How Did Zabel Yesayan Succeed in Getting Rid of the Young Turks?
Photo: Hayern Aysor
Zabel Yesayan was born on February 4, 1878 as Zabel Hovhannessian, daughter of Mkrtich Hovhannessian in the Silahdar neighborhood of Scutari, during the height of the Russo-Turkish War. She attended Holy Cross elementary school. In 1895 she moved to Paris, where she studied literature and philosophy at the Sorbonne University in Paris, France. After the Young Turk Revolution in 1908, Zabel Yesayan returned to Constantinople. In 1909 she went to Cilicia and published a series of articles in connection with the Adana massacres. The tragic fate of the Armenians in Cilicia is also the subject of her book ”Among the Ruins”, the novella ”The Curse” (1911), and the short stories “Safieh” (1911), and “The New Bride” (1911).
Yesayan was on the list of Armenian intellectuals targeted for arrest and deportation by the Ottoman Young Turk government on April 24, 1915. But she was able to evade arrest. The Young Turks knowing where she was, went to arrest her. Zabel and the Turks met accidentally inside the building, but the fearless Armenian quickly orientated herself and in response to the question ”Where is Zabel?” she replied that Zabel was in the building. Taking advantage of this stir she managed to escape and 1918 found her in the Middle East organizing the relocation of refugees and orphans.
Zabel wrote about the atrocities committed by the Young Turks in the Ottoman Empire. She also made a report in which she presented important facts about the kidnapping and massacres of about 200 women and children. The report was presented to Poghos Nubar Pasha, a member of the Armenian delegation to the Peace Conference in Paris. Nubar Pasha, in his turn, presented it to other participants. In the report Zabel Yesayan mentioned that the Young Turks government had begun to systematically massacre the non-Muslim population of the country. Young women, girls and children were kidnapped. The number of abductees exceeded 200,000.
In 1933 Zabel decided to settle in Soviet Armenia with her children, and in 1934 she took part in the first Soviet Writers’ Union congress in Moscow. She taught French and Armenian literature at Yerevan State University and continued to write prolifically. During the Great Purge she was abruptly accused of “nationalism” and arrested in 1937. She died in unknown circumstances. According to some sources, Zabel Yesayan died in Baku prison in 1943. In 2017, according to American Refinery29, Yesayan has been included in the list of the world’s bravest women. In March 2017, one of the Parisian streets was named after Zabel Yesayan.