LONDON — Author and social advocate, Zabel Yessayan (1878 – 1943?), was one of the most outspoken critics of sectarianism and one of the greatest proponents of solidarity across identities and creeds. These significant aspects of her literary and political interventions have nonetheless failed to garner much attention. A pioneering new edited volume of translations by Dr. Nanor Kebranian – Zabel Yessayan on the Threshold: Key Texts on Armenians and Turks as Ottoman Subjects – sheds an entirely fresh light on these forgotten yet timely aspects of Yessayan’s legacy. This collection of hitherto unread, unrecognized, and even previously unknown pieces comment on the need for unity across imposed identities and against the horrors of social inequality.
Through meticulous archival research and unparalleled close readings, Kebranian unearths and presents a series of 11 seminal but overlooked writings that speak directly to current engagements with the history and contemporary realities of Armeno-Turkish relations. This book is therefore a first of its kind in broaching the often hidden or lost experiences of the multi-ethnic and multi-confessional Ottoman past. It is also one half of a larger project, which will culminate with the forthcoming publication of Yessayan’s original Armenian texts – as well the Armenian version of Kebranian’s introduction — in the second volume of Pakine Literary Journal’s monograph series.
Readers can traverse a span of approximately twenty-five years – from the period just prior to the First World War, through the Armenian Genocide, and ultimately the exclusionary 1923 founding of today’s Turkey – to discover the often startling and prescient dimensions of Yessayan’s confrontation with imperialism. From interracial love and religious violence to the prospects of Islamo-Christian women’s solidarity, the stories and essays in this book resist received versions of Ottoman history and Armenian memory.
As valuable, perhaps, is Kebranian’s introduction, which leaves no doubt regarding the immeasurable worth of Armenian literature — and, accordingly, of Armenian language proficiency — in advancing both scholarly knowledge and broader cultural receptions of the Ottoman-Armenian past. With its probing analyses and questions, the introduction initiates productive debates regarding the possibilities and limits of both Armenian and Ottoman Studies today. Kebranian’s breadth of knowledge and expertise in history, literature, and law serve to direct readers towards a clearer and more complex understanding of the Armenian literary heritage.
Kebranian is a published scholar and translator, having received her doctorate from Oxford University with fellowships from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and Oxford’s Clarendon Fund. In addition to her appointment as Assistant Professor in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University, she has also held research positions at Queen Mary University of London and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Aside from her own published translations, she has commissioned and edited several published translations of Armenian literature and scholarship. Her much-lauded edited volume, “Captive Nights: From the Bosphorus to Gallipoli with Zabel Yessayan” (Trans. G. M. Goshgarian), appeared with The Press at California State University, Fresno in 2021.
BIBLIOINFO: Nanor Kebranian (Transl., Ed., and Intro.), “Zabel Yessayan on the Threshold: Key Texts on Armenians and Turks as Ottoman Subjects” (London: Gomidas Institute), 144 pp., illust,