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: .

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Avec AVC

Marie Khatchikian

Expérience formidable de 3 mois qui à débuté en mai 2012, avec Arménian Volunteer Corps. Grâce à AVC j'ai pu réaliser mon rêve de petite fille : travailler dans un zoo !
Ce travail fût le premier, pour une période de 2 mois ou j'exerçais mon volontariat à Erevan. Une rencontre inoubliable avec l'univers des animaux et avec Alla, Kevork, Yulia, Manuk et d'autres... des arméniens locaux que j'ai eu le plaisir de côtoyer tout ce temps.

A partir du mois de juin, je partageais mon temps entre le Zoo et un "mangabardez", comme une école maternelle pour les enfants âgés de 3 à 6 ans. Le travail avec les enfants est pour moi quelque chose de fantastique. Ce sont des êtres curieux, ouverts, dynamiques et souriants. Les enfants sont très bien éduqués et malgrè leur jeune âge, déjà un grand savoir de la langue française. Ils parlent aussi l'arménien, certains l'anglais et le russe.
L'accueil était parfait. J'ai aussi fait 2 belles rencontrent avec une institutrice et une assistante qui sont devenues mes amies.

Après cela je suis partie 4 semaines sur Gyumri ou j'ai travaillé avec un organisme Suisse : KASA. Ce travail m'a permis d'être autonome et de vraiment me sentir utile. Chaque jour j'animais des débâts en français avec des étudiantes de l'université française de Gyumri. Il a été très interessant pour moi et très enrichissant pour elle de discuter de sujets plutôt inconnu de leur part telle que la maltraitance faite sur les animaux, la fourrure, l'abolition de la peine de mort, la sexualité, les risques des ondes, l'égalité homme/femme et la place de la femme dans la société Arménienne et Française... Les comparaisons entre les 2 pays furent nombreuses.

L'accès au travail en Arménie était pour moi le moyen de me sentir intégrer, de me sentir indépendante, de me sentir... Arménienne.

Merci au staff de AVC et à Tania.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Promoting rights and the respect for those rights, one Hayastanci at a time

Gabriel Armas-Cardona
(United States)

“Hey Gabe, we have an assignment for you” says my boss “but I don’t think you’ll find anything.”

A great way to start a project, when your boss already thinks you’re going to fail.

“There are these Grandfathers, and they have this claim and they say it’s a possession and that the city can’t take it away.”

“Huh?” was sadly the best I could respond with.

“Yeah, I don’t get it either. They say they have a claim to some property and that’s as good as possession and the city has to protect it.”

“So, they have some property—like a house—and because they say they own it, they think they own it?”

“Something like that.”

“Um…. that’s not really how ownership works.”

“I know, but I need you to research the case law from the European Court of Human Rights to see if there is anything there. There’s nothing like this in Armenian law, but one of the Grandpas is a lawyer and he says that the European Court has said something about this. You know how lawyers are, this guy won’t take no for an answer.”

Thus begins yet another assignment at the Office of theHuman Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia. I recently graduated from New York University Law School with a focus on human rights and working at the Defender’s Office for six months has been a phenomenal experience.

Law school is typically divorced from the real life legal problems on the ground. Law school professors are academics; they generally don’t care much for the problems of normal people unless they raise a novel legal question. While I’ve had some great hands-on clinical experiences, there’s nothing like being in an office whose sole focus is to protect the rights of the people.

In this case, the city of Yerevan wanted to take land from the Grandfathers that the Grandfathers didn’t have a deed to. What they did have is a 40-year-old promise from a former mayor of Yerevan that the city wouldn’t take the land. Can such a promise really stop the city from taking the land that the Grandfathers had no title or other proof of possession? That’s what I needed to find out.

The right to “peaceful enjoyment” of one’s possessions is a core human right, but does a claim of possession count as a possession? Sorry, I’m going to get a little technical here. Skip to the next paragraph if you can’t stand the idea of learning even a tiny bit of human rights law. In at least a simple case a claim can count as a possession. If the city damages my property—e.g. a city car runs into my house—a court can say the city has to pay me money as compensation. If the city doesn’t pay, then not only have they infringed on my “peaceful enjoyment” of my original property, they have denied me the enjoyment I would get from the money they owe me too. A debt that I legitimately expect to be paid counts as property (See Case of Depalle v. France). What about claims, not just debts? Was Grandpa lawyer right? The answer is yes. A claim “sufficiently established to be enforceable” can count as a possession too (See Case of Teteriny v. Russia). Is a signed promise from a former mayor “sufficiently established?” Probably. It’s “established” enough to at least give these Grandfathers ammunition in court to protect their property. In the end, the city can take their property, but if it does not compensate them for their loss, it likely will violate the human rights of the Grandfathers, who could go to the European Court if the Armenian courts won’t help them.
As the only native English speaker in the office, I’m able to search through the European Court’s case law a thousand times faster than anyone else. While it’s unfortunate that language is such a barrier, I’m glad I’m able to put my legal skills—and language abilities—to use in an environment that can use the help.
These skills became key for my next big assignment.

Armenia doesn’t have a domestic violence law. That’s finally changing. There is a draft law in development, and the Human Rights Defender’s mandate includes commenting on the human rights implications of draft laws. Thus, my assignment was to develop recommendations for the draft domestic violence law of Armenia.
Unsurprisingly, I knew nothing about domestic violence issues in Armenia before I came. Learning about the case of Mariam Gevorgyan and the horrible abuse she suffered for 10 months opened my eyes. Her ongoing legal case to seek justice and the coalition that has developed to support her is an inspiration. This assignment took hours and hours of researching guides and recommendations from international and local woman’s rights groups. Synthesizing those into specific concrete recommendations for Armenia was easily the most challenging, grandest, and exciting assignment I had at the Defender’s Office.

No one doubts that Armenia faces significant challenges to protect the human rights of all her people. With the ongoing efforts of bottom-up victims standing up for their rights and top-down policy changes that provide the legal support for those rights, society will improve. I am very glad I was able to contribute to that change during my time in Armenia.

As an entry-level lawyer, I would never be given these opportunities in the United States. To do international human rights legal research and provide recommendations on draft legislation are both phenomenal opportunities. I gained a wealth of both social and professional experience during my time in Armenia. I gained unique experiences that I will take with me for the rest of my life. I have no doubt that I made a positive impact on Armenia during my time there and that Armenia made a positive impact on me. I owe a debt of gratitude to Armenian Volunteer Corps; without its support, I would never have been able to do this work in Armenia or make the type of positive impact that motivated me to go to law school in the first place.

Gabriel Armas-Cardona is a graduate from New York University Law School and was a legal fellow at the Office of the Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia. He regularly comments on the politics and human rights situation of Armenia on his blog

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