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Feminism, Theology, and Liberation in Mari Baylerian's Writings

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Mari Beylerian (front, center) with the Graduating Class of Izmir's Hripsimyants Armenian Girls' School ca.1909
Source: Mer Izmire Yev Shrchaga Kaghaknere (New York, 1960).

The Promise Armenian Institute at UCLA presents "Feminism, Theology, and Liberation in Mari Beylerian's Writings" by Dr. Melissa Bilal. This lecture is co-sponsored by the UCLA Richard Hovannisian Endowed Chair in Modern Armenian History, the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), the Ararat-Eskijian Museum, and the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies.

Friday, March 19, 2021
11:00 AM - 1:00 PM (Pacific Time)

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Historiography on Armenian revolutionary movement remembers Hunchak activist Mari Beylerian (1877-1915) only by her memorable speech during the Bab-ı Ali Demonstration, one of the most important rallies demanding justice for Armenians in the Ottoman lands. Years later, Beylerian would regretfully reflect on the violent suppression of the protest and the subsequent pogrom against Armenians in the city. That day had also marked the beginning of her life as a persona non-grata in the eyes of the Ottoman state. In this lecture, Dr. Bilal will talk about Beylerian’s legacy as a staunch feminist writer, an activist committed to social justice, and a devoted pedagogue who disappeared amidst the horrors of the genocide. Beylerian was the founder and editor-in-chief of Ardemis monthly, one of the earliest women’s independent publications in Egypt and an original attempt to define a feminism in critical relation to its contemporary manifestations in the “West.” She was an unapologetic defender of social change for the betterment of women’s condition of oppression. Her perspective was firmly anchored in her anti-capitalist consciousness and in moralist philosophy. She wrote about justice, freedom, and equality as prerequisites to responsibility and integrity. She used her pen to denounce wars, to advocate for peace, and to conceptualize Armenian people’s right to self-defense and self-determination. She raised a unique feminist critique from within the Christian theology and used it as the basis of her condemnation of domestic violence and honor killings. Throughout her life, Beylerian not only served as a teacher and administrator, but also actively wrote on philosophy of education and on how to create equal opportunities for female and economically deprived students. Her feminism’s prophetic element was to attribute women the right and duty of serving their people’s persistence to exist, a heavy responsibility successfully fulfilled by those women public intellectuals who, unlike her, were lucky enough to survive the collective and state violence against Armenians.


Melissa Bilal

Melissa Bilal is a historian and sociocultural anthropologist specialized in music studies. She is currently Distinguished Research Fellow at UCLA Center for Near East Studies and Lecturer in the Department of Ethnomusicology. She previously taught at the University of Chicago, Columbia University, Boğaziçi University, and the American University of Armenia (where she still works as a member of the core team developing the Gender Studies program). Dr. Bilal received her B.A. and M.A. in Sociology at Boğaziçi University, Istanbul and earned her Ph.D. in Music (Ethnomusicology) from the University of Chicago. She was a Mellon Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in Music at Columbia University and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Orient-Institut Istanbul.

Her recent publications include “Lullabies and the Memory of Pain: Armenian Women’s Remembrance of the Past in Turkey” (Dialectical Anthropology 2019, 43/2), an article that reads Armenian women’s lullabies and narratives of the past as reserves of an affective memory and discusses their potential to critique the neoliberal memory politics in Turkey; Voice Imprints: Recordings of Russian Armenian POWs in German Camps, 1916-1918, a CD project that aims to bring into public audibility the Armenian experience in relation to musicology’s colonial past; My Heart is like those Ruined Houses: Gomidas Vartabed's Musical Legacy (with Burcu Yıldız in Turkish), a volume on one of the founders of modern Musicology.

In 2017, while a visiting scholar of History at MIT, Bilal co-launched the Annual Feminist Armenian Studies Workshop and co-founded the Feminist Armenian Research Collective (FemARC) with Dr. Lerna Ekmekcioglu. Ekmekcioglu and Bilal are also the co-editors of the book A Cry for Justice: Five Armenian Feminist Writers from the Ottoman Empire to the Republic of Turkey, 1862–1933 (in Turkish) and are now collaborating on Feminism in Armenian: An Interpretive Anthology and Digital Archive, a book (in progress, Stanford University Press) and digital humanities project focusing on twelve Armenian feminist writers who were active in the Ottoman and post-Ottoman contexts and their diasporas.

Dr. Bilal is currently working on her monograph tentatively titled Wake-up Lullaby: Gendered Politics of Indigeneity, Music, and Memory in the late Ottoman Armenian Revolutionary Imagination and the ethnographic research project The Injuries of Reconciliation: Being Armenian in Turkey.

Sponsor(s): Center for Near Eastern Studies, UCLA Richard Hovannisian Endowed Chair in Modern Armenian History, National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), Ararat-Eskijian Museum