10 Armenian women who changed the course of world history

World history has been shaped by not only major events, but also famous figures of various nationalities whose role is simply impossible to overlook or underestimate.

It is an honor for the Armenian people that there have been many world famous Armenian scholars, heroes, artists and political figures. Moreover, there have been both male and female Armenian figures. As evidence of this, Dalma News, established at the initiative of young journalists of the South Caucasus, has set aside 10 Armenian women who have Armenian roots, even though they have lived and worked in different parts of the world.

1 Saint Shushan-Vardeni (409-75)

Shushan Vardeni-the daughter of Armenian commander Vardan Mamikonyan, body is buried in Georgia, recognized as a universal saint by Armenian and Georgian churches

In the decade following the Battle of Avarayr in 451, Shushan got married to Georgian Ashusha’s son Vazgen, who replaced his father and received the title of “bdeshkh”. However, due to political considerations, Vazgen renounces Christianity and gets married to a Persian woman. After that, Shushanik, who had received a Christian education, rejects her converted husband and doesn’t even let him see their children. She locks herself up in a dark and humid cell next to the church of Yurtav. Of course, the husband does everything he can to make Shushan renounce Christianity as well and even beats and tortures her, but his attempts are in vain since Shushan remained adamant. She was tortured for six years, but died in the beginning of the seventh year. She has gone down in history not only as a canonized Armenian woman, but also the ideal of an ideological woman of the Middle Age.

2. Mumtaz Mahal (Arjumanad Banu Begam) (1593-1631)

Let’s move from Georgia to India and reveal new facts tracing back to centuries. Thus, many dream of visiting the Indian city of Agra and seeing India’s pearl, the Taj Mahal. However, people have rarely asked why it is called Taj Mahal. It turns out that it is named after Shah Jahan’s beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is worth mentioning that Mumtaz Mahal was also of Armenian descent and was the daughter of Armenian official Asaf khan of the Indian royalty. However, taking into consideration the fact that the family followed the Shia Islamic religion, and the maiden name of Mahal was Arjumanad Banu Begam. Afterwards, Shah Jahan’s father, Jahangir renamed the bride Mahal, which means “jewel of a palace”. In 1612, Mumtaz Mahal got married to the emperor at the age of 19 and had 13 children. However, during the birth of the 14th child, she died at her husband’s military camp. On her deathbed, she asked her husband to build a temple on her tombstone that would be worthy of their love.

After his beloved wife’s death, Shah Jahan declares mourning for two years during which it was prohibited to celebrate Indian holidays, dance or listen to music. Later, he commands to build a large marble mausoleum on the tombstone of the woman who have moved to Agra. Construction lasts 22 years, and the mausoleum is referred to as Taj Mahal (“Palace of the Crown”) in honor of Mumtaz Mahal.

3. Alenoush Terian (1920-2011)

Alenoush Terian was born in Tehran, Iran. Her father was from New Julfa, and even though he was a writer, he spent the last 20 years of his life serving as director of Iran’s Sepah Bank. Young Alenoush became more involved in astrology and became one of the founders of the solar observatory of the Geophysics Institute at Tehran State University. In Tehran she was righteously referred to as “the mother of Iranian astrology”. After all, Terian was Iran’s first woman professor, that is, the first woman astrologist and astrophysicist of Iran.

Although Terian was never married, she was highly focused on research and teaching. Her students and contemporaries still remember Alenoush Terian as a caring teacher who enjoyed the love and respective of all of her students. What is interesting is the fact that Alenoush Terian bequeathed her home to the Armenian community of New Julfa so that students without homes could reside there. She died at a nursing home.

4.Diana Abgar (Anahit Aghabekyan) (1859-1937)

Writer, publicist and public figure Diana Abgar, who was of Armenian descent and whose ancestors were from New Julfa, was born in Rangun (modern-day Yango), the capital of Birma, a British colony of East India. She found her place in world history as the first woman consul in the world. Abgar was appointed Ambassador of the First Republic of Armenia to Japan and the Far East in 1919-20. The Ambassador’s contemporaries claim that she had such an startling appearance and charm that whenever she entered official venues and halls, everyone would rise to their feet. Diana Abgar’s maiden name was Anahit Aghabekyan, but in 1890, she started presenting herself as Diana Abgar after getting married to Michael Abgarian (Michael Abgar) from New Julfa in 1890 in Hong Kong.

Let us add that Diana Abgar has left a great literary heritage, including books, poems and letters. She has devoted books to the misery and injustice that her compatriots faced. What is interesting is that Diana Abgar talked about human rights and held a state office in a period when women didn’t have suffrage in even the most developed countries.

5 Zabel Yesayan (1878-1943)

Armenian writer, translator and publicist Zabel Yesayan, who was a genuine pioneer for the protection of women’s rights, has her honorable place among the five most courageous women in the history of mankind. This is an irrefutable fact not only in Armenia, but also abroad. A famous American newspaper wrote the following about her: “Zabel Yesayan is an example of a brilliant woman who lived in times when being smart and persistent was one of the most dangerous attributes.”.

After graduating from the Holy Cross School of Skyutar, Zabel Yesayan, who was originally from Constantinople, left for Paris and took the literature and philosophy courses offered in Sorbonne and College de France. Later, she returned to Constantinople, visited Cilicia and wrote the whole truth about the situation during those years. However, she paid quite a high price for speaking out about injustice and the truth. Although she managed to avoid apprehension in 1915 and took shelter in Bulgaria and later in Tbilisi, in 1936, she became a victim of Stalin’s repressions in Soviet Armenia. Nevertheless, even in prison, she would write letters with the same courage. The circumstances behind her death remain unknown to this day.

6. Anita Conti (Anita Karagoshyan) (1899-1997)

Although Armenia is a landlocked country, it is the first in oceanography. Yes, you guessed it-the first woman oceanographer is French explorer and photographer Anita Conti (Anita Karagoshyan). In 1939, she traveled to the Arctic in a Viking boat to fish for cod for three months. During the trip, she came to the conclusion that fishing too much in the ocean can lead to extremely heavy consequences.

In 1941-43, she travels across Africa in her boat, improving the methods of fishing under the assignment of a French admiralty. She drew up maps and described new types of fish. The main goal of Conti’s studies was to find resources for fish canals and provide for the troops and peaceful civilians in times of scarcity of food. Anita Conti died on Christmas in the French city of Duarne. She was 99 years old. According to her will, the remains of her body were scattered across the Mediterranean Sea.

7. Zaruhi Kavaljian (1877-1969)

The first woman doctor in Turkey was Zaruhi Kavaljian. She was born in the Turkish city of Adapazar. Her father, Serob Kavaljian, graduated from the Boston University School of Medicine and worked as a doctor in Adapazar and Izmit. In 1898, Zaruhi graduated from the American Girls’ College in Adapazar and left for the United States since the Ottoman Empire had prohibited women from studying medicine. In Chicago, Kavaljian got accepted to and, in 1903, graduated from the Department of Medicine at the University of Illinois. Later, she returned to Adapazar and worked as a doctor with her father for a while. She also taught biology at the American College.

During the years of WWI, Kavaljian actively participated in the efforts of institutions providing assistance to the wounded and victims. Later, she moved to Istanbul. Besides medicine, Zaruhi continued to teach at the American Girls’ College of Uskyudar where she became known as Dr. Kaval.

8. Anna Ter-Vardanyan (1920-2011)

World history proves that women can’t compete with men in the military, but there are exceptions. Anna Ter-Vardanyan was the first woman senior chief of the U.S. military and marine forces. She received this title in 1959 at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island and became the first woman to serve in the armed forces as an E-9.

As a matter of fact, the Ter-Vardanyan family was engaged in the military. A short while after WWII broke out, Anna got enlisted, her sister, Jean Oliver served in the U.S. Navy, and her brother, Andrew served in the Pacific Ocean sector of the U.S. Armed Forces. Moreover, her mother also wanted to join the navy, but she served the Red Cross at home.

9. Gohar Vardanyan (1926-)

Prominent underground Soviet spy and veteran of the Russian foreign intelligence service Gohar Vardanyan has already gone down in history. At the age of 16, she joined the anti-Fascist group of her future husband and friend-in-combat Gevorg Vardanyan and began her career as an active explorer along with the group. In 1943, she participated in the operation to ensure the safety of the leaders of the “Big Three” during the Tehran Conference along with the group.

Gohar and Gevorg Vardanyan worked successfully with the operative pseudonyms “Anita” and “Henri” in many countries around the world. Experts say the results of their work were so significant that they can never be decoded. Gohar Vardanyan has received the Red Flag Order, the Second Degree Order of the Patriotic War and several medals.

10. Dame Sayan Srbouhi Ilayas

Being the first is truly very characteristic of Armenian women, and there are many examples in our days as well. With this said, the first woman president of the Supreme Court was also an Armenian woman. New Zealand decided that one of the first two women elected to the position of lawyer of the royalty – Dame Sayan Srbuhi Ilayas, who vigorously supported the protection of the rights of the people of Maor, had to become a supreme judge. Moreover, the uniqueness of the position of a Supreme Judge of New Zealand is that one of the duties of the Judge is substituting the country’s general-governor (appointed by Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain) in case the general-governor is ill or in case of his or her absence at the moment it is necessary.

The New Zealand Herald writes the following about Dame Sayan Srbuhi Ilayas: “If there is a personality trait that none of her acquaintances can dispute, it is the fact that she is kind in all cases, even when she is strictly criticized.”

Prepared by Haik Samsonyan

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