Lara Aharonian

Born on 7 September 1972
Studied at University of Concordia, Montreal, Quebec
Profession: education psychologist
Chairperson at “Women’s Resource Center” NGO
Married, has four children

-I know it had been many years that You had been living in Canada. How come You came to Armenia, what was Your motivation?

I first visited Armenia in 1985, to participate in a youth camp. I had gotten first impressions after the visit and I thought that I should come and live in Armenia. I found few projects back in 1998 and visited Armenia once again; I volunteered in the village of Karintak in Karabakh, where we repaired a church. And in 2001, I already went to Shushi, to see whether I could be living there with a child or not. We renovated the hospital of Shushi during the visit. At that time, the husband of mine Raffi and I, we have made a decision to live in Armenia by all means. It was Raffi who had first found a job in Armenia; he applied for it, and we moved to here. As I didn’t want to sit with hands folded, I have decided that I should have been dealing with women’s rights protection as I had previously noticed gender inequality prevalent among the society, the lower rank of the woman and, in general, the cases of abuse of women’s rights. I talked to Yerevan State University for this issue. I was referred to the faculty of Sociology as it was mostly there that they would deal with gender research. We had discussions on several details with Gohar, had a plan drawn and started working with female students of the university on voluntary basis. They would discuss women’s rights together, gender inequality and discrimination towards women, and then, sexual rights and sexual health. In 2005, we left the university, rent an apartment, registered “Women’s Resource Center” non-profit organization and started applying for funding. And now, we work fully and joyfully.

-Tell us a little bit about Your goings-on; how come You decided to get involved into civic activism and Human Rights protection? Did You do so after arriving in Armenia?

Prior to coming to Armenia, I was very active in lots of matters in Canada. I was involved in work and volunteerism both in the university and outside of the university. I was mostly preoccupied with people having disabilities and with pupils having visual impairment. I was active in Armenian issues in Armenian community as well. Meanwhile, I was very active in women’s organizations. I was also drawn in actions for combating poverty. We would claim state to provide housing to single mothers, we would seek abandoned state buildings, organize protests in front of them for the state not to demolish them, not to sell them for business purposes as long as our plea would not be satisfied. I also was very active in issues on mental health. I carry on my activism in Armenia, too.

-You are working on creating and developing civil society; what is Your success track, what changes have been made in that sphere?

First of all, I reckon my personal transformation to be an achievement; I also have mastered new skills: team work, cooperating and working with people of different flavours, working in different ways. Another success for me was that I was able to create a milieu where young women may gather, discuss concerns they have and generally use the space the way they want to. I have also introduced some changes in the practice of management of our organization, furthermore trying to influence other NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in order to change their hierarchic relationship resting it on more horizontal position. The fact that I have started operating in a coalition is yet another success.
One huge success for us was the fortune of founding women’s first ever resource centre in Karabakh, Shushi which was the first organization representing civil society there.

-And what sort of hardships and obstacles have You faced during Your vocation?

The first and the foremost obstacle is stemming from the society; you do something and they don’t support you, and vice versa, they somewhat hinder you. On the other hand, one shall be more watchful as freedoms of speech and expression are not protected in Armenia which is putting one and one’s activism in greater danger. True, anything terrible has never happened to me so far, yet there have been many threats. Another obstacle is the fact that there is no consensus among other organizations on the manner of attitude regarding the work on women’s rights and gender equality. As a result, the cooperation is harder to achieve, which is resulting in some shortcomings and we move on with difficulty, by devoting more time on solving the same exact problem. Having a big family and children is a little bit of obstacle; nonetheless I have also found the way to overcome it.

-And how do You succeed in banding family and work together, still acing to be a good mother, an active woman and a civic activist?

It all has to do with careful planning; if everything is well planned, then you can be a success in doing everything and being at time everywhere. I have a superb mechanism of assistance here; in the family, outside of the family and among friends. Besides, I had been teaching my children from an early age to adapt themselves to my lifestyle. It is also a contribution to their unanimity; they lend a hand to each other. The society is child-centered here; they love them, they help out, care for them etc. My smallest child has to be a part of various conferences, actions, and that also serves to be a model of an active mother. Self-confidence is essential; when they see that you’ve got it, they are sure you will make it do.

photo by Kristine Hovhannisyan

-Being so young, You’ve still earned sympathy and appreciation in the whole Armenian society. What does secure Your success?

There is a pattern of continuity in what I do, that is to say it never happened an activity to be ceased when funding would be over, if dealing with women’s issues. Apart from that, I am involved in any action which has to do with the violation of Human Rights. If one is an activist, then one is an activist everywhere and always. Even if rights of a single person are not protected and are infringed, then you are vulnerable, too, as the whole society is suffering because of that.

-Finally, as a skilled professional, an activist in civil society and, foremost, model woman, what would be Your advice to our youth and young citizens?

The least I advise them is not to be silent when something is seen to be unjust. If one keeps silence about something, then one may remain silent in other affairs, and after that we will lose the control over the civil society. Young women should not be afraid of being activists as it bestows on a lot of opportunities, it is didactic, and one acquires many skills whilst being involved in volunteerism, not by sitting in universities. If I were not involved in activism for so many years, I would not have had that much of experience. One shall not discount the possibilities and pros that activism and volunteerism make available.

Others speaking about Lara Aharonian

Anoush Poghosyan, “Women’s Resource Center” NGO

I know Lara since 2005. Lara can be singled out as a very kind, careful, meanwhile very strict and objective leader. I always admire the fact that she is able to combine her family and work, she manages to do a whole lot of things and she can be present at several places at once, full of energy. Lara is one of these exceptional persons that, me thinks, had made important changes in the lives of many, and I am not an exception. I have learned, thanks to her, that if something disturbs you or is not fair, and then you shall fight it. I thank you Lara, for everything. I love you very much, and I love your humor and optimism above all.

Raffi Niziblyan, Lara’s husband

Lara is my muse, my inspiration and my partner in crime. Lara is someone with values, with a conscience, with a will. Lara is a great friend, a wonderful mother and dedicated activist and a sensual wife. Lara is intelligent; she is strong but also very sensitive. Lara is all that I would want in a woman. Best of all, when our kids are older, they will refer to their mother as a role model!

Timothy Straight, Honorary Consul at Royal Norwegian Consulate, Finnish Honorary Consulate

Lara never fails to amaze me. She fights for important issues, the right issues. She fights on the ground, in the streets, in the police stations and in the court rooms. She is always at the front, on the barricades. Fearless and determined, she is also graceful. She is focused. Lara, you are an inspiration.

Nvard Margaryan