Zabel Yesayan

New JSAS Volume Explores Theme of Women in Performing Arts

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The Society for Armenian Studies announces the release of Volume 28, Issue 2 (Fall 2022) of the Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies (JSAS), edited by Dr. Tamar M. Boyadjian (Michigan State University), editor-in-chief, and Dr. Rachel Goshgarian (Lafayette College), the Reviews and Reconsiderations editor on the theme of Armenian women in theater, cinema, and music.

“Performance II builds on themes of reticulated networks in the performing arts, while at the same time challenging the traditional models of how performance has been evaluated in the past. The contributions in this volume make intentional efforts to re-qualify the registers and frameworks in which the questions around performance and memory, identity, and the body — particularly the female body — have been previously analyzed,” wrote Boyadjian.

Under the title “Performance, Memory, and the Archive,” the volume begins with a conversation with Arsineé Khanjian, detailing how performances can open avenues for thoughts on memory and archive, Armenianness, cultural and diasporic identity, the female body, and political engagement. Khanjian’s “Auctions of Souls. Performing Memory,” is based on the life of Armenian Genocide survivor and American early cinema actress, Aurora Mardiganian, whom Khanjian successfully highlights in a “idiosyncratic artistic approach” by using images, scenes and passages from multiple sources.

Khanjian argues the performance’s contemporary relevance by showcasing how the context of the Armenian genocide continues to present itself in current social, ethical, and geopolitical issues present today. The conversation is followed by the section titled “Between Activism & Authorship: Thoughts & Translations on Zabel Yesayan.”

The first article in this section by Talar Chahinian follows a collection of think-pieces that intersect with “dual performative acts of iconification and translation,” which frame the approach to understanding Yesayan in the last several decades. The collection of thoughts and translations, search to find and define Yesayan as a writer, activist, and feminist amongst contemporary debates while “ultimately guiding the reader back to her own words.”

The second article by Maral Aktokmakyan examines problematic interest in the work of Yesayan and the broader question surrounding the fate of Armenian literary studies and criticism. Aktokmakyan argues that the growing craze for “feminist Yesayan” has a problematic reductive and teleological approach, which nearly disregards Yesayan’s work. Instead, Aktokmakyan promotes a “rhizomatic reading that would liberate the author from overloaded feminist and genocide- based readings.”

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The third piece by Meriam Belli is a translation of French lecture delivered by Yesayan on January 17, 1920. Originally published in the French Revue des Études Arméniennes 2 (1922): 121–138, describing the banishment of Armenians from their homelands, the crimes that were perpetuated against them, and their resilience and strength.

In addition, the translation focuses on gendered violence against women during the genocide and the display of their moral attributes, including their strength and national dignity during the war.

The fourth and final piece by Elyse Semerdjian is an annotated translation of Yesayan’s report that explores how the Ottoman government and its proxies targeted women and children with specific forms of genocidal violence. The report provides an in-depth analysis of the specific forms of sexual atrocity central to genocidal design and details how women in the diaspora should organize to help what she called, “the International Commission of Women.” Genocidaires were successful in unraveling communities because they could weaponize patriarchal notions of the family and proprietorship over women’s sexuality to achieve their ends, thereby making the gender aspect of genocidal violence a central part of the design.

The section on Translations and Thoughts on Yesayan’s work is followed by a section on Armenian Theater in Istanbul. The first article is by Aysan Sönmez. The article details, “how the Ottoman Armenian theatrical experience became a legacy that was able to serve a budding Armenian nationalism, the idea of a shared Ottomanism during a specific time, and, eventually, to bolstering Turkishness as the Empire evolved into a nation-state.” The reflections of all socio-political and economic developments of the Ottoman Empire during the 19th and 20th century could be found intertwined with the modern Armenian theatre.

Transitioning to premodern sculpting and performance, “The Medieval Armenian Symbol of Eternity in the Art of the Twelfth-Century Italian Sculptor Nicholaus: A Veiled Performance” by Lorenzo Dominioni and Antranik Balian, examine the medieval Armenian symbol of eternity or the whirl sign engraved in the forehead of five bull sculptures dating to the first half of the 12th century, and attributed to the Italian sculptor Nicholaus. Dominioni and Balian argue that the engravings found “in the bull head of Koenigslutter, Carpi, Ferrara and Verona were a veiled ornamental performance displaying the symbol of eternity to signify the concept of life in the hereafter.” The symbol being deeply rooted in Armenian Christian art and foreign to Italian religious decorations leads them to conclude that Nicholaus’ inspirational source was likely Armenian.

The section on Reviews and Reconsiderations starts with a conversation followed by two book reviews. Titled “Performing the Premodern in The Color of Pomegranates, Imagining and Communicating the Past” is a conversation between Galina Tirnani?? and Nicolas Trépanier, moderated by Goshgarian. The conversation deals with Sergei Parajanov’s “Color of Pomegranates” (1969). Following the conversation piece is a book review by Nazan Maksudyan of Takyhi Tovmasyan’s Word, Voice, Taste: Takuhi Tovmasyan’s, Reflections on Sofranız Şen Olsun: Ninelerimin Mutfağından Damağımda, Aklımda Kalanlar (Cheers to Your Table: Tastes from my Grandmother’s Kitchen that Have Remained in my Mouth and my Mind. The combined cookbook and memoir explore a collection of more than thirty dishes, characters, and stories depicting a precious past. Maksudyan details Tovmasyan’s stories with great intensity as she explores the shared “secrets about the word that remains, the voice that sings, and the taste that heals.”

Bedross Der Matossian reviews Armen T. Marsoobian’s Reimagining a Lost Armenian Home: The Dildilian Photography Collection. In this review Der Matossian captures the uniqueness and rarity of the Dildilian family’s ability to preserve their family history through photographs during war, deportation and genocide. He highlights the family’s influential success and the book’s ability to take the reader through a journey in time and space by portraying the daily lives of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Der Matossian argues that the history of the Dildilian family, “provides a microcosm of better understanding how some Armenian families were able to use their skills in order to survive the genocide against all odds — a common thread among Armenian oral history testimonies of the period.”

Commenting on this issue Der Matossian, the President of the Society for Armenian Studies said: “I would like to congratulate Dr. Tamar Boyadjian, the Editor-in-Chief and Dr. Rachel Goshgarian, the Reviews and Reconsiderations editor for putting together such an exquisite volume on the theme of performance. The depths as well as the insights presented in these articles are breathtaking. JSAS is receiving global recognition in the field of Armenian Studies. It has become one of the most prestigious journals in the field that is able to initiate dialogue on thematic as well as interdisciplinary topics.” The Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies is a peer-reviewed journal and is published bi- annually by Brill.

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