70 years ago, Zabelle Boyajian, the daughter of Thomas Boyajian, the British Vice-Council in Diyarbakir and Harput, and Catherine Rogers, the descendant of an English poet Samuel Rogers, translated and published the epic poem Abu Lala Mahari by Avetik Isahakian in the US.
Armenian painter, writer, and translator Zabelle Boyajian was born in 1873 in Diyarbakir, Western Armenia. Thanks to her father, she acquired an excellent command of the Armenian language and was well-acquainted with the Armenian history and poetry. Due to the poor condition of Turkish schools, Zabelle’s parents had to educate her themselves, teaching her French, German, English, history, and geography.
After the murder of her father during the massacres of Armenians in 1895, the Boyajian family moved to London, where Zabelle would enter the Slade School of Fine Art. Her acquaintance with Anna, the wife of Armenian novelist Raffi, allowed Zabelle to meet such prominent Armenian figures as politician Stepan Shaumian and military commander Andranik Ozanian.
Zabelle was also close to Raffi’s sons Aram and Arshak who had moved to London from Tiflis after their father had died in 1888. In 1898, the brothers founded the Unity of Armenian Workers and Students in London, otherwise known as the “Armenian Club.” Aram later reorganized the Armenian Club into the United Armenian Society, which would issue the English-language magazine “Ararat.” Boyajian would publish excerpts from Raffi’s novels through Aram’s publishing house.
In 1901, Boyajian wrote the documentary novel “Yester: The Romance of a Life” about the 1904 massacres of Armenians in Sasun when the Turkish army plundered over 40 Armenian villages and slaughtered nearly 10,000 defenseless peasants. In order to protect her family from persecution, Zabelle published the novel under the pseudonym “Vardeni.”
Filled with authentic information, “Yester: The Romance of a Life” was able to reconstruct the bloody events of the early 20th century. The novel soon grabbed the attention of European readers. It was also translated into German and published in Leipzig.
In 1916, Boyajian published the anthology “Armenian Legends and Poems” containing the English translation of 67 works by 34 Armenian authors, starting from the 5th-century Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi. Boyajian also included her own illustrations into the anthology, including “Foundation of Van”, “Wedding”, “Ara and Semiramis”, “Artashes and Satenik”, “Letter of Christ to Abgar”, “Legend of Akhtamar”, “Lady and minstrel”, “Armenia”, “Anush Fortress”, and many others.
Boyajian also authored essays on Shakespeare, Byron, Euripides, Michael Arlen, Raffi, and Avetik Isahakian. As an artist, she hosted her own exhibitions in London (1910 and 1912), Germany (1920), Egypt (1928), as well as in France, Italy, Belgium, and other countries.
Zabelle Boyajian passed away in London on January 26, 1957.