October 09, 2013

“Armenian Women as Mothers and Artists,” an Interesting Symposium Sponsored by ANEC in New York

His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, has deemed 2013 the “Year of the Mother of the Armenian Family” and asked Armenians throughout the world to organize activities in order to reflect on and to explore the central role of mothers in the past and present of our nation.
With this idea in mind, the Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC) sponsored a symposium, “Armenian Women as Mothers and Artists,” to offer some insights into the richness, depth, and breadth of the issue. The symposium was held at the Pashalian Hall of St. Illuminator’s Armenian Cathedral in New York on Saturday, October 5, 2013 in the afternoon.
Sossi Essajanian
After the welcome words of Fr. Mesrob Lakissian, pastor of St. Illuminator’s Armenian Cathedral and member of ANEC, the symposium was opened and conducted by fellow member Ms. Sossi Essajanian. She introduced the event in the following way: “Even though ANEC’s primary mission is to give support and advice to the Armenian schools under its jurisdiction, we also believe that the concept of education encompasses much more than just our schools. The idea of taking upon this and, hopefully, other subjects in the future is geared towards our community as a way of learning and sharing knowledge.”

It is encouraging to note that the three speakers belonged to the new generation of Armenian Studies scholars, and thus, they introduced refreshing subject and ideas during the symposium, which were warmly welcomed by the audience.
The first presentation was by Dr. Melissa Bilal, a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer at Columbia University, Department of Music, who recently defended her Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Chicago. She has written on the historical and ethnographic aspects of Armenian lullaby in Turkey as a genre of intimacy, testimony, and protest. Unfortunately, due to health problems, Dr. Bilal could not attend the symposium and Ms. Essajanian read her paper, illustrated with musical fragments, in a very inspiring way. The presenter discussed how songs, especially lullabies, powerfully mediate the transmission of loss, particularly with relation to the Armenian Genocide. She argued that lullabies created, remembered, and sung by Armenian “grandmothers,” either in Armenian or in Turkish, provide the listener with an orientation toward a mode of knowing and feeling. The lullaby, at the same time, in many instances, enables silent mourning.

Jennifer Manoukian
Afterwards, Jennifer Manoukian, a graduate student in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies at Columbia University, considered the life of Zabel Yessayan, the foremost female author of Armenian literature in the first half of the twentieth century. Her lively discussion highlighted Yessayan’s roles as mother and activist throughout the Adana massacre of 1909, the Armenian Genocide, and the first years of the Diaspora. Ms. Manoukian, whose B.A. thesis was on the early writings of Yessayan and who has translated several works of her into English, included largely un-translated autobiographical texts, personal letters, and accounts of Yessayan’s family members in her presentation.
Vartan Matiossian
A coffee break was followed by the final presentation by Dr. Vartan Matiossian, executive director of the Armenian National Education Committee, who tackled the little-known figure of Armen Ohanian. Despite her male name, she was a dancer, actress, writer, and translator, whose life journey allowed her to construct a multidimensional identity. Her life across borders, languages, and cultures embodied some elements that today are intimately intertwined with the concept of diaspora. Dr. Matiossian, who co-authored a book in Armenian on Ohanian in 2007, drew upon a wide array of sources in several languages to offer an entertaining presentation about a fascinating biography.
The presentations at this symposium highlighted various manifestations of Armenian women in their role as mothers in different spaces and places, and left the audience with considerations for Armenian mothers in the 21st century.
The Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC) is a joint project of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian Relief Society, Eastern Region, and provides guidance, coordination, and assistance to the Saturday Armenian Schools and day schools within the jurisdiction of the Prelacy. In addition, ANEC makes publications and organizes lectures, language courses for adults, summer studies for teens, and seminars for teachers. For more information, visit www.armenianprelacy.org/anec, write to Armenian National Education Committee, 138 E. 39th Street, New York, NY 10016, call at (212) 689-7231/7810, or email anec@armenianprelacy.org.

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