Diane Abgar: The First Armenian Woman Ambassador and a Humanitarian Hero

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Diane Abgar, also known as Diana Apcar, was a remarkable woman who made history as the first Armenian woman ambassador and one of the first female diplomats in the world. She was also a prolific writer, a successful merchant, and a humanitarian activist who helped hundreds of Armenian refugees in the Far East.

Early Life and Career

Diane Abgar was born on October 17, 1859, in Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar), to an Armenian family of Iranian origin. Her father was a wealthy trader who had migrated to South East Asia, and her mother was from a prominent family in Shiraz, Iran. Diane was the youngest of seven children and received her education in a convent school in Calcutta, India. She became fluent in English, Armenian, and Hindustani.

In 1891, she married Apcar Michael Apcar, a descendant of the Apcar family of New Julfa, Iran, who were also successful merchants in the region. They moved to Japan to establish and expand their business of importing and exporting shellac lacquer pearls. They settled in Yokohama and had five children, of whom only three survived.

Literary and Diplomatic Work

Diane Abgar developed a keen interest in Armenian history and culture, as well as international affairs and human rights. She started writing books and articles on various topics, such as the Armenian Question, the role of women in society, the relations between Japan and the West, and the spiritual aspects of life. Some of her works include The Peace Problem: The Task of the Twentieth Century (1909), A Martyred Nation (1910), Japan and the Japanese (1912), and The Awakening of the Soul (1918).

She also became involved in the Armenian national movement and advocated for the recognition and protection of the Armenian people, who had suffered massacres and genocide under the Ottoman Empire. She corresponded with prominent figures, such as President Woodrow Wilson, and attended the International Congress of Women in Zurich in 1919.

When the Republic of Armenia declared its independence in 1918, Diane Abgar was appointed as the Honorary Consul to Japan in 1920, making her the first woman ambassador to Japan and the first Armenian woman ambassador. She was also the first woman to have a diplomatic post in the twentieth century. She worked tirelessly to gain recognition and support for the newly established republic from the Japanese government and the international community.

Humanitarian Efforts

Diane Abgar was not only a diplomat, but also a humanitarian hero. She used her influence and resources to help hundreds of Armenian refugees who had fled the Bolshevik Revolution and the Turkish invasion and sought sanctuary in the Far East. She provided them with food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and education. She also arranged for about 500 refugees to travel from Vladivostok to the United States, where they could start a new life.

She also supported other causes, such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and the YMCA. She donated money and goods to the victims of natural disasters, such as the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which devastated Yokohama and Tokyo.

Legacy and Recognition

Diane Abgar died on July 8, 1937, in Yokohama, at the age of 77. She was buried in the cemetery for foreigners beside her husband. Her grave is currently maintained by the Society of Armenian-Japanese Friendship, which is based in Tokyo.

Diane Abgar is remembered as a pioneer of women’s rights, a champion of Armenian causes, and a friend of Japan. She has been honored with various awards and commemorations, such as:

  • The Order of St. Gregory the Illuminator, the highest honor of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which was bestowed on her in 1930 by Catholicos Khoren I.
  • The Order of the Rising Sun, the highest civilian honor of Japan, which was awarded to her posthumously in 1998 by Emperor Akihito.
  • A statue of her in the Armenian Embassy in Tokyo, which was unveiled in 2008 by President Serzh Sargsyan.
  • A stamp of her issued by the Armenian Post in 2020, as part of a series of stamps dedicated to prominent Armenian women.
  • A street named after her in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, which was inaugurated in 2017 by Mayor Taron Margaryan.

Diane Abgar’s life and work are an inspiration for generations of Armenians and women around the world. She is a symbol of courage, compassion, and dignity. She is a true Armenian and a true citizen of the world.


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