Gayane Aghabalyan and Elma Ayvazyan (Houry Pilibbossian photo)

Armenian Wonderwomen: Unveiling the Hidden Stories

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YEREVAN — Let’s do a small experiment: in less than 10 seconds, how many prominent Armenian women can you name? Now, let’s do the same with prominent Armenian men. I couldn’t hear your answers but I will go on a limb and say you named more men than women.

Inspired by the book Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls and driven by deep-seated anger at the lack of recognition for Armenian women, the authors of the children’s book Armenian Wonderwomen, Gayane Aghabalyan and Elma Ayvazyan, embarked on a mission to change this and create their own empowering anthology. Through this book, they sought to highlight the remarkable achievements of Armenian women throughout history.

“We were truly angry that there were so many wonderful Armenian women, and we didn’t know about them, so that put us on a quest to find more women,” Aghabalyan shares. The project began with the discovery of Zabel Yesayan and Diana Apcar, whose growing popularity and integration into textbooks and public spaces provided the catalyst for their quest. Encouraged by their findings, the authors delved deeper into the world of Armenian women, gradually uncovering the hidden legacies that had long been overlooked.

Unveiling the Hidden Stories

The Armenian Wonderwomen book was born out of a conversation between Aghabalyan and her on a lack of representation of women and prevailing gender stereotypes. They wanted to bring to light the extraordinary women who have shaped Armenian history but have remained unnoticed for far too long. They also wanted to bridge the past and present to inspire the future by featuring the stories of contemporary Armenian wonderwoman too. “In the book, you first read about historical women and learn about not only their lives but what they fought for then you read about contemporary women, and what they stand for today,” the co-author said.

The discussions evolved into a comprehensive book, offering a platform to tell and celebrate the remarkable stories of Armenian women. Their goal was to create a children’s book where kids could read and learn about these women, who  could serve as an inspiration for future generations.

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The book touches diverse fields such as science, arts, activism, and leadership, going beyond the traditional fields. The pages come alive with the stories of feminist activists like Zabel Yesayan, who fought for women’s rights and social justice, and Sose Mayrig, a symbol of the Armenian liberation movement.

The research phase of the project faced challenges, such as the scarcity and varying accuracy of information about the featured women. However, the team was fortunate to have the guidance of scholars and experts who provided valuable insights and access to resources. The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Armenia added additional obstacles. These challenges proved once again the importance of the project, so the authors remained focused on their work and made it come true.

The Team Behind the Work

This project is a testament to the collective efforts of a dedicated team, who worked tirelessly throughout the summer of 2019, compiling material, writing sample stories and collaborating with illustrators to give shape and form to their vision. The preliminary title, “The Female Powerhouse of Armenia,” still lingers in their Google Drive folder.

In the interview, Aghabalyan expresses deep gratitude, stating that each person has brought their unique expertise, enabling them to create a comprehensive and inspiring collection.

Acknowledging the invaluable guidance provided by advisors, Aghabalyan specifically mentioned Dr. Hourig Attarian, Dr. Melissa Bilal, Dr. Lerna Ekmekcioglu, Dr. Neda Bebiroglu and Dr. Robert Sukiasyan. “Their expertise and support were instrumental in shaping the content and direction of the book,” said Aghabalyan.

Furthermore, Aghabalyan emphasized the significant contributions of researchers who delved into the lives of specific women featured in the book, illustrators, editors, and so many individuals whose efforts and support helped to turn this book into reality.

“And then, of course, we have the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation who supported the project financially,” Aghabalyan said. With the foundation’s support, they released the Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian versions of the book, created a teacher’s guide aimed at turning the book into an educational resource, launched armenianwonderwomen.com and did a small regional book tour in Armenia.

Gayane Aghabalyan and Elma Ayvazyan speak to young women. (Houry Pilibbossian photo)

From Vision to Reality

Aghabalyan and Ayvazyan aimed to create a book that introduced readers to the lives and accomplishments of Armenian women. The team faced the challenge of condensing each story into a single page, which required careful selection of the most essential details. Initially intended for a younger audience, the project evolved as they realized the complexity of Armenian history and the need to address sensitive topics like genocide and exile. This led to a shift in the target audience to middle schoolers and older, enabling the inclusion of more in-depth information.

The process of selecting the women featured in the book was subjective but guided by certain principles, the co-author said. They aimed for diversity in terms of geography, time periods, and professions, emphasizing the breaking of stereotypes. They also recognized the importance of including contemporary women whose voices would bridge the past and present, inspiring readers with their stories of success and resilience.

Reflecting on the selection process, Aghabalyan emphasized, “We wanted to show that prominence is when you achieve your goals and determine your own goals. There is no one job that is more important than the other.”

By featuring women from diverse backgrounds and professions, Armenian Wonderwomen encourages readers to embrace their own aspirations and contributions, regardless of societal expectations. “We hope that our readers can reflect on how issues that were relevant two centuries ago are still relevant and what we can do to change that. We also want to show that there are many ways people can drive positive change. We are all different. We have different plans, goals, visions, dreams and purposes and these diverse paths are a testament to our ability to contribute to the larger goodness in our own ways,” she said.

Future Plans and International Distribution

While completing the Eastern and Western Armenian versions of the book and making it accessible within Armenia is a primary objective, the team also recognizes the importance of reaching a global audience. Aghabalyan reveals, “We aim to make these stories accessible worldwide, ensuring that the accomplishments of Armenian women resonate beyond our borders.”

To make the books available to Armenian communities worldwide, the team is exploring options for international distribution. They are open to collaboration with organizations and individuals interested in promoting Armenian history and culture.

In addition to publishing the book, the team has organized events, meetups, and discussions to engage with the public and foster a deeper understanding of the stories presented. These events provide an opportunity for dialogue, reflection, and celebration of Armenian women’s contributions throughout history.

 

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