The name of Diana Apcar is mostly known in her role as diplomatic representative of the first Republic of Armenia in Japan. However, it is noteworthy that she was probably the first woman to have been appointed to any diplomatic post ever.
Diana Agabeg (Aghabegian) was born on October 12, 1859 in Rangoon, Burma (today Yangon, Myanmar), which was then a British colony. The roots of her paternal family were in the Armenian community of New Julfa, then a suburb of Ispahan, in Persia (Iran). Her mother came from the Avetum family in Shiraz (Persia).
Diana (she spelled her name Դիանա, according to Eastern Armenian pronunciation) was the youngest of seven children in the family, and was raised in Calcutta (today Kolkata), where she attended a local convent school. She became fluent in English, Armenian, and Hindi, and she would later learn Japanese and Chinese. In 1890 she married Apcar Michael Apcar, who also came from a well-known family from New Julfa, with a successful network of commercial activities all around Southeast Asia. The newlywed couple married in Hong-Kong and moved to Japan in 1891 to expand the family business. They settled in Kobe, where Michael worked in the silk trade and the import-export business from and to India. He founded a corporation and opened the Great Eastern Hotel. They eventually had five children, of which only three survived: Rose (1891), Michael Jr. (1892), and Ruth (1896).
After the sudden death of her husband in 1906, Diana Apcar continued the family business until her son reached adult age. They moved to Yokohama, one of the busiest ports of Japan, situated at 30 kilometers from Tokyo. She opened a great store, which did business in China, the United States, and Europe.
By then, Apcar had already published two books, Susan (1892) and Home Stories of the War (1905); the latter was about the Russian-Japanese War of 1904-1905. After her son took over the family business in 1910, she had more time to focus on her literary and then humanitarian and diplomatic career. The Armenian plight in the Ottoman Empire became her central topic. She also wrote many articles on international relations and the impact of imperialism on world affairs and global peace. She started contributing to many Japanese journals and newspapers, such as The Japan Advertiser, The Far East, The Japan Gazette, and also the U.S.-based Armenia (later to be known as New Armenia). Between 1910 and 1918 she published seven more books, some of them about Armenia and Armenians: The Truth about the Armenian Massacres, Betrayed Armenia, In His Name... (1911), The Peace Problem (1912), Peace and No Peace (1912), The Great Evil (1914), and On the Cross of Europe’s Imperialism: Armenia Crucified (1918). She also wrote for European newspapers on Far Eastern affairs.
During World War I and in the postwar era, Diana Apcar was particularly involved with the resettlement of Armenian refugees, either former war prisoners or genocide survivors, who braved the long and perilous journey across Siberia and were transited through Japan. Although considered stateless for diplomatic purposes, her efforts through contacts with the Japanese authorities made them possible to obtain the necessary documents to continue their journey, mostly to the United States.
Her indefatigable work continued after the independence of Armenia. Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hamo Ohanjanian acknowledged that “nobody has worked in the Far East like you to defend the interests of our newly born homeland and to ease the difficult situation of our compatriots” in his letter of July 22, 1920, which designated Diana Apcar with the rank of Honorary Consul to the Empire of Japan. With her designation, Japan recognized de facto the independence of Armenia. Her position was, indeed, terminated, after Armenia became a Soviet republic. Interestingly, a Soviet revolutionary, Alexandra Kollontai, would become the next woman to hold a position, after her designation as ambassador of the Soviet Union to Norway in 1923.
Nevertheless, Apcar did not stop working for Armenian causes and writing. Catholicos of All Armenians Gevorg V (1911-1930) recognized her dedication with an encyclical in 1926.
Diana Apcar passed away at the age of seventy-seven, on July 8, 1937, in Yokohama. She was buried in the cemetery for foreigners, beside her husband. The Tokyo-based Society of Armenian-Japanese Friendship cares for her grave-site. Her daughters had moved to the United States in the 1920s, and her son did the same in 1945. Lucille Apcar, Diana Apcar’s granddaughter, published her unpublished book of short stories, From the Book of One Thousand Tales: Stories of Armenia and Its People, in 2004, based on accounts from Armenian refugees in Japan.