Armenian Women

in search of Herstory

Archive for the category “activist”

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


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.

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.

Meline Manouchian (1913-1989)


Militant in the French Resistance, Political Activist

Meline was born in 1913 in Constantinople – her maiden name was Asadurian . During the Genocide of 1915, at the age of 4 she lost her parents and ended up in an orphanage in Greece.

In 1926, the orphanage moved to Marseille and Meline continued her school there.

After graduating from high school she moved to Paris where she met her future husband the militant, Missak Manouchian. She was very active in the local Armenian community.  In 1938, she was elected as head of the Armenian French Democratic Union.

When the war started in 1939, and the Nazis occupied Paris, Melinee joined the French Resistance and started the struggle for freedom. She was responsible for secretly disseminating information and literature against the Nazis. She was often posting flyers and political pamphlets on the walls of residential buildings urging citizens to stand up against the occupation.

In 1943 she was arrested with her husband and other militants and sentenced to execution. Melinee, unlike her husband was able to flee from the prison later on and continued the struggle against Nazi Germany with her other companions until their victory.

She died in Paris in 1989.

The French poet, Paul Eluard was very impressed by the dedication of these people considered as the “strangers” coming from another country but ready to sacrifice their life for their adopted land, France. He wrote the following poem in their memory:

Si j’ai le droit de dire,
en français aujourd’hui,
Ma peine et mon espoir,
ma colère et ma joie
Si rien ne s’est voilé,
De notre rêve immense
et de notre sagesse

C’est que ces étrangers,
comme on les nomme encore,
Croyaient à la justice,
ici-bas, et concrète,
Ils avaient dans leur sang
le sang de leurs semblables
ces étrangers savaient
quelle était leur patrie


Armenian Women Encyclopedia I, Amaras, 2011

Post Navigation