From Panoramas to Politics: Beyond the Tourist Trip in Armenia
When I first came to Armenia, I took photo after photo of the majestic green mountains. I watched in awe as people said their prayers in churches built centuries ago, I shopped for colorful souvenirs in the Vernissage, and I felt happy and at home. It was a phenomenal experience, but essentially, it was a tourist trip. And, for a lot of people, that's where it ends. Even for most Armenians, the homeland is little more than a vacation destination. And that's how it was for me too...until I started meeting Armenian people.
I met Ani Jilozian, who repatriated from the United States to fight for women's rights and help victims of domestic violence at the Women's Support Center.
I met Mamikon Hovsepyan, who risks his safety and works tirelessly to help and protect LGBTQ+ Armenians and fight for their rights. His organizaiton, PINK Armenia, also teams up with women's rights organizations to combat prejudice and bigotry, and to make Armenia a safe home for all Armenians.
I met Tim Straight, who came to Armenia with the Norwegian Refugee Council, and stayed to help create jobs for women in endangered border villages. He uses his own money to fund the Homeland Development Initiative, which helps women use their skills to make handicrafts, and support the villages under fire with everything from crocheted airplanes to 3D Mount Ararat puzzles.
These are only three of the many amazing and inspiring people I met on my journey through Armenia. In such a small and impoverished country, it was amazing for me to see people doing everything from teaching children to work with technology, to fighting for their freedom on the front lines, to creating innovative art. It was so humbling to see the passion and effort that everyone put into making their home a better place.
So when the most recent protests started in Yerevan, it was upsetting to see all of these creative, inspiring people being crushed under a corrupt and repressive government. It was horrible to see them being beaten and attacked by police while they were peacefully protesting in the streets. But what was most frustrating to me was to hear them crying out to the diaspora and the international community for support, and being met with silence. While people in Armenia were risking their lives to protest, most people abroad wouldn't even click a button to share a Facebook post.
So, I suppose what I'm asking you to do here, is, when you see a news article about Azerbaijani firing on border villages, think of Mayor Aydinyan and the kindergarteners in Aygepar. Think about Tim Straight, and the women who are working to support their villages and families at the Homeland Development Initiative. When you read a story about a case of domestic violence, think of Ani, and the women who are taking shelter at the Women's Support Center. When you read a story about violence against LGBT people, think of Mamikon and the people who take shelter at PINK Armenia because they have been rejected by their families. When you read a story about the protests, think of all of these people suffering for the benefit of a few rich politicians, and take a moment to show them your support. Share the article that you're reading. Make a post on facebook. Use whatever means you can to speak up for what you believe in. Because if there's one thing I've learned on this trip, it's that raising your voice means the world to Armenia.