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Communist Armenian Women’s History

Hai Guine of Postwar France and the Feminist Repatriation to Soviet Armenia (1947-1949)
Une histoire de femmes arméniennes et communistes : le journal Hai Guine dans la France d’après-guerre, une promotion féministe du rapatriement en Arménie soviétique (1947-1949)
Lerna Ekmekcioglu
p. 63-96

Résumés

L’Union des femmes arméniennes (Fransahay Ganants Mioutiun) a été fondée en 1942 par un groupe de jeunes femmes emmenées par la poétesse LAS (Louisa Aslanian), à Paris. D’abord clandestine, cette organisation poursuivit son activité au grand jour après la Libération en promouvant des thèmes nationaux tels que la préservation de la langue arménienne et d’autres activités culturelles et sociales à destination de la communauté arménienne. L’Union des femmes arméniennes s’impliqua également dans les appels au rapatriement (nerkaght) en direction de l’Arménie soviétique. En proposant une étude du journal Hai Guine (la « Femme arménienne ») publié en 1947-1949 par cette organisation, le présent article tente de mettre en évidence la dimension féministe de l’engagement socialiste de ces femmes.

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Notes de l’auteur

This paper was originally presented at the Study Day “The Armenian language press in France and the creation of a transnational space” on 7 November 2019 at the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales (INALCO) in Paris. I thank the workshop organizers, Talar Chahinian, Stéphanie Prévost, Boris Adjemian and Mélanie Keledjian, as well as the Gulbenkian Foundation for financial support. Vartan Matiossian, Melissa Bilal, Hourig Attarian, Arsine Attarian, Arpine Haroyan, and Michael Goshgarian read different versions of this paper and provided feedback. I am also grateful for Houry Pilibbossian’s research assistantship.

Texte intégral

1In 1946, a contingent of Parisian Armenian women participated in the Bastille Day parade (see figure 1). Organized under the name Union des femmes arméniennes (“Union of Armenian Women”), they marched while carrying an oversized French flag and their banner, which bore a portrait of their late leader, Louisa Aslanian (LAS). The women must have made a point of wearing their traditional dress; they appear in what is considered to be Armenian folkloric dress usually reserved for performing music and dances. They likely aimed to signal their distinct ethnic identity to their non-Armenian comrades in the parade, fellow participants and supporters of the French Resistance. In their group photo (see figure 2) they pay tribute to LAS and Missak Manouchian, two fallen Resistance heroes, whose portraits they carry. The banner behind them reads La patrie arménienne, nos terres asservies (“The Armenian homeland, our enslaved land”). It endorses repatriation to Soviet Armenia, which had commenced a year earlier under Stalin, who also considered restoring parts of the “Armenian homeland” occupied by Turkey to Armenia (or Georgia). Union of Armenian Women stood by comrade Stalin.

Figure 1 “Armenian women in Armenian costume at 14 July parade in 1946 with LAS’s bust”
Hai Guine, 1 (6), August 1947

Courtesy of the National Library of Armenia

Figure 2 “Armenian women’s section at the 14 July parade, with LAS’s portrait”
Hai Guine, 1 (5), July 1947

Courtesy of the National Library of Armenia

  • 1 Even though a more accurate transliteration of Հայ Կին would be “Hay Gin,” because the journal wrot (...)

2This article is an initial study of this anti-fascist, pro-Soviet Armenian feminist group and their organ, Hai Guine.1 During World War II, a group of women who participated in the French Resistance against Nazi occupation clandestinely formed the Fransahay Ganantsʻ Miutʻiwn (the French Armenian Women’s Union [FAWU]). Their leader was LAS, who perished at the Ravensbrück concentration camp one month before liberation. This group of immigrant workers, many of whom were survivors of the 1915 Armenian genocide or their children, participated in the Resistance in defense of their main hayrenikʻ (“fatherland”), Soviet Armenia, and their “second fatherland”, France. After the victory, the FAWU emerged from the underground with goals befitting the post-war conditions: world peace, women’s equality, and preservation of Armenian identity. They participated in international leftist women’s conferences, opened Armenian language courses, and organized summer camps for poor children.

3The group was particularly energized when Soviet Armenia’s repatriation effort began in late 1945 following Stalin’s decision to authorize diaspora Armenians to “return” to Armenia. They likely started the journal Hai Guine to amplify their efforts to support the repatriation campaign, which they referred to alternatively as nerkaghtʻ (literally “in-migration”), azkahawakʻ (in-gathering of the nation), and hayrenatartsutʻiwn (“repatriation”). Soviet Armenia epitomized the fulfillment of all their goals: it was communist and it belonged to Armenians. Yet, as I argue in this paper, it would be remiss to reduce Hai Guine to leftist propaganda. Hai Guine was similar to the organs of other diaspora groups working for repatriation in that it promoted the fatherland as the only place where Armenians’ long-lasting displacement could end and Armenians could finally be at home. As this essay shows, however, the FAWU differed from other propagandistic publications in its emphasis on gendered dimensions of repatriation.

4The FAWU uniquely promoted Soviet Armenia as a feminist heaven where women were equal to men in every aspect of life. The FAWU emphasized that women were doubly burdened in the diaspora, because mothers were expected to transmit ethnic identity to the next generations. Women could be released from this task in the homeland where state institutions did the job. Moreover, Hai Guine promoted the idea that women influenced family decisions. Therefore, it was their responsibility to persuade their families to move to Armenia. The group’s unique approach to Soviet Armenia makes the journal a fascinating archive of Armenian immigrant, working class women’s political subjectivities in postwar Europe. The specifically gendered, feminist dimension of Hai Guine’s repatriation propaganda reveals that FAWU leaders and the audiences that they targeted recognized the need for gender equality among Armenians in France and beyond.

  • 2 FAWU should not be confused with Parizahay or Parizi Hay Dignants‘ Miut‘iwn (Union des Dames arméni (...)
  • 3 Major works on the history of Armenians in France include L. Chormisian, 1975; A. Abrahamyan, 1967; (...)

5The existence of the FAWU and Hai Guine is news even to specialists in the field.2 I am aware of only two references to this group or journal in the scholarship dedicated to the history of Armenians in France.3 This lacuna might be explained by the general tendency in Armenian historiography to ignore women historical actors, specifically feminists. Moreover, Cold War dynamics might have led to the suppression of an Armenian historiography centered around leftist historical actors. This does not hold true, however, for works that devote significant space to French Armenian communists in the post-World War II years. Yet, even this scholarship does not recognize the FAWU and Hai Guine.

6Beyond the obvious goal of restituting forgotten actors to their proper place in history, my broader goal here is to open up new directions for research and invite new questions that complicate established narratives of feminism, communism, and diaspora-homeland relations. This research also contributes, in varying degrees, to studies of French Resistance, post-World War II France, and European communist history.

7The article has three parts. Sections one and two give a detailed account of the FAWU’s sociological composition within the larger French Armenian society and delineates the basic contours of Hai Guine’s feminist ideology. Section three is devoted to the repatriation campaign and the unique ways in which Hai Guine supported this effort.

FAWU and Hai Guine in the Context of the French Armenian Community

  • 4 For a short biography of Aslanian in English, see Arpine Haroyan, “From the Forgotten Pages of Hist (...)
  • 5 For a concise history of HOK in English, see V. Sahakyan, 2015, pp. 178-186.

8Louisa Aslanian initiated the establishment of the FAWU in 1942. She was already a prolific novelist, short story writer, pianist, and community activist originally from Tabriz.4 She migrated to France in 1923 as a married woman after obtaining a Russian gymnasium degree in Tbilisi. Her penname was LAS and her nom de guerre was “Madeleine”. In the early 1930s, like many socialist and pro-Soviet intellectuals in France, LAS joined the Hayasdani Ōknutean Gomidē (“Committee for Aid to Armenia” [HOG]), an organization established right after the 1921 Sovietization of Armenia with the goal of raising funds and promoting the Soviet fatherland in the diaspora communities. In the 1930s, it became closely identified with Armenian communists, who were usually members of the local communist parties. The HOG was dissolved in Armenia in 1937 during Stalin’s repressions.5

  • 6 See, for example, Mayrig LASi, “Darapakhd Nargizě (Mangut‘ean Husher)”, Hai Guine, 1 (3), May 1947; (...)
  • 7 See, for example, “LASě Nergay Ē”, Hai Guine, 1 (1), March 1947; A. Krikorian, “Ays ōr Mēgn Ē Mayis (...)

9Like many Armenians who later joined the Resistance, LAS was also a member of the French Communist Party. During the early stages of the war, Armenian members of the French Communist Party founded the Front national arménien (FNA, or Hay Azkayin Jagad). LAS and her husband, Arpiar Aslanian, joined this group. She then mobilized other women in the movement to form a clandestine unit that, in time, became the FAWU. On 26 July 1944, the Vichy government arrested the Aslanian couple. Unfortunately, LAS did not live to see V Day, but her comrades kept her memory alive in many ways. A full-page portrait of LAS was featured on the cover of the first issue of Hai Guine monthly in March 1947 (see figure 3). Her mother, Mania Gregoryan, wrote short stories and reminiscences for the journal that she signed “The Mother of LAS”.6 LAS’s life, activities, and work constituted a permanent feature of the journal in the coming years,7 and the fifth issue of Hai Guine was dedicated to LAS in commemoration of the third anniversary of her death.

Figure 3 LAS’s portrait on the cover of the inaugural issue of Hai Guine, 1 (1), March 1947

Courtesy of AGBU Nubar Library, Paris

  • 8 Getron. Varch‘ut‘iwn, “Deghegakir, Fransahay Ganants‘ Miut‘ean Getronagan Varch‘ut‘ean Ergu Daruay (...)
  • 9 M. D., “Ěntunelut‘iwn Mě”, Hai Guine, 2 (1-2), March-April 1948.
  • 10 The Armenian delegate was a woman named Salomea Krikori Areshian. Getronagan Varch‘ut‘iun, March 19 (...)
  • 11 “Fransahay Ganants‘ Miut‘iwně Ir Oghchoyně Gě ghrgē Fransats‘i Ganants‘ Miut‘ean Ergrort Azkayin Ha (...)
  • 12 The publication of Hayastani Ashkhatavoruhi in the 1920s has recently received scholarly attention. (...)

10The FAWU ceased to be a secret organization after November 1944, when it opened its membership to the larger public.8 The executive board promoted its new role as the “improvement of Armenian women’s and mothers’ intellectual level as well as raising conscious Armenian women”.9 It is likely that this group of Armenian women followed the example of their French counterparts. The Union des femmes françaises (“Union of French Women”) held its first public meeting only one month before, in October 1944. They, too, were a communist, anti-fascist, pro-Soviet organization that united women who had been involved in the armed Resistance. The FAWU participated in the founding congress of Union of French Women in June 1945. FAWU members declared themselves proud that one of the ten Soviet delegates who participated in this congress was Armenian.10 The FAWU also saw itself as part of the International Women’s Democratic Federation (IWDF), the largest leftist international women’s organization in the post-1945 period. Hai Guine reported that it shared one of its goals with IWDF: “working for the elimination of fascism all over the world but especially in Spain, Greece, and Turkey”.11 Along with these intra-France and transnational women’s organizations, the FAWU was in touch with women’s groups in Soviet Armenia, specifically the Women’s Section/Department of the Communist Party. Despite this, Hai Guine did not often refer to or quote from the Women’s Section’s monthly women’s magazine, Hayastani Askhatavoruhi (“Female Worker of Armenia”), even though the two organs had common coverage.12

  • 13 Eridasart Hayuhi covered repatriation only in its “Hayrenik” (“Fatherland”, or “Homeland”) section (...)

11Hai Guine reported on women’s movements in other diasporic contexts. The topics that they chose to cover reflected the internal cleavages of the post-World War II diaspora communities, especially in terms of political tendencies toward and away from Soviet rule over Armenia. One conspicuous absence in Hai Guine, for instance, is the only other contemporaneous women’s journal of the diaspora, Eridasart Hayuhi (“Young Armenian Woman”), published in Beirut by prominent feminist writer and activist Siran Seza. Eridasart Hayuhi first circulated from 1932 to 1934 and restarted in June 1947, three months after the launch of Hai Guine in Paris. Neither publication mentioned the other. This was probably because Eridasart Hayuhi assumed a politically neutral standpoint towards repatriation, whereas Hai Guine was unequivocally in favor.13

  • 14 For a detailed description of FNA, see L. Chormisian, 1975. Note that Chormisian was a member of FN (...)

12The FAWU was well integrated into the local Armenian community in Paris. Like broader French politics in the years immediately following World War II, communist anti-fascists were the most influential factions of the community. The most visible Armenian group was the FNA, which came out of the underground and started publishing a newspaper, Zhoghovurt (“People”), in the last year of the Occupation (April 1943-June 1944). The FNA assumed a broader rhetoric of Armenian unity (rather than class struggle) and included non-communist members even though the leadership remained communist.14 After their first general convention in March 1945, FNA came to be known as the Armenian National Union [ANU], or Fransahay Azkayin Ěnthanur Miut‘iwn.

  • 15 Getronagan Varchut‘iwn, March 1947, pp. 11, 13.

13The FAWU considered itself to be the women’s section of the ANU. In the first issue of Hai Guine, its leadership clarified the history and terms of this connection. They explained that immediately following the liberation of Paris, the FAWU asked the ANU for assistance expanding their membership and branches across France. The ANU desired to bring together all kinds of Armenian women’s organizations under one pro-Soviet umbrella, but they failed to convince the Armenian Red Cross (Bedagan Garmir Khach), the Parisian Armenian Women’s Union, and the Blue Cross (of the Tashnagts‘utiwn, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation [ARF]). The FAWU was the only group whose goals fully aligned with those of the ANU. Although the two groups worked together “in order to strengthen women’s organizational spirit and initiative”, the FAWU chose to operate separately from the ANU and thus consciously preserved internal autonomy.15

14The FAWU was also the only French-Armenian group with an explicit feminist consciousness and connection to the larger French feminist movement. The FAWU maintained exceptionally close relations with the Armenian Red Cross, which they considered to be their “sister association”. They also collaborated with the Union of Armenian Youth (Fransahay Eridasartats‘ Miut‘iwn, or Jeunesse arménienne de France), the youth section of the ANU, which included both women and men members from all Armenian political fractions except the Tashnagts‘utiwn, whose rank and file had an anti-Soviet political stance. The FAWU, the Armenian Red Cross, and Union of Armenian Youth frequently worked together to fundraise by organizing teas, galas, and cultural activities.

  • 16 Ibid. Some of the branches were in Gentilly, Chaville, Asnières-sous-Bois, Belleville, Alfortville, (...)

15As of mid-1947, in addition to their central office in Paris, the FAWU had eleven branches in Armenian-populated, working-class neighborhoods and 637 registered members.16 The FAWU was both an organization of internationalist progressive feminists and a community of immigrant women bent on conserving and asserting their natal identity in the post-genocide diaspora. Many of these branches’ main activities were related to the conservation of Armenian identity. For example, they helped local Armenian schools, opened Armenian-language night lessons for adults, and organized summer camps for needy children. They also collected financial aid for the families of fallen Resistance fighters and Soviet Armenian prisoners of war.

  • 17 A. Kunth, 2015, pp. 82-86; P. Weil, 1995, pp. 80-95.
  • 18 A. Kunth, 2017, p. 160.

16A few words are in order with regards to the general composition of the French Armenian community to better appreciate the class and geographical backgrounds of FAWU membership, Hai Guine writers, and its readers. In the 1920s, the Armenians in France numbered between 40,000 and 70,000. Most were “stateless” and therefore without citizenship status. Most of these apatride Armenians (many of whom held the special League of Nations “Nansen” passport) were naturalized only after World War II. Then, French post-war demography favored immigration and the ideologues behind the 1945 ordinance on strangers in France came to view Armenians as more desirable candidates for naturalization than others, on grounds of their capacity to assimilate, their ethnic origin racially reconceptualized as “White” (rather than “Orientals”), their having long been established in France and proven their loyalty by serving France since World War I and participating in the Resistance.17 By 1951, the Central Office for Armenian Refugees – which had come into being in 1945 following the merger of two previous offices and now offered a stronger support thanks to its pan-Armenian structure – computed that 85,000 Armenians were living in France, but only 40,000 were French naturalized or born French.18

  • 19 A. Abrahamyan, 1967, p. 168. Abrahamyan bases his numbers on a 1924 study cited in the 16 October 1 (...)
  • 20 L. Chormisian, 1975, p. 234.

17The FAWU paid lip service to uniting all Armenian women, but working-class women composed the group’s main base and the target readership of Hai Guine. Like the broader Armenian community in France, they or their parents arrived in France as refugees from various parts of the Ottoman Empire after the Armenian genocide. France’s efforts to recruit foreign workers in the post-World War I period aligned with Armenians’ need to find a secure home. These Ottoman Armenian immigrants were predominantly of peasant background (about seventy-five percent), but almost overnight they turned into “unskilled labor” employed as industrial workers in mining, metalwork, and railroad construction.19 In Paris and its environs, men were frequently employed in the automobile sector, including in the Renault and Citroën factories, while women found employment primarily in textile and sugar factories.20 Women also ran shoemaking and other artisanal shops together with their husbands.

  • 21 Ibid., pp. 236-239.
  • 22 Ibid., pp. 196-197.
  • 23 Ibid., p. 238.

18In his history of French Armenians, community historian Levon Chormisian makes a point of devoting space to women’s working conditions. He underlines women’s entrepreneurial spirit in deciding to buy simple sewing and weaving machines to work from home for twelve to fifteen hours a day. The pay for private commissions was much higher than factory work. This incentivized husbands to quit their factory jobs and work instead as middlemen between their wives and the larger companies and workshops.21 Chormisian credits women’s work with moving many families out of working-class status during and immediately after World War II. They became middle-class entrepreneurs, mainly in the business of women’s textiles, such as silk jersey. He estimates that before the war, about eighty percent of the Armenian population were workers; after the war, this number fell to fifty or sixty percent, thanks to women’s work.22 He notes that during this period, more than half of the families living in Paris and its environs relied on textiles as their main source of income.23

  • 24 A. Ter Minassian, 1997, p. 70.

19That the French Armenian community eventually found its way out of lower-class status does not mean that life was easy. Multiple accounts point to discrimination, especially during the 1930s economic crisis when xenophobia peaked. Children born to Armenian parents in France faced stigmatization at school and other places because of their looks and accents.24 This generation born in France participated in the Resistance alongside an older generation born in the Ottoman Empire or elsewhere outside of France (like Manouchian in the Ottoman Empire and LAS in Iran).

20The French Armenian community also included Armenian elites and intellectuals from the Ottoman and Russian empires and Iran who initially went to France for higher education and stayed. Almost all of these intellectuals were men. Women intellectuals and Armenians of different backgrounds started joining the French Armenian community in the early 1900s, but the main waves happened after the wartime genocide and the 1922 exodus of Armenians from Kemalist Turkey. The cadre that founded, edited, and published Hai Guine was most likely of this more elite background, but this remains a tentative conclusion. Coupled with the lack of secondary sources, the practice of using only last names in articles, including as signatures, prevents more conclusive commentary.

  • 25 For example, the Western Armenia neo-romantic poet Misak Medzarents (1886-1908) and Russian/Soviet (...)

21The co-existence of Western and Eastern Armenian languages offers clues about Hai Guine’s writers and readers. Two hundred twelve, or seventy percent, of the 299 entries across Hai Guine’s three-year run were in Western Armenian, including the editorials. The distribution of Eastern and Western Armenian must reflect the geographically diverse backgrounds of the FAWU membership. This is corroborated by information that some of the writers shared about their childhood homes in different parts of the world. Some members were from the South Caucasus (mostly current-day Tbilisi) and Iran. They primarily wrote in Eastern Armenian using classical orthography rather than the reformed orthography adopted in Soviet Armenia. The more numerous members from the former Ottoman Empire all wrote in Western Armenian. Because it aligned with its broader repatriation goals, the co-presence of the two branches of the language did ideological work for the FAWU. The organization promoted immigration to Soviet Armenia as a “homecoming” for Armenians in France who mostly hailed from Western Armenian/Ottoman regions and had never set foot in the former Russian Empire’s Armenian territories in the Caucasus. Hai Guine consciously presented an image of one united Armenian nation whose internal divisions did not matter. The journal featured the works of both Eastern and Western Armenians, both men and women, past and present.25

22To my knowledge, Hai Guine published nineteen issues before it folded in February 1949. The reasons for the journal’s closing are not specified anywhere, but are likely related to the solidification of the Cold War in 1947 and France’s shifting alliance towards the United States as a result of the Marshall Plan. The anti-communist turn in French politics manifested in multiple forms, most forcefully in 1947 when the French Communist Party was forced out of the government and all “foreign” organizations affiliated with the Resistance and the Communist Party were ordered to dissolve. Consequently, the FNA closed in 1948. In September 1948, the Soviet Armenian government ended the repatriation campaign that Hai Guine had so heavily invested in. It therefore seems that by late 1948, the political climate was already no longer conducive to Hai Guine’s pro-Soviet mission.

Hai Guine’s Feminism: Communist, Local, Diasporic, Intergenerational

  • 26 S. Chaperon, 2000.

23While the term “feminist” was used from time to time, it did not frequently appear in the pages of Hai Guine. Preferred terms were “women’s movement” and “women’s activism”. It is surprising that a communist organization like the FAWU used the term “feminism” at all to describe themselves or their allies. Studies of French women’s movements during liberation show that a self-defined feminist component declined and was marginalized in favor of groups that identified with the Resistance, communism, or, alternatively, Catholicism. During the wartime German occupation of France, the word “feminist” was even banned from the press guide.26

  • 27 F. De Haan, 2010; K. Ghodsee, 2018, p. 15.

24Studies of women’s rights activism in the communist Eastern Block, communist-leaning “Third World” countries, and the Soviet Union reveal that the historical actors on the ground did not refer to themselves as “feminist,” even when they pursued goals that are now aligned with feminism, namely full equality of women to men. They identified “feminism” with bourgeois, liberal, capitalist women’s “struggles”. At the same time, during the Cold War, Western feminists and state institutions did not usually consider Eastern European and Soviet women’s movements to be “feminist”. These leftist movements were dismissed as a “smokescreen” to deceive and attract innocent women and accused of using the notion of women’s rights to promote communist political propaganda.27

25Hai Guine – a diasporic, generationally diverse institution – bellies these dichotomies. As I explain below, the older generation of women’s rights activists who arrived in Paris in the 1920s already identified as “feminists” in their youth, and this identity was smoothly integrated into the discourse of their new journal in the French capital. Moreover, when Hai Guine emerged simultaneously with the consolidation of the Cold War alliances, “feminist” was not yet exclusively associated with the “First World”.

  • 28 Yevkine Boghosian, “Oghchoyn nor Hay Gin”, Hai Guine, 1 (6), June 1947.
  • 29 M. D., March-April 1948.

26The journal’s overarching objective was to encourage women to take up public engagement and embolden them to form, express, and act upon their own opinions.28 The decision to start a journal occurred when the FAWU’s first all-delegates congress convened in October 1946 (see figure 4). The representatives in attendance purposefully chose the month of March to commence their journal to mark and celebrate International Working Women’s Day on 8 March. They saw themselves as part and parcel of what they referred to as the “international women’s movement” and considered the twentieth century to be the “century of women’s awakening”.29

Figure 4 FAWU’s first Congress, 25-27 October 1946,
Société savante’s seventeenth salon, Paris.
The poster hanging in the middle of the back row is of LAS,
the founder of FAWU who fell victim to Nazi persecution in July 1944.
Hai Guine, 1 (1), March 1947

Courtesy of AGBU Nubar Library, Paris

  • 30 Tzeron Assadourian is noted as the gérant (“manager”). The writer Zareh Vorpouni contributed to the (...)

27Unlike any other Armenian women’s journal in the diaspora before or after, Hai Guine did not have a designated editor.30 The editorials were simply signed “Hai Guine”. The first Hai Guine editorial, entitled “Our Goal” (Mer Nbadagě), noted:

  • 31 “Mer Nbadagě”, Hai Guine, 1 (1), March 1947, p. 1.

In taking into consideration that a portion of Armenian women, especially women workers [ashkhadawor giner] who do not have the mastery of the local language and therefore cannot benefit from the Parisian women’s weeklies, we decided to publish Hai Guine to acquaint them with all the issues that interest Armenian women.31

  • 32 Ibid.

28The same editorial encouraged women to submit pieces for publication, especially if they did not dare to write in the local (Armenian) literary journals.32 Even a cursory look at the Armenian periodicals and literary output of the time shows that the overwhelming majority of contributors were men, a condition that made women’s entry into the Armenian literary community difficult indeed. Although Hai Guine was not a literary journal, it included many literary pieces, usually short stories and poems.

  • 33 It is important to note that Soviet women’s journals too combined Western notions of femininity and (...)

29The ideologues of the FAWU were not anti-tradition, and it is likely that they did not want to be perceived as too radical. (In that sense, they were not too different from the communist French Women’s Union.) Hai Guine was similar to preceding and later Armenian women’s journals in both the “homeland” and diaspora in that it communicated the idea that ethnic tradition, customary notions of femininity, and equality could coexist. From the first issue, the journal included a section called “A Little Bit of the Kitchen” (Kich Měn Al Khohanots) that was signed by an anonymous “Medz Mayrig” (Grandmother). Here, one could find recipes for traditional Armenian delicacies, such as Zadguay chorek (“Easter cookies”), madznov anush (“yogurt dessert”), and iwghov chorek (“oil cookies”). Another section was dedicated to childrearing, and next to it was a column called “From the Children’s World”, which included short stories and puzzles for young children. This communist feminist journal even organized a needlework and embroidery contest among its subscribers. In addition to a particular form of domesticity, the journal promoted modern, French-influenced, bourgeoise femininity. For example, the beauty and fashion sections included advice on skincare and how to choose the right swimsuit or winter coat.33

30The question of how to weave women’s public engagement with their private, homebound responsibilities occupied FAWU members. During a November 1948 gathering organized by the Paris branch to increase its membership numbers, Mrs. Boghosian, the branch president, appealed to women who were hesitant to join the FAWU with the following words:

  • 34 Ankine Avdjian, “Ěngerahamagragan Ts‘eregoyt‘”, Hai Guine, 2 (7), November 1948.

Instead of criticizing us from afar, we want every woman to connect with our project with her heart. We would like each woman to contribute to the goal as much as her capacity and time will allow. All of this we do so that we can realize the ideals of the FAWU. They say that Armenian women are busy keeping home and caring for the children and often have to make a living for their families. This is understandable. But I assure you that ninety-five percent of our membership is in the same situation. Still, they accomplish the impossible so that we create an Armenian life, so that Armenians remain Armenian on foreign shores, so that Armenian women’s minds and souls are permanently freed from passivity. […] In our fatherland, our [Soviet Armenian] sisters are doing their best to reach their zenith. Why shouldn’t we follow their example?34

  • 35 Ibid. On the Communist-leaning Unione Donne Italiane’s petition in support of nuclear disarmament, (...)

31After these opening remarks (which the journal noted were followed by protracted applause), Miss Krikorian, the FAWU vice-chair and a frequent contributor to the journal, led a discussion entitled “The Armenian Woman: Inside the House or Outside of It?” The arguments of the opposing idea are unknown, but Krikorian insisted that women’s public activities would never jeopardize their home duties as mothers and caregivers. It was time that women left their “brooms and pots” alone and paid attention to the day’s social issues. This type of engagement in social and public life would, in fact, make the family more robust. This was demonstrated, Krikorian argued, by three million Italian women who signed a petition for world peace and submitted it to the United Nations. Their activism for world peace would ultimately help their families, especially their children.35

  • 36 For more on Anayis and Bahri, see chapters 2 and 4 in L. Ekmekçioğlu, 2016.
  • 37 Anayis, “Mezi gě Kren,” Hai Guine, 1 (3), May 1947; Zarouhi Bahri, “Oghchoyn nor Hay Gin”, Hai Guin (...)
  • 38 Anayis, “Timasduwerner Bolsahay Krakiduhineru-Zabel Asadour (Sibil)”, Hai Guine, 2 (7), November 19 (...)
  • 39 S. Marmarian, “Anayis Panasdeghdzuhiin Ḥopeleaně”, Hai Guine, 2 (8), December 1948.

32The FAWU cadre included a group of older generation Armenian feminists transplanted from Istanbul ca. 1922. Indeed, two of the most prominent Armenian women’s rights activists, Zarouhi Bahri (1880-1958) and Anayis (Yevpime Avedisian, 1872-1950), found themselves in Paris in middle age still full of energy.36 The appearance of the French Armenian Hai Guine was a pleasant surprise for them both, and they each took the initiative to send congratulatory letters to the journal.37 In their own ways, both women tried to communicate to the younger generations that the fight for the women’s cause had a long history among Armenians. Anayis started a “Portraits” section in Hai Guine in which she featured earlier Armenian feminists, including Srpouhi Dussap and Zabel Asadour (Sibil).38 FAWU members attended Anayis’s jubilee at the Sorbonne on 13 March 1949. President Marmarian spoke at the jubilee and wrote about it in Hai Guine, reporting proudly that authoress Anayis has always been a robust feminist (nra mēch feminizmi hagumě zoregh ē yeghel).39

  • 40 Z. Bahri, August 1947.
  • 41 For selections from Zarouhi Bahri’s memoir (Geankis Vēbě, 1995) in English translation, see Lerna (...)
  • 42 Zarouhi Bahri, “Mard 8i Dōnin Art‘iw”, Hai Guine, 2 (1-2), March-April 1948; Zarouhi Bahri, “Mard 8 (...)
  • 43 Despite her awareness of political developments in the First Republic of Armenia, Bahri did not ack (...)

33Bahri provided the journal with a history of Istanbul’s post-genocide feminist movement. She noted that it would have been better if Hai Guine had added a “new” or “young” in front of its title to differentiate itself from Istanbul’s Hay Gin, which was in circulation from 1919 to 1933.40 Even though the young French Armenian feminist communists did not seem to know much about the previous movements, they were certainly willing to learn. This is one of the reasons why the FAWU invited Bahri to deliver the keynote speech at the next year’s 8 March celebration. Of course, it helped that Bahri had already exhibited a pro-Soviet attitude and was openly fond of Stalin’s policies.41 Bahri’s 8 March talk provided a history of women’s contributions to human civilization, specifically Armenian women’s awakening to their rights and national duties.42 After explaining how in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, employment was considered shameful for Armenian women, she saluted Soviet Armenia for changing this perception for good. In Bahri’s account, the ultimate proof of Soviet Armenia’s superiority rested on the fact that women were legally enfranchised there from the moment of the nation’s establishment in 1920, while in the “progressive” French nation, women gained suffrage only in 1944.43

  • 44 M. Damlamian, “Nora”, Hai Guine, 1 (3), May 1947; M. Damlamian, “Nora”, Hai Guine, 1 (6), August 19 (...)
  • 45 M. Damlamian, “Hay Gině Tumaneani Panasdeghdzutean Mēch”, Hai Guine, 2 (1-2), March-April 1948.
  • 46 See, for example, M. Damlamian, “Garewor Shrchan Gnoch Geank‘i Mēch”, Hai Guine, 2 (6), September-O (...)

34S. Damlamian, likely from Tbilisi, was another FAWU member who used the term “feminism” liberally. She started her two-piece series on Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll House” (1879) by defining feminism as “the ideology that aims to equalize women and men’s civil, economic, and political rights”. She used “A Doll House”, which was playing in Paris at the time, as an example of a feminist production that remained relevant. Her main point was that even though French women gained political rights in 1944, there was so much more that needed to be accomplished for substantial equality to reign between the sexes.44 In another piece of literary criticism, Damlamian analyzed representations of women in the works of the famous writer Hovhannes Toumanian, arguing that he portrayed strong female characters.45 Most of Damlamian’s contributions revolved around women’s health and, quite radically for its time, included articles on menstruation and menopause.46

  • 47 A. Tchobanian, “Hay Gině”, Hai Guine, 1 (4), June 1947.

35Male intellectuals also contributed to the discussion of women’s equality among Armenians. The most prominent among them was Arshag Tchobanian (1872-1954). Originally from Istanbul, he moved in 1893 to Paris, where he lived until the end of his life. Tchobanian was Anayis’ cousin and therefore a figure dear to many feminists of the time. In his journal, Anahit, he frequently reported on their activities. In the Hai Guine essay, “The Armenian Woman”, Tchobanian engaged in what is today known as “indigenizing” or “nationalizing”; that is, he presented a new phenomenon as if it has always existed in a given group. In his article, Tchobanian argued that since Armenians are descended from the Hellenic race and therefore culturally closer to the West than to the East, Armenian men and women enjoyed equal rights long before the Armenian conversion to Christianity. He juxtaposed the egalitarian characteristics of the Christian world with Muslims “who subjugate their women”. Tchobanian’s narrative created a continuum of Armenian women’s heroic activism that started with the pagan queens, proceeded with the first Christian martyrs and the women who mobilized the men for their self-defensive fight (dignayk papgasunk) in the fifth-century Vartanants War, and ended with those who chose to kill themselves and their children instead of falling prey to the “Turks’ lust” during the Hamidian massacres and the genocide of 1915. The chain continues with the heroism of mothers who insistently speak Armenian to their children in the diaspora. Tchobanian’s narrative of Armenian women’s sacred sacrifice came to its ultimate conclusion with praise for those who repatriate to Soviet Armenia.47

  • 48 A. A., “Gnoch Terě Hasaragagan Geank‘i Mēch”, Hai Guine, 1 (2), April 1947.
  • 49 Hai Guine, “Shnorhawor Nor Dari”, Hai Guine, 1 (10), December 1947.
  • 50 Ibid. See also Hai Guine, “Khōsk‘ Mer Pazhanortnerun ew Ěnt‘erts‘oghnerun”, Hai Guine, 2 (9-10), Ja (...)

36Notably, Tchobanian eclipsed the participation of Armenian women in the French Resistance. He therefore hinted at how this history would be largely forgotten in the coming decades. This is despite the fact that the FAWU’s central identity was bound up with the global participation of women in World War II. Members were radicalized by their own wartime experiences. For them, the ultimate proof of the changing role of Armenian women was that they had shown patriotism beyond their homes and local communities.48 Women had smoothly replaced men on the home front, in factories, and in businesses during the war.49 Moreover, they had the courage to fight in the Red Army in its victorious war against Nazi Germany. Hai Guine eulogized fallen heroines, such as the Russian Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, and such Armenian women in the Red Army as Rosa Sarkissian.50

  • 51 See C. Andrieu, 2000.
  • 52 For a recent study, see R. Gildea, 2015.

37FAWU members took special pride in the fact that their founder, LAS, and many other Armenian women participated in the French Resistance and risked their lives by producing clandestine publications and, in some cases, transporting explosives. It is widely accepted that women played an essential role in the French Resistance. Numerous memoirs, autobiographies, biographies, films, and oral history interview collections attest to this fact. The few available statistics suggest that women constituted about twelve percent of the resisters, though there is scholarly consensus that this is an underrepresentation.51 Despite recent scholarship that highlights the participation in the Resistance of extraordinarily diverse groups, including Spanish Republicans, Italian anti-fascists, Romanians, and French and foreign Jews, studies of women in the Resistance still lack information about the composition and proportion of foreigner and immigrant women. It is not yet possible to compare the experience of French Armenian women during the war and in its immediate aftermath to that of other immigrant women in France.52

Repatriation as a Feminist Move

  • 53 A. Sanjian, 2023, p. 194.

38Armenia encouraged and received immigrants from diaspora communities between the nation’s Sovietization in the late 1920s and the great purges of the 1930s. Forty-two thousand immigrants settled in Armenia from 1921 to 1936. Most of these migrants were genocide survivors who had found temporary refuge in Iran, Turkey, Greece, or France.53 In France, as in many other diaspora centers, the main organization that continuously pushed for “repatriation” to Soviet Armenia was the HOG. Through cultural unions, libraries, clubs, and theatrical and dance groups, the HOG produced pro-Soviet propaganda in the form of literature, film, exhibitions, albums, and postcards. It also had its own press, which in France lasted from 1926 to the dissolution of the HOG in 1937.

  • 54 L. Chormisian, 1975, pp. 112-114.
  • 55 On 18 June 2023, French president Emmanuel Macron announced that Manouchian’s remains would be tran (...)

39In Paris and many other French cities, the HOG was especially popular among the working classes, many of whom became Resistance members.54 LAS and Manouchian were among them. Manouchian was a genocide survivor who moved to France in 1925, worked in automobile factories, and participated in the Resistance. He held a leadership role in the HOG and was one of the heads of the FTP-MOI (Francs-tireurs et partisans - Main d’œuvre immigrée), a subsection of the French communist resistance composed of foreigners. Manouchian was executed by the Nazis in February 1944, five months before the arrest of LAS and her husband.55

  • 56 For a discussion of the two prevailing theories among historians as to why Stalin and the Soviet le (...)
  • 57 For a summary of the repatriation effort and repatriation narratives in oral history interviews and (...)
  • 58 This number, from the 20 January 1948 report of the Soviet Armenian Committee of Repatriation, is w (...)

40 Repatriation to Soviet Armenia underwent an unexpected turn after World War II. In December 1945 Stalin endorsed Soviet Armenia’s request to allow immigration to Soviet Armenia.56 This proclamation initiated a wave of immigration that lasted from 1946 to 1949, during which about 90,000 diaspora Armenians moved to Soviet Armenia.57 Of these, 5,260 (1,518 families) were from France.58

  • 59 For a detailed description of these processes, see V. Sahakyan, 2015, pp. 261-268.
  • 60 A. Damadian, “Badkamaworuhii Dbavorut‘iwnnerě Fransahay Ganants‘ Miut‘ean Badkam. Aṛachin Hamakumar (...)

41Independent of their ideological standpoints, HOG veterans and many diaspora organizations supported the repatriation campaign, including the Social Democrat Hnchagian Party, Democratic Liberal Ramgavar Party, and the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), which provided financial assistance to the aspiring repatriates. Initially, this coalition even included the ARF, which had distanced itself from the Soviet Republic during the interwar years. Even when they did not ideologically align with communism, these organizations considered the ingathering of Armenians in the Armenian state (which happened to be under Soviet rule) to be part of the recovery of the post-genocide nation and the only guarantee of the survival of their Armenianness. This unification of Armenians, however, was short-lived. The ARF soon distanced itself from the process, which marginalized its members and sympathizers.59 The remaining organization, together with the initiative of the Soviet Embassy in France, formed the National Repatriation Committee (Nerkaghti Azkayin Gomidē), which held its first convention in October 1946. From that moment onward, the FAWU helped the National Repatriation Committee any way it could, especially by engaging the community’s women.60

42Like most diaspora organizations, Hai Guine pitched repatriation by emphasizing that to live in the “homeland” was the only solution to the dreaded tsulum, or complete assimilation into the host country to the point of losing one’s ethnic distinction. This was a particularly alarming existential danger for a group like the Armenians who suffered a wholesale annihilation campaign only a generation earlier. According to Hai Guine, mothers had a particularly prominent role to play in preventing the disappearance of Armenian identity.

  • 61 Hai Guine, “Khōsk‘ Mer Pazhanortnerun ew Ěnt‘erts‘oghnerun”, Hai Guine, 2 (9-10), January-February (...)
  • 62 A. Shahlamian, “Hayrenatarts Harazadnerus (Oghchert‘i Khōsk‘)”, Hai Guine, 1 (6), August 1947; and (...)
  • 63 L. Chormisian, “P‘okhuadz ē Hay Gině”, Hai Guine, 1 (7), September 1947.

43Hai Guine writers believed that Armenian women’s ultimate “sacred duty” was “to preserve Armenians as Armenians”.61 This was a question of self-determination. In her farewell to those who were about to depart for Armenia, FAWU member A. Shamlamian praised the repatriates for determining their own destiny, emphasizing that “even though they are usually invisible, women constitute the foundation of the Armenian house. Therefore, we owe everything to the Armenian woman. She has long protected the sacred customs in her mind and heart so that she could give them back to its owner: the homeland.” Shamlamian warned women that their efforts in the diaspora added up to nothing and that “our children’s physical, moral, and material salvation is in the fatherland”.62 As a women’s journal, then, Hai Guine took it upon itself to mobilize women to settle their families in Armenia. The journal also featured the voice of critics. For example, Levon Chormisian expressed alarm that some Armenian mothers did not repatriate with their husbands and children. He considered this refusal to be an antithesis of motherhood, which he opined was Armenian women’s most important asset.63

44Similar to other publications that propagandized repatriation, Hai Guine featured stunning images of departing compatriots. One photograph, for example, shows people at the Paris train station leaving for the Marseilles port; another depicts a Soviet boat in Marseilles leaving for Batumi (see figure 5). To convince people of the beautiful life that awaited them in Armenia, photographs of Lake Sevan and fancy hotels in central Yerevan were featured on the cover of the journal.

Figure 5 “Rossia Soviet boat at the Marseilles port, a minute before departure
[towards Batumi], 6 September 1947”
Hai Guine, 1 (7), September 1947, p. 100

Courtesy of the National Library of Armenia

  • 64 “27rt Daretartsě”, Hai Guine, 1 (9), November 1947.

45What is unusual, and likely unique, about the FAWU’s propagation of pro-Soviet discourse is its general emphasis on not only the communist but also the feminist nature of life in Armenia. Hai Guine celebrated the twenty-seventh anniversary of the establishment of Soviet Armenia as the country that “liberated Armenian women’s motherhood”, emancipated Armenian women from their formerly subjugated position, and gave them economic independence, social equality, and freedom in every sphere.64 The above-mentioned Miss Krikorian, who promoted women’s civic engagement, wrote the following in the second issue of the journal:

  • 65 A. Krikorian, “Fransayi Hay Ganants‘ Miut‘ean Dznuntě”, Hai Guine, 1 (2), April 1947.

Armenian women! It is time that you become a citizen of your fatherland. Do your duty and enjoy the benefits of your country. You can reach political and cultural zeniths only in communist countries. By returning to the fatherland, the Armenian mother saves her children from assimilation (tsulum) […] In addition, by returning to the fatherland, the Armenian woman also saves herself. This is because absolute equality between women and men exists only in communist countries thanks to which women are equal to men in every profession and cultural, political, and public realm. That is why in the short span of a quarter of a century women made headways in every field in that country. In capitalist countries like France, in order to reach any height, women need to knock on every door imaginable, and usually to no avail. Quite frequently even talented French women are not able to weather the heavy conditions of workplace exploitation. Thousands of talented women thus vanish, with their wishes buried in their hearts. The conditions of Armenian women and men are even heavier because on top of all other difficulties that make the French women suffer they are foreigners. How many capable and talented Armenian women and young men had come to Europe, the “city of lights”, with big dreams and hopes, and struggled for a few years to realize their dreams only to fail eventually? […] The solution to all of this, that is our salvation, is in Repatriation.65

46These words are a good summary of how Hai Guine juxtaposed Armenian working-class women’s (and men’s) miserable, exploited lives in France and other capitalist countries with the imagined life of the working people in the Soviet fatherland: well-paid, happy, healthy, and satisfied.

  • 66 Adrine Bujikanian, “Hayrenatarts Ginerě”, Hai Guine, 2 (6), September-October 1948.
  • 67 M. Nakachi, 2006. For a history of progressive family policies enacted under Stalin’s leadership, w (...)

47These messages were usually communicated by the testimonies of those who already repatriated. In 1948, for example, a certain Adrine Boujikanian, who repatriated from Beirut to Soviet Armenia, wrote a letter to the journal in which she reported that there was equal pay for equal labor in Armenia, women were full citizens, and repatriated women were immediately employed and able to rise in all professions. Moreover, conditions for pregnant women were excellent, as hospitals, which were all clean, offered substantial support.66 It is true that one of the most important postwar measures that Soviet leadership undertook was the passage of laws increasing government support for pregnant women and mothers.67 The 1944 Family Law, which was promulgated to increase the postwar birth rate as the basis for economic and social reconstruction, aligned with Armenian feminists’ goals.

  • 68 M. Manouchian discusses her Tbrots‘asēr days in the second chapter of her memoir. See M. Manouchian (...)
  • 69 See the photograph in the 140th anniversary booklet of Association des Dames arméniennes amies des (...)

48The most high-profile repatriate, of course, was Mélinée Manouchian, who left for Armenia immediately after the end of the war. Her biography illustrates the intergenerational links between Constantinopolitan and Parisian feminisms. It is important to note that Manouchian was a graduate of Tbrotsasēr Dignants Varzharan, the girls’ school of the Tbrotsasēr Dignants Engerutiwn (Pro-Educational Women’s Society) that was established in 1879 by Armenian feminists Srpouhi Dussap and her mother, Nazli Vahan.68 After the genocide, Tbrotsasēr functioned as a girls’ orphanage. It was originally located in Istanbul, then moved to Thessaloniki, then to Marseilles, and finally settled in Le Raincy, near Paris, where it is currently located and continues to operate as a co-ed school. Both Bahri and Anayis were involved in the School-Loving Women’s Society and its school. Anayis was the chair of Tbrotsasērs general assembly when Mélinée graduated in 1929. In the graduation picture of that year, Anayis holds Manouchian’s arm in a protective, motherly gesture.69

  • 70 Mélinée Manouchian, “Mardi 8”, Hai Guine, 1 (1), March 1947.

49In 1947, Manouchian participated in the 8 March Working Women’s Day celebrations at Yerevan State University and wrote about the day in the first issue of Hai Guine, thus setting the tone for the rest of the discourse on Soviet Armenia and women. She was captivated by the sight of so many women professors, including Eliz Petrosyan, a professor of philology and a survivor of the genocide who graduated from Tbrotsasēr in 1925 and then moved to Soviet Armenia to pursue higher education. In her article, Manouchian underlined that in the diaspora, women could not even dream about such accomplishments that were already a reality in Soviet Armenia. She wrote that her wishes had become reality and she was fully satisfied because, in her words, “I too am part of the family of free Soviet women […] soon hundreds of thousands of women from abroad will enjoy the same opportunity”.70

  • 71 They were Janigian, Almazian, and Damadian. See Fransahay Ganants‘ Miut‘iwn, “Mshagut‘ayin Gabi Ěng (...)

50Many FAWU members repatriated. Hai Guine reported that of the fifteen members of the FAWU central board, three departed with the first group in August 1947.71 The FAWU sent a gift with them to be delivered to Gin Pazhin (Soviet Armenia’s Women’s Sector). The package contained clothing for 200 children, which they asked the Women’s Sector to deliver to families of martyred World War II soldiers. They also sent a letter detailing their activities and goals in France. After receiving the gifts, the Women’s Sector sent a letter back to the FAWU with 190 Armenian books for their library. This is how transnational Armenian communist feminist solidarity looked in 1947.

  • 72 M. Aslamazyan, “Im Dbavorut‘iwnnerě”, Hai Guine, 2 (7), November 1948; “Aslamazyan Kuyrer”, Hai Gui (...)

51Another encounter between French Armenian and Soviet Armenian women occurred in Paris in the summer of 1948 when the IWDF held the ambitious exhibition, “Women’s International Exhibition of Arts and Professions”. Paintings, crafts, photographs, and documents produced by women from forty-three different countries portrayed women’s conditions in these countries. A delegation of forty FAWU members visited the exhibition with the explicit goal of seeing the Armenians at the Soviet pavilion. When they saw them, the FAWU members hugged and kissed their “Soviet Armenian sisters”. They were particularly excited to meet Mariam Aslamazyan (1907-2006), whom FAWU members invited to their office, “the LAS club”. Aslamazyan accepted the invitation and with her friends attended the reception, where they reportedly sang and danced with their diaspora sisters. After her return to the fatherland, Aslamazyan reported her experiences to the Women’s Sector. Hai Guine published a transcript of that report and a long, laudatory article on the life and works of Aslamazyan and her sister, Yeranouhi, another painter. The journal proudly noted, without much commentary, that Mariam painted a woman originally from Iran in traditional dress weaving socks.72 She titled the painting “Hayrenatarts” (Repatriate).

  • 73 Hai Guine, 1 (4), June 1947.

52Hai Guine’s coverage of the Aslamazyan sisters aligned with the journal’s overall message that in Soviet Armenia talented women were able to realize their potential. They thought that this vision would attract women in the diaspora debating whether they should repatriate. Photographs of repatriated women singers who found a stage to perform on and famous teachers to learn from provided visual proof that aspiring women could shine in Soviet Armenia in a way that was impossible in the diaspora (see figures 6 and 7).73

Figure 6 “Takouhi Keseryan, who repatriated from Romania, singing at Yerevan’s Spendiaryan State Opera and Ballet Theater.” Hai Guine, 1 (4), June 1947, pp. 55-56.

Courtesy of AGBU Nubar Library, Paris

Figure 7 “Violetta Utujian, who repatriated from Bulgaria, taking lessons from Soviet Armenia’s famous singer Hayganoush Tanielyan.” Hai Guine, 1 (4), June 1947, pp. 55-56.

Courtesy of AGBU Nubar Library, Paris

  • 74 For the now classical account of interwar Soviet Armenia, see M. Matossian, 1962, especially the se (...)
  • 75 M. Kamp, 2016.
  • 76 For a recent study, see M. Ilic, 2020.

53The mundane reality of life for Soviet Armenian women is beyond the scope of this paper, but a few words are in order to address the gap between the ideas perpetuated by Soviet supporters and real life in Armenia. While the historiography on Soviet Armenian women is not extensive, available research indicates that they negotiated the same challenges of balancing family and public life as women in the diaspora.74 Studies of women’s lives in the Soviet “peripheries”, such as Central Asia, point to a generally shared experience with significant differences pertaining to local conditions, for example, veiling.75 In general, Soviet women, including in Russia, struggled with familiar issues, such as the “double burden” of working at home and at work, general shortages, and poor housing, not to mention dramatic incidences of political repression.76 This observation does not negate the fact that Soviet women enjoyed high literacy rates, universal education, free basic health care, and relative job security and benefits, especially in comparison to most other places. Still, political repression in the 1930s was significant. The omission of this brutality in Hai Guine is illustrative of the FAWU’s unconditionally pro-Soviet standpoint more than its members ignorance or acceptance of political persecution.

  • 77 Z. Yesayan, 1928. For more on Yesayan and her days in Soviet Armenia, together with select translat (...)

54 Hai Guine remained conspicuously silent on the purges of Armenian intellectuals, politicians, and religious leaders in Soviet Armenia ordered by Stalin and carried out by the local Soviet government in Armenia. The deportation and liquidation of prominent figures, including women, started in 1936. Diaspora Armenians who moved to Soviet Armenia were not spared. One such intellectual was Zabel Yesayan, who should have been a towering figure for the FAWU. She was a socialist feminist, originally from Istanbul, who settled in Paris after the genocide and was part of the interwar-era diaspora movements that encouraged repatriation to the Soviet Republic. When she first visited Soviet Armenia in 1927, she became an active member of the HOG and upon her return to Paris contributed to the organ’s journal, HOG. In 1928, she published Prometheus Unbound: Travel Notes/Toward the Homeland (Prometheus Azadakruadz/Jamportagan Nōter), which gave a positive impression of the homeland.77 This book, which promoted Soviet Armenia as the realization of a communist, feminist utopia, also included sections on how 8 March was celebrated in Yerevan and how meetings with the Women’s Section members proceeded. Yesayan repatriated in 1933 and became a professor of literature at Yerevan State University. None of this information, or Yesayan’s name, was ever mentioned in Hai Guine, even though the journal’s discourse and activism clearly show that Yesayan was a role model for FAWU members. Yesayan’s end, however, did not align with the FAWU’s pro-Soviet preaching. Accused of anti-Soviet activity, Yesayan was arrested by the authorities in 1937, imprisoned, and sent to Central Asia, where she died, likely in 1943, under unknown conditions.

  • 78 “To Siberia”, Museum of Repatriation, www.hayrenadardz.org.

55 Yesayan’s fate was shared by many who “returned” home to Soviet Armenia. Repatriated Armenians were not spared in the political repression of Stalin’s late years. In 1949, 12,300 Armenians were expelled en masse to Siberia to live and work in special settlements. These overnight deportations included 1,578 repatriates who experienced additional difficulties because they did not know Russian.78 Those who remained in Soviet Armenia faced poverty and shortages of all kinds, including housing, gas, and electricity. These conditions led to an exodus of Armenian repatriates from Soviet Armenia after Stalin’s death in 1953 and during the “Khrushchev thaw” era, when some repressions and restrictions were relaxed in the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s. While many repatriates from the Middle East and Greece left for North America in the 1970s and 1980s, almost all of the repatriates who had emigrated from France returned to France. Manouchian was among them. The end of the repatriation campaign, along with the French crackdown on communist organizations, spelled the end of Hai Guine. We do not know if and in what capacity the FAWU continued its activities.

*

  • 79 Z. Bahri, 1956. This is one of the little known but truly fascinating Armenian novels published in (...)

56This article shows that a group of Armenian women who survived the World War I genocide and subsequently immigrated to France joined forces with their Russian and Iranian Armenian sisters, partook in the French Resistance during World War II, and after the war supported immigration to Soviet Armenia and the project of preserving Armenian identity in France. Their ideological stance was unambiguous: they were communist, anti-fascist, pro-Soviet, feminist. Their journal, Hai Guine, aimed to be a platform for women to take up public engagement, in part by writing and working for the Armenian community. The earlier generation of Armenian feminist intellectuals, who arrived in Paris after the 1922 exodus from the Ottoman capital, connected with the FAWU after World War II and inspired its members to learn about Armenians’ feminist past. This older generation, in turn, was inspired by the boldness of the FAWU: Zarouhi Bahri wrote a whole novel delineating the life of Armenian working-class women in Paris and their participation in the Resistance.79

57This article also shows that repatriation to Soviet Armenia was an important motivation for FAWU. Hai Guine’s unique approach to promoting Soviet Armenia was its emphasis on women’s equality. According to Hai Guine, in Soviet Armenia women were treated as equal to men, motherhood was respected, children were cared for by the state, and women were paid well in any profession that they desired. Hai Guine did not cover the wrongs of the Soviet leaders, specifically Stalin’s deportation of prominent intellectuals, including Yesayan, whom some FAWU members personally knew from Paris.

58The story of this hitherto unknown group of Armenian working-class women is connected to French history, Armenian diaspora history, postwar international leftist history, and the history of the global struggle for women’s equality. It is also a node in Armenian feminist genealogy. As the first academic treatment of this group, this article is an invitation to future scholars, especially those in Francophone and Armenian studies, to conduct more in-depth research about the FAWU’s members, their time in the French resistance, postwar ideological, and material connections with the French socialist feminists around them, LAS’s life and ideology, and the lives of feminist repatriates in Soviet Armenia.

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Note de fin

1 Even though a more accurate transliteration of Հայ Կին would be “Hay Gin,” because the journal wrote its name on the cover as “Hai Guine” we chose to keep it this way. It is also a good way to differentiate it from another journal with the same name, Hay Gin, which was published in Istanbul from 1919 to 1933 by Hayganush Mark.

2 FAWU should not be confused with Parizahay or Parizi Hay Dignants‘ Miut‘iwn (Union des Dames arméniennes de Paris, or Parisian Armenian Women’s Union). Parisian Armenian Women’s Union sometimes referred to itself as Hay Dignants‘/Ganants‘ Miut‘iwn Parizi. The 1931 report specifies that it was established in Paris in 1913 and acknowledged as “œuvre de guerre” (war relief organ) by the French state in 1917, which made it possible to pursue relief work and fundraising under the 30 May 1916 French legislation on authorized war relief charities. See Ganonakrutiwn Hay Dignants Miutean Parizi – Orperu, H. Garmir Khachi ew Usanoghats Okn. Masnajiwgheru, 1931. The Parisian Armenian Women’s Union diversified its activities: for instance, its 1947 report indicates that the Armenian Red Cross was established on 15 December 1922 as part of the Parisian Armenian Women’s Union and under the auspices of the International Red Cross. See Règlement intérieur, Comité de secours pour la Croix Rouge arménienne (Union des Dames arménienne de Paris), 1947. Both publications give 15 Rue Jean-Goujon, Paris for the Union’s various activities.

3 Major works on the history of Armenians in France include L. Chormisian, 1975; A. Abrahamyan, 1967; A. Ter Minassian, 1997; C. Le Tallec, 2001; M. Mandel, 2003; C. Mouradian and A. Kunth, 2010; A. Atamian, 2014; A. Atamian et al., 2023. The first reference to FAWU can be found under the entry for “Front national arménien” in L. Chormisian, 1975, p. 203. Even then, Chormissian does not provide the name of the group, he only mentions some “youth and women’s groups”. The second reference is to be found in A. Atamian et al., 2023, p. 169 and takes the shape of a photograph of a FAWU banner in the memorial demonstration in honor of Resistance fighters Missak Manouchian and Arpen Davidian who were executed by the Nazis in 1944.

4 For a short biography of Aslanian in English, see Arpine Haroyan, “From the Forgotten Pages of History: The Resistance of Louise Aslanian”, EVN Report, 30 June 2019, www.evnreport.com.

5 For a concise history of HOK in English, see V. Sahakyan, 2015, pp. 178-186.

6 See, for example, Mayrig LASi, “Darapakhd Nargizě (Mangut‘ean Husher)”, Hai Guine, 1 (3), May 1947; Mayrig LASi, “Momi Nanē”, Hai Guine, 1 (9), November 1947.

7 See, for example, “LASě Nergay Ē”, Hai Guine, 1 (1), March 1947; A. Krikorian, “Ays ōr Mēgn Ē Mayisi, Krochs Krakiduhi LASi Hishadagin”, Hai Guine, 1 (3), May 1947.

8 Getron. Varch‘ut‘iwn, “Deghegakir, Fransahay Ganants‘ Miut‘ean Getronagan Varch‘ut‘ean Ergu Daruay Kordzuneut‘ean”, Hai Guine, 1 (1), March 1947.

9 M. D., “Ěntunelut‘iwn Mě”, Hai Guine, 2 (1-2), March-April 1948.

10 The Armenian delegate was a woman named Salomea Krikori Areshian. Getronagan Varch‘ut‘iun, March 1947.

11 “Fransahay Ganants‘ Miut‘iwně Ir Oghchoyně Gě ghrgē Fransats‘i Ganants‘ Miut‘ean Ergrort Azkayin Hamakumarin”, Hai Guine, 1 (4), June 1947; “Ganants‘ Michazkayin Hamakumarě i Nbasd Khaghaghut‘ean”, Hai Guine, 2 (7), November 1948.

12 The publication of Hayastani Ashkhatavoruhi in the 1920s has recently received scholarly attention. See I. Shahnazaryan, 2019; A. Haroyan, 2022; A. Muradyan, 2017.

13 Eridasart Hayuhi covered repatriation only in its “Hayrenik” (“Fatherland”, or “Homeland”) section, which was the last page of the journal. It provided news of boats departing for Armenia and the new and good lives of repatriates. One such piece emphasized that many young women repatriates were obtaining education in science and the arts. See Eridasart Hayuhi, no. 6, November 1948, p. 32. In the 1950s, Seza warmed up to the leftist circles in Lebanon through the Lipananahay Kragan Shrchanag (Lebanese Armenian Literary Circle) and its journal, aach Kragan (interview with Arsine Attarian, Yerevan, 23 May 2019). After the Khrushchev Thaw, Seza became more pro-Soviet and even went to Armenia a few times.

14 For a detailed description of FNA, see L. Chormisian, 1975. Note that Chormisian was a member of FNA and elected chairman in its first general congress in 1945.

15 Getronagan Varchut‘iwn, March 1947, pp. 11, 13.

16 Ibid. Some of the branches were in Gentilly, Chaville, Asnières-sous-Bois, Belleville, Alfortville, Issy-les-Moulineaux, Arnouville and Gonesse.

17 A. Kunth, 2015, pp. 82-86; P. Weil, 1995, pp. 80-95.

18 A. Kunth, 2017, p. 160.

19 A. Abrahamyan, 1967, p. 168. Abrahamyan bases his numbers on a 1924 study cited in the 16 October 1937 issue of Zanku. I have not been able to find a copy of this issue.

20 L. Chormisian, 1975, p. 234.

21 Ibid., pp. 236-239.

22 Ibid., pp. 196-197.

23 Ibid., p. 238.

24 A. Ter Minassian, 1997, p. 70.

25 For example, the Western Armenia neo-romantic poet Misak Medzarents (1886-1908) and Russian/Soviet Armenian poet Silva Kapoutikyan (1919-2006) were featured in the journal, as were the life stories of Ottoman Armenian writer Zabel Asadour (Sibil, 1863-1934) and Russian Armenian poet and novelist Avedik Isahakyan (1875-1957), who lived in Paris from 1930 to 1936, when he returned to Soviet Armenia.

26 S. Chaperon, 2000.

27 F. De Haan, 2010; K. Ghodsee, 2018, p. 15.

28 Yevkine Boghosian, “Oghchoyn nor Hay Gin”, Hai Guine, 1 (6), June 1947.

29 M. D., March-April 1948.

30 Tzeron Assadourian is noted as the gérant (“manager”). The writer Zareh Vorpouni contributed to the journal, and his work was promoted in it. Bibliographies of Armenian periodicals identify Vorpouni as the editor, but he did not sign the editorials, and I have found no evidence to support the contention that he was the editor.

31 “Mer Nbadagě”, Hai Guine, 1 (1), March 1947, p. 1.

32 Ibid.

33 It is important to note that Soviet women’s journals too combined Western notions of femininity and domesticity with communist and universalist ideals. For a study of three themes (balancing motherhood with paid employment, fashion, and the peace movement) that marked a post-war journal’s discourse, see Peri, 2018: 621-644.

34 Ankine Avdjian, “Ěngerahamagragan Ts‘eregoyt‘”, Hai Guine, 2 (7), November 1948.

35 Ibid. On the Communist-leaning Unione Donne Italiane’s petition in support of nuclear disarmament, see W. Pojmann, 2013, p. 70.

36 For more on Anayis and Bahri, see chapters 2 and 4 in L. Ekmekçioğlu, 2016.

37 Anayis, “Mezi gě Kren,” Hai Guine, 1 (3), May 1947; Zarouhi Bahri, “Oghchoyn nor Hay Gin”, Hai Guine, 1 (6), August 1947.

38 Anayis, “Timasduwerner Bolsahay Krakiduhineru-Zabel Asadour (Sibil)”, Hai Guine, 2 (7), November 1948; Anayis, “Timasduerner Bolsahay Krakiduhineru-Digin Srpouhi Dusap”, Hai Guine, 2 (8), December 1948.

39 S. Marmarian, “Anayis Panasdeghdzuhiin Ḥopeleaně”, Hai Guine, 2 (8), December 1948.

40 Z. Bahri, August 1947.

41 For selections from Zarouhi Bahri’s memoir (Geankis Vēbě, 1995) in English translation, see Lerna Ekmekçioğlu, “A View from the Bosphorus: Zaruhi Bahri’s Take on the First Republic of Armenia and its Sovietization”, The Armenian Weekly 2018 Magazine Dedicated to the Centennial of the First Republic of Armenia, 25 May 2018, www.armenianweekly.com.

42 Zarouhi Bahri, “Mard 8i Dōnin Art‘iw”, Hai Guine, 2 (1-2), March-April 1948; Zarouhi Bahri, “Mard 8i Dōnin Art‘iw”, Hai Guine, 2 (3), May 1948. Bahri wrote this speech, but a certain Ms. Boghosian delivered it. A. K., “Mardi 8i Dōnagadarutiwně”, Hai Guine, 2 (1-2), March-April 1948. See the forthcoming L. Ekmekçioğlu and M. Bilal, Feminism in Armenian: A History in Documents for a full English translation.

43 Despite her awareness of political developments in the First Republic of Armenia, Bahri did not acknowledge that the pre-Soviet independent Republic of Armenia, which was run by the ARF, enfranchised women from the moment of its establishment in May 1918.

44 M. Damlamian, “Nora”, Hai Guine, 1 (3), May 1947; M. Damlamian, “Nora”, Hai Guine, 1 (6), August 1947.

45 M. Damlamian, “Hay Gině Tumaneani Panasdeghdzutean Mēch”, Hai Guine, 2 (1-2), March-April 1948.

46 See, for example, M. Damlamian, “Garewor Shrchan Gnoch Geank‘i Mēch”, Hai Guine, 2 (6), September-October 1948.

47 A. Tchobanian, “Hay Gině”, Hai Guine, 1 (4), June 1947.

48 A. A., “Gnoch Terě Hasaragagan Geank‘i Mēch”, Hai Guine, 1 (2), April 1947.

49 Hai Guine, “Shnorhawor Nor Dari”, Hai Guine, 1 (10), December 1947.

50 Ibid. See also Hai Guine, “Khōsk‘ Mer Pazhanortnerun ew Ěnt‘erts‘oghnerun”, Hai Guine, 2 (9-10), January-February 1948; Mélinée Manouchian, “Mardi 8”, Hai Guine, 1 (1), March 1947; S. Khachadrian, “Veradznuadz Yergri Gině”, Hai Guine, 2 (4-5), May-August 1948. About 10,000 Armenian women were part of the Red Army during WWII. Of those, 4,000 were from Soviet Armenia and the remaining from other Soviet countries and the diaspora. Some were crowned with Soviet medals. E. Minasian, 2016, pp. 340-356.

51 See C. Andrieu, 2000.

52 For a recent study, see R. Gildea, 2015.

53 A. Sanjian, 2023, p. 194.

54 L. Chormisian, 1975, pp. 112-114.

55 On 18 June 2023, French president Emmanuel Macron announced that Manouchian’s remains would be transferred to the Pantheon mausoleum. His wife, Mélinée, would also be buried with him without being “pantheonized”.

56 For a discussion of the two prevailing theories among historians as to why Stalin and the Soviet leadership opened the doors of the USSR to immigrants from the capitalist world, see A. Sanjian, 2023, pp. 195-196.

57 For a summary of the repatriation effort and repatriation narratives in oral history interviews and memoirs, see S. Pattie, 2004; J. Laycock, 2016 and 2017. See also the digital archive, “Museum of Repatriation”, www.hayrenadardz.org/en/.

58 This number, from the 20 January 1948 report of the Soviet Armenian Committee of Repatriation, is widely cited in the literature as the correct number. See H. Meliksetyan, 1985, p. 241.

59 For a detailed description of these processes, see V. Sahakyan, 2015, pp. 261-268.

60 A. Damadian, “Badkamaworuhii Dbavorut‘iwnnerě Fransahay Ganants‘ Miut‘ean Badkam. Aṛachin Hamakumarin Aṛt‘iw”, Hai Guine 1 (1), March 1947.

61 Hai Guine, “Khōsk‘ Mer Pazhanortnerun ew Ěnt‘erts‘oghnerun”, Hai Guine, 2 (9-10), January-February 1948.

62 A. Shahlamian, “Hayrenatarts Harazadnerus (Oghchert‘i Khōsk‘)”, Hai Guine, 1 (6), August 1947; and A. Shahlamian, “Ōr Hayrenatartsi (1947 August 27)”, Hai Guine, 1 (7), September 1947.

63 L. Chormisian, “P‘okhuadz ē Hay Gině”, Hai Guine, 1 (7), September 1947.

64 “27rt Daretartsě”, Hai Guine, 1 (9), November 1947.

65 A. Krikorian, “Fransayi Hay Ganants‘ Miut‘ean Dznuntě”, Hai Guine, 1 (2), April 1947.

66 Adrine Bujikanian, “Hayrenatarts Ginerě”, Hai Guine, 2 (6), September-October 1948.

67 M. Nakachi, 2006. For a history of progressive family policies enacted under Stalin’s leadership, which were explicit in their promotion of equality, see L. Kaminsky, 2011.

68 M. Manouchian discusses her Tbrots‘asēr days in the second chapter of her memoir. See M. Manouchian, 1974.

69 See the photograph in the 140th anniversary booklet of Association des Dames arméniennes amies des Écoles Tebrotzassere, 2019, p. 36.

70 Mélinée Manouchian, “Mardi 8”, Hai Guine, 1 (1), March 1947.

71 They were Janigian, Almazian, and Damadian. See Fransahay Ganants‘ Miut‘iwn, “Mshagut‘ayin Gabi Ěngerut‘ean Michots‘ov Sovedagan Hayasdani Gin Pazhin”, Hai Guine, 1 (7), September 1947.

72 M. Aslamazyan, “Im Dbavorut‘iwnnerě”, Hai Guine, 2 (7), November 1948; “Aslamazyan Kuyrer”, Hai Guine, 2 (4-5), May-August 1948. See Arpine Haroyan, “Mariam and Eranuhi Aslamazyan: Beloved Artists of the Soviet Union”, EVN Report [Online], 10 May 2020.

73 Hai Guine, 1 (4), June 1947.

74 For the now classical account of interwar Soviet Armenia, see M. Matossian, 1962, especially the section titled “Family and Women,” pp. 63-73. For a recent critical discussion of the interconnected notions of “modernity” and “tradition” in 1920s Soviet Armenia, see J. Laycock and J. Johnson, 2016. For an analysis of the construction of women and their emancipation, see V. Zablotsky, 2019, pp. 212-284.

75 M. Kamp, 2016.

76 For a recent study, see M. Ilic, 2020.

77 Z. Yesayan, 1928. For more on Yesayan and her days in Soviet Armenia, together with select translations from Prometheus Azadakruadz, see M. Bilal’s chapter about Yesayan in the forthcoming Feminism in Armenian.

78 “To Siberia”, Museum of Repatriation, www.hayrenadardz.org.

79 Z. Bahri, 1956. This is one of the little known but truly fascinating Armenian novels published in the diaspora. Despite her multiple novels, Bahri has been excluded from the Armenian literary canon. One scholarly work that at least covers Bahri, but wrongly states that Muygerun Dag was unpublished, is K. Beledian, 2003, pp. 328-330.

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Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 1 “Armenian women in Armenian costume at 14 July parade in 1946 with LAS’s bust”Hai Guine, 1 (6), August 1947
Crédits Courtesy of the National Library of Armenia
URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/3353/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 882k
Légende Figure 2 “Armenian women’s section at the 14 July parade, with LAS’s portrait”Hai Guine, 1 (5), July 1947
Crédits Courtesy of the National Library of Armenia
URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/3353/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1005k
Légende Figure 3 LAS’s portrait on the cover of the inaugural issue of Hai Guine, 1 (1), March 1947
URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/3353/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 697k
Légende Figure 4 FAWU’s first Congress, 25-27 October 1946,Société savante’s seventeenth salon, Paris.The poster hanging in the middle of the back row is of LAS,the founder of FAWU who fell victim to Nazi persecution in July 1944.Hai Guine, 1 (1), March 1947
URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/3353/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 422k
Légende Figure 5 “Rossia Soviet boat at the Marseilles port, a minute before departure[towards Batumi], 6 September 1947”Hai Guine, 1 (7), September 1947, p. 100
URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/3353/img-5.jpg
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URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/3353/img-6.jpg
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Légende Figure 6 “Takouhi Keseryan, who repatriated from Romania, singing at Yerevan’s Spendiaryan State Opera and Ballet Theater.” Hai Guine, 1 (4), June 1947, pp. 55-56.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/3353/img-7.jpg
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URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/3353/img-8.jpg
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Légende Figure 7 “Violetta Utujian, who repatriated from Bulgaria, taking lessons from Soviet Armenia’s famous singer Hayganoush Tanielyan.” Hai Guine, 1 (4), June 1947, pp. 55-56.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/eac/docannexe/image/3353/img-9.jpg
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