the same time sexual conflicts.
Among them, Natalia and Satenik Madinian and, particularly, Sophie Areshian
(1881-1971), better known under the name Rubina. This frail young lady
became a legend of Dashnaktsutiun by directing, personally in
Constantinople, the 1905 assassination attempt against the "Red Sultan,"
Abd-ul-Hamid II. Towards the end of the 19th century, beside the handful of
literary figures, artists and militants, Armenian women come out in greater
numbers to work outside their homes. In 1903, 556 women teachers are
dispersed throughout the "national" schools in the Ottoman provinces. To
mention a few of those dedicated educators, Tiruhi Azarian (1891-1964), who
taught at Deurtyol, a Turkish speaking Armenian community, or the one
respectfully referred to as Tikin (Lady) Carmen who accepted to face rigors
of becoming a teacher in Moush. The writer Zabel Yesayan conducted an
investigative tour through Cilicia following the 1909 massacres of the
Armenians and reported her findings in a report that ended up as a major
literary work.

But the vast majority of the women were employed as salespersons,
seamstresses, launderers, domestic help, wet-nurses, workers in textile
mills, or carpet-weavers, not to mention those who toiled in the fields. On
a marginal basis, in Istanbul and Baku, there were also some who were
employed as prostitutes; a social reality that was depicted in the works of
the writers Grigor Zohrap and Suren Partevian.

A new form of female sociability in the Diaspora manifested itself in the
"salons" hosted by women of leisure. Functionaries, physicians, architects,
lawyers, and journalists were treated to the difficult art of
"conversation." Women, their bodies, and illnesses have also acquired more
visibility. After 1908, in the Armenian newspapers of Constantinople, one
can see advertisements announcing doctors, trained and specialized in
gynecology-even psychoanalysis-at prestigious European schools of medicine.

The Great Turnabout
The First World War constituted a decisive stage of women’s emancipation in
the West. This war also precipitated the evolution of Armenian women. The
years 1914 to 1923 brought about a final break with the pre-war society. In
this short span of time, Armenian women suffered a series of tragic
experiences: genocide, expatriation, and dispersion.

The 1915 Genocide of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire
In 1915, each Armenian family in the Ottoman Empire suffered an individual
fate, the sum of which constitutes the horror of the Genocide, the Metz
Yeghern. The scenario, similar everywhere, blew the family apart. Men over
16 years of age are separated from their families and eventually slaughtered
by various means. The women, the children, and the aged are sent on their
way to the deserts of Mesopotamia and Syria, mostly on foot, with little, or
no, provisions. Only a miserable minority-after the rape, abduction, and
murder of young women and children-reached its designated destination.
Even though there are innumerable personal testimonies, it seems as if it
were impossible for writers, who survived the ordeal by some miracle, to
"narrate" this collective death in literary terms.

Because, the Armenian Genocide is not merely the application of a plan, or a
historical process; it is a collective experience, a knowledge, and a sacred
heritage, almost impossible to relate. The Ottoman Armenians’ voyage to the
ends of hell was not a simple matter of being put to death by the primitive
ways at the disposal of people who were their countrymen and contemporaries;
it was an enterprise in dehumanization. Dehumanization of the relationship
between the executioners and the victims.

Right after the war, two Armenian women wrote about the life of the women
during those years of anguish. Mrs. P. Captanian is the presumed author of
"The Memoirs of a Deported Armenian Woman," a detailed and precise narration
in French, published in Paris in the year 1919, describing her Calvary from
Samsun, on the Black Sea, to Aleppo, Syria. The reader discovers the horrors
of the genocidal process. The irreplaceable interest of Mrs. Captanian’s
book lies in its notations of the daily experiences of the deportees and the
social inequalities in facing death. The peasant women prove to be
physically and psychologically more resistant than their sisters of the
city. But only jewels, gold or money-avidly sought for and confiscated by
both the Turkish authorities and the miserable Anatolian Muslim natives-can
assure the survival of those who possess and succeed to exchange them for a
few drops of water and crumbs of bread, or in exchange of being allowed to
maintain their integrity and honor. Without sitting in judgment of her
companions, Mrs. Captanian notes their "selfish" will to remain alive at any
cost while surrounded by daily scenes of robbery, rape, and murder. She
depicts the swift crumbling of social relations, the disappearance of
spiritual values, the obliteration of dignity and humane feelings among the

In contrast to the collective degradation of the deportees, the conclusion
of Mrs. Captanian’s narrative seems too optimistic. In spite of the
inflicted privations, the physical suffering, and the moral torture, she
gives birth to a bouncing boy in Aleppo, son of her vanished husband and an
obvious symbol of the regeneration of the Armenian people.

Zabel Yessayan’s conference in Paris, on January 17, 1920, is of a totally
different nature: entitled "The Role of the Armenian Woman During the War"
and spoken two days before the de facto recognition of the Armenian Republic
by the Allied Powers, this conference created a current of sympathy for the
Armenians in French public opinion. Expounding her thesis, she professed
that the tragedy that the Armenians endured was the result of being
"Christians in an Islamic ocean." In her conclusion, she states:

"There is an endless number of widows, mothers who have lost their children,
and multitudes of women that still suffer the pangs of hunger as well as
moral and physical misery, in Yerevan, in Mesopotamia, and on the roads back
to their homes, whose doors are yet to be opened to them. There are many
thousands who are still kept in harems, waiting impatiently for liberation.
And all these women, in their incessant moral agony, retain the firm
conviction that their suffering, and the demise of many hundreds of
thousands of innocent souls, will be acknowledged and that their superhuman
sacrifice will be sanctified with the birth of an independent Armenia."

Not a pertinent analysis, since there is no causal relation between the
suffering of women and the resurrection of a state. But, it is also true
that Armenian women in the newly independent Republic (1918-1920) were
granted the right to vote as well as civil rights equal to men. They
achieved feminine dignity before Englishwomen (1930) and, particularly,
Frenchwomen (1945).

In Allied-occupied Constantinople, where the Armenian community experiences
a brief yet intense cultural revival between 1919 and 1923, Haikanush Mark
(1883-1966) launches, on November 1, 1919, the bi-monthly Hai Kin (Armenian
Woman). Her clearly stated objective is the modernization of society and the
emancipation of the Armenian woman, echoing, somewhat, the Kemalist reforms
in Turkey. This bi-monthly ceases to publish in 1932, at the same time that
Yeritasard Haiuhin (The Young Armenian Woman) starts publishing in Beirut,
edited by Siran Seza, who defends "the cause of Armenian Woman in the

The Formation of the Diaspora
At the beginning of the 1920s, when the exodus and dispersion of the
Armenian refugees started, the women outnumbered the men. They had to assume
a triple task: material, moral, and cultural. First, to survive and provide
a living for their children, brothers, sisters, and parents who had escaped
death; to rebuild the family cell and to secure a certain economic autonomy
for it; to bring children to the world; to salvage the traditional "codes"
of the Armenian family and adapt them to the geographic, political, and
cultural aspects specific to the host societies of the Orient (new Arab
states, Iran) and of the West (United States, Europe, USSR).

It is said, and repeated, that the 1915 Genocide was the genesis of the
Diaspora. With the exception of Cilicia, from 1919 to 1921, the Allies, in
spite of the many promises made to the Armenians during the Great War, made
no serious effort to demand from the Ottomans or the Kemalists the
repatriation of the Armenian refugees, the restitution of their belongings,
and the guarantee of their safety. Long before the Lausanne Treaty (1923)
scuttled the Treaty of Sevres (1920), the dispersion of some 750,000
Armenians-of which over 120,000 were orphans-had already begun.

To Be an ‘Armenian’ Woman in the Diaspora: The Generations of the Diaspora
The first generation that of the 1920s, evolved around the Mediterranean
basin and beyond the Atlantic, on the American continent. The migrating
Armenian refugees, above all, sought economic security: to earn their daily
bread and have a roof over their heads. Those years are a period of forced
urbanization and proletarization of a population whose majority is of
peasant stock. In the Orient (Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt,
Cyprus, Greece) and in the West (France, United States, Argentina) the
socio-political conditions were different, but almost everywhere,
urbanization was preceded by a "camp," "half-way house" or "shanty town"
before integration into modern city life. Gradually, the Armenians settled
down to a steady existence in newly created communal spaces, ghettos that
allowed them to be "at home" and give their families a territorial base.
Whether it is in Bourj Hammoud or "Armenian villages" in the suburbs of
Marseille or Paris (Issy-les-Moulineau, Alfortville, Arnouville) and similar
quarters around New Jersey, Boston, Detroit, or Fresno, the Armenians
establish an identity.
One of the most remarkable phenomena is the reconstitution of the Armenian
family. Marriages, often arranged, multiply. For a worker-single or
widower-immigrant to the United States before 1914, to marry an orphaned
Armenian girl is considered a "national duty." In the 1920s, Armenian women
demonstrate an exuberant fecundity. The birthrate stays high in the Orient
where families with six children are not rare, even after World War II. This
rate diminishes in France, Greece, and the US after the 1930s.

The other phenomenon is the entry of the Armenian woman into the job market.
Women leave the hearth to work outside. Working is a necessity for survival
as well as improvement of the quality of life for the individual and the
family. In the Orient, Armenian women become household help, launderers,
seamstresses, or carpet-weavers.
In the West (France, US), without any professional qualifications, they
become production-line workers. At the close of the 1920s, to this first
phase of an ill-accepted proletarization follows the home-based labor, which
allows the Armenian woman to reintegrate her home. In France, farmed-out
work in the areas of footwear, leather goods, confectionery, and knitwear
solidifies an ethno-professional status and offers the family ownership of
home-based mini-businesses, however modest, allowing the toilers to
eventually own a private home of their own and to integrate into the general
Blue-collar workers at home, Armenian women remain functional as wives,
daughters, mothers, responding fully to the domestic needs of the family.
This new rupture with the society of origin is a new family economy
supportive of community endeavors to create a cultural autonomy. But the
Oriental and Western communities do not evolve in the same manner or the
same rhythm. In France, in the United States, in the Orient, it is the
Armenian-sometimes the Turkish-languages used by the grandmothers and
mothers, languages of affection and intimacy that are spoken at home.
French, English, Russian, and, later, Arabic and Farsi are the languages of
the "outside," of the schools and the market place.

A much more in-depth study is necessary in order to analyze the mutations at
work on the condition of Diasporan Armenian women of the second and third
generations, when salaried employment became less of a necessity and more of
"liberation." The mimicking of the host country’s mores and habits, the
rapid, modernizing acculturation of the new communities in the West, and the
strong cohesiveness of those in the Orient have coexisted with the massive
infusion of women into Armenian humanitarian and cultural associations. As
a consequence, we have seen the re-invention of the traditional Armenian
cuisine, this "memory of the mouth" which, to this day, plays an essential
role in Armenian sociability.

The Future?
At the beginning of this Third Millennium, we can ask ourselves if the
Diasporan Armenian women are really on the road to emancipation.

With rare exceptions, on the campuses of American and French universities,
during and after 1968, they did not participate-any more than their mothers
and grandmothers did-in the struggle for feminine emancipation. But,
whatever their position and function at the time, they benefited from the
conquests achieved by the women of the Western world, from the suffragettes
who battled for their political rights, the socialists who demanded economic
equality, the Anglo-Saxon feminists who gave the word emancipation an
individual meaning, that is, the right of each woman to demand her autonomy,
her independence, and to be mistress of her body, desires, and aspirations.
Today, Armenian women are citizens who have the right to vote, to use
contraceptives, enjoy safe motherhood, to get an education, and benefit from
professional opportunities. On the "Human Rights" level, Armenian-American
women have more "rights" than their sisters in Iran, Lebanon, or Kuwait,
where the husband retains special rights as "head of the family." In the
economic area, Diasporan Armenian women of the West are more emancipated
than those of the Orient; they are physicians, lawyers, historians,
engineers, teachers, musicians, painters, actresses, etc., too numerous to
list. But, still, they come face to face, as other women do, with
discriminatory practices, such as unequal pay and promotion as employees,
one of many other inequities.

By and large, Armenian institutions of the Diaspora-political parties,
newspapers, schools, the Apostolic, Catholic, and Protestant Churches-are
all ruled by men. Over the past decades, women have supplied a large portion
of the manpower, from one end of the Diaspora to the other, to protest
marches, meetings and commemorations (April 24, May 28, support for
political prisoners, Karabagh freedom fighters, victims of Sumgait, etc.) In
a parallel fashion, since World War II, associations, schools, even certain
areas of the press, have been feminized, to a degree. Thus, in France, the
Hamazgayin and Dprotsaser Colleges, the Armenology Chair of the Institut des
Langue Orientale, the Melkonian College in Cyprus, and the Lycee Essayan of
Istanbul are all headed by women. And it also women, from the US to
Australia, who keep alive and functioning Saturday, Sunday, and daily
schools where a rudimentary Armenian is taught to Diasporan Children.
Thus, in Paris, Arpik Missakian, general manager of Harach-an independent
daily, published with the cooperation of Arpy Totoyan, a former student at
Essayan-contributes to the shaping of the Armenian readers’ political
thought. As an ultimate example of success, the Armenian Relief Society-a
primarily feminine organization founded in the US 93 years ago by
Aknuni-heir to the Red Cross of the First Armenian Republic, now with active
entities in the Homeland and 22 other countries of the world with a
membership reaching 18,000, is the foremost Armenian organization of the
Diaspora. The ARS, alongside its many humanitarian, social and cultural
programs, is actively involved today in global UN programs, as a
Non-Governmental Organization with consultative membership on the roster of
ECOSOC (the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council).

The relations that developed between the Diaspora and Armenia since the 1988
earthquake-and the consequent establishment of the Third Republic of Armenia
as an independent state in 1991-opened for women a new field of activity:
the one of humanitarian activity. The wish to "help Armenia" stimulated the
imagination, initiating economic, pedagogic, and cultural support,
necessitating long trips, often full of hardships to Armenia, Artsakh, and
Javakhq. These Armenian women of the Diaspora broke their habits, left their
families behind, crossing oceans and continents, they assumed new
responsibilities, became much more autonomous, more interested in political
matters and more critical towards themselves and people, in general.
Today, the women of the Armenian Diaspora are more liberated. This liberty
raises the question of "reproduction" in all its aspects, starting with that
of the family and the transmission of the linguistic and cultural heritage
inherited from the first Diasporan generation. As we proceed into the 21st
century, the concept of "Armenian woman" is subject to the problems of the
Diaspora rising from the complexities of present social realities and the
resulting dilution of ethnicity and cultural integrity.

For some 80 years, as a result of continuous Westward migration from the
Orient, from Armenia towards Russia, towards Germany, France or the United
States, the Armenian woman has become a migrant. And as all other migrant
women, she-and mostly her daughter-must choose between total integration
into new host societies, or a determination to conserve her cultural
identity, or-as independent Armenia is suffering an unprecedented
demographic depression with the exodus of its inhabitants-try to do both:
which is the very foundation of all diasporas.
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8. Two Poems by Krikor Ficici
Translated from Armenian by Tatul Sonentz

(From the Volume of Selected Poems "Without Punctuation"
soon to be published by the Hairenik Press)

Maybe Someday

Little Tigran
barely eighteen months old
with maybe eighteen months of smiles
smiles at me
with his light brown eyes
from the bosom of Armenia
from the sun
from the moon
plucked from the stars
Tigran looks at me
with sad-glad soft eyes
he smiles at me
with a display of teeth
arranged like pearls
like the warm Armenian
summer evenings…
Although both his legs
are in plaster
and he cannot move fast
in spite of his innate
youthful fervor
little Tigran
seems not to give a hoot
to life’s somber surprises
emitting happy yelps –
Granny, granny, granny
directing glances full of childish glee
at his grandma’s dusky looks…
Little Tigran
Tigran the Great
you’ll walk you’ll run ahead
with yearning born
of your youthful soul…

Little Tigran
Tigran the Great
may someday conquer the cosmos..


I Am the Wind

I am the wind
I move across mountains and valleys
caressing each plant
each tree
sometimes angry I roar
I crush rocks to pebbles…
I am the wind
that awakens the flowers
at sunrise with a kiss…
I am colorless
no one can see my substance
I move nature’s springtime songs
from meadow to meadow
from flower to flower
I stroke people’s skin passing by
I ease the distress
of toilers sweating in the fields…
I am that breeze
I move along soothing people’s souls
I am that blue wind
that encircles the world
to bring peace….

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9. Hovannisian Lectures on the Changing Landscape of Historic Armenia

BELMONT, Mass. (A.W.)-On Feb. 23, leading historian Richard
G. Hovannisianspoke to a large audience gathered at the First Armenian
Church about hisreflections on his first journey to the regions
regarded as Historic Armeniain eastern Turkey."All of us here were
born in Diaspora," he said, "whether it was here in theUnited States
or in Beirut or Syria or wherever it may have been. We allheard the
stories of our parents and from our grandparents. . [We heard]these
familiar names. . They had a rhythmic, poetic kinds of names that
wecould guess at."He said he had avoided visiting Historic Armenia
before, "Partly, when I wasyounger, because I was on the black list of
the Turkish government. Peoplesaid, ‘There’ll be trouble for you.’ But
probably more because I was afraidof seeing what I knew was going to
be there."In recent years, more and more Armenians have been retracing
the steps to"the lost land of our fathers and mothers." Hovannisian,
however, would findit "much too painful to travel with a large
Armenian group, which would tryto find some kind of solace by standing
in front of a wall of a brokenchurch-which hasn’t been working for 90
years-and sing ‘Hayr Mer,’ as if wewere trying to restore and recover
what we had lost by singing our ancienthymn and our ancient prayer. I
probably found that too painful and didn’tgo." After the Genocide, he
explained, Armenians lived different lives, haddifferent concerns, and
the sense of connection was lost. I cannot give youthe names of my
great grandparents, because the continuity of life-of 3,000years-came
to an end, an absolute end in 1915. Our historic collectivememory was
interrupted."But ironically, he said, when he did go to Historic
Armenia, he did so notwith a group of Armenians but with a
Turk. "That’s also unbelievable. Tothink of going 30 years ago t! o
Palu, and Erzerum, Bitlis and Mush with aTurk was un! imaginable."
But now it’s imaginable, he added enthusiastically."There are some
brave and liberal Turkish scholars . who are willing toaddress this
taboo subject that has been apart of Turkish mythology andamnesia-not
even amnesia but distortion-for the last nine decades."Hovannisian
compared his preconceptions of Western Armenia to those he hadheld
earlier in his life about the Republic of Armenia, which he has
visitedupwards of 50 times in his career. "In the process we have to
give up theidealized, romanticized version of our country and see that
it has itsdownsides, its ugly sides, its negative sides, its
corruption, itsexploitation, and other things." He narrated the
slideshow presentation ofhis trip, noting his perceptions of Trabzon
specifically and his encounterswith many local Kurds and Hamshen
ethnic Armenians, and their hospitality.Of note were the images he
showed of a Kurdish bookstore that secretly soldtranslations of books
acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. In contrast, healso spoke of the
numerous potholes dug by Kurds in search of "lost Armeniangold," and
of the old Kurdish woman who was kind to him but stated warily,"If you
want to claim this land, I’ll burn it before I give it to you."

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