Armenian Volunteer Corps

Welcome to the Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) blog. Here our volunteers and alumni reflect on their experiences living and volunteering in Armenia. For more information about our programs, visit our website, follow us on Facebook or drop us an email: .

Monday, January 30, 2012

Reflections: Four months and counting….

by Nieri Avanessian 

For nearly four months, I’ve been working at two different civil society organizations - PINK Armenia and Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (IDHR). While the two NGOs have quite different issue areas and approaches, the thing they have in common, which has made my experience in Armenia so far full of surprisingly wonderful moments, is that the local Armenians who run and work for these two organizations are hopeful. It’s incredibly easy in this country to find people who just don’t believe that anything will ever change for the better. In the diaspora we mostly hear that Armenia’s government is corrupt and the money is all going into the pockets of people who are already rich and not to the people who need it. We don’t hear very often about the organizations run by  ‘real’ people, or about  ground-up civic initiatives whose participants are ordinary Armenian citizens who know that they are in fact capable of making a difference, however small, in the reality of their state.

At both PINK and at IDHR, I’ve met amazing people who believe in Armenia. Working with them, I’ve helped and taken part in environmentalist movements, passed out informative leaflets on AIDS, published articles on international movements to stop gender violence and on breakthrough research on an HIV vaccine, participated in a youth seminar camp on gender, activism, tolerance and equality, and most of all I’ve learned a little bit about what Armenia is really like.

I came here with no expectations, and tried not to have any prior beliefs about what it would be like. I think I did a pretty good job. I absorbed the culture with as much of an open mind as I could; I ignored the staring men and women to whom it was obvious that I am diasporan and focused on the ones who wanted to teach me and who wanted to learn from me. I’ve met women who don’t wear high heels or makeup every day. Men who wear pink shirts. Men with long hair and women with short hair. People who are proud to serve in the army to protect their homeland. I’ll be fair, I’ve met many people who DO fit every bad stereotype you’ve ever heard of, but they aren’t the ones whose actions will be driving positive change for the future of Armenia. I want Armenians in the diaspora to stop holding onto stereotypes about Armenia which they believe are absolute. Extremism is almost always wrong. While I’m here, after I leave, perhaps forever, that’s what I’ll teach, preach and believe.

It took less than a month for me to want to stay longer than the 9 months I initially planned. I’ve been here for 4 months, and I’m still not sure what it now means to me to be Armenian or what the country actually represents. Maybe it won’t ever be clear, but for better or worse it’s gotten under my skin, it’s gotten personal.

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