Famous Armenian Women: Diana Apkar

Diana Apkar was born Anahit Aghabek (Aghabekyan) on October 12, 1859, in Rangoon, then British East Indies, now Yangon, Myanmar. In 18th century her ancestors moved from Nakhichevan to Persia, and her father – Hovhannes Aghabek with his parents moved from Persia to India, where she grew up. Her mother was of the Tadevos Avetum family originating in Shiraz. After moving to Calcutta, she enters seminary, learns English and Sanskrit, while learning Armenian at home.

In 1889, she married Hong-Kong merchant Mikhael Apkar (Apkarian), whose family had moved to India from Persia as well. Mikhael managed the family business, the “Apkar Trade Company” founded in Bombay by one of his ancestors, Harutyun Apkar, in 1819. Later the company opened a branch in Calcutta and worked in the rice trade with Singapore and Punjab. Michael Apkar imported and exported shellac lacquer pearls.

The young couple moved to Japan, and in the Kobe seaport on the Pacific Ocean they founded a company for import and export of goods, alongside opening an eastern hotel. Here, Diana starts her literature career and in 1882 publishes her first novel, “Suzan”, followed by another novel several years later, called “Storied From the Fatherland”. Altogether, she wrote 13 books and numerous pamphlets and papers, mostly with political topics.

After the death of her husband in 1906, Diana took her 3 surviving children and moved to Yokohama. During the Armenian genocide, she helped over 500 Armenians move to the United States, through Siberia and Japan. During WWI, she conducted many lectures on the Armenian people, wrote articles and worked with the “Japan gazette” and the “Far East”. She was one of the first to prove that the Adana massacre of Armenians in 1909 was planned and implemented by the constitutional government. Mentioning the duty of international society to save the Armenian people, Diana Apkar wrote about the unbearable conditions Armenians in Ottoman Empire face on a daily basis.

In 1920, in response to Apkar’s influence in the country, Japan officially recognized Armenia as an independent state. On July 21, 1920, she was appointed ambassador and general consul of the Republic of Armenia to Japan. Diana Apkar became the first woman to occupy a diplomatic position. This appointment allowed Apcar to provide assistance to hundreds of refugees fleeing Turkish and Russian oppression. She helped the refugees by providing economic assistance and shelter.She was in correspondence with a number of well-known world political and religious leaders, among them` US President Woodrow Wilson, Secretary Robert Lasing, Vice-Secretary William Philips, members of International Congress Arthur Simons and David Jordan.

Diana Apkar died on July 8, 1937, in Yokohama, and was buried in cemetery for foreigners beside her husband. Currently her grave is under the protection of the Society of Armenian-Japanese Friendship in Tokyo. After her death, her sons moved to the US taking all her letters and works with them. In dedication to the 150th anniversary of Diana Apkar’s life and influence, a book was published with her novels in English entitled “From the Book of One Thousand Tales: Stories of Armenia and Its People, 1892-1922”.

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3 thoughts on “Famous Armenian Women: Diana Apkar”

  1. Respected Madam
    This is an extremely interesting account of Diana Apkar and throws important light on her work and achievements. I am eager to know more about Armenian women educators of Calcutta in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, of whom we know very little. Much has been written about women’s education in Bengal during the colonial period which also includes a good deal about the Jewish women of Calcutta, but hardly anything about the role of Armenian women. It is time that more light is shed on this hitherto concealed phenomenon.
    Thanking You
    Sincerely
    Dr. Kaustav Chakrabarti

    1. Dear Dr. Chakrabarti,
      Should I come across any sources that talk about Armenian women in Calcutta, I most defintiely will contact you, but as of now, I don’t have anything else to offer 😦

      I’m terribly sorry, but will keep you in mind!
      Tamar

  2. Thank you much for this article. Now I am writing about Armenian women and famous women.
    It is really very important to understand that while an Armenian woman was alreadyan Ambassador, in Europe women just began to speak about their right protection.

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