WATERTOWN — In June 1909, Istanbul author Zabel Yessayan journeyed to the scene of the massacres of Armenians in the providence of Adana in March and April as a member of the commission appointed by the Armenian Patriarch to survey conditions and provide relief to the victims.
After spending three months in Adana province, Yessayan returned to Istanbul and wrote a series of articles summarizing her findings. These articles, which include extensive interviews with survivors chronicling the violence, death, and destruction that marked the massacres, were collected in her book, In the Ruins, published in 1911.
The Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA) has now released the first complete English-language translation of this important work, which is considered a masterpiece of literary testimony as well as an original source of crucial details about the Adana Massacres, which are often considered a prelude to the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Included in the publication are photographs as well as an appendix with selected articles and letters by Yessayan that provide additional insight into the events of the period.
In the Ruins, which has been translated by G. M. Goshgarian, will be officially launched on Sunday, March 6, at 2 p.m. at the Watertown Public Library at an event celebrating International Women’s Day as well as Women’s History Month. Participating in the program, which is open to the public, will be the book’s project director, Judy Saryan, her co-editors Danila Jebejian Terpanjian and Joy Renjilian-Burgy, and AIWA Archives Director Barbara Merguerian.
The publication of In the Ruins follows the success of two earlier translations of books by Yessayan issued by AIWA Press: The Gardens of Silihdar, a memoir of the author’s early years in her native Istanbul, and My Soul in Exile and Other Writings, a collection that highlights a novel and other selected works. These three volumes contain some of the author’s best and most influential works and provide a picture of the scope, breath, and historical significance of her work.
Yessayan (1878-1943) is remembered today as a brilliant writer of novels, short stories, and essays, a champion of women’s rights and an active participant in the defining events in the Western Armenian community of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Rarely has the life of an individual writer so encapsulated that of her nation.
Born in Istanbul, Yessayan graduated from Surp Khach secondary school and at age 17 went to Paris to study at the Sorbonne. In Paris she began publishing fiction and non-fiction works in both French and Armenian. In 1908, now an established writer, she returned to Istanbul, where her hopes for a new liberal era were dashed by the 1909 Adana Massacres.
Continuing her literary career, Yessayan became the only woman on the “black list” of Armenian intellectuals to be arrested on the night of April 24, 1915. She managed to elude the police for three months, finally escaping to Bulgaria and on to the Caucasus. After engaging in relief work and publishing interviews with Genocide survivors, she returned to Paris. In 1933 she moved to Yerevan, Armenia, where, five years later, she became a victim of Josef Stalin’s purges. She was arrested in 1937 and died in unknown circumstances, probably in 1943.
The translation and publication of In the Ruins was made possible by a grant to AIWA from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. It is the latest in the AIWA Press “Treasury of Armenian Women’s Literature” series of books.
In the Ruins is available from AIWA through mail, telephone or website orders (list price $20), as well as from Amazon and bookstores specializing in publications of Armenian interest.
In addition to the March 6 launch of In the Ruins, book receptions with Judy Saryan are scheduled in other areas, including Racine, Wisc. (Public Library, February 27); Chicago (AGBU Center, February 28); California (Glendale, Abril Bookstore, April 28, and Mission Hills, Ararat-Eskijian Museum, May 1); and Cambridge, Mass. (Porter Square Books, May 24).
This year AIWA is marking 25 years of promoting and enriching the social, economic and personal advancement of Armenian women worldwide. The celebration will be held September 30- October 2 at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Mass. Further information about the celebration or about AIWA activities is available by contacting AIWA at 65 Main St., Watertown, MA 02472; Website (www.aiwainternational.org