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.


Yes to Violence Against Women...No to Preventing Assault and offering help!

It's funny how people tend to automatically criticize us and try to silence us when we start talking about violence against women in Armenia (and in lots of other places, i am assuming it is the same!). Last year, I remember when we were planning our march to stop violence against women for november 25, the city mayor's office demanded from us that we bring them written proof that there is violence against women in Armenia in order to give us the permit for public action. Their main goal was to persuade us that we were fighting for a cause that did not exist in Armenia. This year, we wanted to post on billboards around the city an ad stating that "sexual violence is a crime" and you can get help by calling the hotline and the city gave us again lots of trouble, refusing to give us permission to put this ad.

"Sexual assault is a crime, free confidential hotline" (not authorized by the city mayor office)

First they stated that even though we were not violating any advertising or city laws, they were not finding this ad "morally" good for the population. Then they stated that "when a girl is raped, then what, already her life ends...what can you do more for her, it's finished, so why advertise help?". Then when we insisted, they accused us of creating fear among the population and that we were terrorizing women and preventing them to go outside, that this banner was offensive. Today, we are still fighting to get our message out in the public and voice our concerns. while the State with all its institutions, is trying to ignore the problem and put all kind of obstacles to make us shut up.

Meanwhile the calls on the Sexual Assault Crisis Center are increasing every month. Women, girls are calling asking for help. Sometimes all it takes to help is to acknowledge the problem, to say to the victim that "no it was not your fault" while most people are ready to blame them. When will we stop accusing women of not being in the right place, not wearing the proper dress or for staying too long out at night?

And sometimes, young women like G.K very courageously try to break this unbearable silence and talk about it. This time the perpetrator is a police officer who used his power took advantage of his position to intimidate the young girl and sexually assault her in a Yerevan public park:

"May 9th is a holiday for many citizens of our country, but for me it is a day full of sad memories which make me shiver until today. I decided to write about this day when during the PR campaign of the Sexual Assault Center I heard many negative opinions, saying: "What are you so worried about? There is no violence against women in Armenia." I am one of the people responsible for this... because I was silent.   
...he(police officer) didn't believe us and decided to make sure of it himself by trying to check if I was "pure"(virgin) by touching my body in its most intimate places. Because of my lack of knowledge of the rules and my rights well enough I let him humiliate me in front of my boyfriend. My boyfriend was way too scared. He only kept insisting that nothing happened. And I let the officer do whatever he was doing just to keep out of trouble. He was stupid enough to believe that fluids are a sign of missing virginity and now sure that his suspicions were right, he asked my boyfriend to let him talk to me alone. He took me a few meters away. I made sure that my boyfriend was never out of sight. One more time he touched different parts of my body and with the same obscene voice he pronounced the following sentence, which I will never forget: "Honey, we can solve this issue very easily. You just can't tell your boyfriend anything about it." , read more here and in Armenian here.

The only way things will start to change when people start talking about it, denouncing it and not only women, this is everyone's responsibility and it affects us all!

-cognac ad (authorized by the city)

Meanwhile, the city of Yerevan finds it ok and "moral" to have half naked women to advertise vodka and cognac everywhere in the city, but it is a big no for advertising help for victims of violence in our society. What is the message here that women are getting? Which of these photos is offensive in your opinion?


French kindergarten in Armenia...Ah, oui!

Vayk, my youngest goes to the french kindergarten, known as the "Ecole Maternelle d'Erevan". I found this place by chance years ago, through an article in an Armenian journal, just before our move to Armenia and i was so happy. Coming from a francophone background/education myself, I wanted my kids to learn french from an early age and this was a good start-up place.

I visited the place once I arrived with my 2 daughters (aged 8 months and 2 and half). I was really impressed. The kindergarten had started up in 2000 by a french couple living at that time in Armenia and a collective of Armenian parents took over, looking for better options for their children's education. I volunteered for 6 months there, while my oldest one was accompanying me. I wanted to be sure that it was the right place for us and the kind of approach we were looking for. Since then, all 3 of my kids went there and we had a great experience. The language used was french mainly, taught by local Armenian teachers/educators with some classes in Armenian and Russian. The idea was to fully immerse kids in the French language while they were already fluent in Armenian or other languages. This worked perfectly for us. Beside the language issue, I really appreciated the wonderful approach they had to children. The teachers are constantly trained, prepared and follow a well established program. children learn songs, develop their creativity, learn to play with others and all this in a very secure and well organized environment.

The director, Madame Arminee is a very conscious and dedicated  person. She is also very demanding from her staff, always making sure that the kids are in a safe and friendly environment.

The kindergarten has about 100-120 students from 2-6 years old and follows the french program with slight variations to adapt it to the Armenian environment. Each class has 15-16 children with one teacher and one assistant. The kitchen staff is also amazing, providing kids with well balanced menu (breakfast, lunch and snack).

My daughters graduated from there and they still go back whenever they get a chance to help out during their vacations. My son, is still going there, he is 4 and can speak very well in French now. We, as parents are often invited for school yearly performances and enjoy the time spent there.

A typical day schedule at the Maternelle:

8-9:30 - Breakfast and arrival of the children
9:30    -  Door closes and opens back only at 12 (so if you are not there before 9.30 then you have to wait until 12)
10:00 - 12:00 - thematic activities: discovery, language, environment, numbers...(with small breaks)
12:00 - 1:30 -  Lunch (Soup, main dish and cheese)
1:30 - 3:30  - Nap time (3rd floor is reserved for nap, small beds curtains closed, a story and relaxation time)
4:00pm - Snack (usually fruits with cakes)
4:30 - 6:30pm ---- games, reading, playing in the garden (this is when you can pick-up your kid, depending on your work schedule)

The kindergarten is open every day except saturdays and sundays, from september 1 to july 1st. Sometimes they offer a summer camp for the month of july, but in august, everyone is taking a break and preparing for next year. The majority of the children are local armenians from diverse backgrounds, a minority of expat's children and a group of diasporan.

Location: kilikia district in Yerevan, right behind the Ararat cognac factory
cost per child: 150 Euro per month (everything included) which is an average price for a private kindergarten in Yerevan.


March 8: from Yerevan to Turin

Last year at the Women's Resource Center, we took the initiative to burry with a performance the "red apple" (symbol of virginity for brides in Armenia) and the reactions were diverse and loud that you could see here. Despite all the negative comments, it was really important to experience how far can you push the limits regarding traditions and gender in Armenia.
This year, less controversial we opted for discussions in public spaces (markets, parks), exhibitions and a music-poetry night to celebrate our victories as women even if they sometimes seem very tiny. You could follow our activities here.

We are of course very far from voicing our anger out loud on the streets in a very determined and united way like our sisters in Turin, Italy.

I was there for a conference on Women and Work organized by ETF (European Training Foundation) and as I arrived a day earlier, I decided to take a walk in the city. While enjoying a nice cup of cappuccino in one of the Cafes on via Po in Turin, I suddenly heard some loud music coming from the nearby square and a group of policemen assembled on one of the adjacent streets. I took my camera and followed them.

People were gathering behind a small truck where you could see posters and mannequins dressed with colorful dresses. I approached a little and asked some of them what was happening? and a woman replied: Donne, women's rights, march 8 walk!

After a while lots of women joined, different ages, different looks. I decided to follow, even though i didn't understand a word, trying to read some of the phrases in Italian. What a feeling, I thought we had problems, but it seems everywhere women were facing the same challenges but on different levels. After a while, Iranian women joined us as well with a big green banner. The march continued peacefully on the rhythms of Tina Turner's music through the busy streets of historical Turin.

During protest actions in Armenia, I usually feel very stressed, surrounded by police, not knowing if your rights will be protected or not. In Turin, the feeling was a little different, the crowd was much larger, police was less invasive and people were walking confidently without any fear of expressing their opinion. Now I know that it was not always like that, but I kind of felt happy and hopeful. Armenians have much in common with Italians (family values, traditional gender roles, loud, perfect hosts, food-oriented, machoism..) and I realized at that moment that Italy is also Europe with all its gender/social challenges and a place i could relate too as an Armenian not too different and far(culture wise) like Scandinavian countries or France, England, etc. I don't know how to express that, but my trip to Italy gave me hope for Armenia's future where traditions and cultural identity can coexist with democracy and freedom of expression.


Because education at Waldorf school is more than a simple 1+1=2

You could learn a lot on the Waldorf education just by visiting one of the parents-teacher meetings.

Usually the meeting starts at 6pm and is conducted in your child’s classroom. You are allowed to bring your kids if you have nowhere to leave them and they could play in a small room on the same floor.
The teacher, in our case Baron(Mr) Arsen greets the parents with a smile and starts by introducing the topics for the meeting. At first he introduces where the program is at, what are the things that they are learning for the semester and shows some examples on the blackboard. He then introduces the program for the following semester by explaining in details why these topics are chosen and how it corresponds with the evolution, age and rhythm of the children. So by the end of this part you get to have a small lesson in pedagogy on the how and when of the functioning of the child mind and body and how each element of program done in the classroom has its own place in developing the child’s overall growth.

celebrating drntez at the school and students dancing with teachers under the wild rythms of the dhol

Then the second part starts where parents ask questions, voice their concerns on specific matters and look through teaching materials.

Now the last part is my favorite, I call it “ideas and tips for a better education”. This is when Mr. Arsen presents a specific topic related to education to give parents concrete tools on how to help out their children at home to become fully developed human beings. Some past discussions were: nutrition (what to feed your child depending on his character Active VS Passive), How TV affects children, choice of toys/craft materials, how to encourage reading, etc.
This week he gave us 7 keys for raising happy children – which he had heard of during one of his trainings/seminar from an invited guest teacher from Norway. We discussed each one of them and tried to see through our way of life.  

Here are the 7 elements needed for a successful education (followed at the Waldorf school):
1-    1- Developing self-esteem / feeling of being capable among children- something we often forget to do.
2-    2- Faith in the world surrounding us
3-    3- Joy of life – here we discussed how it was important to express happiness as parents as well to teach through our example, which some parents argued that was difficult to do since every day life was not always a happy thing in Armenia.
4-    4- Curiosity – and encouraging it instead of stopping or saying no all the time.
5-    5- Being open to the world around us – tolerance towards all living creatures.
6-    6- Will / through responsibilities taught at a young age – to become independent later.
7-    7- Social abilities – taking care of others, respecting, communicating.

Although these simple principles seem quite obvious, it was nice to hear the teacher talking about them out loud to all the parents and engaging everyone in an open and honest discussion.

While parents and society often criticize Waldorf schools around the world and also in Armenia, I think it is an important method and approach to develop young ones to become responsible human beings. For a country, like ours where the need is greater, this is a sure way of developing future civil society and prepare aware citizens for a better democracy.

Story time - 2nd grade

The meetings usually last an hour and half and I leave the school happy, content and even more confident that this is the best environment where my kids could blossom.


Women and Work - ETF Conference/ 7-8 March

After a hectic week at work in-between presenting reports, preparing for the International Women's Day in Armenia and launching the campaign on sexual violence, i find myself finally resting for a couple of hours at the departure area of the Zvartnots airport. I am heading towards Turin where I will take part in a 2 day conference which gathers bloggers, activists and students from different part of the world to discuss gender equality in the perspective on women's work, school-to-work transition and female economic participation. The main objective is to raise awareness on the issues of gender equality challenges in education and employment and present new innovative ideas and suggestions to policy makers from 29 countries surrounding EU on the day of the IWD.

The journey to get there is a little long as anywhere you go to from South Caucasus, but looking forward for the meeting.