In 1920 Diana Abgar (Diana Anahit Aghabek Abgarian, her baptismal name was Gayane) was appointed consul general of the Republic of Armenia in Japan and became the first Armenian woman diplomat. She was born on October 12, 1859, in Rangoon, British Burma (Myanmar).
During her childhood, she lived in Culcutta with her family. Calcutta was home to many Armenian businessmen who had migrated there through Persia, during the Arab Caliphate.
Like her ancestors, Tiana “Anahit” Abgar was also a child of the Diaspora, both her ancestors and her husband’s ancestors were among those forcibly displaced from the banks of the Araks River in 1605 and forcibly displaced from historical Jugha.
Family, education, and personal life of Diana Abkar
She was the seventh child in the family. Her father was an Indian-Armenian who migrated to India from New Julfa, Persia. Diana Abgar’s mother Avet was from the Tateos Avetum family in the Shiraz district of Iran.
Diana was the youngest of seven children in the family. Abgar was raised in Calcutta and received her education in the local S. Santoukhdian girls’ convent school. She became fluent in English, Armenian, and Hindustani.
In 1889 she got married to Hong-Kong merchant Mikhael Abgar (Abgaryan), whose mother’s family had moved to India from Persia too. The Abgar family became successful tradesmen and merchants all around South-East Asia. They became especially successful in the import-export business of shellac lacquer pearls.
In 1891, Diana and her husband moved to Japan, in Kobe seaport at the Pacific Ocean. They eventually had 5 children, of which only 3 survived. At the age of sixty-seven, Abgar was experiencing numerous physical problems, such as failing eyesight, hearing loss, and arthritis.
These health issues led to her death on the morning of 8 July 1937 in Yokohama. During the funeral ceremony, Rev. Schenk talks about Tiana Abgar saying: “A good soldier of Jesus Christ, a guardian, strong, brave and faithful to his convictions.” Tiana Abgar is buried in Yokohama Foreigner’s Cemetery, next to her husband, and is currently being taken care of by the Society of Armenian-Japanese Friendship which is based in Tokyo. Her tombstone is engraved with simple words and celebrates his life and faith: “Beyond the secrets of the earth, on the day of the heavenly Father. We loved him, but God loved his best.”
Professional life and Career
In Japan, Diana started her literary career. In 1882 she published her first novel “Suzan”. After her son took over the family business in Japan, Abgar had more time to concentrate on her humanitarian, literary, and diplomatic career.
She started working with numerous journals and newspapers. She focused much of her literature on the oppressed and their circumstances.
By 1920 she had already written over nine books in dedication to the Armenian Genocide. She also wrote many articles on international relations and the impact of imperialism on world affairs and global peace.
In 1920, through Apgar’s efforts, Japan became one of the first nations to recognize the independence of the Republic of Armenia. Out of respect for her efforts, Hamo Ohanjanyan, who was then the Foreign Minister of the Republic, granted Diana Abgar Honorary Counsel to Japan.
However, after Armenia’s Sovietization in the 1920s, her post was abruptly terminated.
Why Was Diana Abgar A True Armenian Heroine?
- Diana Abgar helped many Armenian refugees and would personally handle their documents during negotiations with Japanese authorities and consuls, making the refugees’ journey easier.
- She used her business as an office for a diplomatic mission for the sake of Armenian refugees, while her house was used as a temporary shelter.
- The status of an ambassador gave her an additional opportunity to speak on behalf of Armenian refugees and try to help them.
- Diana Abgar wrote several books on the Armenian Genocide.
- The Catholicos of All Armenians George V, appraising Tiana Abgarin as a special kontakion in 1926
Armenian Prime Minister Hamo Ohanjanyan’s Letter to Diana Abkar on 22 July 1920
“Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Yerevan, July 22, 1920.
It is well known to me that no one in the Far East has done as much as you to protect the interests of our new motherland and alleviate the plight of our compatriots. It is also known to me that in those distant places no Armenian has such a great reputation among the locals and our compatriots as you do, so I am appointing you as the Armenian consul in Japan and I hope that you will not refuse to assume this difficult position for the benefit of our young homeland.
Along with this letter, a corresponding power of attorney is sent to you, I am sure that you will not face any obstacles from the Japanese government to obtain the necessary Exequatur.
We are sending you the latest bulletin of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from which you can familiarize yourself with the current situation in Armenia. We will take advantage of every event to always give you information and please keep us informed about the life of the Far East as well.
Please accept the assurance of my warm greetings.
Minister President and Minister of Foreign Affairs
Diana Abgar’s letter to the Armenian Church in the USA in 1920
“There is no church like the Armenian church, with its vital spirit and comfort of prayer, nor the one that can have the joyous feeling of the Armenian liturgy.
I didn’t know if the day would come when I would have the opportunity to be at the gates of my church and be part of the mass, let my ears hear and be comforted by those prayers.”
George E. of All Armenians The Catholicos, appraising Tiana Abgar’s activity according to merit, in 1926 sent her a special kontakion to serve the interests of the Armenian people and to be by her side in difficult times.