If life has resumed its course in Armenia after a few weeks of confinement, the environmental challenge and the questioning of societies and their way of life must be at the heart of the reflections according to Narine and Ghazar. Both inhabitants of the capital Yerevan located a few kilometers from the Turkish border, they narrate in a passionate way about their various commitments in projects for youth.

Crossed portrait by Hélène Bourgon 

At the age of 32, Narine already has more than 10 years of experience in the field of international solidarity and more specifically non-formal education of young people. She has dedicated herself since she was 22 years old to associative projects that allow young people to increase and enhance their skills and to achieve professional fulfillment. « I like to do what I do, I see their progress, day after day, and they project back to me a beautiful image of someone who helps them in their lives to achieve their projects », says Narine. « It’s useful, and the non-formal sector allows an extraordinary freedom where you can see the results in concrete terms ». In Armenia and beyond, in the heart of Eastern Europe, the association Youth Power, which she co-founded, offers workshops of civic education, empowerment in work, skills and professional projects, as well as think thanks where gender and women’s rights are discussed. One of the causes supported and defended by Narine and Ghazar is also that of the Syrian Armenians, 20,000 of them have joined Armenia since the beginning of the war in Syria. Young people are particularly in need of support to integrate and continue their studies.

« I realized how difficult it was for Syrian families of Armenian origin to live in our society even though we share the same origin. They face several challenges, including the language problem, because they speak another Armenian dialect and they have difficulty in finding work. The government should pay more attention and provide assistance for them », from the top of his 24 years, Ghazar, also involved in the NGO Youth Power, combines several passions including the video that he experiments during workshops and interviews with Syrian families of Armenian origin. « I started making videos for several youth projects. With the participants that I coach, we address several topics, such as women’s empowerment, migration, the environment and I learn a lot about the society I live in ».

Narine and Ghazar are involved in a European-funded citizenship education organisation that, with support from the Ministry of Education, provides young Syrian students with mentoring and tools to help them integrate more easily. « They need solutions, which is why we set up a specific integration project for them, especially for young people who were born in Syria. In Armenia, we speak different dialects between east and west. Therefore, we put in place specific language courses for Syrian refugees in three high schools so that they can then join Armenian schools ». The work of the organisations to which Narine and Ghazar belong has made it possible to bring up recommendations to the municipality and the government and to ensure that the rights of the newcomers, with whom they share common origins and a common history, are respected.

Women’s rights in Armenia

« I am lucky, my family has always encouraged me to realise my projects, my sister for example works in business, an environment reserved for men in our society. In the capital, there are therefore many career paths like ours, but in the majority of cases, in Armenia, women are still excluded from social projects and recognised positions, especially in politics, where there are very few women in our parliament », remarks Narine. An opinion shared by Ghazar who, in the middle of a Master’s degree in Law, is interested in the issues of domestic violence and women’s rights in the labour market. « Many Armenians think that a woman’s place is in the kitchen and that they are in no position to decide anything ». Gender issues are therefore rarely discussed in Armenian society and they represent a real challenge for these two committed young people. « We have a big problem with LGBT issues and the youth groups we receive are not always ready to talk about it. So, we have created tools for a smooth approach. Sometimes families think it’s wrong and forbid their young people to participate in our workshops », adds Narine. Despite this context, they were able to set up 35 groups of young people aged 18 to 35 who came to talk about men’s and women’s rights throughout the country and thus participate in changing certain moral values that are still very much rooted in Armenian society.

The AJCM, an opportunity to discover Mediterranean cultures

« Until now, I hadn’t had the chance to go to the Mediterranean area and work on international environmental issues. It’s great to be able to do this today, and for the past two years within the framework of the AJCM », enthuses Narine. « Yes it’s true », adds Ghazar, « it’s important to have access to projects that are taking place in the Mediterranean and related to the youth, because we share common problems, notably on gender stereotypes or environmental concerns. We have to find solutions together ». According to Narine, « all this is not new indeed, but the need to act is urgent in the face of sea and air pollution, the amount of waste and the lack of recycling that exists in Armenia. Plastics are still invading our daily lives », she adds. The problem of water pollution and mass deforestation are two issues that they will address during a video-conference with Egyptian participants on June 6th as part of the AJCM days that will take place virtually this year; a disappointment for Narine who particularly likes Marseille where she has been twice for the project. « I really like this French city where there is the largest community of Armenians. I would like to go back there. I would also like to visit Morocco, where one of my roommates comes from, and Lebanon, Syria, where our ancestors come from ».

Singer in a music band, youtubeur, blogger and sportsman, Ghazar, is also looking forward to discovering other countries: « After the coronavirus I would like to go to Morocco, to Lebanon. It’s very interesting to be able to interact with French, Lebanese, Algerians, Egyptians ». Narine appreciates the platform set up on the AJCM website: « It allows us to get to know other countries and to make our country known to the other participants. It is important to be part of this dialogue! » And concerning this global context due to the coronavirus, she continues: « This pandemic should raise awareness, it’s a message that we have to take seriously because it says that we are doing something wrong and that we have to change our attitude and pay attention to what surrounds us ». Making the environment a priority for all the governments of the world is the message of these two young Armenians, who will not fail to bring it up during the Mediterranean youth workshops.