I covered my head with a scarf, as it was the law of the country I was going to. It’s difficult to simply imagine the lives of Armenian women in Iran - a country where a clear red line stands between what is and isn’t allowed.
The Armenian community has a rich, historic past. However, the forced relocation by Shah Abbas in the 17th century gave new color to the community that used to live there for centuries. Around 300,000 Armenians from the Ararat valley were relocated into three main directions to: Aterpatakan, Tehran and Isfahan. A variety of crafts, art and trade started to newly blossom with the arrival of the Armenians.
At present, however, this community consists of 60,000 Armenians, the majority of which - 50,000 - live in Tehran. The Armenian women in the community are compared to an army; they put the most effort into the community’s survival and development.
“Armenian woman”, “Anahit”, “Armenuhi”, “Ani”, and the “Benevolent union of Armenian women”; The eclectic union of Armenian women in Tehran. These are the women’s organizations in Tehran, which were organized around community needs, such as helping the poor, giving shelter to refugees, take care of the elders, educating those women who didn’t go to school in crafts, carpet-weaving and etc.
Upper Khoygan village in Peria district of Iran.
Anahit Barseghian, 66, praying in the St. Mary church. It’s been 6 years that Anahit moved from Tehran to this village and lives in the yard of the church. There are no remaining Armenians in the village and Anahit took the job of taking care of the church.
A view from the village Boloran of Peria district. Boloran is the only Armenian village among the 17 villages of the district.
Hasmik Shahjanian, Nazarian, 61, in Boloran traditional clothes. Hasmik is a denizen of Boloran. She says that even until now, on certain occasions, women in the village wear traditional clothes.
St Savior monastery (New Julfa), Isfahan.
Anush (Estik) Hovhannisian, 44, a local of Jugha, a musician, an oud player, and the head of the church choir. She can’t have solo concerts freely as a musician, as there are too many legal obstacles. She mainly has concerts in the Armenian community.
Anahit Torosian, 15, and Mineli Ghazarian, 15, 9th grade students of Kananian All-Girls’ School of the Armenian National Educational Complex of New Djulfa.
A memorial stone dedicated to the foundation of the school in Boloran village, 1915.
Marianna Abrahamian-Vardanian, 31, with her son. Marianna is from Armenia. She’s a journalist and a documentary film maker. Marianna got married to an Iranian Armenian, and moved to Tehran 4 years ago.
Physical training time in Tounian Armenian All-Girls’ School in Sasoon district of Tehran.
The 10th grade female students of Kananian All-Girls’ School, during the experimental laboratory class.
A newly-wed Armenian couple in St. Sargis church of Tehran.
The Ararat cultural organization, or as the locals call it, ‘The Ararat training area.’ It has been more than 70 years since the organization has been one of the largest Armenian cultural centres in Iran, where there are unions of scouts, physical arts and vicars.
A cultural event at Ararat centre.
The dancers of "Ararat" dance group. The group has been operating in the Armenian community of Tehran for over 20 years. Open concerts and dances are forbidden in Iran, but inside the Armenian community things are free, and sometimes even events of Iranian women are held here.
The yard of “Mariam” educational centre, which is under the governance of Armenian Katoghike church.
The students of Tounian Armenian All-Girls’ School of the Sasoon district in Tehran.
St. Sargis church of Tehran and the portrait of Imam Khomeini.
A dance class in "Ararat" dance group.
Photos from the archive of Valerik Abrahamian. Mrs Valerik was a dancer in the National ballet of Iran. During the Shah era, at the opening of the Cultural centre ballet performance was given, and Mrs Valerik was among the dancers.
Valerik Abrahamian, 73, a dancer in the National Ballet of Iran. After her 30 year career, the Revolution put an end to the art of ballet. These days, it is impossible to have such a dancing event. There are several groups, which are allowed only during the events of the Armenian community.
Edna Zeynalian, 62, a stage costume designer. A lecturer at the National university of Iran. Last year she was awarded a title of ‘The mother of Iranian stage costume design.’
Sister Rebecca Avsharian, 69, in Armenian Katoghike church.
Lilit Terian, 87, a sculptor. She is one of the most important figures in the cultural life of Iran. She lectured for many years in the Azad university of Tehran. Ms. Lilit says that she never put a difference between women and men, otherwise she would never become a sculptor.
Linda Sargsian, 31, an executive director at Iranian architectural company and also a dancer in "Ararat" dance group and a dance teacher.
Lalik Tashjian, 90, an artist, stage designer, and artistic director of theater. Lalik with the sculpture of her mother in her yard. Her mother’s sculpture is one of the earliest works of her.
There are also the women's unions in Isfahan. I moved on from Tehran to the only village populated with Armenians in Peria, the village Boloran. It has only been a few years since women have started wearing modern clothes instead of national garments here. However, it’s not the garment or modesty that have made the women in the Armenian community stand out. A century ago, in Nor Jugha, Armenian women would weave carpets and invest the earned money from the sales into building schools, churches and cultural centres.
The portrait of Armenian women in modern Iran is diverse. Nowadays, Armenian women there have different posts both in the community and in Iranian organizations. During the shah era, the ballet and arts have had their heyday. It’s distinctive that Armenian women have had the title of being ‘mothers’ in astronomy, sculpture and stage costumes.
After the revolution, many bans and limitations came into place both for the local minorities and the general Iranian population. Like everyone, Armenian women too, respecting the law of the land, covered their heads, but not their minds and speech. These days they also continue working and creating the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Music by Anush Estik Hovhannisian