We woke up on the fourth day looking forward to an exciting day filled with interesting discussions with both NGO’s and the locals. All of the study visits on this day took place in Vanadzor and the first organization we visited was the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly of Vanadzor (HCAV). When the HCAV was first founded they were mostly focused on promoting civil society and peaceful conflict resolution but as the years passed they gradually moved into human rights protection. The discussion at the HCAV was a vivid one with topics including Armenia’s recent decision to join the EURAsEC customs union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, the consequences this had for their advocacy work, and the threat of increased militarization of the government. Unfortunately we only had a limited amount of time to spend at the organizations and before we knew it, as would be the case with the other NGO’s, the time had passed and we had to go on to our next NGO: the NGO Centre.
The NGO Centre is an organization focused on civil society development founded in 1994 as a project of the American Assembly of Armenia. An interesting aspect about the visit to the NGO Centre was that they have managed to bridge the gap between (local) government and the local community. Where other NGO’s mentioned that the government was not necessarily benevolent towards their work, NGO Centre indicated that they have had a history of success with regards to involving the local government.
Our next and final NGO of the day was Peace Dialogue. Founded in 2009 this NGO focuses on developing civil peace building, strengthening respect for human rights and democratic values, promotion of civil peace initiatives, and advocacy on behalf victims of conflicts. The methods it uses to achieve these goals are the pedagogy of Paulo Freire and the theatre of the oppressed method developed by Augusto Boal. Through these methods and by working with creative people they hope to reach a broader range of people. These non-conventional methods were a refreshing change as it provided a new way of tackling the issues they were faced with. After a very lively discussion which included a presentation of some of their work we had run out of time and our time at Peace Dialogue came to a close. There was however one more very exciting part of the day still to come namely the interviews!
We were divided in to groups and sent out on a mission to interview the local inhabitants of Vanadzor. Since not all the participants spoke Armenian or Russian every group had to consist of at least one Russian speaker. The interviews were very interesting and for me they were the most exciting part because it provided us with firsthand information about the experiences of the local population. We conducted several interviews with a diverse group of people and all of their stories and experiences were indeed very different from one another. One trend that could be deducted however was the fact that all of their stories were either very general or were stories about others, it seemed as if people were not willing to talk about themselves. Whether this was a common attribute within Armenia remained to be seen but it was indeed something worth noticing. This long and interesting day finally came to an end after we conducted the interviews.
We woke up early on day five to make our way to Gyumri where we would be spending our entire day. Our first stop was the NGO Youth Initiative Centre (YIC). The YIC is an NGO that focuses on the development of civic activism by the youth. They try to achieve their goals through promoting active participation of the youth with respect to youth policy and through advocating cultural awareness among the youth. After this interesting and energetic presentation we went on to interview the locals of Gyumri. While initially it seemed that they were a bit more closed off than the people in Vanadzor the ones that were willing to answer our questions were very open and really took the time to answer our questions and engage us in conversation.
After the interviews we went on to our second and final NGO of the day, the City is Ours initiative at the Sakharov Human Rights House. It was interesting to have this visit after the YIC because this initiative was predominantly led by more senior people. Some members from the YIC came along for this visit and it was interesting to see that they had different views with respect to certain topics such as Armenia’s decision to join the EURAsEC customs union for example. The juxtaposition between the younger and the older generation could be seen in this instance and it provided us with a better view of Armenian society as a whole.