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.


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.