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Armenians, Feminism is our Past and Future

Sophia Armen (@SophiaArmen), Diaspora 
FR Mag - Armenian Fedayi Women - Sophie Armen
Sophia Armen (@SophiaArmen)

Like it or not fierce ungerhouis have been part and parcel to our histories of resistance and are here to stay. The weapon of choice for Armenian womxn --the sword, the stage, the pen, the voice-- is situated within the context in which they lived and are living, the struggle of the personal as political. Doing the intimate and everyday labor of honoring and archiving our histories is a feminist practice, and specifically centers the narratives discarded by patriarchy and other systems of domination. 

Through persecution, progress and the perpetual pathos of nation-building, feminist resistance has been at the center of Armenian ideological, political, social, and economic development. Often times one hears the intentional misrepresentations of our community as inherently “patriarchal” and racist notions of the Armenian community stating that misogyny “is in our blood.” Yet such sentiments fail to recognize not only the long standing contributions of ungerhouis past and present, but that such constructions of the Armenian community are monolithic, inaccurate, and are the work of powerful (often imperialist and/or assimilationist) forces seeking to unravel us from our own history and push political agenda. This is not to say that patriarchy is not a governing structure within our community, rather the opposite. But to question from where these notions from outside our community spring and put into focus the perpetuation of a narrative that renders non-western peoples in need of “saving” while fundamentally undermining true feminist movements on the ground. Thus, our analysis must include both anti-patriarchy and anti-imperialism/anti-racism and center our own voices.  Our history is more accurately defined by the understanding that feminism has been essential to the Armenian struggle for all, including men and non-binary people and is only valuble as defined as gender justice. For womxn in the community, our history is more accurately defined by the strength and resilience of Armenian womxn that have for centuries stood in the face of significant forces seeking to deter, disrupt and displace them; these womxn lead, playing instrumental roles in shaping nation both in thought and action.

FR Mag - Armenian Fedayi Women - Sophie Armen - Armenian Womxn Liberation Fighters
Author’s family in Western Armenia before the genocide

For the Armenian struggle there is no disentangling possible from the ways in which anti-indigeneity, colonialism and hegemonic nationalism operate through and with patriarchy, transphobia, and queerphobia. Just as race and ethnicity served as the defining factor to deny Armenians fundamental rights and ultimately their existence in Turkey during the height of the Genocide, so too misogyny worked and utilized sexual violence as a tactic of violence against Armenian womxn, whose bodies were transformed into sites of “subhuman” race, gender, and nation.[1] Utilizing such understanding, reveals that in order to truly develop feminist theory and action, we need to recognize difference in and between communities and acknowledge the specificity of the historical context from which both power and resistance springs. And particularly to name the ways in which women of the Global South have historically named their own feminist pratices, regardless of if these pratices have been registered in Western thought as “feminist.”

Meanwhile, Armenian womxn are asked to divide and displace portions of their identity, to draw and quarter their bodies, and their body politic. Especially in the face of mass murder and political enemies, Armenian womxn are told, to separate their gendered identity from their nation, to see these parts of self as mutually exclusive rather than part of a whole. The examples are ubiquitous, seen in scenarios ranging from Western feminists condemning womxn who choose to practice tradition and culture that is often gendered (while ignoring that Armenians themselves are challenging these roles), to Armenians speaking out in diaspora against sexual violence where the perpetrators are Armenian and subsequently being labeled a ‘traitor’ to the community. These mechanisms seek not only to divide us but fail to recognize the ultimate goal of all forms of social justice: liberation for all. A true commitment to Armenian identity requires an analysis that disrupts power, that recognizes not only both race/ethnicity and gender but also their multiple interconnections with sexual orientation, class, ability etc.

FR Mag - Armenian Fedayi Women - Sophie Armen - Armenian Womxn Liberation Fighters
Armenian Womxn Liberation Fighters

We need not look far for past inspiration for current work rooted in justice. Armenian womxn have fought for justice in many forms, whether by the pen or by the barrel of a gun. Beckoned by the vision of a free and united Armenia, womxn took to the frontlines on the battlefields of the intellectual and the physical. The tireless work and contributions of Armenian womxn during the national resistance is extensive though often marginalized or overlooked in nationalist literature and rhetoric. Examples of the active role of womxn are ubiquitous as womxn found the necessity to not only defend their communities, but envision alternative futures for the people and homeland they loved. To begin, revolutionary womxn were imperative in the founding and organizing of Armenian political parties, especially in the illegal distribution of nationalist literature and party communications/propaganda in the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore, from carrying weapons between villages, enabling communication lines,and taking up arms themselves, Sona Zeitlan’s work has revealed that womxn actively participated in the defense of Sassun, Zeitun, Van, Urfa, Mussa Ler, and Hajin among others. Indeed, womxn also participated as armed fighters in the defense of the Armenian communities of Baku, Zangezur, and Karabagh against Azeri attacks, and were instrumental in the Occupation of the Ottoman Bank and the attempted assassination of Sultan Hamid. [2] 

 Images of womxn fedayis (guerrilla fighters) provide a rare look into our powerful past and the ability of trauma to break conventional gender roles, as the national resistance brought new opportunities to engage in aspects of Armenian life never before experienced. The famous Sose Mayrig, of course, cannot be overlooked for her commitment to both family and nation, as a fedayi whose bravery won her immortal respect. Nationalist rhetoric, however, often relies on old tropes of the “nurturing” and “motherly” nature of these womxn. Contrastingly, they are more accurately described as dedicated organizers, characterized by their firm commitment to their communities, resisting the oppressive foreign forces attempting to dictate the terms of their Armenian struggle, and ultimately for their passionate vow to fight for their loved ones even in the face of great personal sacrifice. Their feminism is an indegenious one, and deeply connected to the fate of their entire communities. Armenian history is not devoid of  progressive womxn activists and revolutionaries, is it in fact defined by them.

As a nation we must understand how we can utilize the lessons of history to determine what it means to be a fedayi today.  From the Women’s Resource Center of Armenia’s work against gender violence to the political theater of plays like “Dear Armen” created by Kamee Abrahamian and lee williams boudakian,  Armenians around the world are engaging in revolutionary actions that seek to dismantle systems of power and oppression and redefine what it means to be Armenian.

As our past dictates, our future requires a firm commitment to raising consciousness, standing in solidarity against all forms of injustice to all people, and the preservation of our culture and history through active engagement in social justice. Indeed, when the legacies of our past fedayis knock on the door, will you answer? Our history demands it.  


Originally published in Haytoug Magazine, 2014. Extended version to be available on


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