|In front of government build. for green spaces|
Growing up in an Armenian diasporan community in the Middle East, one learns very early in life that activism and volunteerism is an important part of your life and your identity. I learned it from my grand-parents, and later on from my parents, that I followed once or more a week to community center meetings, fairs, demonstrations for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, Cultural and awareness events at the Armenian church, theaters and dances, emergency fundraising for Armenia during the earthquake and the war. And then I experienced it first hand while attending scouting groups as a participant first then as a cub leader, volunteering for youth clubs, church bazars, and Armenian school events over the years. The first lesson most families teach their children in the Armenian diaspora is to always give back to the community and volunteer, volunteer, volunteer after, work, school or University.
Later on, while studying at the University in Montreal, I continued my activism volunteering with the Armenian Students Associations holding intercultural events, book readings, and of course raising awareness and demanding justice for the Armenian Genocide. Over the years, I became more critical about my activism, and more selective on topics and issues that interested me, but the core “how to do” and the energy to do something stayed with me from my younger years. Gradually, during my University years, I got involved less with the Armenian community and more with the local diverse and multicultural groups of Montreal. I remember volunteering with the Women’s center in my neighborhood by occupying an empty building for days demanding more social housings. I later on initiated a local community feminist journal with a group of women from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds in the same neighborhood, a little outside the Armenian ghetto. It was early 2000, there were protest actions going on by leftist, feminist and students groups in Montreal against globalization, marches for Palestine…Around that time, I had my first baby and with my husband, moved close to the city center, in a very active neighborhood, Villeray. We both were participating actively in the actions, meetings and my little one, a couple of months old, joined us everywhere, wrapped on my chest or in a backpack.
So when I moved to Armenia 13 years ago, I was surprised at how little people, mostly youth, allocated time to volunteering and being active for social issues in their daily life.
Over the years, things started to change. Civil society became more dynamic. Different initiatives were developing and many young people became more involved; women’s marches against violence, March 8 for women’s rights, Mashdots park civil initiative for green spaces, IDAHOT, Save Teghut eco-activists against mining, “Army in Reality” protesting with mothers of soldiers killed in non-combat, #ElectricYerevan against electricity high fees and much more. In most of these actions, my kids joined me. It is beneficial for kids to learn very early not to be indifferent to social issues and human rights.
|Mashtots park protest, where we also|
celebrated my youngest's first bday
During the time when my last one was born, I would join mothers of soldiers protesting every Thursday in front of the government building. A whole battalion of soldiers would stand in front of us. And my little one, 3-4 months old would smile and make faces at them. They couldn’t resist and would start playing with him. It seemed to also be a sort of comforting moment when disheartened protesting mothers would hold him and hug him saying “he brings so much positive feelings, it’s good that you are bringing him but make sure he doesn’t catch cold” J (never fails, you always get advices when out with a child in Armenia).
My older ones would join me during the women’s marches. They would distribute flyers, play the drums, chant... At an older age, they would hold performances or become the official photographer of the actions.
Activism was part of my life and my children were part of my activism and we all learned along the way. It made us stronger; it helped us to learn about the world, humanity and how to change things and most of all not to despair. Over the years, we discussed many issues; equality, discrimination, rights, violence, justice. Concepts that were not very much tackled in schools but that are so essential to raise empathetic humans.
|During the peace march in Yerevan|
Being a mother of four and an activist has also its share of challenges. You often get criticized for being away and busy for long times. You try to accept the sadness of missing school meetings, some birthdays, and family events. You feel, sometimes directly and often indirectly, people blaming you for not being a "good mom". You try to develop an extra energy and force to resist the guilt-feeling that grows inside you, like a seed planted in you the day you were born by society that doesn’t accept that women should be as active in the public space and specially if they have children. You learn over the years to deal with that inner guilt feeling, you deconstruct it, you work on yourself, you redefine your role. You concentrate on those who offer real support, like your life partner and try to ignore the negative criticism. You also educate others, your team members, fellow male activists, donors, about the challenges and gender stereotypes you face and how to change things to make the space more equal and accessible to the needs and realities of women activists and human rights defenders with children. You learn how to fight back in your personal space where expectations are harsh and rigid towards you as a mother. At the same time you fight the outside world; against hate and prejudice for the work you do that pushes boundaries and shakes the core values of society.
|March against gender-based violence|
Then you realize that your activism is the best lesson in humanity you can give to your children. The most important thing is that you teach them how to not be indifferent to injustice and discrimination, how to do their share in changing things, how to give back to the community they live in, how to be humans and care for their surroundings, how to face negative criticism, resist discouraging people and most of all to not despair.
|Raising awareness on domestic violence|