Armenian Women

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Armen Ohanian (1887-1976)

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Dancer, Writer and Actress

Armen Ohanian was born in Shamakha to an upper class Armenian family. Her real name was Sophia Pirboudaghian. A devastating earthquake caused her family to move to Baku, where she attended a Russian school. She graduated in 1905, the same year the anti-Armenian pogroms, which she witnessed, caused the death of her father. She was hurriedly married to an Armenian Iranian doctor, Haik Ohanian, but the marriage did not go well and ended within a year. She kept her married name but changed her first name to Armenuhi (later Armen) when she began her acting career at the Armenian Dramatic Theatre of Baku in 1907. She later moved to Moscow and studied plastic arts at the Nelidova School, while performing her first dances at the Maly Theatre.

She lived in different places where her love of art and performance took her; Baku, Tbilisi, Iran, Paris and finally settled in Mexico with her second husband.

While in Iran, She founded the Union of Iranian Theater-lovers in Tehran just before the Revolution and in 1910 she organized a musical and literary gala in cooperation with the Iranian Women Benevolent Association; for the first time, Iranian women were able to play on the stage. In Iran, she also perfected her skills in Oriental dances and afterwards toured Egypt and the Ottoman Empire to perform in various places. She was also invited to Europe, where she became famous for her exotic dances. She created her own choreographies based on Armenian and Iranian music, inspired by the “free dance” movement. She continued her performances in many European cities, as well as United States and Mexico. The press followed her everywhere covering her events. Writers like Ghil, Claude Anet and others talked a lot about her.

Once in Paris, she started writing. One of her first literary works was the Dancer of Shamakha, published in 1918 in French and prefaced by Anatole France.

Eventually, she founded a school of dance in Mexico city in 1936. She was also very engaged politically and and active member of the Mexican Communist Party.  In 1946 she published Happy Armenia, a book on Soviet Armenia in Spanish, which marked a renewal of interest in her Armenian ancestry. Among her literary output, however, her work of choice was a poem, “My Dream as an Exile,” written in Armenian and published in 1953 in Paris.

Ohanian made a comeback in the Mexican dance scene in 1948 and appeared on the stage in Paris in 1949 and 1953, when she was well into her sixties. During a second visit to the Soviet Union in 1958 with her husband, they traveled briefly to Yerevan, Armenia, where she offered part of her private files to the Museum of Literature and Arts. After returning to Mexico, she continued to write, translate, and publish until 1969, when she came out with a first volume of memoirs in Spanish.

Source :  Artsvi Bakhchinyan, The Dancer of Shamakha, Yerevan, 2007

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