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Letter: Yessayan a Complex Nationalist

Re: Zabel Yessayan: Portrait of the Writer as a Young Woman

I read the biographical essay on Zabel Yessayan with great interest. It is a good portrayal of Yessayan’s life and work before she moved to Armenia.

At some point, the author mentions her exposure to the “leading revolutionary leaders” of the time. While Arpiar Arpiarian was indeed a lead name in the Hunchakian party, such other names as Levon Pashalian and Arshag Chobanian can hardly be characterized as revolutionary. They are highly respectable literary names with active involvement in national politics, but their place is more the enlightened conservative wing in the political spectrum of the time. Zabel Yessayan was, indeed, closely connected to the revolutionary wing and more specifically the ARF. She was very close to Rostom (Stepan Zorian), one of the founders of the ARF and, at that point, the lead figure in view of the fact that both Kristapor Mikaelian and Simon Zavarian had already passed away.

It is very important to speak about Zabel Yessayan’s life and work after her settlement on the Armenian soil. Despite her nationalist ideology, she embraced Soviet Armenia with great enthusiasm and worked hard to help its development. She also produced her monumental novel (“Barba Khachig”) during this period, which gives the anatomy of the early formation of the Diaspora. Unfortunately, what is published is only the “purified” version under Soviet supervision. She was brutally executed during the Stalinian purges for her connection to the ARF.

When you next visit Yerevan and meet with your friends at the Cafe Centrale on Abovyan Street, you should remember that both Zabel Yessayan and Vahan Totoventz, both victims of Stalinian purges, used to live in that building prior to their arrests and execution.

Garo Armenian
Washington, DC

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