A Foe of Injustice and Prejudice: Srpuhi Dussap and the Foundations of Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Armenian Feminist Thought

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Lecture with Melissa Bilal (UCLA)

A celebrated revolutionary for many and a scandalous decadent for others, Srpuhi Dussap (1841-1901, Constantinople), often referred to as “the Armenian George Sand” was the first woman novelist of modern Western Armenian literature. A passionate education activist herself, in her feminist essays, she advocated for female education and opposed to women’s idleness. In her three romance novels, she exposed the systemic inequalities between sexes and societal ills caused by male supremacy. While protesting against women’s “enslavement” by misogynistic double standards of morality, she offered deeply analyzed declarations of the possibility of otherwise. Dussap sculpted the emancipated Armenian woman who was true to herself and owned her life. In my talk, I will situate her life and work within the historical context of social and economic transformations in the late Ottoman Armenian life. While discussing the contours of her feminism in relation to the global philosophical currents of her time, I will argue that her writings offer a critical analysis of the late nineteenth century Armenian society through the lens of gender relations and politics of sexuality.


Melissa Bilal is 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 serves as a member of the core team developing the Gender Studies program). Dr. Bilal received her B.A. and M.A. degrees in Sociology at Boğaziçi University and earned her Ph.D. in Music from the University of Chicago. She was a Mellon Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in Music at Columbia University and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the 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 (Berlin Staatliche Museen, 2020), a CD project that aims to bring Armenian experience in relation to musicology’s colonial past into public audibility; My Heart is like those Ruined Houses: Gomidas Vartabed's Musical Legacy (with Burcu Yıldız, 2019), a volume in Turkish 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-authors of the book A Cry for Justice: Five Armenian Feminist Writers from the Ottoman Empire to the Republic of Turkey (1862–1933) (in Turkish, 2006) 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 also 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.

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Duration: 00:33:27


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Published: Thursday, November 19, 2020