EaP CSF 11th Annual Assembly in Brussels
On December 4-6, 2019 the 11th Annual assembly of the EaP Civil Society Forum was held in Brussels. Below we present some episodes from the three-day event. (photos by Sevak Harutyunyan, Moritz Höpner).
On December 4-6, 2019 the 11th Annual assembly of the EaP Civil Society Forum was held in Brussels. Below we present some episodes from the three-day event. (photos by Sevak Harutyunyan, Moritz Höpner).
2019թ․ դեկտեմբերի 4-6-ը Բրյուսելում տեղի ունեցավ ԱլԳ Քաղաքացիական հասարակության ֆորումի 11-րդ տարեկան համաժողովը։ Ձեզ ենք ներկայացնում համաժողովի դրվագները՝ լուսանկարներով (հեղինակներ՝ Սեւակ Հարությունյան, Մորից Հյոփներ)։
ՀՀ արդարադատության նախարար Ռուստամ Բադասյանը պանելային քննարկման բանախոսներից մեկն էր
“Forum German-Armenian Journalist Exchange” Project is a fruit of cooperation between Deutsche Gesellschaft e.V. and the Secretariat of Armenian National Platform of the EaP Civil Society Forum. Interested in the promotion of the European Neighbourhood Policy, both partners aim to support a civic and lasting exchange between the countries.
Young journalists from Germany and Armenia participated in study trips to Berlin (October 14-19, 2019) and Yerevan (November 3-9, 2019) respectively, during which they got acquainted with the working conditions of journalists in Armenia and Germany and had fruitful and comprehensive talks with political decision-makers, representatives of media and civil society.
The result of this German-Armenian collaboration and the individual researches and interviews of the participants in the frames of the Project is the articles published on the Armenian National Platform webpage, which touch upon a wide range of issues within the context of the European Neighbourhood Policy.
The Project is implemented with the assistance of the German Federal Foreign Office. The contents of the publications are the sole responsibility of the implementing partners and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the Federal Foreign Office.
by Jonas Bickelmann
Yerevan’s urban fabric might not be older than a century – but it tells a tale. It is a tale about the conflict between civil society and commercialization, and the ways of dealing with the city’s Soviet past.
Take, for instance, Yerevan’s Yeritasardakan (“Youth”) metro station, which looks like an elegant spaceship start ramp. Green areas have been filled with kiosks, a public underpass is now a cluttered shopping mall. Yerevan’s modernist treasures are under threat – many lost already.
Sarhat Petrosyan is one of the people trying to save the heritage. Architect by profession and once activist, he was appointed as head of the State Committee of Real Estate Cadastre after the “Velvet Revolution” of 2018. However, he has recently resigned from this post to pursue his aims as the activist he was before. He feels that the centralised urban planning in Armenia needs that external pressure from the civil society. “There is no inclusiveness in the process,” Petrosyan says.
The view of the capital from Petrosyan’s office on the 16th floor of a 1970s Soviet era high-rise is fantastic. Yerevan’s structure is still strongly influenced by the plans of Alexander Tamanyan, who projected it as a neo-classical garden city in the 1920s. He designed two central squares, one for the Opera House, one for government buildings. A ring of parks surrounds the centre, though it never became the full circle Tamanyan had in mind. Some Armenians like to say that Yerevan was no more than a village before Tamanyan reinvented it as a Socialist city.
Icons of 60s modernism
The neo-classical splendour is still visible throughout Yerevan. But the city also offers numerous examples of the futuristic concrete modernism built after Stalin’s death.
Surprisingly, modernist architecture from the former Eastern Bloc has risen to online fame in recent years. Instagram accounts like @brutalistbeton and @socialistmodernism have hundreds of thousands of followers. How did an architectural style that others regard as off-putting and bleak become so popular?
Petrosyan is not surprised: “The modernist heritage of the west is well known. There is something exotic in Soviet modernism.”
Ruben Arevshatyan has a role in the popularity of Soviet modernism too. The artist started researching this modernist architecture in the early 2000s. “It was really out of focus at that time”, he recalls. Arevshatyan is very worried about the transformation of public open areas into commercial space. He is the son of two architects active in Soviet times. “My parents designed these stairs”, Arevshatyan says while we are passing the elegantly curved walkway leading to the American University of Armenia.
Privatized public spaces
Another favourite of Arevshatyan’s is Komitas Chamber Music Hall, built of the Armenian yellow tuff stone omnipresent in Yerevan. Despite the traditional material, it has the same retro future feel to it as Yeritasardakan station and so many other modernist structures in the Armenian capital. And it tells the same story: the surroundings have been privatized and altered. A newly added wooden terrace surrounds the vast fountain pool next to the building, strangely interrupting the structure of the square. The space is only open to those who are willing to buy something at the café it belongs to.
Soviet modernism is still considered as a belated or secondary modernism. “It was not seen as heritage at all, but rather something that should be forgotten as soon as possible,” Arevshatyan remembers the common perception 20 years ago.
Much of Yerevan’s modernism disappeared in those days. Yerevan Youth Palace, a high-rise fit to serve as a science fiction vacation resort was taken down in 2004. And Central Yerevan partly feels like a construction site. Historic buildings have been demolished – to make room for a reconstructed version of history.
There is, for example, the Northern Avenue with its high, chunky buildings that house international luxury retail, an upscale, open air shopping mall in the centre of Yerevan. And there is the “Old Quarter” project on the central Buzand Street.
Petrosyan remembers these areas before their redevelopment. “They destroyed these very nice 18th and 19th century residential buildings, 30 monument sites.”
Arevshatyan sees these projects linked to what he calls the core of 20th century modern history – creating new history. “The repetitive erasure was taking place within the whole century, embracing part of the modernist movement,” Arevshatyan says. “Negation of history was part of the game. This is one of the paradoxical continuations of the same logic.”
It is indeed paradoxical: destroying historic buildings to re-construct a past that never was. This time, as a shopping mall.
And there is the social side of it: these developments used to be residential areas. Former inhabitants had to leave their property when ground was broken for the new quarters. They did receive financial compensation, though many claim it was far too low.
On one case of expropriation from the early 2000s, the European Court of Human Rights ruled this summer that the Republic of Armenia has to pay 1,6 million Euros to the former owner of a house expropriated for redevelopment. This is just the most spectacular of several similar cases brought to the European Court.
On a hill just around the corner from the Northern Avenue and the re-imagined “Old Quarter” lies a very different Yerevan: Kond quarter consists of narrow winding streets with small, residential buildings. Grape vine grows in the courtyards, and cats are enjoying the sunny November day. It is surrounded by construction sites too. Its future is uncertain.
“Kond dated from the Persian period in the 16th and 17th centuries,” says Petrosyan. He hopes that activism can save Kond from erasure. “Now we have reached a common understanding that the quarter is valuable and should be preserved.”
And Arevshatyan’s research into modernism comes to fruition too. The common perception of its value is changing. After the Velvet Revolution, seven modernist buildings were included in preservation efforts, he says. “That was a political gesture. Yes, we accept it.”
Jonas Bickelmann studied philosophy. He now works for the Berlin daily paper Der Tagesspiegel. His research interests include globalisation, culture and economy – and the question on how they are intertwined.
by Sona Martirosyan
Every day, the forecourt of the Armenian Embassy in Germany gets suffused with sounds of the Gyumri dialect from 10 in the morning. Here, the refugees who were complete strangers several days ago, have became acquaintances because of the common problems – health issues and migration cards with red marks that showcase Germany’s unwillingness to further offer them shelter.
Nuneh, a woman from Gyumri, came to Germany in 2016, after being diagnosed with a rare type of breast cancer and a subsequent mastectomy. She arrived here illegally with her husband and son’s family. They lived in a refugee camp for 11 months and then moved into a permanent building.
Nuneh’s brother had moved to Germany even earlier; he had experienced three clinical deaths in Armenian hospitals before leaving the country for good. Today, he is accompanying Nuneh to the consulate, where she will obtain a passport and return to homeland following the German authorities’ forced repatriation decision.
“My husband and I were given a room at a 4-storey dormitory. My son’s family lived in another room there. Each family received a monthly allowance of 520 Euros. Now they have increased the allowance to 720 Euros per month. We were perfectly capable of living on this, as all my treatments and surgeries are free, and there are special food stores, where you can go once a week and get everything you need only for one Euro. Obviously, they mainly sell slightly spoiled food that has exceeded or is about to go past its expiry date. But for me, it makes no difference if, for instance, I get a whole potato or with some cut-off damaged parts. The important thing is that the doctors in this country have saved my life. I have such a rare type of cancer that its samples were sent to the United States, so that medical students could examine them,” says Nuneh with tears in her eyes. She had to undergo another surgery several days ago. German doctors tried to remove another tumor, but it was impossible to completely get rid of it.
Nuneh awaits her return to Armenia with fear, as she has no money for further treatment, nor does she have any trust in local doctors.
“Here the professor [her doctor in attendance] knelt beside my bed, held my hand before the surgery, saying, ‘don’t be scared, it’ll be fine’. Can you imagine such a thing in Armenia? I have been a healthcare worker for 26 years and I don’t remember anything like this. I could not even locate Germany on the map before, but the people here accepted us, offered us shelter, and I started to pull round. There are medicaments that cost 1,500 Euros each. I have received six of them. How am I supposed to cover these expenses in Armenia? And now the court has ruled that I have no reason to stay here anymore, and I have to go back. Armenia demands that I return, so that to bury me there,” says the woman desperately.
She insists that she still loves her homeland, that the very thought of it brings tears to her eyes, particularly after being able to live in a country like Germany. Nuneh believes Armenia is still her homeland, but she wants to stay in Germany, she still wants to live.
How and why do Armenians travel to Germany?
In 2010-2018, 57,250 asylum requests from Armenian citizens were filed in the EU and EFTA (European Free Trade Association) countries. Overall, based on final decisions made in 2010-2018, some 1,080 Armenian citizens were granted refugee status, other 1,015 were given humanitarian protection status, and 880 citizens were granted auxiliary protection status. Germany, France, Austria and Belgium receive about 88% of Armenian asylum seekers annually.
As the statistics of the German Embassy in Armenia indicate, Germany issues highest number of visas to Armenians who want to travel to Schengen area countries. According to these figures, 14,942 visa applications were submitted by Armenian citizens, and the German Embassy issued 13,773 visas. Germany, however, remains a popular destination for illegal migrants as well.
Ani Dagesyan, board member of the Central Council of German-Armenians that represents the interests of German citizens of Armenian descent, says Armenians travel to Germany illegally for two main reasons: they either seek medical help or new life and opportunities. These two different categories of migrants have one thing in common: they all fall victim to false, incomplete or unverified information.
“The problem is that Armenians often fail to check the authenticity of the information they receive. They learn from their friends and relatives that Germany provides free treatment, or, for example, that it is possible to live a better life on benefits in Germany rather than by working in Armenia. These beliefs are absolutely wrong. Germany does not provide free medical care and cannot accommodate or grant a refugee status to all applicants,” says Dagesyan.
In order to obtain a medical visa to Germany, the applicant must have at least 20,000 Euros on a bank account to cover the expenses of medical examinations. The high cost of medical screenings prompts many people to travel to Germany illegally.
“Armenians mostly come to Germany with visas issued by three other European countries – the Czech Republic, Poland and Greece. After arriving here, they do everything to reach the German territory, sometimes even hiding in the back of a truck. When they finally do, they destroy their identity papers and apply for asylum or refugee status under fake names.
They mainly apply to obtain a refugee status under an assumed name, because they believe that this would make their deportation impossible. By law, before making a decision on deporting any person, the EU migration services first have to identify their citizenship”, Dagesyan adds.
The situation has changed: why does Germany deport Armenians?
According to the State Migration Service of Armenia’s Ministry of Territorial Administration and Development, 490 readmission requests for 944 Armenians were received from the EU countries in the first half of this year. The Service approved those for 792 persons. This means that the government has confirmed the Armenian citizenship of these persons, hence they are subject to forced repatriation. Most of Armenian citizens subject to readmission (576) are based in Germany; 97 live in France, 36 – in Sweden, 35 – in Austria and so on.
The expatriates are forcibly transported to Armenia by charter flights. This year, the increasing rate of deportations is linked to the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s statement, where he announced that Armenia’s population should reach five million by 2050. Meanwhile, official Yerevan and Berlin deny any backchannel talks at all levels.
Ani Dagesyan says the problem is not about backstage agreements, but the change in the political situation in both countries.
“After the Velvet Revolution, Armenia has changed its status. It is now considered a safe country, where there is no place for political, religious or racial discrimination. In this case, the German government is free to turn down asylum requests. As to those who arrive in Germany for treatment, it is important to understand that health services in Germany are not free of charge. And the law literally states that if a person enters Germany in a poor state of health, then he/she can leave the country in the same poor condition, with the sole exception of cases when a person’s return might directly lead to death,” explains Dagesyan, pointing out that right-wing political forces have been gaining momentum in Germany, and local people no longer want to pay for expensive treatment offered to foreign citizens.
“In order to size up the situation, we need to understand the positions of both sides. Yes, from the human perspective, it is extremely difficult to see our fellow countrymen in this situation, but we also need to understand German taxpayers, who are demanding that the government take action in response to growing migration flows. German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees maintains direct communication with Armenian Health Ministry and in cases where a disease is curable in Armenia, or the required medicaments or their analogues are available here, the patient is sent back to receive treatment in Armenia,” continues Dagesyan.
If the process of granting or denying asylum lasted months or years before, today the issue is addressed within 1-2 days, followed by a relevant decision, adds Dagesyan, predicting a new wave of deportations in the near future.
“This is more about people who sought and received asylum on the grounds of political or religious intolerance under the former Armenian authorities. The status granted to a refugee is temporary; hence, a person receives protection as long as this is impossible in their own country. And when their country is capable of protecting these persons, the country that had offered shelter to such refugees, has to revise its commitment to protecting them,” she clarifies.
What should and what actually the deportees do
Ani Dagesyan, member of the board of the Central Council of German-Armenians, says the best solution for Armenian migrants in this situation could be voluntary return. In this case, the German government offers several support packages:
“If a person wishes to return to homeland voluntarily within 14 days after being denied asylum, he/she is eligible for certain benefits, up to a one-off pension amounting to 1,500 Euros per family member. This could be a considerable support to the people who had sold everything to come to Germany. However, our fellow countrymen rarely opt for this. They keep taking cue from others: they hire lawyers and decide to appeal the decision at the court of last resort. As a result, they spend their last money on legal proceedings and go back home completely broke. They often fall into the hands of Russian-speaking lawyers, who deceive our people, persuading them that a solution can be found to their problems, perfectly knowing that it is impossible,” Dagesyan notes.
Ashot Smbatyan, Armenian Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, argues that the Armenian Embassy is able and willing to support with documentation and related issues only those Armenian citizens who return to their homeland voluntarily.
“As for the repatriation or deportation of Armenian citizens based on the decision of relevant German authorities within the framework of the Readmission Agreement signed between Armenia and the EU that came into effect in 2014, the Armenian Embassy is not authorized to interfere in the internal affairs of Germany. Under current German legislation, prior to deportation, the German authorities notify the persons subject to deportation in order to ensure their departure from Germany within the prescribed period. In the event of failure to comply with the deadlines, German authorities apply to other methods available within the scope of their jurisdiction,” the ambassador explains.
What does the homeland offer to the returnees?
In an attempt to provide reintegration support to the repatriates, the State Migration Service of Armenia has submitted for public hearings the draft State Primary Assistance Program for Reintegration of Citizens Returning to the Republic of Armenia.
The program offers support to the returnees in four main areas: it provides them with information assistance and temporary accommodation, offers referral for health care, as well as directs vulnerable groups to institutions that provide them with relevant care and support to meet their needs.
Citizens, who have returned to Armenia after at least one year of residing abroad, are eligible for the program in case they submit their applications within a maximum of three months after return. Around 13,680,000 Armenian drams will be allocated from the state budget for the implementation of the project.
This money will be used by the authorities to provide a six-month rental allowance to the repatriates in the amount of 60,000 drams (monthly). This type of support will be accessible only to 38 beneficiaries of the program that make up around 10% of the repatriates.
At the moment, two reintegration programs offer help to the returnees: “One Window”- a service that provides consulting and guidance to repatriates, and the European Return and Reintegration Network (ERRIN), which offers targeted assistance to returnees.
The project was launched in November 2018 and was intended for 400 beneficiaries, but due to an unexpectedly large flow of applicants, the project was implemented significantly earlier its deadline and was temporarily suspended until 2020. The ERRIN support package includes assistance for starting business, as well as offers professional retraining, medical examination and housing allowances for a period of six months.
Armenian authorities are optimistic that the involvement of international partners will give fresh impetus to the further realization of the project.
Sona Martirosyan received her Masters Degree in journalism at Yerevan State University. She continued her education at the Yerevan School of Political Studies supported by the Council of Europe. For the last five years she has worked as a correspondent for several local and international news outlets. For the past nine years she has been the editor-in-chief of Aysor.am news portal. Sona has carried out projects in media literacy, protection of ethnic, religious and sexual minorities’ rights, women’s involvement in peacemaking processes and identity-based discrimination. Currently, she is the Spokesperson of the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs of Armenia.
by Oliver Bilger
The new Armenian government wants the diaspora to return to their homeland. Reforms after the Velvet Revolution are supposed to increase attractiveness for repatriates.
At first, Aramayis Madatyan was only able to see the revolution unfold via the Internet. While fellow Armenians took to the streets in Yerevan, the 30-year-old was living 7,000 kilometers from his home country. The young man had a job as English teacher in Xiamen, a city located on China’s east coast. In 2015 Madatyan had emigrated. “The economic situation was not good,” he tells in retrospect. “There was no hope for a better future,” He continues complaining about the widespread corruption of that time and the government not caring much about the concerns of young citizens. “Without contacts, it was difficult to find a job in Armenia,” the 30-year-old explains. And so he decided to leave his homeland, like many others.
Madatyan first went to Estonia. He studied International Relations in Tallinn, a fellowship opened the way out, so he could turn his back on the dreary outlook for Armenia’s economic and political future. After graduation, Madatyan got a job offer to move as a lecturer to China. He did not hesitate to take the job. “I thought I have go for this and try,” he explains. In China, finding a well-paid job would be easier than in Europe, he thought. In 2016, he started at a language school, quickly rising from a teacher to a supervisor of 15 other lecturers. He also launched his own school, earning up to $5000 a month, which is almost twenty times the average wage in Armenia. Then the revolution happened.
In April 2018, tens of thousands of Armenians protested in Yerevan against Serzh Sargsyan, who was unable to remain President after two terms in office and planned to become Prime Minister, with powers transferred to his new position. For his opponents, Sargsyan and his autocratic regime were the epitome of corruption and nepotism. Everywhere in the country, citizens were confronted with a pyramidal system of corruption, with senior officials up to Sargsyan himself on top. At that time the economic situation in Armenia seemed hopeless. Unemployment among young Armenians reached nearly 40 percent. Many were leaving the country, as they could not see any future there, like Madatyan. But in April 2018 the streets and squares all over Armenia were full of mostly young demonstrators fed up with the old regime.
For weeks, the so-called Velvet Revolution remained peaceful. In the end, Nikol Pashinyan, leader of the mass protests, took over the government. The parliamentary elections of December 9, 2018 confirmed him in office. 73 percent of voters were confident in him and his team.
“What happened in Armenia was breathtaking,” Madatyan recalls. In China he felt homesick and had an urge to be part of the revolution. He booked a ticket to Yerevan, took part in the revolution, felt impressed by the energy of the protesters. He then returned again to China — for a short period. In May 2019, one year after the revolution, Madatyan moved back to Yerevan, where he currently teaches Chinese at a local university and guides Chinese tourists in the Armenian capital. Further, he is planning to open his own private language school.
This is his share of the new Armenia. “So much is happening here,” Madatyan says. Yerevan is the place, where he feels useful — for his country and for himself. That is more important to him than a high income. “We have hope for a better future,” Madatyan explains.
And Armenias are full of hope for changes in the country, huge hope.
The previous government was only interested in power to pursue its own interests, many say. The new government, instead, wants development for Armenia. Nikol Pashinyan promised to lead the country towards more democracy, boosting the economy and fighting corruption. Many activists from civil society have changed sides, finding themselves in the government or parliament.
Mikayel Zolyan is one of them. He is a member of the ruling “My Step” faction. Before the elections, the historian worked for Yerevan Press Club. “Armenia is reinventing itself,” Zolyan says, “Armenia should be democratic, free and fair. It’s a historic moment for the country. We are responsible for the fate of the revolution — for it to succeed as citizens expect,” the MP states.
The revolution, though, has not come to an end yet. According to the MP, the executive and the legislature were “liberated”, but the legal system is still considered permeated by old cadres. “The judges are corrupt, people do not trust the courts,” Zolyan criticizes. From his perspective, it might take “years to get rid of the corruption completely.” Anyone who takes bribes has to expect harsh penalties. However, a new anti-corruption body for a stronger fight against such crimes will come into place not before 2021.
The next step for the new government after the political change, is the reconstruction of the economy. It has been freed from many monopolies and oligarchs over the recent months. Now tourism as well as agriculture and the IT sector are to be expanded. Small and medium-sized enterprises are expected to be run more easily, so more citizens can leave the widespread illicit work and start legal businesses.
This is one of the tasks of Zaruhi Batoyan, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs. She is particularly committed to helping socially disadvantaged people to get into jobs. “Work means dignity,” she referees to the credo of PM Pashinyan. A job should be the way to live a dignified life, explains the Minister.
“Armenia is moving towards democracy,” notes Armen Vardanyan, political expert for the Armenian Institute of International and Security Affairs, a Yerevan-based think tank. “Since the Velvet Revolution much progress has been made in various areas. Last year’s elections were the “most transparent and fairest since 1991,” Vardanyan says.
However, there are still tasks that the government must tackle. In addition to the fight against corruption, the foreign policy is among the most pressing issues. Relations with the immediate neighbors are difficult: Armenia has no diplomatic relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan due to conflicts about the Genocide and the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia has better relations with Georgia and Iran, though, it is not free from difficulties, as Armenia also wants to hold close relation with the US.
No less complicated is the relationship with Russia and the EU. In 2015, Armenia joined the Eurasian Economic Union dominated by Russia. Moscow is an important partner and protector of Armenia. At the same time, PM Pashinyan wants to lead the society towards more European values, as he wants to raise the living standards. This rapprochement is expected to happen through the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA), signed between Armenia and the EU in 2017.
“We try to combine the best of both worlds,” MP Zolyan explains. “Russia is important for the security of the country. At the same time, we have the same values as Europe: rule of law, human rights, democracy,” he says, “further, the EU could help to modernize the country.”
The new government inherited a “difficult legacy,” expert Vardanyan says. One year after the election in which 73 percent voted in favor of Pashinyan’s party, the government has nowadays an official approval rating of 67 percent. Vardanyan estimates a maximum of 50 percent, if a new election were held today. “Some part of the population is disappointed,” he says, “wishing for more radical reforms.”
But profound changes take time.
Minister Zaruhi Batoyan knows that the problems in the country are deep-rooted. “We are working very hard and long every day, and yet that’s not enough to speed up changes after the revolution,” she says. The revolution has brought “freedom in all spheres,” she notes. “People want to make a difference in all areas,” the Minister continues. And she did expect people “to be so active”.
The government relies on the help of its citizens, especially those who returned from abroad. About three million Armenians live in the republic, seven million are scattered all over the world. Basically, two events led people into emigration: first, the 1915 Armenian Genocide within the Ottoman Empire, and second, the devastating 1988 earthquake in Gyumri and the collapse of the Soviet Union followed by the war over Nagorno-Karabakh and a massive economic crisis in the 90s — emigration continues today. Many moved to Russia, France, the USA, Latin America. According to some estimates, up to 60,000 Armenians live in Germany.
The government in Yerevan wants the diaspora to return to contribute to the economic development and to tackle demographic problems. Further, brain drain is one of the biggest challenges for Armenia. “In recent years, many Armenians have left,” says MP Zolyan. “We do not want to lose people. We want them to return, from abroad to their homeland.”
Statistics show that in 2018 the number of Armenias returning has been higher than Armenians leaving the country. For 2019 numbers are supposed to be similar.
Despite growing numbers of immigrants, Aleksandr Grigoryan, a professor of economics at the American University in Yerevan, doubts this trend to last long. Immigrants or Armenias who recently decide against emigration could be even more disappointed if the hoped-for change does not happen fast enough, for example, if wages do not rise as expected. “People might feel like they have been cheated,” warns the professor. “Over the past 20 years, the number of disappointed emigrants has always increased after elections,” he says. After the Velvet Revolution, the expectations are now much higher compared to the past — and even easier to disappoint, he fears — so the desire for emigration might increase even stronger.
Grigor Yeritsyan, President of “Armenian Progressive Youth” NGO predicts that “anyone who has a chance to leave the country will take it.” The economic situation will not be the reason for that: in his view, it is also related to discrimination and human rights. “Our country is losing a lot,” Yeritsyan says, “but I am very hopeful that it will change.”
One of the places for those who want to leave Armenia is the German Sprachlernzentrum (Language learning center) in the heart of Yerevan, a Goethe-Institut partner. Armenias come here, because they want to study at a German University, stay as Au Pair or find another job, for instance in the health industry.
Tigran is one of them. The 43-year-old surgeon with gray hair and glasses, attends the upper-intermediate B2 level. Of course, he explains why he wants to move to Germany: money is important for that decision, but his main desire is to develop his professional skills. “It’s very important to get a progress,” he says. When asked by some friends what it is like for him right now to leave the country after the revolution, Tigran’s answer has been “I have only one life and want to change something.” “Armenia is on the way to democracy,” the surgeon says, and he likes that a lot. How long he wants to stay in Germany, however, whether he thinks of returning, he does not say.
Oliver Bilger works for the Berlin based daily “Der Tagesspiegel” and other German newspapers. He studied politics and communication. In his work he regularly focuses on Eastern Europe, CIS countries and especially Russia since years.
by Isabel Broyan
One of the first discoveries during my stay in Berlin was the existence of Gender Equality Officers (GEO) at German government institutions. Seeking to learn more on their role and function (and at the same time to satisfy my curiosity), I hurried to a meeting with Dr. Mechthild Koreuber, Chief Gender Equality Officer at Freie University.
In a cozy office with posters on girls in science and against domestic violence on the walls, I met Dr. Koreuber, who at the beginning of our talk asked me about a legal framework on gender equality in the field of education in Armenia. The first thing that came to my mind was the legislation on domestic violence and heated discussions around it. But as such, there is no legal framework in this field in our country. But what about Germany? From this moment, the most exciting part began.
1989 is a significant year for Germany. That year, Germans developed a new higher education law, which included the idea of GEO. It was expected to have GEOs at central and departmental levels as full-time and part-time jobs. It is noteworthy that it was considered a job and not voluntary work. Dr. Koreuber, for example, is a full-time officer for about 20 years.
When asked on how Germans came to the point they needed GEO, Dr. Koreuber explained that at the end of the 80s, it was clear that “women were power”. It was easier for Germans to have a discussion on gender equality because they did have a traditional concept of gender roles like in the South Caucasus countries. Then they started to involve different non-governmental organizations in their work. And now GEO is financed by the government. Dr. Koreuber was the first woman to have a diploma in Math in her group. According to her, there was a problem with a system, thus at first it was hard for her.
“We needed a platform to discuss our problems and understand that we, women, need to be empowered. It was important to realize that it was not an individual problem. The problem was with a system…”
During our talk I discovered another interesting fact: in the beginning, only nine percent of professors at Freie University were female. Now this number has reached thirty percent. As for the future, Dr. Koreuber sets a goal to have fifty percent of female professors.
Article 3 of the German Basic Law (the German Constitution) “Equality before the law” reads: “Men and women have equal rights.” Here one can find a reference to Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
The next paragraph of the Article refers to the positive obligations of the state in promoting gender equality. Moreover, it is the state to ensure the implementation of equal opportunities policy for men and women and take steps to eliminate the shortcomings that impede the achievement of gender equality. This means that universities also take responsibility to ensure equality in education by appointing their GEOs.
There is also the Berlin Higher Education Act, which, in Dr. Koreuber’s view, is very important for gender policies at universities. It includes all the statutory areas of a university that have to be regulated by law. The institutions of higher education shall promote equal development opportunities for women and men based on their qualification and shall eliminate existing discrimination against women.
Each higher education institution must adopt a statute, which establishes regulations for the realization of gender equality opportunities in terms of staff, finance and content. It includes:
1. Procedure for appointment to professorship;
2. Education, training and development of scientific and non-academic staff;
3. Participation of women on boards and in commissions;
4. Promotion of women’s studies and gender studies;
5. Protection of members of the university against sexual harassment;
6. Compatibility of study, work and family.
The Berlin Higher Education Act also requires all universities to touch upon the topic of sexual harassment and violence in their statute.
GEO’s work within the Berlin Higher Education Act
Each university must choose a GEO at the central and departmental levels. At Freie University, at the central level, there is a full-time Chief GEO and her two part-time deputies. The Chief GEO is an independent body and is elected by female members of the university.
A GEO consults on all matters related to structural, organizational, and personal issues of women. GEOs have the right to propose ideas, inform committees on certain problems, and most importantly, they can use the power of the veto if they do not agree with one or another decision. An important place is given to conducting research projects on the topic of gender equality, as well as equal opportunities policies.
It should also be noted that a GEO’s work does not refer exclusively to supporting women. Unlike a women’s representative, the work of a GEO includes actions towards a systematic change of structure and the initiation of a cultural change aimed at achieving gender equality.
National day of girls
“GEO should encourage women to study science,” explains Dr. Koreuber. That is why Freie University annually holds a Girls’ Day. The idea is to promote girls in science by providing schoolgirls with workshops in areas which are considered to be “male professions.” For example, computer science, physics, IT, etc.
“For a man, Math is as much difficult as for a woman, but a man never stops studying Math just because it is difficult. A woman is told that Math is not her business.”
In Dr. Koreuber’s opinion, through this program girls feel they can work where they want to and can do that alone. There is also a mentoring program. That is, if a girl wants to study IT, she has her own mentor in that sphere to work with her within a year. When explaining these things Dr Koreuber told another interesting fact – Angela Merkel has a PhD in Physics, and her experience helps sometimes promote women in science.
Work against sexual harassment and violence
Sexual harassment and violence are acute topics in Germany. The Freie University GEO told me that 50% of all employees have experienced sexual harassment at their working place, 50% of female students have experienced sexual harassment during their study time. Most employees know that sexual harassment is prohibited, but lack knowledge of the legal situation. Moreover, statistics of cases of sexual harassment are generally hard to obtain.
GEOs actively participate in the prevention of sexual harassment and violence. This can be done by, first of all, defining the term. At Freie University, for example, advances and undesired invitations combined with a promise of advantages or threat of disadvantages fall under sexual harassment. In the worst case these are sexual contact and physical attack, including rape.
When there is such a case, a working group is formed comprising members from works council, heads of faculty administration, a representative from the HR department, GEO speaker of the plenum, the chief GEO and a psychologist. Their task is to make the subject of sexualized discrimination and violence visible at the University, to develop PR campaigns and training, and report the case to the University management.
Urbanization, the development of technologies and means of production have considerably reduced the need for a large number of unskilled labor, eliminating meanwhile a number of factors resulting in gender inequality. Women play an increasingly important role in modern society: their activity leads to economic, political and social changes. And German universities’ model can serve as a good example of how to invest in girls. But we should all ask ourselves, “Do we really want to invest in women?”
Isabel Broyan works as human rights journalist and researcher at the Yezidi Center for Human Rights NGO. Her research interests are national minority rights, women rights, and multiculturalism. Isabel has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and is currently enrolled in a Master’s program on human rights and democratization at Yerevan State University. She works on the promotion of human rights in illiberal communities and tolerance in society.