The Zohrab Center will host a book presentation by Jennifer Manoukian, whose new, English translation of the autobiography of Zabel Yessayan entitled, The Gardens of Silihdar, has just been published. The event is being co-sponsored by the Armenian Network of America Greater New York Region.
The presentation will take place on Tuesday, May 6 at 2014 at 7PM at the Armenian Diocese, 630 Second Avenue, New York.
Author, educator and social activist Zabel Yessayan (1878-1943) is today recognized as one of the greatest writers in Western Armenian literature. Her poignant 1935 autobiography displays the fierce determination of an Ottoman era Armenian intellectual who refused to accept the restrictions placed on women in Ottoman Turkey, and affords a vivid account of Armenian community life in Constantinople at the end of the nineteenth century.
Jennifer Manoukian, is a graduate of Rutger’s University and a former Zohrab Center intern. She is an accomplished translator and an authority on the writings of Yessayan. She recently published a translation of an essay by the 19th-century novelist Srpouhi Dussap (née Vahanian) entitled, Women’s Inactivity, which addresses social struggles particular to Armenian women.
At her Zohrab presentation Manoukian will present The Gardens of Silihdar, and introduce the life and work of Zabel Yessayan, a bold, one-of-a-kind figure in Western Armenian literature. The presentation is free and open to the public. A wine and cheese reception will follow, during which attendees may purchase the book.
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In her long and eventful life, Zabel Yessayan never strayed from her beliefs, despite often facing both governmental and social pressures.
As a young woman, she fought against the injustices she saw at school, and demonstrated extraordinary tenacity to succeed in the literary world at a time when few women were allowed entry. A celebrated writer of novels, short stories, and non-fiction, as well as a devoted activist and teacher, Yessayan is a model of courage and persistence, whose words resonate as much today as they did in the early twentieth century.
Born in 1878 in Constantinople to a working-class family constantly struggling against crushing debt, Yessayan survived a period of chronic illness to become a precocious child. She learned to read before her fourth birthday and never stopped. Her love of languages and literature led her to Paris in the 1890’s, where she was one of the first Ottoman women to attend university abroad. While studying literature and philosophy at the Sorbonne, she met and married Armenian painter Dikran Yessayan. Together they had two children, Sophie and Hrant, and divided their time between Constantinople and Paris.
Targeted for arrest and deportation in 1915 during the first phase of the Armenian Genocide, Yessayan managed to evade capture and escaped Constantinople. This began an itinerant period in her life that took her from Eastern Europe to the Caucasus, from Mesopotamia to Egypt, and finally to France, where she settled on the outskirts of Paris in the 1920’s.
Her move to Soviet Armenia in 1933 would be fateful. Her staunch belief in the benefits of socialism for the Armenian nation did not spare her from the Stalinist purges. In 1937, along with many other Armenian writers and intellectuals, she was arrested and exiled. The details surrounding her exile and death are still unknown.
Her 1935 autobiography is a poignant narrative of happier times in her life, and a vivid account of Armenian community life in Constantinople at the end of the nineteenth century.