The women MPs of the First Republic of Armenia

They were the first, the devoted Armenian women members of the national liberation movement…In 1918, women didn’t have suffrage in most countries across Europe. Based on the results of the 1919 elections in Armenia, out of the 80 MPs who made it to parliament, 3 were women. It’s hard to explain how it happened that there are only 14 women MPs in the Armenian parliament after nearly a century, and thanks to a quota at that. This is happening when the world has already progressed and when women make up almost 1/3 of Members of Parliament in Europe.

The first women MPs of the First Republic of Armenia were Katarine Zalyan-Manukyan, Pertchuhi Partizpanyan-Barseghyan and Varvara Sahakyan. Unfortunately, few people know them, and fewer people know their biographies that tell about their difficult lives, but lives worth living in all regards. Even their photos haven’t been preserved. This is very unfair since they were self-devoted patriots…

All three were members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun. Entering politics is characteristic of women with patriotism and the idea of starting a revolution and for whom personal life is closely linked to society.

Katarine Zalyan-Manukyan was the wife of Aram Manukyan, who was the founder of the First Republic of Armenia. She was elected an MP and was a member of the health committee. Being a nurse, she dedicated herself to helping orphans and migrants by leading a struggle against epidemics day and night. She met her future husband at one of the orphanages. In 1917, they got married in Yerevan and had a daughter named Seda. In 1919, when Seda was only four months old, Aram got infected with typhus and died. After the fall of the First Republic, the political persecutions of the Bolsheviks were added to Katarine’s deprivations. She died in 1965, and had said the following to her daughter prior to her death: “I didn’t see it, but you will definitely see the day when people will remember and appreciate your father. I’m certain that the people won’t forget him.” And that’s exactly what happened.

Pertchuhi Partizpanyan-Barseghyan was born in 1886 in Edirne (Turkey). She was only 16 years old when she met her future husband, member of the Armenian revolutionary movement Sargis Barseghyan. At the initiative of her husband, she created the “Union of Armenian Women”. She traveled to Geneva to study literature and pedagogy. In this period, she also began to create with the pseudonym Etna and wrote short stories included in a collection entitled “After the Storm”. Pertchuhi and Sargis had a short-lived marriage (Sargis was killed in 1915). In the wake of her husband’s death, Pertchuhi moved to Tbilisi and later to Yerevan. Elected a Member of Parliament, she coordinated the activities with the American Relief Committee. After the fall of the First Republic of Armenia, like many, she also left the country. She settled in Paris where she held office in the office of Nansen and continued to write. She died in 1940.

Varvara Sahakyan was the wife of the first chairman of the parliament Avetik Sahakyan. She was elected a Member of Parliament and became the educational programs coordinator in the Republic of Armenia. After the occupation by the Russian army in December 1920, her husband and other national figures were sentenced to prison in Yerevan. After the failure of the 1921 February Revolution, Varvara, her husband their two children moved to Tavriz. After living here for six years, they moved to Iraq, but the climate had a bad impact on Varvara’s health, and the family was compelled to move to Lebanon. In Beirut Varvara became actively involved in community service again and participated in the activities carried out by the Armenian Relief Cross. She died in 1934.

During those years, the first woman Ambassador in the world was also an Armenian, namely Ambassador of the First Republic of Armenia to Japan Diana Abgar (Anahit Aghabekyan), whose efforts helped make Japan recognize Armenia’s independence in 1920.

According to Sona Zeytlyan’s book “The Role of Armenian Women in the Armenian Revolutionary Movement”, Los Angeles, 1992

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