Sunday, October 9, 2011

Finding Zabel Yessayan [Esayean, Yesayan]

Yesterday, Marash Girl attended the showing of FINDING ZABEL YESAYAN, a 45 minute 'film' which was presented at the Arlington Film Festival.  To call it a film was a stretch, as it appeared to be a roughly put together series of interviews of individuals who knew the author personally, who knew of the author, who were related to the author, or who would read from her letters or her works. The only clear and technically acceptable part of the film was the interview with Prof. Mark Nishanian.  Most of the production was in Armenian with (tiny) English subtitles.  But the presentation did its job.  It raised our consciousness.  We all left wanting to know more about this early 20th Century woman writer, Zabel Yessayan.

Zabel Yessayan-Photo Credit: AIWA
Who is Zabel Yessayan?  Very few of Marash Girl's friends knew of this woman writer, but Marash Girl had copies of her book, Gardens of Silihdar, for sale and so she knew, at the very least, that Zabel was a late 19th, early 20th century writer.  What she did not know was that Zabel had narrowly escaped being arrested [she was the only woman on the list of Armenian intellectuals condemned to be hanged for their writing by the Ottoman officials in 1915], that she had fled Istanbul, escaped into Bulgaria thus saving her life.  By 1916 and 1917, she had moved to Tiflis and Baku where she painstakingly recorded the near-death experiences of Armenian Genocide survivors.  Caught up with the Soviet Communist ideology of advocating for the downtrodden of society,  she moved to Hayasdan (Soviet Armenia).  At first able to continue her intellectual and writing pursuits, (actually a member of the Soviet Writers Union), she was to be arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately murdered (in 1942) by the Stalin regime . . . a heartbreaking ending to a life of which few people (and few American Armenians) know.  One of the few of Yessayan's books that was translated into English, the Gardens of Silihdar is difficult to find, (1) because it is out of print in English and there are very few copies available, and (2) the author's name is spelled and transliterated in many different ways.  Even NAASR no longer has the book. Nobody had the book, but has nine copies of the Zabel Yessayan's Gardens of Silihdar for sale, so if you are interested, give a shout or simply click the link! 

Yessayan, Zabel, translated from the Armenian by Ara Baliozian,
Gardens of Silihdar - Extracts from Phony Geniuses, Shirt of Fire, Prometheus Unchained. Ashod Press, 1982. First printing in English. 104 pp includes index. Paperback. BRAND NEW. Trade Quality Paperback. Here for the first time the English reader is given an opportunity to apprecaite the art of Zabel Yessayan, little known outside of the Armenian community, though an outspoken writer of her time; she wrote in Armenian in the early 20th Century. Available from


  1. her method of escape must be noted. according to the story told to peterson by marash girl, when the ottoman police arrived in force searching for Zabel, they met a diminutive woman knitting in front of the hotel. when questioned by the frown of the ottomans' which had reached its zenith in their blood lust, the knitter, pointed, in true epic style, 'she went that a way'. of course, i am now anglicizing the retelling, as the horse opera had yet to seize hold of the hypothalamus of Hollywood, and no doubt, the knitter without fanfare, and with the charm of one who is condemned to knit for the long and short of her life, and behind a veil that hid the face of their prey, directed the armed men with black eyes and moustaches which slashed at their faces, to the hotel which occupied the ground behind her. once her knitting area was empty of the Ottoman police raiders, Zabel lit out for the wilderness, leaving the knitting in a heap on the ground.

  2. had a chance to look more closely at the photo of Zabelle. what a face. it made me very much wish i could have known her. desert flowers appearing after the first spring rain.