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Book Review An Armenian 'Suffragette' Serpouhi Dussap: A militant for women's equality By Azadouhi Kalaidjian Armenian News Network / Groong April 16, 2000 By Eddie Arnavoudian It is fitting that one of the first Armenian-content English language publications in the year 2000 is a 'Tribute to the First Armenian Feminist Writer - Serpouhi Dussap' by Beirut-based Azadouhi Kalaidjian-Simonian. Revealing a thorough knowledge of Serpouhi Dussap's three novels and other writings Azadouhi Kalaidjian presents a vivid intellectual portrait of a woman who was far ahead of her time and whose words have resonance to this day for all women and men, Armenian or not. Serpouhi Dussap (1840-1901) 'championed the cause of Armenian women in the 19th century' at a time when 'peasant women in the provinces' suffered 'ignorance', 'poverty' and 'male oppression' and lived a 'life rooted in superstitions and prejudices.' Even in the more prosperous and cultured Constantinople women 'were still deprived of their freedom and dominated by men.' Dussap wrote her three novels 'Mayda', 'Siranoush' and 'Araxia' to expound her views on the rights of women to challenge the prevailing oppression of Armenian women. Despite being scorned by such eminent figures as Krikor Zohrab, Azadouhi Kalaidjian reveals Dussap to be a formidable intellectual, capable of thought more profound than many of her detractors. She grasped well that no concept of human equality could, without self-contradiction, tolerate continued discrimination against women. One of the characters in Mayda proclaims: 'What kind of equality is it that places half of humanity at the feet of males? What kind of liberty is it that deprives women of the ability to protest, to act and to initiate?' Dussap was a rigorous and passionate critic of laws and institutions that legitimized the oppression of 'half of humanity' or acted to the detriment of humanity at large. 'The law places a cord around a woman's neck and tightens or loosens it at will' while religion and faith 'instead of becoming the hope of a desperate humanity has become a vicious instrument in the hands of so many clergymen, to pursue their personal gain.' The booklet ranges across many of Dussap's views and concerns and reveals her to have been a genuine national intellectual. She was committed to the advancement of the people as a whole and recognised that this could not be achieved without the emancipation of women. To this end she argued for the right of women to a decent education, and for their right to gainful employment outside the home. Interestingly Kalaidjian also offers, and this against the grain, a balanced assessment of Dussap's novels in which many of the characters 'lack real life experience'. 'Mayda' is a 'discourse rather than fiction', while 'Siranoush' 'artfully weaves' ideas 'into the plot and development of characters' But 'Araxia' is 'the most successful for its fictional qualities.' This booklet deserves to be widely circulated and can be used as an introductory text for studying the history of women's liberation in Armenia, and not only Armenia. Significantly Azadouhi Kalaidjian opens her treatise by placing Dussap in the context of two American contemporaries - Kate Chopin and Perkins Gilman. By so doing she underlines Dussap's national and international stature. Here is a work well done to salvage a still relevant figure from obscurity. An Armenian language version for distribution in Armenia would be most appropriate. ------------------------------------------------------------------- Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in History and Politics from Manchester, England. He has written on literary and political matters for "Haratch" in Paris and "Nairi" in Beirut. His reviews have also been published in "Open Letter" in Los Angeles.