Women in Armenia Project

Today was the opening of Paige, Henni and my photo exhibiton. We photographed and interviewed 15 women in Armenia. We are displaying about 35 photographs in the Yeghegnadzor Social Center. For the rest of the month I will be posting one woman's photographs and stories so those who could not make it can see what work we have done.

The idea of the project was to show how hard the women in Armenia work and the important and overlooked role they hold in society. We spent a lot of time with each of the women we photographed and were constantly impressed by how kind and generous these women were. I hope you enjoy them!

Anitchka Alexsanyan, 77 years old
This is the first story in a series. This is the grandmother of the host family I lived with when I first arrived.

While the Aleksanyan household may be in constant motion, one fixture is sure to stay calm and quiet observing the choreographed motion of a village household. Anitchka Alexsanyan was born in the village of Karenis (once called Gyumush) in Kotayk marz, and has remained there her whole life. She is the mother of three boys and one girl, all of whom still live in the village. Anitchka’s husband died several years ago, but she lives with her youngest son, his wife and their three children. The eldest daughter was just married this February 13th.

She is the local specialist in all sorts of holistic and herbal remedies; many villagers often come to her for treatments. She can often be found repairing bedclothes, preparing matsun and sour cream, or praying several times a day in front of the altar at the house. In the fall, the preparation of all dried fruits and nuts does not happen without first being inspected and approved by her.

Tsorik Chatshatriyan, 38 years old
Siranush Soromonyan, 85 years old

Tsorik Chatshatriyan started selling wine on the road two years ago. We took her photo in December. It was a nice, sunny day and we went wine tasting in Areni village for our Christmas party. She served us different kinds of red wine and several fruit wines, her specialty, blackberry, pomegranate, raspberry…
Tsorik graduated from university in Yerevan, but never had the chance to work in her profession. Later she was working in finances. Then she moved with her family to a home next to the Yerevan road, and the mother of two girls and one boy decided to stay close and start selling wine there.

Behind her, next to the wall of their small selling place, Siranoush was sitting in the sun, Tsorik’s mother-in-law. Her eyes were closed, for her the time seemed to stand still.
Both women agreed that we could take their pictures, but they said, ”Menk sirun chenk!” We are not pretty. But we think they are and wanted to have them in our exhibition.

Aghavne Khorenyan, 76 years old
Armenuhi Muradyan, 49 years old
Marine Hovhannisyan, 25 years old
Aghavne Khorenyan, 19 years old

When you follow the street up from the river in Getap village, at some point you will reach the house of the Khorenyan’s just underneath a huge rock. From afar you can hear the turkeys, which are running around in the backyard and perhaps the cry of their youngest grandchild. Laundry is blowing in the wind and smoke is coming out of the woodstove. If you enter the house during the day, you will not meet any men in the house. The head of the household died seven years ago and the son is working. All men of this family drive trucks all over Armenia. The father was a driver, as is the son, and if you ask them what the youngest will do later, they'll tell you that he is going to do the same job.

We met Aghavne in the mashrutka to Getap. She invited us to come to their house. When we entered, it was nice and warm. The great-grandmother and the eldest grandchild were lying in the bed and the others were immediately preparing coffee, apples, nuts and cookies for us.
Armenuhi tells us that they are six people living in the house; her mother-in-law Aghavne, her youngest daughter Aghavne, her son and her daughter-in-law Marine, along with their two children and herself. She has another daughter who is already married and lives with her husband's family. Although all the women are unemployed, they are busy taking care of the children, the house and the garden.
Armenuhi remembers some German she learned in school. She helps all members of her family learn German and remembers the time she was learning in school with a big smile on her face.

Anahit Hachnasaryan, 20 years old

Anahit Hachnasaryan is student and mother. She studies English in the third course of “Gitelik” University. While she is studying, her mother or her mother-in-law are taking care of her 9-month-old son Artyom. When you see Anahit for the first time, you would not think that she has a baby. She is small, very thin and very young, but she is more quiet and mature than the other girls in her class.

Anahit is originally from Yeghegnadzor. Now she is living with her parents-in-law and her husband in the village Malishka. She moves between the two houses to organize day care for her son.
She got to know her husband when she was 18. After both his and her parents agreed, they decided to get married.

Alla Agabekyan, 29 years old

You might know Alla in the region of Vayots Dzor. She is the regional officer of Viva Cell and has been working in the company for four years.
She received her Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology and Management and is now studying her Master’s degree in Management and Economy in the field of network in Yerevan. She goes to Yerevan either once a week or she takes three weeks of vacation and studies the module in one session.
Her aim is to be kind to people, she wants to do the best for the people, especially in the countryside. Her openness and friendliness is appreciated by both Armenians and foreigners who come in the region. Alla has always had contact with the Peace Corps Volunteers and other foreigners. She tutored Armenian language to them and improved her own English by communicating with them.
She is very interested in other cultures and countries and she has traveled to other countries.
Besides her interests and career, Alla still finds the time for her 6-year-old son and her husband. She was married when she was 23.

Nazik Harutsunyan

Nazik Harutsunyan is a friendly neighbor to everyone living on Komissarneri Street in Vayk, and spends her days working in her garden, taking care of her home and her 14-year-old daughter Narine. She is always laughing and joking and her sense of personal happiness is easy to see. She was born in the village of Bartsruni to a large and loving family. She came to Vayk to live in the house that her uncle built about 15 years ago. She is a single mother, and does a fantastic job raising her daughter alone. When her mother became ill, Nazik cared for her all day, everyday for the last 10 months of her life up to moment she died. She remembers her mother’s life and carries on her mother’s way and traditions with respect and love. She works very hard to keep up all the work that it takes to run a house alone: cooking, cleaning, chopping wood, repairing broken machines and electrical outlets, harvesting and planting the garden, and teaching her daughter about what is important in life. She is a very exceptional woman and is recognized for her happy spirit and her lifestyle that is full of honor and dignity.

Emma Yepremyan, 73 years old

Emma is Sona Vanyan’s mother-in-law. When she tells us about her son’s death at the age of 30, she has still tears in her eyes, 18 years later.
She cannot see very well, she says, “The world is cloudy to me.”
With patience is she sitting on her bed and waiting until we have the right picture. She smiles and tells us openly about their life. She is originally from Getap village, married a man from the same village and has stayed there her whole life. Everybody in the village knows her and appreciates her open-minded, friendly character.

We ask her what was new and what she did during the day, she says, “What can I do? I just sit here.” She is the personification of quietness and enjoys having younger people around.
Later on she is standing in front of the mirror, watching herself and gazing out the window. After some minutes the others ask her what she was doing, knowing that Emma cannot see very well, “I’m just looking,” answers Emma sunken in her thoughts.

Sona Vanyan, 40 years old

When you enter the yard of Sona Vanyan, you can smell her profession: lavash, cheese, baklava and many other things appreciated by the whole village.

Sona works from sunrise till sunset. She bakes, cooks, milks the cows, cleans house and yard, she does everything. She has had a hard life, but she is strong, smiles and says, “We don’t live very well, we are not rich, but we thank God for everything we have every day.”

She was 21 when she married, together the couple had a one-year-old son and she was two months pregnant with her daughter. After only one year of marriage her husband died. All alone at 22, she had just moved from Yeghegnadzor into her husband’s house in the village Getap. Since then she lives with her parents-in-law and raises her children alone.
Now she is 40. Her son who is now 19, is serving in the army in Sisian. She shows his picture with pride. Her daughter studies in Getap school and helps her bake lavash when she comes home from school. People from the village bring her flour and she bakes for them the delicious bread. That’s how she earns money.

She sleeps with her daughter on one end of the room, her parents-in-law on the other, separated with just a curtain. The room is dining room, living room and bedroom in one. The woodstove gives it a nice atmosphere, from the TV sounds traditional Armenian music. She serves us all Armenian riches, wine, pasturma, salad, fresh lavash, cheese, meat and eggs, nuts, sujukh and coffee - everything homemade and all natural!
She tells us that she and her daughter were going to a wedding the next day far north of Yerevan. She is preparing all her specialties to make those people as happy as she made us.
We ask her when they will be coming back she answers, “It depends if we like it there or not.” Sona lives in the day…

Aygestan Hovhannisyan

Aygestan Hovhannisyan has a very traditional Armenian woman’s life. She is married and has three grown children: two sons and one daughter. She takes care of the house by doing all the work that is usually done by women. When the majority of her house work is completed in the afternoons, she enjoys having her girlfriends over for coffee or visiting her neighbors to talk and laugh. She is a very strong woman with good values and is well respected in her community as a person who is honest and kind. Her husband works as an electrician at Vayk’s electrical facility and aside from his monthly wages they also have a greenhouse where they grow seasonal vegetables to sell. In the winter everyone in their family is working hard to clean and harvest “ganachi” and in the summer they sell tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. She is a very busy woman but always has time to sit with a friend and offer them coffee and fruit. She is the youngest child of five and is from the village of Khnzorut. She loves to plant many different varieties of flowers and it is easy to see that her name “Aygestan” suits her. Her father, almost 90-years-old, comes over to her house from time to time to get his hair cut by her and she is known as the family hairstylist. She is an excellent seamstress and is very creative in making small, useful things for her family. She is a wonderful woman and has a kind and happy husband as well as three very smart and respected grown children.

Knarick Avakyan

Knarick Avakyan is an English teacher in the village of Yelpin and is one of the kindest people you will ever meet. She is 47 years old, and she works hard every day teaching English at school and also after school private lessons. Knarick is always interested in connecting herself with the outside world and other people and she likes to read about world news. She always has a beautiful smile on her face despite how difficult it is sometimes to live in a village, work full-time and raise a family. She is married and has two children, Sophie and Tigran, whom she loves very much. She says that it is important to keep a sense of optimism and to believe in the future as a bright light to follow with a sense of happiness and purpose. When Knarick has free time, she likes baking sweets and taking care of her cats. She is proud to be Armenian, and holds up Armenian traditions by being hospitable and kind to her guests. You will never hear Knarick Avakyan saying bad things about people because she believes in finding the best in others. The secret of her happiness is her optimism.

Gohar Alexsanyan, 44 years old

Gohar Alexsanyan is the epitome of a strong, determined and proud village woman. She is the mother of two girls and one boy. Along with all the responsibilities a woman takes on keeping a household, Gohar also keeps a barn full of pigs and cows, a coop full of hens and roosters and an enormous garden with fruit trees, vegetables and berry bushes. She wakes early in the morning to milk the cow, feed the pigs and let out the chickens. She then prepares breakfast for her children and husband before they head off to school and work.
In the summer time, Gohar spends the day harvesting fruits and vegetables and about once a week takes the yield to Yerevan to sell in the markets. She comes home late and prepares dinner for the family and once again milks the cow, feeds the pigs and puts up the chickens for the night.
Gohar is a lover of knowledge. She was studying at the university in Yerevan when she met her husband, quit her studies and got married. Soon thereafter, her first daughter, Anna, was born. Anna was just recently married this February 13th. Gohar is tremendously proud of her children and the happy prosperous life she and her family have led.

Gohar and her family have also hosted two Peace Corps trainees during the Pre-Service Training. The Americans lived with her family for two and a half months after first arriving in Armenia. When the trainees reach Armenia they only know a few words of the language, so the host family became an interactive classroom and provided a network to other villagers and other family members within the country. The family served as the first contact with Armenian culture and language.

Tamara Avetisyan, 55 years old

“We have children”

Tamara Avetisyan is the mother of four children, two girls, two boys and grandmother of four. She lives together with one of her daughters, her daughter-in-law and two of her grandchildren in the village Getap. If you ask her she would tell you that they have children, she takes care of her grandchildren like a mother day and night. Her daughter-in-law works as a doctor in the hospital, both of her sons live in Russia, as well as her husband. Tamara used to live in Karelia, Russia as well, but she came back to live with her grandchildren and her younger daughter. She is a mother and grandmother with passion. She would do everything for them. She tried to earn as much money as possible to help her children study; she worked as dancing teacher in Getap from 1972 to 1975, worked in the kindergarten from 1981 to 1994 and lived in Russia from 2001 to 2006.

What is it like to live in a house with only women?
It is not easy for them to go shopping or to visit friends without a car. The two boys ask for their father every day, every day they call their men in Russia or the men call them. Everybody hopes that they could come soon to visit them, but the flights are expensive and they work hard and don’t have vacation time.
New Year’s 2009: I visited them on New Year’s Eve. They were preparing cakes, salads and other very delicious dishes. Every ten minutes the phone was ringing, the father of the kids and the grandfather were calling to ask what they were doing now. On one hand, it was a sad New Year’s, and a very relaxed one on the other. Without men in the home you can do what you want, eat when you want and dance us much as you want.

Some voices in the village put pressure on Tamara, “Your husband has worked enough, why is he still in Russia? It’s time that he comes back and enjoys his pension.” But the father is like his wife; why sit when I can work and help my family?” The daughter explains to me,
Without work my father gets sick. He couldn’t find work here and was getting nervous. That’s why he went to Russia…. If I wanted I could study again and my father would pay for it. But I don’t want to take money from him. I would rather like that he takes the money for a ticket to come visit us.
Family comes before your own interests. For me that is a very impressive fact about Armenia.
When the grandchildren grow up and the youngest daughter marries, Tamara will join her husband in Russia.

Nunufar Karapetyan, 31 years old

“Yes masnaget em! – I am a specialist!”

Nunufar is specialist in selling wine. Coming from Yerevan you can see the yellow parasol, the sign that says ice cream and her conspicuous red hair as one of the first points of sale on the right. Cars honk, people wave out of their window; Nunufar is known all over the road Yerevan- Yeghegnadzor. If you were wondering if ever cars stop on the road to buy something at Nunufar’s place, they definitely do. Maybe it is an ensemble of her tasty wine and her prepossessing character. Her cheerful laugh and her hospitality are remarkable. She serves her customers big glasses of wine, coffee, cookies and apples. Nunufar was selling wine in several markets in the area for 13 years before her family opened the place on the road. Now she has been selling there for five years and she seems to love her job. She works from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. every day and never takes a vacation. In her small selling house she has a stove to cook and a radio. She says that she could never leave her village, even though she is very interested in other cultures and languages. Maybe if she wouldn’t have this point of sale, maybe.

Nunufar speaks not only Armenian, she also remembers German and Russian that she learned in school. She learned Persian on her own and knows Turkish from the trips she went on with her father to Nachitshevan. When she was a little girl her father went hunting in the territory of Nachitshevan, which was easily accessible from the village Areni.
Nunufar is the oldest child in her family. Her brother died and her sister is married in Karabach. She is not married and stays with her parents. She never had the chance to study after school, but she studies herself languages and reads a lot about environmental issues.

Ruzan Khatchatryan, 55 years old

Mother of many and master of most, Ruzan Khatchatryan doesn’t spend much time sitting idle. The mother of two girls and one boy is also surrogate mother to seven Peace Corps Volunteers, one of whom is currently serving in Yeghegndadzor (Emily Haas), while the others have safely returned to America and call their Armenian mother occasionally. While she may recall with fondness the times she had spent with the Americans living with her in the past, it also brings back memories of what her house was like when it was full. Ruzan’s husband died just one year ago, her son is serving in the army in Sisian, her oldest daughter is married and lives in Russia and the other is married with two young children and rarely gets an opportunity to visit.

Ruzan works 12 hours a day, seven days a week in a khanut preparing kebabs, selling various sundries and most recently gold jewelry. Work, she said, is something that still keeps her going. While her children were studying in university, all of her children graduated with college degrees from universities in Yerevan, Ruzan kept a cow, her garden and the household. She worked from sunrise until sunset everyday and gave every thing she earned to her children so they could pay their tuition and afford to live in Yerevan. She is tremendously proud of what her children have accomplished and says that she has always held the future of her children as her highest priority.

Ruzan was born in the village of Agarakadzor and most of her family still lives there. While she is waiting for her son to return and for the pain of her recent loss to recede, she occupies her time by staying close to her loved ones and keeping close her sweet memories from the past.

Opening Day Photos

Paige and the photos. We were just a little excited to get the show on the road.

And here is me and the photos. All snazzed up!

The amazing Miss Henni, the organizer of the show.

The "We-are-women-hear-us-roar" crew.

Paige talking about some photos with Lee Lacy, Peace Corps Armenia Country Director, and Armen , PC Environmental Education Program Manager.

Sona and me. Sona showed up early to the exhibit, as she rode the marsrutka to get there. She was in the building before we showed up. We found her in the gallery reading her story and looking at her photos with tears in her eyes. This really cemented our feelings that this exhibition was a big deal and something Armenian women would never think to organize for themselves about themselves.

We had many guests from the Yeghegnadzor community. This man is from the governor's office. He said he was very impressed with all the women in the exhibit and he recognized almost everyone's faces. He even told some stories about some of the women he knew.

Anahit looking at her photos surrounded by some of her classmates.

Paige and Knarik. Knarik took the early mashrutka from Yelpin to Yeghegnadzor, about a 35 minute drive.

Knarik and her sister-in-law, Aygestan. Aygestan and her family were Paige's second host family in Vayk. Both women are featured in the exhibition.

Henni thanking our guests and explaining the premise of the project. About 50 people were crammed into the little gallery, but everyone was enjoying themselves. We baked American cookies and crackers with a goat cheese dip and served champagne to toast the women. Henni collected information from UN and Amnesty International's websites and had students from the university write up data and essays about the state of the women in Armenia. Many guests told us that they were happy to see the data, as it reminded them of why women are important and how they have been ignored.

Henni and Sona. Many of the women in the exhibition are from the village Getap, where Henni has a family that she visits several times a week. In Getap Henni has become a celebrity. Sona and her family are one of the many families Henni has become close with.

Meester Jon, Peace Corps volunteer, my site mate. The one and only.

My marz-mates. These are my Americans, and they will all be leaving me in August. Bah ho.

Some girls from my Eco Club.

The after party at my apartment.

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