Our Greats-Zabel Yesayan: The queen of twilights of Skyutar

Zabel Yesayan-140

Zabel Yesayan (Hovhannisyan) the writer, the translator, the publicist and the public figure went down in the history of Armenian literature as a unique Armenian woman writer. Her every line and word was driven by patriotism, the love for Armenians and sincerity. Her works portray the ardent rose gardens in the Silihtar district of her hometown of Skyutar, the songs from a distance and the songs about the desire for the homeland, the cool rains in May and the girl walking on the paths of the garden who would go on to become the chronicler of the bloody events that happened to her genius nation.

“I remember the mornings in spring when those gardens, the gardens of Silihtar would become ardent rose gardens. Those roses ‘invaded’ homes, decorated undecorated rooms, smelled, added a shade to the white rooms, became a plaything for children, and the petals of those roses would ‘rain down’ on everyone and everything. I remember how the petals would drop from the vine arbors that would cover up the misery of homes like a splendid robe…I remember the restless and lukewarm evenings, the rumbling of frogs in the basins, the leaps of fireflies and the endless creaking of the Artesian wells that would befriend my dreams even in the disturbed sleep of an ill child. Sometimes a gardener having emigrated from the steppes of Rumeli would sing a distant and homeward bound melody with the pipe of a shepherd. I remember my suffering against the beauty of that nature with many faces, it was some dispersed scent, shade, light and dream to include and master my powerless desire…I remember the cool rain in May that would fall with a precipitous murmur on the dry plants and the roofs covered with red tiles…I remember myself on the paths to the garden, walking step-by-step on the paths of light that were shaking amid the shine on the wavering branches. I remember the uncertain concern that I would suddenly have when I would listen to the rustling of leaves on the trees and the sound of the streamlet.”

…Zabel Hovhannisyan (she took the last name Yesayan of her husband, painter Tigran) was born in 1878 in the Silihtar District of Constantinople. She received her primary education at the Holy Cross School in Skyutar, after which she studied at the University of Sorbonne in Paris, participated in literature and philosophy courses at College de France and went on to educate herself and pursue her career. In 1895, at quite a young age, she released her first prose work in Arshak Chopanyan’s “Tsaghik” magazine under the title “Song for the Night”. This was the start of her great literary career. Afterwards, her novels and short stories, short novels, literary critiques, valuable articles devoted to the arts and her translations from French (“Death”, “Wisdom and Destiny” by Meterling) were released in the notable presses of the time. The short novels “Twilights of Skyutar” (1905, Eastern Press), “Phony Geniuses” (1905, Eastern Press), “The Obedient and the Rebels” (1906, Free Stage) and “People with Talent” (1907) already served as evidence of the fact that the writer was serious and had an in-depth message to convey. Attaching importance to the role of women in society, Yesayan wrote: “A woman hasn’t been brought into this world to just be pleasant. A woman has come to enhance her mind, wit and moral and physical attributes. Just being pleasant shouldn’t be the ideal of all women who respect each other, but a factor for becoming a benefactor for the country.” Guided by this creed, the writer certified the truth of these words with her individuality and career. At just 30, the Armenian woman was considered one of the successful and best writers of the time. She was a notable representative of the intelligentsia with her “burden” to carry out patriotic activities and create work. In 1908, Yesayan returns to Constantinople and leaves for Cilicia as part of a delegation created on the occasion of the Adana massacre in 1909.

The contemporary of the Cilician massacres, this daring Armenian woman who survived the Armenian Genocide, who considered silence as betrayal, was saved from the massacres by a miracle and settled in Bulgaria and later in Tbilisi, wrote the short novels “The Last Cup” and “My Soul in Exile” (the novels are devoted to the Armenian Genocide) to raise her voice of protest and let the indifferent world know about the sorrow of the Armenian people. Yesayan publishes articles in newspapers and writes short stories devoted to the horrible massacres.

In August 1921, her husband, Tigran Yesayan dies, and it seems as though this family tragedy empowers the proud and unwavering Armenian woman even more. She becomes a mother and a father for her children, Hrant and Sofi. In her literary career and community service, she was guided by her principle and her message, which is the following: “Whatever I did, I did it for my beloved nation and homeland. If it’s good, take as much as you want and how much you want. If it’s bad, forgive me!” For Yesayan, patriotism was first and foremost respect for and worship of the language. “The most splendid and the most genuine of the legacies of our forefathers is our beautiful, rich and great language. We must protect it with emotions and excitement. I am certain that we Armenians will protect it.”

Zabel dreamed of being in Armenia…In 1926, her wish came true, and she shared her impressions in the book “Prometheus Liberated”. In 1932, Zabel Yesayan was invited to lecture at Yerevan State University (she taught French in the Philology Department). In 1933, she settled in Armenia, and in 1934, she was already a member of the Union of Writers of the former USSR. In 1934, Yesayan was elected a member of Yerevan City Council along with Yeghishe Charents, Derenik Demirtchyan and Mikayel Manvelyan. In the same period, she participated in the first congress of the Union of Soviet Writers in Moscow where, after delivering a speech devoted to Maxim Gorky, she gave a speech in French and stressed the fact that a writer must not be neutral in the given stage of public life and must not be an observer…

After being saved from the greatest tragedies of the Armenian people, another dire, irreversible and fatal tragedy awaited the writer in Soviet Armenia. The speech that she gave at the Union of Writers in 1936 seemed to be the writer’s Song of the Swan, which was followed by her arrest during the years of Stalin’s dictatorship. According to the court ruling, Yesayan had to be taken to Siberia, but by the silent consent of the Armenian political figures of the time, she was taken from the prison in Yerevan to Baku where the bloodthirsty Azeri-Tatars were waiting impatiently for her…The great patriot and writer died in 1937 after being violently ravished.

…Throughout the 60 years of her life, Zabel Yesayan wrote more than a dozen books of poems, short novels and short stories, published translations and literary articles, poems, wrote artistic letters and gained encyclopedic knowledge. Zabel Yesayan the great Armenian woman lived and, even after her life on Earth, she continues to live as “Barpa Khachik” and “Sebastatsi Murad”, as “New Bride” and “Uncle Hakob”, as “Soul in Exile”, as “Meliha Nuri Hanim” and as “The Twilight of Skyutar”…

Karine Avagyan

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