A new exhibition that explores the lives of diplomat Diana Agabeg Apcar and artist Berjouhi Kailian will open at the Armenian Museum in Watertown on April 24 in recognition of Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
In the Shadow of Branches: Diana Apcar and Berj Kailian exhibition will contain paintings and different objects, including from Diana Apcar’s life, including her pen that she used to write diplomats, world leaders, and friends around the world.
The story of two women Diana Agabeg Apcar and Berjouhi Kailian dates back to 1919 when two women met in Yokohama, Japan.
The fascinating story of the two women is published on the website of the Armenian Museum. Diana Apcar was born in Rangoon, Burma (Yangon, Myanmar) into a prominent Armenian merchant family, she grew up in Calcutta, and later moved to Yokohama with her husband to start a new company. In Japan, she became aware of the plight of her fellow Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and acted as an unofficial diplomat to write letters, newspaper articles, and books to create a network of support for Armenians throughout the world.
A survivor of the Armenian Genocide, Berj Kailian fled from her home in Ottoman Turkey, appeared in a refugee camp in Vladivostok, Russia, where Diana Apcar reached out to bring her to Yokohama.
“The relatives of both women live in the United States – from California to Maine,” Executive Director of the Museum Jennifer Liston Munson said in response to an e-mail inquiry by Armenian News-NEWS.am. “There is a very interesting connection between Japan and Armenia in this story – and the story of how Armenian refugees came to the U.S. with the help of courageous individuals during and after the genocide,” she said.
Diana provided food and shelter, helped with visas and travel documents, and fiercely negotiated with the steamship companies to unite Armenian refugees with relatives in the United States. She was named Honorary Consul to Japan by the Armenian Republic, making her one of the first female diplomats in the modern age.
Berj Kailian had a long trip before ending in Vladivostok. She and her mother managed to board the Trans-Siberian railroad to a refugee camp. She arranged their passage on the Mexico Maru to sail to Seattle, Washington, where they made their way to join family in Weymouth, MA. Berj became an artist and made paintings and prints, many of which recall her early history as a refugee in a visceral way. Layered surfaces with earthbound colors reveal a buried past that revisited her memory throughout her long life. This significant body of work was donated by her family to the Armenian Museum in 2018.
Brought together for the first time, the objects, ephemera, and paintings on display connect these two women to tell this important story of persistence, survival, and witness.