AIWA’s Women’s History Month Commemoration Features Dr. Rita Kuyumjian


BOSTON — Woman’s History Month in March provides an opportunity to learn more about the significant roles played by females in society. Armenia, with its long and colorful history, is full of examples of the courage, determination and ability displayed by women during critical times of the past.
With this in mind, the Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA) has invited Dr. Rita Soulahian Kuyumjian, professor of psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal, to give an illustrated presentation about the achievements of one of those heroines of the past, Arshagouhi Teotig.

The program, titled “A Woman’s Response to Tragedy: Armenian Writer Arshagouhi Teotig in Adana, 1909,” will take place on Sunday, March 28, at 3 p.m. at the Armenian Cultural Foundation in Arlington, Mass.

The Cilician massacre of 1909, centered in the city of Adana, had claimed the lives of an estimated 30,000 Armenians and left thousands of others homeless, orphaned or widowed. Responding to the call of the Association of Patriotic Armenian Women, Teotig volunteered to go to Adana in the autumn of that year to accomplish the humanitarian mission of her association, which was to open a school for the orphaned girls of Adana.

Teotig arrived in Adana to find the survivors ravaged by poverty, hunger and disease. Grief for the dead, fear of recurring violence, anger as to why the massacres happened, depression and hopelessness were evident everywhere. Somehow, in the midst of this desolation, she managed to accomplish her purpose.

Returning to Istanbul, Teotig published a travelogue, A Month in Cilicia, in which she wrote about the plight of the young, the widowed, the old, and the incarcerated. She described the population’s frantic efforts of self preservation with mass weddings. She warned against the dangers of religious fanaticism raging among the Muslims of the region. Thus she brought home to Armenians living in the capital the enormity of the human tragedy and the need for immediate humanitarian relief to help those in dire need to survive the winter and put their lives in order.

Kuyumjian is well equipped to tell the story of this remarkable woman. A graduate of Yerevan State Medical Institute in 1975, Kuyumjian moved to Montreal the next year to continue her studies in psychiatry at McGill University, where she has been on the faculty for the past 25 years. She also serves as the director of the Psychiatric Outpatient Department of St. Mary’s Hospital in Montreal, and divides her time between teaching, clinical work and research.

In 1992 Kuyumjian established a program at McGill to train Armenian psychiatrists from Armenia, and in 2001 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from her alma mater, Yerevan Medical University, in recognition of her humanitarian aid to her motherland and her academic achievements.

She is the author of two books: Diary Notes of a Journey to Armenia, Memoirs of a Psychiatrist, which chronicled her experience working with children after the 1988 Armenian earthquake; and Archeology of Madness, Komitas, Portrait of an Armenian Icon, a psychobiography of Komitas, beloved Armenian composer who succumbed to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder after his arrest and exile on the eve of the Armenian Genocide. Her third publication, Trilogy-April 24, 1915, is a three-volume work dedicated to the Armenian intellectuals who were arrested on April 24, 1915. It is scheduled for release in April by the Gomidas Press.

Her paper about Arshagouhi Teotig was first presented last November, at the Conference on “Adana 1909: History, Memory and Identity from a Hundred Year Perspective,” held at the Sabanci Museum in Istanbul.

The public is invited to attend the March 28 program, which will be followed by a reception. Further information about the program or about other projects to enhance the visibility of Armenian women is available by contacting AIWA at 65 Main St., Watertown, Mass.; e-mail: Aiwa [email protected]