Astghik Simonyan of Stepanakert with her winning t-shirt design featuring the face and a quotation from Zabel Yessayan

Zabel Yessayan’s Legacy Taking Root in Artsakh


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. and STEPANAKERT — Thanks to the Artsakh Human Rights Essay and the Graphic Design t-shirt contests, young people in Artsakh are discovering the legacy of Zabel Yessayan, the Armenian author and human rights activist.

Born in 1878 in Constantinople, Yessayan played an important role in the tumultuous events shaping Armenian history in the first part of the 20th century. The contests are organized by Ruben Melikyan, the Ombudsman for Artsakh, Korioun Khatchadourian from TUMO Stepanakert, and Judith Saryan from Cambridge, Mass.

On November 8, TUMO Stepanakert announced the winner of the graphic design t-shirt contest. The winning entry was designed by Astghik Simonyan of Stepanakert. She created a stylized image of Yessayan’s face on the front of the t-shirt. Below it she printed Yessayan’s quote, “Literature is not an ornament, a pleasant pastime, a pretty flower. Literature is a weapon to struggle against Injustice.” Simonyan designed a geometric pomegranate symbolizing Artsakh to adorn the back of the shirt.

The winners of the human rights essay contest based on the legacy of Yessayan will be announced on December 10, International Human Rights Day.

Yessayan attracted a lot of attention during her lifetime, but she disappeared without a trace in a Soviet prison in the 1940s. Starting 15 years ago, her story resurfaced with the works of Lerna Ekmekcioglu and Melissa Bilal and the documentary, “Finding Zabel Yessayan.” Ever since then, Yessayan’s books have been translated into English, French, Turkish and Italian. The mayor of Paris announced that a street was recently named after her, a group of women in Turkey created a play about her life and works, and researchers are combing through her archives in Yerevan to learn more about this brilliant and courageous woman.

The Tufenkian Foundation ( and the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR, are co-sponsoring the Human Rights Essay contest based on the legacy of Yessayan.

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