One UNPO Staff Member traveled to Armenia to take part in a Youth in Action Study Visit entitled “Discover the Caucasus – Human Rights in Armenia”.
I arrived in Yerevan in the wee hours of the morning where a taxi waited for me which would take me to the central hub for this study visit: Vanadzor. Upon my arrival in Vanadzor I immediately checked in to my room to catch up on some much needed sleep after my long night of travelling. When I woke up in the afternoon I was glad to see some of the other participants had already arrived and lunch was arranged for us. After lunch I joined some of the participants for a walk through the city and as we were out discovering Vanadzor the rest of the participants arrived. The participants came from around the Caucasus region but also from Western Europe. The countries represented in the study visit included Austria, Armenia, Belarus, Poland, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, the Netherlands, Russia/Bashkortostan, Slovenia, Spain/Catalunya, and Ukraine.
Late in the afternoon the program officially got started and the first day was one of getting to know people. We did this through various ice breakers and name games and it was a very nice way of introducing all the participants, and the organizations they represent, to each other. The second day started on a very similar note with more name games and team-building exercises. Once we had the feeling that we knew each other quite well the program switched to focus more on explaining the program methodology and the expectations we had for the Study Visit. In small groups we discussed what we hoped to gain from this experience and we shared these expectations with the others afterwards. In the afternoon we were sent out to discover Vanadzor with a list of tasks aimed at helping us to get to know more about the city and to interact with the locals. Some of the tasks included going to the historical black church and finding out why it was the old namesake (Gharakilisa) for Vanadzor, and going to a restaurant and asking for the recipe of spas, a local delicacy. After presenting our findings to the group we set out some general rules we would abide by for the rest of the study visit and closed out the day.
Day three started off the substantial part of the study visit with a workshop on human rights in Europe. For this workshop we were divided into groups based on the countries we represented and in these groups we were assigned to discuss the human rights situation in our countries. We were asked to discuss four topics namely: Freedom of expression/media, migration and integration policies, the electoral system, and gender issues. We were also asked per group to pick and discuss a fifth subject that we felt deserved some more attention. After we had finished our assignments we were divided into groups once again and we were assigned one of the four topics to discuss and present with a focus on either Eastern or Western European countries. These informal teaching methods helped us gain insights in to each of the topics and the situations in the different regions and countries. After creating some understanding with respect to the human rights situation in Europe we went on to discuss the geo-political situation in the region in order to get a clear insight into the conflicts that are going on and the tensions that exist in the region. This geo-political background was followed by a more specific segment on the human rights situation In Armenia which provided us with an in-depth look into the realities of day-to-day life in Armenia.
With these foundational elements fresh in our minds we went on to prepare the interviews we were going to conduct with the locals. We prepared four questions we were going to ask during each visit and four questions we were going to ask each individual we interviewed. This session concluded the study part of the day but after dinner the night of cultures awaited us. The night of cultures was a moment for all the participants to showcase their countries and their respective cultures. This night was a nice way to discover all the various countries through presentations, delicacies and dance. After this exciting and interesting night everyone went to bed eagerly anticipating the next day which would kick off the “visit” part of this study visit.