"Literature is not an ornament, a pleasant pastime, a pretty flower. Literature is a weapon to struggle against injustice."
Կինը աշխարհ չէ եկած մինակ հաճելի ըլլալու համար։ Կինը եկած է իր խելքը, մտային, բարոյական եւ ֆիզիքական յատկութիւնները զարգացնելու համար։ Ինքզինքնին յարգող բոլոր կիներուն իտէալը միայն հաճելի ըլլալը պէտք չէ ըլլայ, այլ երկրիս վրայ գործօն բարերար տարր մը դառնալը։“

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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Family Picture

One of the rare family portrait they took... In Paris, when the first independent Armenian republic was declared in 1918.

On the left, Dikran Yesayan, in the middle Sophie, far right, Hrant and Zabel in front with the Armenian flag of the first republic (picture taken in Paris)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Ode to the Night, Zabel Yesayan's First Published Work

Translated by Jennifer Manoukian (Ararat Magazine)
This poem, written at the age of seventeen, is Zabel Yessayan’s first published work. It appeared in the first volume of Arshag Chobanian’s literary journal Dzaghig (Constantinople) in 1895.

Come, oh night, come, cover the world with your black skirts, subdue the last breath of twilight with your coolness, cover the world in your funereal darkness.
The day enters your somber breast in its tomb, dragging along with it all the feelings and concerns sprouting within.
Loving hearts anxiously wait for you to smother their reveries in your darkness. Come, close their weary eyes with your invisible fingers. Take them to the depths of slumber for a few hours.
Resting on your black arms, take them far from the daily routine that has exhausted them. In your coolness, lull them to sleep with your sweet music. Let their worries melt away for a few hours in your solemn realm.
Your arrival brings with it precious memories. You are a friend to the lonely. It is you who sees the most private tears.
The sleepless, miserable individuals who pass by open windows take in your cool darkness.
Their thoughts and feelings wander around in your breast. And you take them all, burying them in your consoling obscurity.


Letter to Sophie

« J’ai un entrain excellent pour écrire, j’ai commencé un livre sous forme de mémoire, je te donnerai des détails plus tard. C’est un secret. Personne à part toi et Hrant ne doit savoir rien à ce propos. C’est un projet très amusant et peut être fructueux, enfin ça marche bien » - Lettre à Sophie Yesayan, 18 septembre 1930, Paris.

Zabel Yesayan’s numerous letters to her daughter, Sophie Yesayan, are part of the archives of the State Museum of Art and Literature. While reading one more time the whole collection, I was amazed at how close and unique was this mother-daughter relationship. Zabel would share regularly her concerns, fears and joys with her. She would send excerpts of her writings, asking for her opinion and advice. 

In Paris, Sophie was a librarian by profession and she continued working in that area after her move to Soviet Armenia with her mother in 1933. Her life took a tragic turn after her mother's arrest in 1937 for being a dissident,  followed by the loss of her only child and the difficult relationship with her husband's family. While Hrant, her brother was able to survive the disappearance of his mother with the help of his immediate family, Sophie, on the other hand, was completely devastated. Clara Terzian, a family friend, remembers how one day, several years after Zabel Yesayan's proclaimed death, Sophie showed up in front of their apartment dressed like a beggar, broken and completely lost. 

Sophie Yesayan

During her last years, she found refuge in the basement of her brother's apartment and spent her days gathering all of her mother's work; copying and collecting every single memory related to the life and work of the famous writer. Her dedication in preserving her mother’s remaining legacy was essential in creating an important archive of the author in the Museum later on.

In the above excerpt of one of the letters addressed to Sophie, Zabel Yesayan expresses her deep enthusiasm towards writing and the start of a new project: a book of memoirs. She asks her daughter to keep it a secret for now but ensuring her that it will become a big success one day. She is probably referring to her memoirs, The Gardens of Silihdar, which will be published in Yerevan in 1935.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Finding Zabel Yesayan, Finding Ourselves

By Christopher Atamian

At the beginning of the fine documentary Finding Zabel Yesayan, directors Lara Aharonian and Talin Suciyan attempt to track down the Yerevan street named after the famed writer — not an easy task. In fact, the taxi dispatcher interviewed claims that no one has ever requested it before. When the two filmmakers finally locate an old lady who resides on Zabel Yesayan Street, the latter exclaims in frustration: “They should have named this street after a great leader or hero! Who is Zabel Yesayan? No one knows who she is around here.”
Born in Istanbul in 1878, Yesayan attended local Armenian schools and was later educated in Paris. In 1909, at the behest of the Armenian Patriarchate, she traveled to Adana in order to report on the Turkish massacres against the Armenian civilian population which led to over 30,000 deaths. (Interestingly, in her now classic account of the killings, Amidst the Ruins, Yesayan addressed “her compatriots” — both Armenian and Turkish.)  Yesayan — the only woman on Ittihad ve Terraki’s black list of intellectuals — escaped the 1915 deportations by hiding in the Ottoman capital’s hospitals before fleeing to France again and later to the Caucasus. She sat for months in Tbilisi and Baku, transcribing memories of the atrocities dictated to her by survivors of the Aghet, before finally repatriating with her children to Yerevan. There, along with writers such as Yeghishe Charents and Gourgen Mahari, Yesayan was branded an “enemy of the people” by the Communist Party, repeatedly imprisoned and eventually murdered, although neither the exact circumstances of her death nor her body were ever uncovered.