In early October, AIWA’s leadership faced a challenging decision: to postpone our highly-anticipated 2023 Local to Global: Uniting for Change Conference and redirect our attention to the pressing needs of forcibly displaced Artsakh families. Although the Conference was canceled, AIWA leaders and members traveled to Armenia, where they engaged with government officials, coordinated meetings with partner organizations and NGOs, actively listened, and assessed the immediate needs to chart a strategic and impactful response to the prevailing crisis.
Here are the day-by-day highlights of AIWA’s visit to Armenia.
OCTOBER 3, 2023
AIWA x HIGH COMMISSIONER MEETING
On October 3rd, our President, Silva Katchiguian, Board member Tsoleen Sarian, and representatives Ani Aivazian, Anni Barsoum, and Neinel Zani, had the honor of meeting with the RA High Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs, Zareh Sinanyan. During this insightful discussion, we highlighted our commitment to protecting women’s rights, advancing women’s education, and increasing women’s involvement in various sectors, including business and technology. The High Commissioner warmly welcomed our initiatives and expressed a strong desire for ongoing collaboration.
We also addressed the pressing challenges faced by displaced Armenians from Artsakh, learned about the multifaceted government and NGO efforts to address their diverse needs, and explored ways AIWA can have the most significant impact in addressing the ongoing humanitarian crises.
Additionally, we presented our upcoming plans to establish a branch in Armenia, allowing us to deepen our collaboration with local and Diaspora organizations, work closely with the Government, and actively contribute to initiatives addressing the ongoing humanitarian challenges.
OCTOBER 5, 2023
AIWA MEETS AMERICAN AMBASSADOR TO ARMENIA, KRISTINA KVIEN
On October 5, AIWA President Silva Katchiguian, Board members Alice Petrossian and Tsoleen Sarian, and members Ani Aivazian and Sara Anjargolian met with the US Ambassador to Armenia, Kristina Kvien, to discuss AIWA’s commitment to protecting women’s rights and the concern over the future security of forcibly displaced families of Artsakh. The discussion centered around AIWA’s 30 years of investment in the country to improve and advance women’s education and involvement in all sectors of life. “Today, we have a huge task before us,” said Katchiguian. “The displaced families, of whom 50% are women and children, have been traumatized and starved and held ‘hostage’ for 10 months. They fear for their security. We fear for their security.”
The Ambassador was asked how the United States will support Armenia in protecting its territorial integrity and whether it plans to have a presence in the southern regions of Armenia.
Ambassador Kvien shared that security would be a priority concern and she mentioned the ongoing American investments and economic development projects in mining, steel production, and hydroelectric production in Syunik Region to the south, as well as the IT sector in Yerevan and northern regions.
The Ambassador mentioned that she felt the government of the RA was doing a good job in the registration and integration of the people coming across the border. She said that the US supports the current Armenian government’s priorities of anti-corruption efforts, particularly in the judiciary, expanding community policing, and advancing media/journalism.
AIWA members also expressed that as US taxpayers, we would expect that the United States would earmark significantly more funding in humanitarian assistance. The Ambassador was open to the discussion.
The conversations continued around programs that build capacity in Armenia and for women’s empowerment particularly, which are priorities for the Ambassador and certainly opportunities for cooperation with AIWA in the future.
A VISIT TO FAST CREATIVE CAMPUS
AIWA visited the FAST Creative campus in Armenia, and it was nothing short of amazing!
During our visit, we delved into the heart of educational innovation, where AI is transforming the way students learn. We witnessed AI technology being introduced in schools, encouraging hands-on science, sparking curiosity, and fostering a passion for learning like never before.
MEET & GREET
AIWA hosted a Meet and Greet to unite and express our gratitude to all who supported our decision to redirect our efforts from the 2023 Conference to the needs of people from Artsakh.
AIWA Conference chair Alice Petrossian shared, “When women come together, they forge enduring friendships that carry us through both joyful and challenging moments.” This is precisely what AIWA’s Meet and Greet was all about.
We gathered to discuss, connect, and appreciate the beauty of Yerevan while engaging in conversations about individual contributions, collaborative projects, and AIWA’s initiative to establish an Armenian affiliate.
Among the guests were the Chargé d’affaires of the Spanish Embassy in Armenia, Christina Conesa Sancho; two recent AIWA scholarship recipients bound for Harvard; AIWA Women’s Start-Up Grant recipient Mariam Torosyan; AIWA partner Women’s Support Center Director Maro Matosyan; AIWA conference committee members; as well as conference speakers, moderators, and participants.
OCTOBER 6, 2023
AIWA AT TARAZ
AIWA’s journey continued in Armenia as we visited the vibrant workplace of Lilit Melikyan, Taraz. Lilit was to shine on the 3rd day of our conference. While the conference is postponed, Lilit’s mission isn’t! Her designs beautifully weave Artsakh’s history and culture, promoting the enduring Armenian identity. She’s creating opportunities for women to thrive and excel in the world of fashion.
AIWA AT THE NATIONAL LIBRARY
AIWA also visited the Museum of Literature and the Director of the National Library of Armenia, Anna Chulyan. We spoke about the history of Armenian literature and the amazing world of Armenian books. We were also informed that the Library will soon have a section dedicated to the late Gia Aivazian, a longtime member of AIWA who pioneered the modernization of cataloging Armenian print material at the UCLA library and transformed the Armenian Studies field by raising awareness of Armenian Identity and culture.
A VISIT TO THE WOMEN’S SUPPORT CENTER (WSC)
We were honored to recently visit the Women’s Support Center (WSC) in Armenia, a non-profit organization that holds a special place in our hearts as one of our primary beneficiaries. During our visit, we explored WSC’s offices and two shelters, with our San Francisco affiliate playing a pivotal role in funding one.
During our visit, we also engaged in discussions about WSC’s invaluable work in preventing and responding to domestic violence and their commitment to providing comprehensive services to women and children.
We were impressed with the organization’s operational excellence, as demonstrated during the tour of their facilities by Maro Matosyan, the Founder and Executive Director of WSC. The coordinated efforts of WSC’s social workers, psychologists, lawyers, and facility staff left a lasting impression on us.
At the request of the Armenian Government in 2018, the WSC trained various women’s organizations in the region. This joint effort led to the creation of women’s organizations in every region, forming a powerful network. In addition to housing women and children from Artsakh, these organizations are now united in their mission to provide essential supplies to other centers that accommodate people who have been displaced.
OCTOBER 7, 2023
WOMEN LEADING CHANGE, NGO COMMUNITY GATHERING
In the heart of Yerevan, AIWA brought together incredible leaders and change-makers at the American University of Armenia (AUA) for a powerful gathering on Saturday, October 7th.
Amid challenging times, AIWA’s mission was clear: to engage with partner organizations, and NGOs to assess the immediate and long-term needs of displaced Armenians from Artsakh.
But that’s not all! The event was a platform for organizations dedicated to women and children to connect, collaborate, and inspire. It was all about learning from each other’s initiatives and finding ways to make a positive impact.
Though it was short notice, the turnout was inspiring! Together, we’re working towards positive change, empowerment, and unity within the Armenian community.
OCTOBER 8, 2023
A TRIP TO GORIS
During our visit to Armenia, AIWA members visited Goris, the largest registration center for the displaced population from Artsakh, where they are now provided shelter in various accommodations.
We had the privilege of engaging in a meaningful conversation with Irina Yolyan, the Deputy Mayor of Goris. She shared the local government’s strategies for meeting the displaced Artsakh population’s short-term and long-term needs.
Emphasizing sustainability and the empowerment of women through education and job opportunities was at the forefront of her discussion.
We also met with NGOs, including WINNET Armenia and Sose Women’s NGO in Goris. These organizations are committed to supporting women and children, including those from Artsakh, through social enterprises like “Goris Handmade” and “Harmony Home.” Their dedication is making a real difference!
Since the team’s return from Armenia, AIWA leadership has been dedicated to our forthcoming initiative. Stay tuned to join our collective efforts in making a meaningful impact.