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.