About my life in Armenia, about being a mom and an activist, working for women's rights.
The challenges and benefits of raising a family in a post-soviet republic.
Finding a place, my place and calling it HOME.


Armenian Winter for Kids (part 1)

This year, with the panic of the Swine flu, the schools closed earlier than expected in Armenia putting parents in a very stressful situation. The lucky ones had grand-parents (Tatiks mostly) who took care of the kids while parents continued their work. Others tried to find last minute baby-sitters to replace the school hours. And the government, like other social issues, did not even attempt to present solutions for families struggling between career and family while having kids earlier than expected at home.
In our home, since we don’t have any relatives living in Armenia, we tried to rearrange our work schedule with our very dedicated babysitter and were able to continue our work while having the kids at home.

The challenge was to keep those 3 active and full of energy children busy during the day. And to do that during wintertime in Armenia is a little harder than during the summer season where you can find nice parks and outdoor play areas to visit.
So during this holiday season, I decided to post some of the child-friendly areas you can visit and entertain your kids during the winter season, all of them tested by my children (4, 7, 9 yr)

Konus Craft Center: Open everyday and has 2 locations; one on Vardanants street, the other inside the children’s library Khnko Aber on Teryan street.
The center offers a variety of good quality handicrafts easy to make for children between the age of 3 and up to 10.  You can drop buy with your kids and choose what you like to do (sculpture with modeling clay, glass painting…) from the shop and then you go to the handicrafts area with tables and chairs and they can start working with the help of one educator.  My children really liked it there, the crafts and products are easy to handle and very colorful. The place is also very friendly and safe. You can either sit/wait for them to finish or you can leave them with the educator and the group and come back after an hour or two. At the end your child can bring home her/his own creation. You can also buy some materials to take home with you and work with your kids. The material is a little more expensive than the usual but worth it for its good quality and safety.

Cost: 800 Drams per 45 min per child + the material (another 500-1000 Drams) approximately 5-10 USD per child per session
Info: Hanrapedutyun street 62/68A, phone: 010 52 71 75, 54 83 67

Challenges: sometimes the educator will push the kid to do “nice” things to have a nice creation at the end. You can tell him/her from the beginning that you don’t care about the end product and that it is important for you that your child enjoys her time and creates freely.


Red Apple

(first published on www.pushingthelimits.se october 2008)

Anush got married last Sunday in her birth town, Vanadzor. A town situated 1 and a half hour away from the capital Yerevan. When I saw her a day before, she was very nervous. She had met her future husband only 4 months ago and everything was going so fast . The parents were pressuring her to get married for the last 7 years, she was almost 30 and for a woman of her age in Armenia, it was almost too late to find a husband.

So the time was pressing and she did not have the luxury to fall in love, form a real couple, experience “things”. And by “things”, I mean having any kind of sexual life before marriage. It is almost unthinkable to talk of such things in the Armenian society. Young women are supposed to stay virgin and pure until their marriage. Dating was something that did not exist in the Armenian dictionary. Young couples were allowed to go for 1 or 2 dates alone (and only during certain hours and certain places). After the short so called “dating ritual” it was expected that the couple get engaged and eventually married.

Anush was nervous for the day after her wedding night. She was scared for the “red apple ritual”.
The red apple ritual is a very old ritual that is conducted a day after the wedding night. The mother of the bride with the help of he women relatives goes to the place where the newly wed couples spent their first night to greet them in a way and see if “everything” was ok. By “everything”, I mean if the new bride was pure/virgin and if the new husband is satisfied. In some remote areas or regions of Armenia, a small handkerchief with the blood is even shown to the relatives and the neighbours, to ease their concerns. As a symbol of virginity, red apples are offered to all the guests that day. And what happens if “everything” is not ok ?

Mariam from another town, was virgin, but she didn’t see any blood that night. The whole family panicked and the young women was taken to the family doctor for a check up. While the whole family was waiting outside, the shy women was praying that the doctor will clear everything and she would be able to stay with her husband…
Gayane from a remote village, north of Armenia did not even make it to the doctor’s office. Her Mother-in-law sent her off, back to her parents, just after the wedding day, ashamed of her not being a good virgin bride.

In our sexuality workshops at the Women’s Center, young women are always concerned about the virginity issue. They fear that something goes wrong, that they will bring shame, that nobody will believe them.
Doctors say that the reconstructive operation of the hymen (to restore virginity) is very common in Armenia and costs almost 150 USD.
Armenian men have more freedom in their sexual life, before and after marriage. Nobody questions their purity or their common extramarital affairs.
Anush’s mother called me yesterday. She was not very happy that I did not show up for the “red apple” event and informed me that everything went well and that now finally she can sleep well at night because her daughter brought pride to the family.
I sometimes wonder how is it possible to accept some unacceptable things and never even attempt to change them.
I wonder how is it possible to change some thing’s that are so deeply buried in a nation’s soul and blood without causing a catastrophe…


artashat des femmes

Femmes réunies autour de cette table
Silencieuses et sages
Combien de temps encore avant que vous osiez
Parler, crier, dénoncer

Le conformisme vous ronge les entrailles
Sortez vos griffes de temps en temps
Artashat m’étouffe
Avec ses bâtisses insolentes

Nvart parle la première
“On ne veut pas prendre des femmes au travail
Puisqu’elles peuvent quitter à chaque instant
Les enfants, la maison, le mari
De bonnes raisons pour ne pas prendre le travail au sérieux.
Un homme le fait rarement
Il quittera plus vite sa famille que son travail”

Je déteste ce bâtiment républicain
Les escaliers en poussière
Les salles froides et inhumaines
Ces tables de séminaire austères
Je crois vraiment qu’un jour
Il faudrait tout bruler
Réanimer  la terre qui nous endure
se débarrasser des déchets
qui dérangent le progrès.

Il parait que la grippe fait ravage partout
En Arménie, on hausse le prix des médicaments
Le profit avant l’humain.

Arax pense que parfois les traditions sont importantes
Elles élèvent la nation dans les cieux
Elles nous empêchent de disparaître à travers le temps.

Ces femmes m’ennuient par la petitesse de leurs idées
Par la grandeur de leur ego
Je ne sens aucune empathie envers elles
pour la première fois de ma vie.
J’ai envie de quitter cette place
Pour ne pas sombrer dans une mélancolie incurable

Gohar persévère avec difficulté
Je reste pour elle. 


Violence against women: from Vienna to Yerevan

(I wrote this text during my travel to Vienna for the OSCE conference, it was published on the blog of www.pushingthelimits.se)

While waiting to board my flight back home, I reflected on what I learned during these past 2 days in Vienna at the OSCE Supplementary Meeting on gender equality with a special focus on violence against women.
This was the first time I was participating in a conference of this scope and representing our NGO, the Women’s Resource Center.  All member state representatives were invited; including civil society and government. The discussions where divided into 3 sub-topics: Protection, Prosecution and Prevention. The participants were invited to share their successful practices in the area, ask questions and give recommendations on the issue for better interventions in the future.
For the occasion, I dropped my jeans, colorful blouses and comfortable sneakers for a more “serious” look; black pants, a shirt and a conservative jacket, thinking that in order to be taken seriously by the people participating in the meeting, I needed to make some concessions.
The first day, during the civil society round table, we formed three small groups to discuss the different aspects of violence against women. I was in the group of people discussing prevention. On my right side, there was this nice lady with a long black dress from an Austrian NGO for healthy families, trying to convince me that patriarchy is actually good but poor economy and lack of support for young families and absence of grand-parents were the causes why men sometimes were violent with their wives. I had an intense urge to ask her if she had any origins from Armenia or the Caucasus? Then I refrained to make any humorous remarks, these people were really “serious” about everything and would definitely not appreciate me being sarcastic. On the other side, two women from Kyrgyzstan were trying to explain how bride snapping was an important problem they were fighting in their country and all the European looking participants were going ts ts ts, shaking their heads in real concern. In front of me, a very determined and loud woman from PAX Europe German-Austrian NGO was trying to convince everyone else by using the “poor” Kyrgyz women’s statements, that Islam was one of the causes of domestic violence. I was shocked, my pants were itching me, I wasn’t sure if it was because of the fabric or the racist, sexist and hetero-normative statements I was hearing in the middle of this peaceful gathering that was driving me mad.
The next day, a judge from Spain, presented the advanced legal system adopted by her government to fight this problem and help women in the most efficient way, another group presented their domestic violence law, others followed bringing on more and more practices from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Russia, Georgia, USA. Finally, a woman from Solidarity Africa claimed that all state members agree that this is an important issue and have been signing all kinds of conventions, but no one has been monitoring them to ensure that they are being adequately implemented. In my opinion, she is the one who voiced the most important recommendation by urging the OSCE to be stricter in monitoring member countries.
My countries’ official governmental representatives were not present to this meeting; they did not hear all the recommendations. They had not one good practice to present on the issue; they still have a hard time acknowledging that violence against women is actually a real problem in Armenia.
Sadness was what I felt throughout the meeting sessions and afterwards while walking back to my hotel in the cold November evening through the colorful Christmas decorated storefronts of this historic city. I was wondering how long it will take us Armenians to realize, how long before we acknowledge the problem, how long before the draft law on Domestic violence will pass in parliament, how long until women will finally break the silence on violence and abuse?
This November 25, with a group of activists, the Women’s Resource Center will march for the 4th consecutive year in Yerevan to raise our voices on violence against women and girls, to show our support to all those suffering silently in their homes, alone in boarding schools or at the work place.

It is so cold at the Vienna airport. Before closing my laptop, I check one last time my emails; I read the one sent by the coordinator of the November 25 events at our Center. As I go through it, I feel anger replacing my sadness; the Mayor’s office that grants permits for all kind of public actions in our city is requesting our presence for a meeting in two days, apparently we need to convince them that violence against women is a real issue in Armenia in order to receive permission to organize a march or a protest.
As I board the plane for Yerevan, leaving behind the peaceful city of Vienna, I think of all the challenges awaiting me there and I try to convince myself to stay calm to be able to persevere one day at a time. 

Read more texts by activists in areas of conflict on www.pushingthelimits.se/en


Dear Diaspora

Hope everything is well with you out there. Hope the churches are filling with good religious Armenians every Sunday and the associations are working well, educating the new generation on the genocide issue and how to be a good Armenian. Hope the women’s bazaar was also fruitful this year and that you were able to raise lots of funds for the cause and the community.

I miss your thoughts and our talks. Now that I am in Armenia, my life and visions have changed drastically. I know you are probably very busy with your own issues but I have wanted to write to you for a long time to tell you that “Yes! Things are bad in Armenia.”

No, not all people are good here, some of them rape children, and others sell women to Dubai and Turkey. Women are silenced a lot of the times, they are crushed in their own houses; they suffer silently.
You probably heard it too, orphan girls in special boarding schools are being sexually violated but we are not allowed to talk about it.
Even the environment is not doing well, forests are being destroyed, trees cut to make way for elite buildings, wealthy corporations, mining fields… I am feeling ill most of the time and not breathing well it seems.
Women, children and the elderly in rural Armenia are dying because of lack of basic health services. Doctors are operating when money is available (most of the time). 
Parents are taking home only newborns with perfect smile; others are abandoned, left behind often, ending in one of the state-run orphanages.
Handicapped people are destined to stay inside their homes all their life. The city does not accept them. They are considered to be the shame of their families.
No, not doing very good in the political field either. Don’t know who to believe anymore, whom to trust with this protocol thing. Elections suck too!

People are loosing hope; youth are seeing their future in other countries.

Eh, what can I say; things are not looking good at all.

I don’t know how much the 16 million raised in this past telethon will cure all these bruises and pains?
I don’t know if it will stop men from beating their wives?
I don’t know if it will put human before profit in this little land?
I don’t know if it will give people freedom of opinion.

and most of all I am wondering when you will start caring for real?

Maybe I shouldn’t write to you and bother you with these things now. I know that you don’t want to hear bad things from here.  We are trying to behave, not to give a bad image to the world but it is hurting too much.

No, I won’t be coming back soon. I will be hanging out here for a while to figure out things, to test my limits, to understand.

Send my love to my mom; tell her I miss her food and accent. Tell her that I like it here despite of everything.

And take care of yourself, visit from time to time. I know asking you to move here would be too much.

From Armenia,
With love.


The Waldorf school experience in Armenia

When I moved to Armenia in 2003, my daughters were very young and schooling was something that I was thinking about endlessly.
I am known to be a slightly paranoid mother and choosing a school or a kindergarten was a major concern for me, specially here.

The process started by long visits to almost more than 10-12 schools and kindergartens in the city center, not too far from the area where we were living.  With each school I visited my hopes were getting lower and lower. The education system in Armenia needs a good reform but the government seems to move very slowly in this area. Teachers needed to be re-licensed, trained…the situation was almost catastrophic.  In some schools, the old dirty walls, the sad classrooms and not very hygienic toilets gave the impression that not a lot of work was done since soviet times.  What bothered me the most was the way teachers and educators were talking to the children, sometimes calling them names, shouting a lot, punishing by scaring them…not a very pedagogical approach to education. In most of the places I visited at that time (2003-2005) I was greeted by unhappy, tired teachers with a huge lack of energy and motivation.

I almost opted for homeschooling, when I heard about “Areknazan” school from one of my acquaintances. This was a Waldorf/Steiner school. I couldn’t believe it at first. I was a big fan of the Waldorf approach when I was in Canada and knowing that there was one in Armenia working since the mid 90s, made me jump of joy!

Today my two girls are going to this alternative school and are so happy. I remember when we visited the first time; clean, bright, colorful walls, teachers smiling, children relaxed, art work everywhere…it was amazing. The environment is full of positive energy. The children acting more natural, running everywhere, creating, singing. Now I am not saying everything is perfect, it has its challenging sides too, but the positive effects are much bigger.
The children learn with respect to their natural rhythms; they are prepared for the real life and taught concrete techniques (knitting, crochet, building, working the land..) as part of their curriculum. The languages are Armenian, Russian, German and English. They don’t have textbooks, they create their own, they use natural materials (cotton wood…) no synthetic things. Children with learning disabilities or attention deficit are also accepted in the regular classrooms (inclusive education). My daughter has a classmate who is autistic and one who has ADHD and they seem to adapt very well to the rhythm of the class. And the other children learn on how to take care of them and be tolerant. Imagination and creativity is at the core of the program. And most importantly, parents are very much involved in everything.
When you search on the Internet on Waldorf schools, you will find lots of mixed opinions. I believe the approach is great for children and it also depends a lot from the teachers and the school administration. Some parents don’t feel comfortable with the spiritual part. I think as every other school, you should monitor your child closely, talk to them and see how they feel, in order to understand if everything is going well.
For us Areknazan/Waldorf school of Armenia was a blessing and made schooling a very positive and joyful experience for the whole family.

The school is situated on Saryan street near the Post office.
Cost: 25 000 DRAM per month per child (aprox. 70 USD)
Schedule: 8:30-2pm and they have child care service for working parents until 6.30pm – open from Monday to Friday.
They also have extracurricular activities: piano, violin, dance


vanished life

She served the best tea in Shushi. I always visited her during my stay there. It was a long process; at first she boiled the water in this old samovar, then prepared the concentrated tea in a small Chinese teapot with red magnolias design on it. Then she took out the beautiful set of blue teacups, gently kept in an old shoebox under her bed. And the final touch was the delicious raspberry jam prepared from freshly picked fruits of her garden that she presented in a very antique crystal jars.

Everything was so neat in her small one bedroom house and everything smelled of fresh lavender and mint. The old and broken windows were covered with hand sewed flowery curtains. The kitchen didn’t have running water and lacked basic necessities but she managed well and improvised a cooking area and a small container for washing the dishes with water, poured manually from another small metallic container fixed on the wall. The bedroom was very simple and dark. A large bed was placed on one corner covered with different kinds of covers, sheets and pillows all neatly folded. On the other side small carpets lied on the floor to cover the wholes of the wooden floor. But what impressed me most was the silence in this house and the inertia. It seemed to me that nobody really lived there.

But somebody did live there; her name is Laura, she is an Armenian refugee from Baku, Azerbaijan. She managed to flee the city, just before the war started. She left all her belongings there. The only thing she took with her was that old shoebox with the tea set and some of her official papers, a couple of family photos and the key of her apartment there.

Every time I visit her, I find her well dressed and groomed as if she is invited to a big party. In this cold, devastated and grey city of Shushi, her colorful make-up looks almost ridiculous. She tells me in a sad voice: “ I grew up in a big city, you know, I went to University there, had lots of friends, went to all this different parties and had a wonderful time” then she will add in a very sad voice, “but it will never be the same again, you know? After the war, a lot happened. My life changed completely. I don’t have most of my relatives, my friends are lost too, I feel so lonely”, then she sweeps off a tear, try to smile again.

Once I asked her, why she decided to bring the tea set? She smiled but this time her smile made me uncomfortable. “It was my wedding gift which did never occurred…he never came back, but I couldn’t leave it there, I just couldn’t”

After the tea ceremony, Laura washes everything very gently. She puts the teacups in the old shoebox and back in their place under the bed. These short scarce moments of happiness help her continue living a life she never chose.


Hoqnel em

Hoqnel em mianman hayatsqnerits
Hoqnel em dalanerits u heteve daqnvadz keghtot tarazqnerits
Hoqnel em petakan hamalsarani, gratarani shenqi mech koghq koghqi kanqnadz anhoqi tghamardu demqerits garatsadz tupikneri vra
Hoqnel em anendhat teghs bntrelu ampokhi mech

Demqt lav makur dzalum em, taq arduqov ughighatsnum em
U dnum em mi anhayt daraki mech u bakum em vor el chjptas
Qo jpite indz khanqarum e u hishatsnum vor kareli e urakh linel
Yes hoqnel em u chem uzum urakh linel

Tserqert ktrtum em poqr garakusineri veradzum u pchum em odi mech minchev koren Shushii mshushi mech
nranq shoyetsin arqilvadz taradzqner qo u im michev kayatsadz menakudyan mech
Hoqnel em et menakudyunits u ayt tserqerits vor khaktum en im amayudyune

Votert varum em, u hôte « incense»i nman voqevorum e hoqis
Vorov tranq haladzum en indz amentegh
U yes zzvum em trants nerkayudyunits
Qo shnchits vor anhangist portsum e hetevits vayrakoren hartsakvi

Hoqnel em tkhur demqerits , semushka vajaroghnerits, lavashits u panirits
Hoqnel em H1 herustaenkerudyan haghordavarits vor anenthat jpitov assum e vor vaghe antsrev e linelu hanrapedutyunum

Arnandamt pokum em, atamnerovs u kakhum em hanrapedutyan hraparakum arevi tak, mi qani or, dzirani u salori het, minchev darna pokr chir u tanem vajarem kiloyov shat danq prospecti shukayi krpaknerits mekun, abshadz jpitov touristnerine.

Hoqnel em sev sur koshiknerits
Hoqnel em khachapuriyits mi dzvov, jinkelov hatsits 5 tarper kanachinerov
Hoqnel em janaparhits 6 jamanots vor indz hastsnum e mi kerp shushi
Hoqnel em diguine clarayits vor indz kanchum e « lgti artasahmantsi »

Akanchnert ktsum em
Tnum em conche yughi mech u lav jaritum em
bajanum em im entir hyurerine vor uten, hiyanan u anenthat khul mnan qo pahanchnerine grehik u antaneli

Hoqnel em anenthat mtadzelu spyurqi lezvov, khoselu hayerenov u grelu franserenov
Hoqnel em vor du indz ches haskanum u yes qez chem karoghanum patmem
Hoqnel em vor yes mi tegh em vor goyudyun el chuni

Achqert khlum em yeghunqnerovs
Tjvjiki het yepum em u tnum em sirun apseyi mech
Hyurasirum tumanyani shawermayi hajakhortnerine vor el chtesnes en inch vor chem uzetsel vor tesnes

Hoqnel em hagusts keghtotogh ponchikits, atamis kpnogh irisits
Hoqnel em Cafenerits irants mianmna utesteghenerov
Hoqnel em « yes qez sirum em » pastarnerits surp sarkisi orva aritov kakhvadz tarper poghotsnerum

Mazert ktrtum em, talis em Yughaperine vor trantsov karkti ira ojiti sirun shorere

Hoqnel em
Im hoqnudyunits

Du el chkas
Mi qanise tkhrum en tranov
Mi qanise urakhanum

U yes hangist heranum em jpitov, tserqeris mech khladz ptuknert, miak hishatake qo antsiali.


Do we care?

Diguine(Mrs) Sissee was born in 1957, in the Yezidi-Kurdish village of Alagyaz in Armenia. As was the tradition in her culture, her future husband kidnapped her on her way to school, when she was 15 years old. He locked her one full day in his house to ruin her reputation (having spent a day in a stranger’s house without someone chaperoning her was enough to presume that she was no longer virgin and not suitable to get married to someone else),
Her wedding was followed by the traditional “apple throwing on the new bride” ceremony, where the bride stands in the middle of a circle of people and mainly the mother-in-law throws apples towards her head to test the new bride’s strength. If the young woman stays still and despite the injuries on her head does not fall or loose conscious, it means that she will be a good and strong wife and will bear healthy children’s. And so was Diguine Sisee, she didn’t move a bit, even though it was hurting like hell and her head was almost numb.
She didn’t even smile during her wedding; a good bride should show modesty and is not festive during her own wedding and stays as silent as possible. She didn’t want to cause any shame for her parents.

After the birth of her 3rd child, diguine Sisse did not want to get pregnant anymore, since the village life was becoming harsher; the Textile manufactory where she used to work was closed and the family’s economic situation was becoming more and more difficult. Diguine Sissee was the only breadwinner of the family and continued supporting everyone by working from her home, baking bread for the villagers while her husband wasted most of the money on alcohol.

With the passing years and two other unwanted pregnancies, diguine Sissee’s health worsened; at first she complained about hearth problems, high blood pressure which eventually affected her whole organism. For the past 10 years, diguine Sissee couldn’t visit any clinic; none were available in her village. After menopause, she was suffering from a prolapsed uterus, meaning her cervix was almost coming out of her vagina. Doing harsh physical work everyday continuously and bearing lots of weight for her regular tasks worsened her condition gradually. Her body was in pain, she couldn’t urinate normally and her heart was not feeling good. Every time she was putting aside some money to see a doctor, somebody would need it urgently; school tuition had to be paid, the electricity, child cold had to be treated with expensive antibiotics, birth of grand-children, etc.

When for the first time I set foot in the village of Alagyaz, it was to know more the place and meet a former volunteer who use to come to our Women’s Center.
Three weeks later we were back to conduct a sexual health and reproductive seminar for the young women in the village. Diguine Sissee was waiting for us in front of the school entrance and as soon as we finished the course, she approached us intimidated at first, with a forced smile on her face, hiding her pain. We couldn’t do much that day. We felt helpless. We only advised her to go to the hospital. But she already had done that. She told us that the hospital was a little far, she walked there one full day, and when she arrived, they told her she had to pay 1000 US for surgery. Which she did not have and that was 5 years ago. Now the pain was unbearable.
Anush, one of our trainers on sexual health was not ready to surrender. She inquired everywhere, even called the ministry of health and finally found out that diguine Sissee was eligible for free surgery (because of her social and health status). Overwhelmed by happiness, Anush took the 4 hours trip to the village to announce the good news and accompany diguine Sissee with all the necessary papers to the hospital.

Today, Diguine Sissee is no longer with us. Her heart surrendered in a very cold February afternoon. The doctor refused to operate a couple of months ago, stating that her health condition was very bad and she couldn’t survive a surgery, and that would have been possible only a couple of years ago…when they did ask her 1000 US for the surgery. How ironic!
Anush was devastated. She grew attached to the middle-aged woman for the past months.
When we heard the bad news, we looked at each other, couldn’t talk and were thinking …if we only met her a couple of years ago.

Women are still dying in the villages of Armenia (and in other villages) because of the lack of basic health services.
And what are we doing about it?


esquisse shushiesque

At the end of the day, what matters is how many women you empowered
How many of them were touched by your attention
How much better they felt about themselves

How many felt dignified with your attitude
How many went home with the feeling that they are worth something
Something they did not sense for a long time
Since all they get is indifference
All they hear is demeaning
All they ever loved broke them from the inside out

Walking down the streets of Shushi
Thinking about the lives lost
Wandering how long this artificial peace will last
Digging deeper in the absurdity of the situation

Suddenly faces superpose one after the other

Nothing seems understandable at first glance
Nothing will ever be mentioned in books or will it?

Sometimes flying high over Jdrduz
Seems to be the only option
The only authentic peace ever
And everything returns to its original place
Even the cow has a strange look on her face

Walking down the streets of Shushi
Picking blackberries
Tumbling on the ancient stones
Dreaming of another reality
Thinking with the uterus.


I don't want to get old in Armenia

Julietta is born in 1934, She is my downstair’s neighbor. When I moved to my new apartment 2 years ago, Julietta was cleaning the entrance and talking to everyone passing by. I smiled at her and went up to my apartment. From that day, she always chats with me when I leave the apartment and tells me that she went to the church and prayed for me and for my children(I think she says the same thing to everyone in the building).
Julietta lives alone in her one bedroom apartment. She spends her days on the stairs or in the pak , collecting things from garbage cans, papers and pieces of rags from the streets. I never understood what she was doing with all that stuff. But one day, as I was walking down the stairs, her door was open, so I peeked inside saying “hello”. The first thing that struck me was the smell, an unbelievable smell, a mix of urine, dirt and old things. It was horrible, I couldn't go inside, the entrance was blocked with all kinds of stuff, from old soviet refrigerator to thousands of different size and color nylon bags filled with things. The whole apartment was full to the ceiling with all kind of items: bottles filled with water, dresses, curtains, boxes, newspapers books, food containers, empty cans, nylon bags filled with garbage that she did not have time to open yet, broken toys, I even saw my old stuff, everything I threw for the past 8 months.
OMG, I thought, poor lady, what is she trying to do? There was no place in her house to sit or to lie, everywhere filled with filthy old stuff from other people’s garbage.
I thought she was alone with no family and since Armenia doesn’t have adequate support for elderly people and even less for elderly suffering from Alzheimer or other mental disabilities, the only thing to do was to survive in a way in this dumpster that she was immersing in day after day. I gave her some money to light a candle in church (her favorite activity) and run quickly upstairs because the smell was becoming unbearable.

Four days ago, I returned from Shushi and as I was taking my stuff up to my apartment with my whole family, I saw her sitting on the stairs with her door open and half of her things and collection outside on the stairs all the way up to my floor.
She was crying. The neighbor downstairs was renovating his apartment and needed to go inside her apartment to do the plumbing. Since they couldn’t enter, the door was stuck behind all her stuff; they helped her put part of her things outside.
For the past 5 days she is trying to organize her belongings (her garbage) and sleeping on the stairs to guard her things so nobody can steal them.

Julietta needs help. She doesn’t have water in her apartment, she doesn’t have money, she doesn’t shower and she is forgetting lots of stuff. She has a daughter and a son that she did not see for the past years even though she says the opposite. She has neighbors who are loosing patience since the smell coming from her and the apartment is awful .
For the past couple of days I am trying to think what to do to help her. Calling the police is out of question, since they don’t know how to treat people with dignity, specially people like her. Social services did not call back. She is not giving me her daughter’s number or her son’s, saying that they are busy with their families.
Today I covered my nose with a handkerchief and entered her apartment to open the windows to let the air enter. A group of cockroaches fled away instantly from the open window, even they couldn’t bear the smell and the mess.
Julietta is not alone, there are lots of elderly people like this in Armenia, some on the streets begging, and others lonely in their houses without any support or human touch.

We say we are a nation who respect the elders and takes care of them…in the meantime some of them are just waiting that death comes and spares them the unbearable shame they are left with.


histoires shushiesques de femmes- 1ere partie

Nano avait 15 ans quand la guerre s’est terminée et Shushi essayait de reprendre des couleurs. Elle ne savait rien de ces ruelles. Elle essayait d’oublier la peur, le danger. Elle voulait s’adapter à cette ville de fantômes.

La mère ne voulait rien savoir. Elle avait un regard vide, qui mettait Nano dans une complète désuétude. Elle venait d’une grande ville lointaine, dont elle ne prononcerait plus jamais le nom. Elle ne voulait plus rien savoir du passé, du présent et du demain. Elle roulait ces cheveux gris en une petite couronne et essayait de lisser sa jupe noire plissée aux cotés. Elle regardait souvent les paumes de ses mains vieillies les serrait fort pour cacher les souvenirs, les peines, les blessures. Puisque ces mains avaient fait tellement de choses dont elle n’était pas fière. La vie parfois nous emmenait vers des recoins sombres ou la réalité devient tout autre ou les conventions n’existent plus, ou la dignité est échangée facilement pour sauvegarder la vie incurable.

-Maman je reviens tout de suite, ça ne sera pas long, je t’assure. Dadi Arus a dit qu’on pouvait trouver de belles tasses en céramique pour le thé. Je reviendrai avant le soir, t’inquiète pas ma chérie.

Nano savait très bien que sa mère adorait le thé et toute la cérémonie qui entourait cet élément important qui demeure le seul inchangé de toute sa vie. Mais elle savait aussi combien elle détestait boire ce thé dans ces petites tasses en métal que quelques soldats avaient laissé derrière eux avant de partir vers le front. Le métal donnait un gout amer au thé et la frustration était insupportable. Nano savait que sa mère ne sourirait plus jamais, par peur peut-être de montrer ses dents jaunies. Mais elle savait aussi que ce thé bu dans une belle tasse de céramique lui changerait un peu les idées et lui donnerait espoir que la vie peut encore être agréable.

La gigouli attendait au coin de la rue. Une petite verte ancienne avec des sièges en cuir noir. Dadi Arus s’impatientait.
- Nano jan, vite aghchi jan, il faut être de retour avant la nuit, sinon…
Nano s’est vite lancée dans la gigouli et hop la petite voiture a disparu derrière les immeubles en lançant au passage toute la poussière du monde.
La mère n’avait pas trop d’attentes pour le futur. Tout semblait noir en ce moment, même le sourire de sa fille si joyeuse l’attristait énormément.


To move or not to move

It’s been almost 7 years that I moved to Armenia with my family. My oldest was 2 and a half at that time, my second was 7 months old and my 3rd wasn’t born yet.
It was quite challenging at the beginning; trying to find the essential products and foods needed for my babies, the search for a good pediatrician, then a trustworthy babysitter to have some spare time and work on the “women’s resource center” project. It was also difficult to adapt to the different language (eastern Armenian) and the cultural differences. But for us it was an interesting challenge that we took wholeheartedly. Armenia was something we wanted to experience, my husband and I since our student years at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. And we made it happen.

Some people still don’t understand how you can leave a “perfect” country to settle for this problematic one where human rights are not protected, where every daily chore is a challenge of its own. Local Armenians still ask me “but why? Why did you come here?”

I don’t know what to tell them. Being in Armenia came naturally to us. I don’t deny the fact that some days it gets so hard that I often question my move too. There is just no right answers …you need to experience what you feel you should and then see how it goes. You never know where it will take you after.
Armenia did change me a lot…it tested my limits, both as an Armenian and as a human being. It helped me understand what is important and what is not in my own identity and life.

But most of all it helped me to UNLEARN and to be free.


Yerevan parks tested by my kids(continued)

Lover’s Park: Very nice but not very suitable for very young active kids. Lots of restrictions (no playing on the green, no throwing pebbles in the water…). Unless you have a child who likes sitting on a nice bench and reading a book or taking a nice walk, it is not a place where children can play freely. I think it is mostly designed for adults or quiet and calm kids. My daughters enjoyed the art corner very much though. There is toilet facilities and the park is really clean and you can find good sandwiches for your little ones.
Disadvantages: not very big or no large areas to play active games (with ball).

Santa Fe’s playground(near cascade, facing Tumanyan statue): For the past couple of years, this place was a lifesaver for us. It has the most secure (relatively to others) play equipment for kids older than 3. Very interesting slides, climbers and swings. They also have real sand covering the play area, so children can go barefoot and enjoy playing with it. Last year they also added a craft corner (ceramics) in the afternoons. They also have a green area where kids can run freely and play ball. Near the playground you have the café and adults can sit and enjoy a drink or food while watching the kids. Toilet costs 100Drams per use.
Disadvantage: Gets too crowded especially in the evenings and not very fun for the younger ones. Service sucks at the café, so you have to be very patient.

Luna parks: I personally don’t like them at all, too noisy, artificial and very bad quality. We go there very rarely, on occasions to do something different. My kids enjoy some of the rides. The one on the corner of Khandjian and Tigran medz has rides for all ages. Toilets are very dirty and service unfriendly.

Freedom Park (monument): still very soviet era rides, weather is nice and is spacious. My kids have usually lots of fun there and you could spend almost half a day or more, nice shady areas. Usually packed in the weekends. It is nice to go there with a group. Toilet dirty but don’t have lots of choice.



If you are in Armenia during the summer, you have to be very creative to find good, fun and safe entertainment for your kids. The challenge was bigger a couple of years ago when even the basic necessities (baby food, milk, diapers...) were hard to find and activity centers for kids was almost non-existent.
Today you still find some good choices:

Public park: In Yerevan, there is a couple of nice spots, but if you are looking for nice well equipped and safe playground, that would be real hard. Most of the parks have nice green areas, colorful benches but rarely a playground for kids. Some of the parks have old soviet iron playground not very safe for small kids. The other disadvantage is that most of the public parks don't have bathrooms and that could cause a problem for newly potty trained kids and older ones.
In general, kids in Yerevan need more playground public safe spaces, something that no one is investing in right now.

the parks tested by my kids (4, 7, 9 yrs old):

The italian park (near the Sundukyan theater): very nice, shady, lots of trees and green spaces and cool water fountain in the middle. Kids play with sand near the fountain and you can sit near them on a nice bench reading a book and enjoying the breeze.
disadvantage: no toilet (unless you go to the nearest cafe or ask the theater), no playground-slides, swings, you need to bring your own toys.

The park near Poplovok: This is a very small park near the famous cafe Poplovok, and surrounded with many other cafes and is usually very crowded after 6pm. Here you have some playground equipments (not very safe) you have to be near if your child is too small. Slide, Climber and a swing. The interesting thing is that the park has a craft area where children from 3and up can buy their little ceramic statues and paint them. This is not expensive and usually children enjoy it a lot.
disadvantage: the slide is a little broken, you need to be careful. No toilet, unless you go to Poplovok.

The park on Khandjian (near swiss chalet): We went once to this park and did not like it. from far it looks so nice and colorful but once you approach it you see how badly maintained it is. The slide has a big hole in the middle, someone can cut itself if not careful. The swings are not attached very well and the park was very dirty with bottles on the floor and also too noisy (near a big street).

(to be continued)

Goris des femmes

Je ne connais rien à cette ville
Je ne connais rien à ce peuple qui construit sans arrêt

Les petites ruelles bordées de verdure, d’arbres majestueux
L’eau qui coule sans attendre, emportant la saleté de toute une nation

Vieilles femmes clouées devant la porte
En attente de cette chose qui n’arrive jamais
Tristes, douces, aux visages millénaires
Yeux qui sourient, bouches qui marmonnent
“C’est lui, ce n’est pas lui…il est parti, non, je ne rentrerai pas, pas encore?”

Rena n’en pouvait plus avec son mari jaloux
Elle a cédé sa place à son frère en politique

Sirva veut finir à temps, elle est pressée
Ludmila se moque des homosexuels
Naira lutte pour sa place dans la municipalité et craint que d’autres femmes lui volent son homme.

Emma est très nerveuse, elle a contribué à la radio et TV de la ville
Elle a souffert trop durant la guerre
Ses enfants cachés dans le sous sol de l’église
Elle courait sous les bombes pour annoncer les nouvelles

Irina accepte maintenant les femmes sans mari, qui engendre des enfants
“La vie est drôle, elle nous impose souvent l’impossible”

Janna a caché des années son statut de femme divorcée
A l’Université, ça lui aurait posé des problèmes.

Pas de travail, pas de ressources
Pour garder les hommes
Il faut hausser les salaires
Pour qu’ils ne partent plus
Pour qu’ils restent

Parfois le départ est essentiel
Douloureux mais libérateur.

Ces maisons en pierre, connaissent-elles le Bonheur?
Il faut observer les femmes
Il faut suivre leurs pas
Il faut écouter sous la fenêtre, le soir, leurs gémissements
Extase ou souffrance?

Des visages tristes embellis d’Oriflamme
Des corps insensibles ornés de tissues ‘made in Taiwan’
Le sexe disparu au fond dans les ténèbres
Moisi, perdu dans un sommeil profond
Parfumé à l’eau de Cologne
Parfois orné de dentelles
En attente de celui qui ne reviendra jamais, de celui qui n’a jamais existé.



Amassia adore patiner sur la glace. Au début c'était difficile de trouver un endroit agréable à Erevan, mais depuis 2-3 ans déjà le lac des cygnes (Karapi lidj) est ouvert au public toute la semaine. Les patins peuvent etre loués, mais il faut laisser son passeport au commis. Mais cette année, Amassia a recu comme cadeau des nouveaux patins de Dado et surtout des patins canadiens. Alors chaque samedi, elle va patiner pour quelques heures au parc, proche de l'opéra. Ca coute à peu près 2 dollars et ca vaut la peine, surout le matin, quand il n'y a pas beaucoup de monde.

Skating at the Karapi lidj, nice experience and good music!

cost: almost 2 dollars per person + rental (if you don't have your own skates)

Comment: if with kids, better to go around 11 am , less people. And if you need to rent skates, don't forget to bring your passport.



For the Holidays, the Republic square is filled with Soviet Santas, most of them drunk, standing beside weird animals and christmas decorations and inviting children and families to take pictures. Around them, within a very tiny space, you could find some horse/pony rides and other entertainments. I was panicking a little bit and stressing out, because there was a lot of people and not everything was secure and safe for the kids. But they enjoyed most of the rides and then friends joined us and we went to an italian restaurant.

Republic square for kids

last sunday before school starts!

Enjoying the train rides at the Hrabarag with friends.

Manti night with the staff of the Women's Resource Center

Varanta and Vayk helped me prepare our favorite dish, Manti, and share it with my staff from the Women's Center. It took us 3 hours, Varanta stayed till the end helping and chatting endlessly. It is a tradition in Armenia to celebrate the new year by visiting relatives and friends houses and feasting with them. Most of the Restaurants just started opening today, but very few people are on the streets or outside. Everything is still slow. People are recovering from the holidays, from all the drinking and the eating...I started working 2 days ago. The center was frozen, all the water pipes were broken again this year. So we are trying to heat the place for the past couple of days with the staff. The center reopens for the public on monday and we are getting ready to start all the activities soon.



After hibernating for almost 5 days, we finally called Diguine Anna our devoted babysitter to stay with the kids so we can go out for the first party of the year at Square One, organized by Deem Communications and Aftershock. The place was packed! we danced non-stop. Sam, the godfather , Araz, Gohar, Arsineh...and most of the people I know were there, enjoying the music, dancing and going crazy (meaning Araz:)


the ice queen -- skating show

Place : The Sport Complex, Hamalir
Time: at 5pm on the 4th
cost: 2000-3000 AMD (almost 10$)

Good show for the kids during the holidays, the artists were invited from Moscow. Nice Light show and great costumes. The kids loved it and the place was heated!

Visiting Amassia's friend

Yesterday we were invited at Nane's house, Amassia's best friend from the Waldorf school, for a traditional Armenian New Year's feast. We talked a lot about the education system in Armenia, since other parents were also invited. We discussed the importance of Waldorf school in the Armenian society and how it is preparing a more conscious and responsible future generation.
The kids had a blast running everywhere in the small apartment under the supervision of the Dadig of the house (the grandmother). We couldn't stay long since we had reserved tickets for the Ice skating show at the Sport Complex.


Celebrating Christmas

Celebrations in Armenia start on december 31st at midnight and lasts until January 13th (the old new year). For the days preceding the celebrations, almost all the women of the households are busy cooking, baking and cleaning the house, while the men are hunting for the best deals in food, meat, fruits, vodka and chocolates.
Ishli keofte, Khozi bud(roasted pork), dolmas and sweet sujukhs are a must for the Armenian New Year feast. Most people go overboard, taking loans from friends to buy all the food necessary for the week.
So at midnight everybody is gathered around the table, and once the countdown is done, the eating, dancing and endless kenats start, and vodka is poured like water. Then around 4-5 am january 1st, people go out visiting friends and families, eating again, drinking more, and greeting each others with hopes of a better year. And this ritual continues for almost a week.

So everything stops in Armenia from the 31st to the 13th; no bread, shops are closed as well as most of the restaurants.

This year, Raffi and I decided to stay home and relax with our 3 kids. We did lots of shopping for food on the 30th and rented a dozens of movies to watch. Most of our friends were out of town, visiting their families, so it has been very quite and slow, but i am enjoying it so far.


Voila apres toutes ces annees je cree ce blog pour faire part a mon entourage de ma vie en Armenie, des enfants qui grandissent trop vite, de l'Armenie qui change sans cesse et de mes projets qui n'en finissent pas.