I’ve had the privilege of celebrating International Women’s Day in Armenia on five occasions. It might well be one of my favorite holidays, second only to International Children’s Day on June 1 (also my birthday, for those of you who wish to note it in your calendars). The only hard part about celebrating women in Armenia is narrowing down the countless women to admire. But I want to take a moment to tell you about a few women important in my life.
Gayane was my first close friend in Armenia. We ended up friends by mere chance nearly 13 years ago, but have remained friends by choice. Almost the same age, but separated by countless cultural norms, not to mention language, we had to work to understand each other. She colored outside of the lines in comparison with most village girls, but never enough to cause a scandal. Together we raised the eyebrows of neighbors by picnicking with a bottle of wine on a rock in the river and having a leisurely conversation in the village square when only men did such things. It’s hard to pinpoint when a person decides to be utterly devoted to a friendship. My devotion to Gayane may have begun when we hiked up to a khatchkar on the side of a mountain and she insisted on wearing heels.
I should have seen then that her heels were indicative of a deeper resolve to achieve the seemingly impossible. After meeting and marrying an American man, she traveled with him to South Korea to teach English for a year. Now keep in mind that this was the same woman whose English skills during our friendship consisted of phrases like: “Is your armchair comfortable?” But we lost touch for a few years, so I didn’t hear about those experiences until they had moved to New York City to start a new life together. Ever defying the expectations of the world, Gayane was able to support her husband while he earned a master’s degree, first at a miserable telemarketing job and later at a major U.S. corporation. Today, the girl from the village can be found commuting to work or taking their son to and from day care. At breakneck speed. In her heels.
After living in Armenia for a few years, I met Gohar, the epitome of sincerity and wisdom that she is. In the early 1990’s, Gohar and her brother traveled to Greek-Cyprus to work in the tourism industry for a few years, earning enough to buy her own flat upon returning to Yerevan. Her apartment is cozy and comfortable, and it’s an honor to be hosted there. She takes great pride in putting her signature on it, painting her own door and walls, and renovating her bathroom. You appreciate it more when you remember that she does this as a single woman, unperturbed by the traditional expectations that some may try to impose on her.
Another girl born and raised in a village, Gohar represents humility and hard work and a willingness to take risks. One of the early adopters of volunteerism in its truest form (not the mandatory volunteerism of the Soviet era), she exemplifies service for native and Diasporan Armenians alike in her work at the Fuller Center for Housing in Armenia. Coming to the native homeland for the first time can be both exciting and stressful for many diasporans. She serves as one of those precious bridges that can help people understand where Armenia has been, where it is now, and where it can be. I wish for everyone to know someone like Gohar. She could teach the world that generosity, kindness, and optimism can bring only good things.
Just when I needed a dose of inspiration while living in Armenia, I met Rouzan and the wonderful people at the Manana Youth Center. Rouzan and her husband had founded the organization in the early 1990’s. While most people were focused on the basic necessities of food, they recognized that children’s hunger for learning could not be ignored. They welcomed me as a regular attendee of their journalism class for 12-year-olds. At the center, then lacking even basic amenities, I saw Rouzan challenge these kids—and me, for that matter—to think about how to improve their homeland without money, without people in power, without grown-ups. These kids asked tough questions about complicated issues. And they corrected my grammar.
Time and again Rouzan and her husband have invested their own resources for the sake of children in the community. There were times when it wasn’t clear whether the work could go on, but Rouzan is scrappy and her passion is contagious. Their efforts have blossomed into a center that profoundly develops the creative potential of Armenian youth, earning the youth dozens of international awards for their journalism, filmmaking, photojournalism, and animation projects. I can scarcely think of a better example of the potential for excellence in Armenia. And I can think of no one who is a stronger advocate for children than Rouzan (and I believe that her husband and children would quite agree with me).
It is with these few words that I want to celebrate the women of Armenia. There aren’t enough flowers in the world to express my gratitude for the inspiration they have been to me. These women represent the Armenian values of hospitality, strength, compassion, knowledge, and creativity. They are symbolic of what is good in Armenia, and what is good in the world. And they are what I think of when someone asks me about Armenia.
Kristi Rendahl lived and worked in Armenia from 1997 to 2002, and has since visited three times. She remains active in Armenian issues, and can’t wait to return during the summer of 2010.
Very nice article and enjoyed reading about our friend Gohar, I think the same Gohar.
We were just talking about your mastery of the Armenian language, at our weekly standing Saturday late-lunch, at the Caspain Bistro with Mark Keljik, Cythia Erickson, Happy Heilman, Barb and few other Armenians that showed up.
Hope all is going well and thanks for the wonerful memory of the Habitat that you conducted for us.
It is so refreshing to read your text. Your memory lives everywhere in Armenia where you contributed so much (and continue to do so). Shnorhavor Kanac ton qez ev qo unkerneri. Kez noric enq spasoum Exegnacoroum, mer sari glxin.
Good article and thrilling stories! You have good heart to be able to capture and share these real-life stories. You care about true relationships and that’s why we love you.
Kristi jan– a great story. I know Gohar jan and you capture a lot of what makes her so special! I loved getting to know and love Armenia with you.
Thanks for sharing this and happy Women’s Day!
I, too, enjoyed reading your comments of the 3 Armenian women that have inspired
your life to good works. You, as well, have inspired others. I remember well the days
we spent working, touring, and dancing that last evening at the office headquarters. I
also was drawn to Gohar by her sensitive spirit of gentleness and caring. It was a deeply
satisfying experience. And it will no doubt be a wonderful year for Womens’ Build in
Armenia. May this day, and everyone that follows, bring you new and meaningful
discoveries. You are appreciated.
I know Ruzan very closely and I totally agree with every single word I have read here !!! And really HAPPY WOMEN’s DAY dear all!
Dear Editor, Please leave above but copy this it is better.
“Gohar : She could teach the world that generosity, kindness, and optimism can bring only good things.” Expressed by Kristi.
Kristi, thanks for your article about ‘Armenian Women.’
Almost all Armenian Women do the same.
A foreign man( not Armenian) who marries Armenian Woman says the same.
One of them is my beloved husband and many others;
I don’t know about this idea in USA but I know about the Middle East and many other places.
Men love to have Armenian Women because,
“Armenian Women have soulful countless gifts.”
The odar Man appreciates Armenian Woman more than the Armenian Man,
because Armenian man takes a garantie that his wife should be good like his mother.
Another Armenian Woman, Meriam Nubar who contributed to Kerdalo’s Garden of Brittany.
I was reading about your garden” The Kerdalo” in The Financial Times on September 12, 2010, which has amazing history.
I want to visit your paradise
To dance with flowers and bushes
And sing with birds
I want to be there
Even for one day
I don’t know when
There are many breaths there
All created the beautiful Brittany
And many breaths of French gardeners
All worked hard
To create that soulful garden
Through the years
Of mixed ethnicity
From Napoleon’s eras
I can smell Kerdalo’s herbs
Even through the Internet
I can see the squares on the grounds
Arranged like a chess board with engulfing green grass
And beautiful shiny stones from Brittany’s shores.
If the children see that Paiutes
They will run and will play crossings—
Their wanted chance.
September 18, 2010
* Russian (Prince Peter Wolkonsky)
** Armenian (Meriam Nubar,daughter of Armenian Egyptian businessman
and philanthropist;probably related to famous Boghos Nubar Pasha)
***English( their daughter,Isabelle Wolkonsky who married to British, Timoty Vaughan)