Armenian Wonderwomen
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AUA Alumni Tour Their “Armenian Wonderwomen” Book

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YEREVAN, Armenia — From April 27-May 12, two alumni of the Armenian University of Armenia (AUA), Gayane Aghabalyan (BAEC ’20) and Elmira Ayvazyan (BAB ’20), toured the United States in order to promote their book, Armenian Wonderwomen. Published in March 2023, Armenian Wonderwomen is an illustrated children’s book celebrating the lives of 37 Armenian women who were excluded from Armenian history (e.g. historical figures, writers, scientists, artists, etc.) and contemporary women who break stereotypes to pursue their dreams (e.g. dhol player, soccer referee, traveler, etc.). Each story also addresses contemporary issues, such as climate change, human rights, inclusion, and more. The book is available in Western Armenian, Eastern Armenian, and English.

Through the Hovnanian Family Foundation’s Armenian Fellowships program, Aghabalyan and Ayvazyan were able to tour Armenian Wonderwomen in the U.S. The objective of the book tour was to expand the authors’ reach to Diaspora communities and American readership. Through this tour, Aghabalyan and Ayvazyan aimed to contribute to efforts to preserve Armenian culture, language (especially Western Armenian), and history. They delivered presentations about their research at universities such as Stanford University; the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Los Angeles City College, among others. The authors also hosted special reading sessions and discussions with younger audiences at eight Armenian schools across the U.S. and held public events with key institutions in each Armenian community, such as Abril Books in Glendale, the Project Save Photograph Archive in Boston, the Armenian Society in New York, and others. Through the two-week tour, Aghabalyan and Ayvazyan reached over 700 people.

“Being in the United States and sharing our work with the community there was a strong reminder of why we started this project,” shared Aghabalyan. “Seeing the children and the adults equally immersed in the texts and engaged in our discussions was a surreal experience. Now, more than ever, it’s critical that we know our history and traditions, and we want our book, our local regional tour, and the tour in the United States to serve as steps in that direction.”

Work on Armenian Wonderwomen began in 2019, when Aghabalyan and Ayvazyan sought to recover the names and stories of Armenian women whose accomplishments have been forgotten. Supported by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the pair studied the literature and social commentary produced by these women, pored through archives, and interviewed their relatives. AUA Associate Professor Dr. Hourig Attarian and Dr. Melissa Bilal, the Promise Chair in Armenian Music, Arts, and Culture and director of the Armenian Music Program at UCLA, advised them in their research.

“Seeing how a passion project we worked on for four years comes to life in the form of a book and reaches people all over Armenia and beyond is truly a life-changing experience,” said Ayvazyan. “Seeing how people interact with our work and discussing it with a reader is refreshing and rewarding, to say the least.”

A graduate of AUA’s Bachelor of Arts in English and Communications program, Aghabalyan is an integrated programs manager who works on grassroots level and community driven educational and child protection projects. She is a published children’s author and has written three inclusive books based on real life stories of people with disabilities. Currently, she is pursuing her graduate degree in education at the University of Glasgow.

Ayvazyan, who graduated from AUA’s Bachelor of Arts in Business program, is a product manager at an IT company. A tech enthusiast with a passion for social change, she aims to harness technology to solve puzzles that contribute to people’s well-being. Ayvazyan has also been involved in various projects concerning gender equality, environmentalism, and the development of rural Armenia.

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia, affiliated with the University of California, and accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission in the United States. AUA provides local and international students with Western-style education through top-quality undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs, promotes research and innovation, encourages civic engagement and community service, and fosters democratic values.