Zabel Yesayan

Answering the Question, ‘Who is Zabel Yessayan?’


By Judith Saryan

Not long ago in Stepanakert, I wore a t-shirt with the image of Zabel Yessayan on it. A young woman approached my colleague and asked timidly, “Who is Zabel?’ That was exactly the question that I wanted the students of Artsakh to answer.

On September 1, Ruben Melikyan, the Republic of Artsakh Ombudsman, and I launched the Second Annual Human Rights Essay Contest which would relate the students’ understanding and experience of human rights to the writing of Zabel Yessayan, the noted author and political activist. We wanted to give the students a reason to read Zabel Yessayan’s memoir of her childhood in Constantinople, The Gardens of Silihdar. In this book, Yessayan reflected on how she came to care so deeply about issues of human rights and social justice.

During the past three months, 53 high school students across Artsakh participated in the contest and answered the questions: Why are human rights important? Please relate this question to your own personal experience and to the experience of Zabel Yessayan. Eighteen judges from Artsakh, Armenia, and the Diaspora examined and scored the essays and chose twelve finalists in the first round, and the top three winners in the second round.

Alexander Yesayan, Zabel Yessayan’s grandson, was one of the judges. Speaking at the ceremony, he said that all of the students who entered the contest were winners.

First prize winner, Marat Hayrapetyan from the K. Mouratyan School in Vaghouhas Village, Second prize winner, Leena Mirzoyan from the Khachadur Apovyan School in Shushi, and third prize winner Siroun Kaprielyan, Badara School in Askeran, were announced on December 10, International Human Rights Day, in Stepanakert. At the ceremony, the twelve finalists received recognition and gifts from several ministries and organizations, including the Tufenkian Foundation and the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), Co-Sponsors of the contest.

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All of the entrants were given the winning t-shirt designed by Astghik Simonyan of Stepanakert from another competition organized by Tumo Center in conjunction with the essay contest. The t-shirts featured the quote by Yessayan: Literature is not an ornament, a pleasant pastime, a pretty flower. Literature is a weapon to struggle against injustice.


(Judith Saryan is a project manager at the Armenian International Women’s Association with extensive experience in the world of finance. She is a graduate of Wellesley College.)

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