BOSTON—The Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA) Press recently announced the publication of the first full-length English translation of In the Ruins written by 20th-century female author and activist Zabel Yessayan. A first-hand account of the aftermath of the 1909 Turkish massacre of 30,000 Armenians, the volume is a must-read for those who want to understand the struggle for human rights in the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the 20th century and the backdrop to today’s political climate and events in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. The official publication date will be March 8, 2016, coinciding with the 2016 celebration of International Women’s Day.
At age 31, Yessayan journeyed to the scene of the 1909 massacres of Armenians in Adana to provide relief for the victims and to observe conditions. She returned to Constantinople (Istanbul) and penned In the Ruins, which heralded a new literary form. A literature of testimony, Yessayan documents the voices of the survivors who tell her their horrific stories and describe their emotional turmoil and terror.
From her earliest years, Yessayan championed social justice and women’s rights. Even as a young woman, she fought against the injustices she saw at school, refused to accept the restrictions placed on girls in her community, and demonstrated a fierce determination to succeed in the literary world at a time when few women were allowed entry. In addition to In the Ruins, she authored several novels, short stories, newspaper articles, and a memoir.
AIWA previously released two other books in English translation by Zabel Yessayan: The Gardens of Silihdar, a memoir of Yessayan’s childhood in the city of Constantinople, and My Soul in Exile and Other Writings, a collection that highlights her novel about an artist who returns home to the Ottoman capital where she confronts feelings of alienation and isolation. These three Yessayan volumes contain some of her best and most influential works and provide a picture of the scope, breadth, and historical significance of her writing.
The Yessayan books are the latest releases in AIWA’s “Treasury of Armenian Women’s Literature” series, which makes available English-language translations of works by pioneering women authors who wrote in Eastern or Western Armenian. The translation and publication of In the Ruins was made possible by a generous grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation. The book includes an appendix with selected articles and letters by Yessayan that elucidate the events of 1909 and their immediate aftermath.