Setsuo Ohmori (Photo Aram Arkun)

Diana Apcar Documentary Sheds Light on Tireless Heroine

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WATERTOWN — Diana Agabeg Apcar, a woman born far away from her homeland not only ended up representing her country of origin as an ambassador but also saved possibly thousands from death during the Armenian Genocide. Her story is becoming known to a whole new generation thanks to a documentary on her life by her great-granddaughter, Mimi Malayan.

On Sunday, September 29, several Armenian groups banded together to co-sponsor a viewing of Malayan’s “The Stateless Diplomat: Diana Apcar’s Heroic Life,” at the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown.

Mimi Malayan (Photo Aram Arkun)

Before the start of the movie, introductions were made by Project SAVE Executive Director Tsoleen Sarian, followed by special guest Setsuo Ohmori, the consul of Japan in Boston. “It is an honor to be here as a diplomat from Japan,” he said, also paying tribute to Apcar as the first woman diplomat.

She was often heartbroken and led a difficult life, but she set her sights on helping her people. Her efforts are only now being recognized.

Malayan in her comments said, “It has been a labor of love for me,” she said. “It has taken eight years to complete.”

For her, Apcar was first only her great-grandmother. Slowly, she said, she kept hearing about her stories and sought to look deeper. “The more I investigated, the more awestruck I became,” she said.

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Her lifetime coincided with several major events, including the continued annihilation of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and also the creation of the Republic of Armenia and its subsequent dissolution, and finally the creation of the Soviet Union.

In 1917, Japan had no refugee policy. Through her, the Armenian Genocide survivors were provided access to Japan even though they had no passports or proper documents. “Hundreds, even thousands of lives were” saved through the efforts of Apcar, Malayan said. “Diana rented houses to shelter the refugees,” she said, adding, “She helped with visas and ship passage for them before, during and after the First Republic.”

For her efforts she received the nickname “Little Mother of a Nation.”

No Ordinary Woman

Apcar was born in India. She met and married her husband, Michael, a businessman, and the two moved from Calcutta to Japan in 1891.

It was around this time, the consul explained, that Japan had started accepting, and even welcoming foreigners and used their help to transition the economy out of feudalism. “Mr. Apcar found his opportunity and moved to Yokohama and Kobe,” the most important open ports, he said.

During the brief existence of the First Republic of Armenia, 1918-1920, Apcar was tapped to be that country’s honorary ambassador in Japan.

Malayan explained that her non-stop work on behalf of her people halfway across the world never ceased.

“I believe Diana deserves the title of ambassador,” she said. And the audience agreed.

The emotional Malayan got choked up while thanking the audience.

The film, in a striking Japanese-style black-and-white animation interspersed with interviews, photos and letters, detailed Apcar’s life as a woman, activist, author and person of faith, showed her multifaceted personality. (For more details on the film see  https://mirrorspectator.com/2019/06/06/great-granddaughter-wants-to-give-diana-apcar-her-due/)

She was a widow at a young age, with three children and a family business that her husband had failed to safeguard. She worked hard to set right the business, all the while getting news from Western Armenia, where the Ottoman forces had started their policy of extermination, first in Adana and later across the entire empire. She wrote endless letters about the situation, trying to add her voice to the highest levels of political circles around the world. After the catastrophe, she did what came naturally to her, helping those who had made their way to Russia to take a ship to Japan and from there, after all the paperwork was completed, to buy passage to the US.

Tsoleen Sarian (photo: Aram Arkun

Among the people interviewed in the documentary were descendants of those who had been helped by Apcar, the current ambassador of Armenia to Japan, Grant Pogosyan, as well as several scholars.

The event was a collaboration between the Armenian Cultural Foundation, Amaras Arts Alliance, Arlington International Film Festival, Armenian International Women’s Association, Armenian Museum of America, Armenian Women’s Welfare Association, National Association for Armenian Studies and Research, Project Save Armenian Photograph Archives and the Tekeyan cultural Association of Greater Boston. A major contribution was made by the Charles Mosesian Family Foundation toward the program.

A reception followed the film.

“The Stateless Diplomat” has garnered the Audience Choice for Best Documentary and Honorable Mention for Best Documentary Feature at the at the 2018  Pomegranate Film Festival.

For more information about Apcar or the film, visit www.dianaapcar.org.

 

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