Armenian Women

in search of Herstory

Elbis Gesaratsian (1830-1910)


First female Armenian journalist and editor of the first Armenian Newspaper for Women “Guitar”.

“The First Western Armenian periodical edited and published by a woman was Elbis Gesaratsian’s monthly called Gitar (Guitar), which ran for seven months from 1 August 1862. This short-lived periodical may have served as a model for subsequent women writers, but it was being published in progressive periodicals that invited women’s contributions that enabled Armenian women to express their views and discuss issues, including women’s rights, in a public forum read by both women and men.” – (Source: Victoria Rowe, Armenian Writers and Women’s Rights in Constantinople, Aspasia, vol 2, 2008)


She died in Alexandria in 1911.

In her book titled “Namagani ar İntertsaser Hayuhis” (Letters to Armenian Educated Women’s Foundation) Elbis Gesaratsyan wrote on such female issues as woman and education, and sexual discrimination.

“You may have often experienced women who more thoughtful, more foresighted and more hard-working than their husbands; but they knowingly and blindly succumb to men who do not know the right way to do something; because the woman should be a bird without a tongue and the man, even if he is a crow, he must sing and rule with pride. Yes, my sister, these are my thoughts. Our opinions should blossom. Capable persons should take this as a duty, should activate the sluggish brains in lawful ways, should be awake in holding on to her the freedoms and should be eager to educate ourselves and encourage other women to educate themselves. We should create reading rooms and societies and possess such knowledge addressing hearts and brains so that we take steps on the way of development and be counted as human beings.”
Elbis Gesaratsian, Namagani, 1879.

Sources: Lerna Ekmekçioğlu; Melissa Bilal, Bir Adalet Feryadı – Osmanlı’dan Türkiye’ye Beş Ermeni Feminist Yazar 1862-1933, Aras Yayınevi, İstanbul, 2006, ss. 22-34.

Photo: Aras Publishing


Agnes Joaquim – Ashkhen Hovakimian (1854-1899)


Agnes Joaquim (b. 7 April 1854, Singapore – d. 2 July 1899, Singapore) a. k. a. Ashkhen Hovakimian, an Armenian, is best known for breeding the hybrid orchid Vanda Miss Joaquim, in 1893. The flower was selected as Singapore’s national flower in 1981.

Agnes was the eldest daughter and second child of a brood of 11 of Parsick (Basil) Joaquim, an Armenian merchant and commercial agent. Their family had an illustrious history of contributions to the Singapore community, beginning with Agnes’ father’s philanthropy towards the general community. By 1861, the family had moved from 30 Hill Street to Mt Narcis, the name of the family mansion which sat on Parsick Hill off Tanjong Pagar. Narcis was the first-born son of Parsick and is the namesake of the road leading up to the home. Agnes herself is more known for having cultivated an orchid in the gardens of this Joaquim home in Narcis Street off Tanjong Pagar in 1893. She was an avid gardener as her mother was, specialising in breeding orchids. She won prizes at annual flower shows but it was the prize for the rarest orchid at the 1899 annual flower show that would seal her name in history. The first prize was for a hybrid that was named after her, the Vanda Miss Joaquim. Already suffering from cancer then, the unmarried Agnes died soon after receiving this prize. However, the significance of her orchid far outlived the accomplishments of her siblings. In 1981, the Vanda Miss Joaquim, was proclaimed Singapore’s national flower. Agnes’ green fingers however meant that she had several other varieties of orchids and plants in her garden besides the Vanda Miss Joaquim. Besides gardening, she was also an active member of the Armenian Church and a skilled embroiderer.

Agnes Joaquim’s tombstone can be found in the grounds of the Armenian Church at Hill Street. It was originally located at the Bukit Timah cemetery.

Armen Ohanian (1887-1976)


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

Paris Pishmish (1911-1999)



Pariz (Paris) Pishmish was born on January 31, 1911 in Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey). Armenian by birth, her real name was Mary Sukiasian. She studied at Semertchyan local academy and American lyceum. Later becoming one of the first women attending Istanbul University, in 1933. While a student she collaborated with the Istanbul University Observatory. In 1935-1936 she professed at Central Sanasaryan lyceum of Istanbul, and then she moved to the USA.

During those years women weren’t encouraged to study in the field of science, and it was too difficult to find a job at a professional observatory. At the beginning Pishmish worked as a translator, then as a support scientist at Erwin Finley-Freundlich which later helped her  attend Harvard University. Pishmish entered the Department of Sciences of Harvard University, graduated and in 1937 she received her doctorate of sciences in mathematics.

In 1942 Pishmish married a Mexican student astronomer Felix Recillas. They left for Mexico and started working at the recently founded Tonantzintla Observatory of Puebla where Pishmish worked till 1946. In 1948 Pishmish moved to Mexico City where she started working at the National Observatory of Tacubaya, which formed a part of National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). She worked at UNAM for more than 50 years (at present it is known as Institute of Astronomy) where she was given a title of Honorary Astronomer in 1985 (Astronomo Emerita). In 1986 Pishmish was awarded the title of Honorary Doctor of Mexico University as well (Honoris Causa).

One of Paris Pishmish’s important features was her continuous interest in new astrophysical developments.  In 1972 with the purpose of investigating the field of velocities of the Galactic emission nebulae, Pishmish introduced Fabry-Perot interferometry to Mexico for the first time.

She published over 135 scientific articles and edited important astronomy periodicals. During many years she was the leading power in developing new generations of astronomers and had an important influence in encouraging young women to study in this area. Following her involvement as a professor at the Institute, the number of women in astronomy increased significantly.

In 1998, she published her memoirs as a woman astronomer.


Armenian Women’s Encyclopedia, 2011, Amaras



Սփյուռքահայ անվանի գիտնականների մեջ առանձնանում է մեքսիկացի կին աստղագետ Փարիզ Փիշմիշը. նա առաջին կին աստղագետներից էր, ով ոչ միայն հասավ գիտական մեծ հաջողությունների, այլև խթանեց կին աստղագետների հետագա ակտիվությունը և մեծ դեր խաղաց ամբողջ մեքսիկական աստղագիտության զարգացման մեջ:

Փարիզ (Պարիս) Փիշմիշը ծնվել է 1911թ. հունվարի 31-ին Կ. Պոլսում (Ստամբուլ, Թուրքիա): Ծագումով հայ, նրա իսկական անունն էր Մարի Սուքիասյան: Սովորել է տեղի Սեմերճյան ճեմարանում և ամերիկյան վարժարանում: Այնուհետև` դառնալով Ստամբուլի համալսարան հաճախող առաջին կանանցից մեկը, 1933-ին ավարտում է այն փայլուն ցուցանիշներով: Դեռևս ուսանողական տարիքում աշխատակցում է Ստամբուլի համալսարանի դիտարանում: 1935-36թթ. դասավանդում է Ստամբուլի Կեդրոնական Սանասարյան վարժարանում, ապա տեղափոխվում ԱՄՆ:

Այն տարիներին կանայք գիտության մեջ չէին խրախուսվում և չափազանց դժվար էր տեղ գտնել պրոֆեսիոնալ աստղադիտարանում: Սկզբում Փիշմիշն աշխատում է որպես թարգմանիչ, այնուհետև որպեսօժանդակ գիտակաշխատակից Էրվին Ֆինլի-Ֆրոյնդլիխի մոտ, ով հետագայում նրան օգնեց հաճախել Հարվարդի համալսարան: Փիշմիշն ընդունվում է Հարվարդի համալսարանի գիտությունների ֆակուլտետ, ավարտում այն և 1937թ. ստանում մաթեմատիկայի գծով գիտությունների դոկտորի աստիճան: Նրա ղեկավարներն էին պրոֆեսորներ Ռ. ֆոն Մայզիսը և Ֆինլի-Ֆրոյնդլիխը: 1939-ին դառնում Հարվարդի քոլեջիաստղադիտարանի (HCO) կրտսեր գիտակաշխատակից և այդ պաշտոնում մնում է մինչև 1942թ.: Այդ տարիները կարևոր դեր խաղացին Փիշմիշի` որպես պրոֆեսիոնալ աստղագետի ձևավորման գործում: HCO-ում նա այնպիսի աստղագետների մտավոր ոգևորիչ շրջապատում էր, ինչպիսիք էին Հարլոու Շեփլին, Սեսիլիա Փեյն-Գապոշկինը, Բարթ Բոկը, Դոնալդ Մենզելը, Ֆրեդ Ուիփլը, ինչպես նաև բազմաթիվ այցելու աստղագետներ:

Anita Conti (1899-1997)


Explorer and photographer and the first French female oceanographer

Anita Caracotchian – Conti  was born on May 17, 1899 in Ermont in Seine-et-Oise to a wealthy Armenian family. She spent her childhood being educated at home by different tutors and travelling with her family. She gradually developed a passion for books and the sea.

After moving to Paris, she concentrated on writing poems and the art of book binding. Her work got the attention of  celebrities and she won different awards and prizes for her creativity in London, Paris, New York and Brussels.

In 1927 she married a diplomat, Marcel Conti and started traveling around the world, exploring the seas, documenting and reporting what she saw and experimented. Spending time on the fishing boats for days and even months on certain occasions gave her a deeper understanding of the problematic faced by the fishermen. In between the two world war, she developed the technique of fishing maps apart from the already used navigational charts. For two years, from one vessel to another, she observed the French fishermen along the coast and Saharan Africa discovering fish species unknown in France. She published many scientific reports on the negative effects of industrial fishing and the different problems related to fishing practices.

From 1943 and approximately for 10 years, she studied in the Mauritian islands, Senegal, Guinea and Ivory Coast, the nature of the seabed, different fish species and their nutritional values in regards of protein deficiency for the local populations.
Gradually, she developed better preservation techniques, fishing methods and installed artificial dens for further studies. She  even founded an experimental fishery for sharks. She became more and more conscientious of the misuse of natural resources by the fishing industry and the major waste that could be prevented.

In 1971 she published L’Ocean, Les Betes et L’Homme, to denounce the disaster that men create and its effects on the oceans. Through many conferences and forums and for the rest of her life, she advocated for the betterment of the marine world.

You can go to her website, here.

Elizabeth Shahkhatuni – Ելիզավետա Շահխաթունի (1911-2011)


The only female aviation engineer and constructor in USSR

Elizabeth Shahkhatuni was born in 1911, in Yerevan. Her father, Avedis Shahkhatunyan was a political figure in the Caucasus from the ARF movement. Her mother was a teacher.

After graduating high school, Elizabeth Shahkhatuni studied two years at the Engineering Faculty of the Yerevan State University.  Then, in 1930 she transferred to the Moscow Aviation Institute. After graduating in 1935, she began working in the aviation industry as an engineer designer and constructor of airplanes.

She founded the largest Laboratory for aviation security in Europe. She published several scientific researches and studies on the subject. During her career, she also received several awards and honors among them the Lenin award in 1962.

She died recently in 2011 in Kiev.


Ելիզավետա Շահխաթունին ծնվել է 1911 թվականի 22-ին, Երևանում, XX դ. կովկասում հայտնի քաղաքական գործիչ Ավետիս Տիգրանի Շահխաթունյանի ընտանիքում: ԽՍՀՄ-ում միակ կին ավիակոնստրուկտորն է:

Երկու տարի սովորել է Երևանի պետական համալասարնում, 1935 թվականին ավարտել է Մոսկվայի ավիացիոն ինստիտուտը, ստանալով ինքնաթիռաշինության ինժեների որակավորում:
Ելիզավետա Շահխաթունին ստեղծել է ինքնաթիռների ամրության ամենամեծ լաբորատորիան Եվրոպայում: Ունի բազմաթիվ գիտական աշխատանքներ, հեղինակել է ինքնաթիռների կոնստրուկցիայի եռակցման-սոսնձման գյուտը:

Պարգևատրվել է Աշխատանքային կարմիր դրոշի, “Պատվո նշան” շքանշաններով, մեդալներով: Օ. Կ. Անտոնովի անվան մրցանակի դափնեկիր է:
Ելիզավետա Շահխաթունին մահացել է 2011 թվականի հոկտեմբերի 28-ին Կիևում:

Alenoush Terian (1920-2011)


First Iranian female astronomer and physicist

She was born in1920 to an Armenian family in Tehran, Iran. After graduating in 1947 from the Science Department of the University of Tehran, she began her career in the physics laboratory of the same University. She was promoted the same year as the chief of laboratory operations.

In 1956, she left for France to continue her studies at the Sorbonne and obtain a doctorate in Atmospheric Physics. When she returned to Tehran, she became assistant professor in thermodynamics and later on worked specifically on Solar Physics. She also travelled to Germany on a scholarship to further her research and studies and upon her return she founded and directed the solar observatory of the institute of Geophysics at the University of Tehran until her retirement in 1979.

She died on March 4, 2011.

You can read an article about her, here.

Anahit Tsitsikian (1926-1999)


First renowned Armenian woman-violinist

Born in St-Petersburg in 1926, she began playing the violin at the age of six. At the beginning of World War II, she moved to Armenia and studied at the Yerevan state conservatory from 1946 to 1950 where she was granted the Stalin Scholarship. In 1954 she completed her graduate course at the Moscow State Conservatory.

She began performing professionally at elementary school age; her performances included many solo performances as well as with symphonic orchestras. Beginning in 1961 she became the principal soloist of the Armenian Philharmonic Hall. Ms. Tsitsikian performed throughout the Republics of the former Soviet Union and in 27 countries around the world.

Starting in 1950, she worked as a professor at the Yerevan State Conservatory, and she established three new courses in its curriculum: The History and Theory of Bowed Instruments, The History of Armenian Performing Arts, and A Course of Music Teaching Practice.

During her artistic life Professor Anahit Tsitsikian performed in more than 1000 recitals, recorded sixty pieces of archived music and authored more than 300 articles and scenarios for many radio and television programs.

You can listen to her performances here.

Seza (1903-1973)

Writer, Journalist, Women’s Rights

Her real name was Siran Zarifian and she was born in Constantinople.  There she attended the American College for girls until early 1920s when she left for Beirut, Lebanon.  She pursued her studies at Columbia University and obtained an M.A. in Journalism and Literature. She returned to Beirut after completing her studies and launched her well-known periodical, Yeridasart Hayuhin – Young Armenian Woman –  (1932-34 / 1946-1968)

“Yeridasart Hayuhi made an especially important contribution as a proponent of women’s rights, education and empowerment” – Zeitlian (2000)

You can find her books and copies of the journal at the Derian Library/Haykazyan University in Lebanon.

You can read online some of her short stories here.

Arlene Avakian (1939- )


Feminist Scholar, Women’s Studies Director

She helped found the University of Massachusetts Women’s Studies Program and what is now known as the Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies.  Avakian is the author of Lion Woman’s Legacy: An Armenian American Memoir (1992); editor of Through the Kitchen Window: Women Writers Explore the Intimate Meanings of Food and Cooking (1997); and co-editor of African American Women and the Vote 1837-1965 (1997), in addition to numerous articles. She taught courses on autobiography, activism, and the social construction of whiteness and women. She is also a political activist both on an off campus, working for social justice. She retired recently after 35 years of teaching and directing the Program.


To read her recent work, From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies you can go here.

You can also access here , some of her online papers and articles.

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