The University of Arizona

Zabel Yessayan (1878-1942): At the Intersection of Armenian Nationalism and the Women’s Movement

Andrew Wickersham


Zabel Yessayan (née Hovhannessian) was an Armenian intellectual and perhaps the most prolific Armenian female writer of the early twentieth century. Born into a middle-class family in Istanbul in 1878, Hovhannessian benefited from the broadening educational opportunities of the Hamidian period, while at the same time being acutely aware of anti-Armenian prejudices in the Ottoman Empire during this era. Hovhannessian’s educational and familial background enabled her to pursue a career as an author and intellectual. Through the life of Zabel Yessayan, I intend to examine a key concept introduced by James C. Scott in Domination and the Arts of Resistancethat within subordinate groups a rigid solidarity, often itself maintained through equally authoritarian means, must be preserved in order to effectively resist the dominating group. Power relations within subordinate groups tend to prioritize the struggle against the overall oppressor over attempts to establish more democratic power structures within the group. I assert that, in the case of Yessayan, the more radical aims of the women’s movement were frequently subordinated to the objectives of the Armenian nationalist program. While the views that she advocated were relatively progressive for her time, she clearly envisioned women playing the role of nurturing mothers of the Armenian nation, educating and raising its sons to be patriots, consoling the victims of massacre, and helping to lift up the impoverished.     


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