“Did you get an introduction to the situation in Armenia already, or do you want a short briefing?” Lara Aharonian, founder of the Women’s Resource Center Armenia (WRCA), is the one asking. We all nod eagerly, a briefing would be good.
One week’s visit to the South Caucasus has just started, and we are in the Armenian capital Yerevan. I travel together with a group of young feminists from Bosnia-Hercegovina and Lebanon, and staff from Kvinna till Kvinna. The aim of the trip is to give young women from conflict areas the opportunity to meet, to reflect upon their own activism and to exchange experiences in order to strengthen young women’s activism and peace work.
We sit tightly together in a small room decorated with colorful feminist posters and full of books and magazines. Lara Aharonian says that she’s not going to talk too much about the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Every word is politically sensitive and it easily becomes too unilateral, she says.
– If you want to know more, there is a lot to read, and I recommend that you listen to both sides, Lara Aharonian says, before she starts talking about the situation for women and women’s organizations in Armenia.
Her introduction lingers inside me. Lara Aharonian belongs to that part of the human race that usually is excluded from official peace negotiations, i.e. women, which is also the case here. I think about how the peace talks would have turned out if more humble, wise feminists like Lara Aharonian had been sitting around the negotiating table.
I am soon awakened from my thoughts. Lara Aharonian talks passionately about how WRCA is working to improve the situation of women in a country where domestic violence is seen as a private matter; where nine out of ten MP:s are men and the rise of nationalism makes it difficult and sometimes risky for the women’s movement and the LGBT movement to work. She shares stories of success with us, such as the “women’s march” where volunteers from WRCA wandered between villages in rural areas for five-six days to talk about violence against women. The feedback was positive and some women even joined the march along the way. Several women from these regions later on called the WRCA’s hotline for advice or to get more information.
Despite the fact that the small room is running out of air, the participants’ interest persists. Several of the Bosnian participants are full of enthusiasm and recognition – “they work exactly with the same things as we do, and they organize actions almost identical to ours!”, one of them exclaims. After the meeting business cards and email addresses are being exchanged, as well as plans to stay in touch.
Later during the trip, we will meet yet more feminists, in Azerbaijan for instance. Since the border between the two countries is closed, the ones of us going to Azerbaijan have to travel through Georgia. We notice that the conflict is present, albeit on a low level of intensity, and that it matters significantly which words we choose. But what we meet during this trip more than anything, are women who tirelessly continue to fight for a peaceful society, where peace not only means absence of armed conflict, but also that the war against women has stopped. This struggle transcends all nation borders, and it is a special feeling to be part of a moment permeated with that particular insight.