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Sırpuhi Düsap

Sırpuhi Düsap

First female Armenian novelist and feminist writer
"There are more chasms on this road than laurel crowns."

Date of Birth: 1841

Place of Birth: Ortaköy, Istanbul

Date of Death: 16/01/1901 1901

Place of Death: Istanbul

Burial Site: Latin Catholic Cemetery, Feriköy, Istanbul



Sırpuhi Düsap

Field of Activity

Essays, Articles and Novels
"When there is equality between the two genders, that is to say that when there is equality in the pleasures of life as well as punishments, in work as well as awards, chains will be broken, hypocrisy will end, and society will reach a balance by redressing the losses that result from inequality of power."
(Quoted passage from the Novel "Mayda" of Sirpuhi Düsap in: Lerna Ekmekçioğlu; Melissa Bilal, Bir Adalet Feryadı: Osmanlı'dan Türkiye'ye Beş Ermeni Feminist Yazar, İstanbul, 2006, p.109).

Sirpuhi Düsap is the first known female novelist writing in the Armenian language. In her essays, articles and novels in Armenian, she mainly emphasized the importance of independence from patriarchal norms when proposing role models for how women should live.

"Those noble principles proclaimed in Europe; i.e., the principles of freedom and equality, obviously are just big talk. What sort of equality is it that puts half of humanity under the feet of men? What sort of freedom is it which prohibits women from raising opposing views, deprives them from entering professions, from objecting or challenging certain views? What sort of power is it which, when calling out to men says, "Work without fear, move in the direction you wish, you are free!" but says to women, "Enjoy your chains, and don't you dare to speak up!"

(Quoted passage from the novel Mayda of Sirpuhi Düsap in: Lerna Ekmekçioğlu; Melissa Bilal, Bir Adalet Feryadı: Osmanlı'dan Türkiye'ye Beş Ermeni Feminist Yazar, İstanbul, 2006, p.109).

Sirpuhi Düsap wrote in the preface of her first novel Mayda (1882) that she is against injustice and prejudice, and that the chains binding the female gender infuriate her. Women should not be the "poor victim of society." Male Armenian intellectuals wrote regarding their discomfort with the role models presented in the novel Mayda.

"The publication of Mayda disturbed many men and caused great consternation. Why this distress? Why this anger? If what I say is legitimate, it means that I am serving the matter of justice and this should cause gratitude instead of fear and anger."
(Lerna Ekmekçioğlu; Melissa Bilal, Bir Adalet Feryadı: Osmanlı'dan Türkiye'ye Beş Ermeni Feminist Yazar, İstanbul, 2006, p. 60).

Although the novels of Sirpuhi Düsap are classified as racy romance novels (in those days known as "décolleté"); in other words outside the values of the society and therefore the writing and reading of which should be considered shameful, the feminist demands in her writings resonated with Armenian women.

The most rebellious work of Sırpuhi Düsap is her novel Mayda. The contents, classified as "décolleté" or racy, one can also read between the lines for their implied meaning. For example, Sara Hanim's counseling Mayda that it is possible to love again was the sort of behaviour considered very inappropriate for a widowed woman with children. ( Maral Aktokmakyan, researcher of Sırpuhi Düsap).

"Women, work ! Work so that all prejudices are smashed to bits under your feet. Stand up and do not feel ashamed. This is the call of humanity."
(Sirpuhi Düsap, "Kadınların Çalışmamasına Dair Birkaç Söz", 1881, p.113)

In articles published in various newspapers in Istanbul and Izmir, Sirpuhi Düsap questioned the situation of women having no economic and social freedom.

The pacifist feminist Ottoman Armenian female writer, Zabel Yesayan(1878-1934), writes in her memoirs, entitled Silihdari Bardezneri (The Gardens of Silihdari), that in the years of her youth she read the writings of Düsap with her friends, and when discussing the experiences and injustices they themselves had encountered were greatly influenced by these works:

"When Ms. Düsap learned that I was ready to enter the world of literature, she warned me saying that thornbushes were awaiting me along the way more than laurel wreaths. She said that in reality a woman coming forward and making her own place was not tolerated, and in order to overcome this, one has to be a lot better than the average. She further added:"A man can be an average writer but never a woman."
(Zabel Yesayan Silihdari Bardezneri, Yerevan, 1935, p.203)

  • Mayda, İstanbul, 1883
  • Siranuş, İstanbul, 1884
  • Araksiya ya da Mürebbiye, İstanbul, 1887
  • Sırpuhi Düsap has only three articles:
  • "Kadınların Eğitimi" (The education of Women), 1880
  • "Kadınların Çalışması İlkesi", (The princip of working of women)/ Arevelyan Mamul, Oriental Press, 1881.
  • "Ganants Ankordzutyunı" (About not working of women) in: Amenun Daretsuyts (Everyone's Diary), Paris, 1926, ss. 239-243). The article "Ganants Ankordzutyunı" was published first in 1885, but the source it is not known.


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Sirpuhi Düsap was privately educated.

Contributions to Society

  • 1864Established under the name Tibrotsaser Hayuhyats İngerutyun (Union of Friends for Education of Armenian Women) Tibrotsaser Diagnants Varjarart (School for Women's Education).
  • 1879 President of Tibrotsaser Hayuhyats İngerutyun (Union of Friends for Education of Armenian Women) which educated Armenian girls and trained them as teachers.

Family and Friends

  • Mother: Nazlı Vahanyan (Founder of Surp Hırispsimyants School for Girls in 1859 and Ağkadakhınam Dignants Ingerutyun (Society of Women Caring for Poor People) as well as employee of Kalfayan Orphanage and The Naregyan School and the Hamazkyats School)
  • Father:(No information available)
  • Brother: Vahan Efendi (Hovhannes/Ohannes Sarkis Vahanyan, Ohan Vahan), chemist, the author of the first chemistry book in Armenian
  • Daughter:Dorin Düsap
  • SonEdgar Düsap
  • Nieces: Astine Vahan-Serviçen, Araksi Vahan - Gülbenkyan
  • Marriage: Paul Düsap, pianist, composer, conductor (later known as Düsap Pacha: during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II., reigned 1876 and 1909, was appointed conductor of the Imperial Orchestra and awarded the title Pacha)
  • Friends: Zabel Yesayan (author), Reteos Berberyan (author, teacher)

Commemorative Projects

(No information available)

Further Reading


Quoted sources


The Istanbul Women's Museum is grateful to Maral Aktokmakyan for her support in producing the Sırpuhi Düsap memorial page, and to the Publishing House Aras, Istanbul for the visual image.

Translation into English: Çetin Alanya, Istanbul, Turkey
Editing: Judith Cederblom, Seattle, Washington, USA

©2012 Meral Akkent
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