A Female Engineer in Armenia

Knar Baghdassarian

The first thing I did this year after graduating from the University of California Irvine with a Bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering was head straight to Armenia to participate in the AYF Internship in Armenia program. I chose my field of study knowing that I would one day use my education to contribute to the advancement of Armenia’s scientific and technological sectors. Although I grew up in Montebello, CA, devoting myself to the progress and development of Armenia has always been extremely important to me. I attended Montebello’s Armenian Mesrobian school and have been an active member of the AYF “Vahan Cardashian” Montebello Chapter for many years. However, my desire to work in Armenia is owed to the several summers I have spent there with different homeland initiative programs over the years, such as AYF Youth Corps and Camp Javakhk. Being able to contribute to Armenia’s advancement became my motivation throughout my time in university, encouraging me to pursue my education not only as a personal accomplishment, but as one dedicated to my community and country. I have long dreamt about going to Armenia and learning about the ongoing projects in its science and technology sectors. I knew that doing so would allow me to learn how to make future contributions to those fields. 

The AYF Internship program was the perfect pathway for me to start my scientific journey in the homeland with my fellow ungers. Exceedingly eager to begin my work, I even skipped my university graduation to be in Armenia as early as possible. I had worked incredibly hard for five years at my university and was anxious to finally get back to my homeland. I was excited to learn from local scientists and share my expertise. Instead, I ultimately found myself rejected by them (a rude awakening for an optimistic diasporan). I was rejected, not because of a lack of merit, but because I am a female engineer in a historically patriarchal society and field. 

When I first started working as a research assistant in Armenia, I felt confident that my skills, knowledge and ample experience were clear to my employers and colleagues. As the weeks passed, however, I noticed that I was treated far differently than my male colleagues, some who were still university students with significantly less experience than me. I was consistently assigned less meaningful work than my male counterparts and was often spoken to in a patronizing manner by senior faculty. Eventually, the day came that I could no longer bear the humiliation and disrespect. I went home from work feeling heartbroken. Though I didn’t want to accept the fact, it had finally hit me that the country I had worked so hard for, the cause that motivated me to finish my degree, didn’t value me. And it was because of my gender, something I cannot control. Unfortunately, this is the sad reality for women in STEM in most countries. Though I knew well how persistent the culture of patriarchy was in Armenia from my previous visits, I was still in shock. Being aware of sexism cannot prepare you for the actual experience of dealing with it firsthand. Unfortunately, I was not prepared to face this reality.

The morning after I hit my breaking point, I sat on the marshrutka on my way to work feeling apprehensive and discouraged. I felt no motivation to contribute to the research I was previously excited about and proud of. But it occurred to me that quitting my job and refusing to stand up for myself would not only result in letting myself down; it would also surely contribute to the precedent that had been set in the nation. Though it may be difficult, all young women looking to succeed and work in STEM in Armenia need to stand up for themselves, wherever possible. Armenia is losing its full potential to succeed by disregarding half of its population on meaningless grounds. As a people and a nation, we cannot afford to exclude anyone’s talent and expertise if we hope to overcome the many challenges we face today.

Societal change can only happen when we clearly identify our society’s illnesses and expose its flaws. I believe that interpersonal experiences and relationships will contribute to the necessary exposure our community and society needs. Hard work and persistence can only go unnoticed for so long. For this reason, I decided to persevere, show up and do my best work. In a patriarchal society, women must work harder than men in order to equalize. I will not let this setback stop me from my foundational goal of contributing to Armenia’s scientific and technological sectors. If anything, I am more motivated now than I have ever been. I encourage all Armenian women, in all fields, to demand respect and persevere for themselves and the Armenian cause. 

Knar Baghdassarian

Knar Baghdassarian

Knar Baghdassarian graduated from the University of California Irvine in 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering, specializing in energy efficiency and the environment. Knar was the chair of the AYF Montebello "Cardashian" Chapter from 2019 to 2021. She has also been the co-director of Montebello's AYF Junior Chapter since 2018. She hopes to work and do research in renewable energy.
Knar Baghdassarian

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8 Comments

  1. I am sorry that you had a challenging time with societal issues – but proud that you overcame them and have come out re-energized to pursue your career goals in STEM and your community responsibilities – both integral to advancing our collective cause.

    Վարձքդ Կատար (Vartskt Gadar)!

  2. As an Armenian-American male in the STEM field with a daughter currently pursuing a degree in STEM, and also wanted to make a difference in Armenia, it is disheartening to hear about these old fashioned attitudes in the workplace. However, I appreciate your speaking out about this and stating the realities and challenges that others should expect to be faced with. I also appreciate your positive attitude. I hope that you can find a more forward thinking company in Armenia that appreciates your skills and helps you develop your career.

  3. Every Armenian should be proud of you for your achievements, patriotism and your endeavors to help the motherland with your expertise. Please keep up your great work. Best of luck!

  4. how frustrating and narrow minded, i didnt realize this was the culture in armenia
    the country is small with a low number population and to restrict half of that number is absolute madness. cant believe it, so short minded and ignorant, with whats happening with aggressive azeri and turk the other side shutting half of your country just arrogant, they should wake up and educate the establishments and the society, i could be wrong but i do remember there was an old saying that the armenians are their worst enemy if thats true then the nation is lumbered
    they should wake up and shake up and join the new era

  5. how frustrating and narrow minded, i didnt realize this was the culture in armenia
    the country is small with a low number population and to restrict half of that number is absolute madness. cant believe it, so short minded and ignorant, with whats happening with aggressive azeri and turk the other side shutting half of your country just arrogant, they should wake up and educate the establishments and the society, i could be wrong but i do remember there was an old saying that the armenians are their worst enemy if thats true then the nation is lumbered
    they should wake up and shake up and join the new era

  6. Very frustrating can’t believe with a country so small and low population one can afford to suppress half of its population specially surrounded by hostile neighbours . Just doesn’t make sense. Even though Israel is one hypocrite country not recognising the genocide but one has to commend them how they have survived and thrived throughout decades and their motto has always been irrespective of having USA as a loyal friend but they have to rely on their own people for protection and progress
    Well done to you and your commitments and best of luck

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