LA Coalition Holds Benefit Event For Women’s Shelters In Armenia

Some of the participants at the fundraiser

Fundraiser raises awareness, funds to combat domestic violence

LOS ANGELES—It was an evening both festive and sober on Thursday, Sept. 15 as a diverse group of LA Armenians came together on behalf of the Yerevan-based Women’s Support Center, which seeks to establish shelters that protect women suffering from domestic violence.

Co-sponsored by the Tufenkian Foundation, Armenian International Women’s Association, and USAID, the WSC reached out recently to various groups and individuals in Los Angeles, who came together to offer resounding support through a fundraising reception, held in Atwater Village at the attractive residence of Dr. Avo Tavitian. The reception was co-organized by the Armenian Bar Association, Armenian-American Medical Organization, Armenian Dentists’ Association, Armenian Youth Federation, AGBU Hye Geen, and GALAS. The result was a diverse mix of over 150 activists, professionals, supporters, and journalists who learned about Armenia’s problems with domestic violence, and what can be done about it.

The evening’s program featured remarks by Tufenkian Foundation Director Antranig Kasbarian and independent filmmaker/activist Carla Garapedian. Kasbarian noted that domestic violence today is one of Armenia’s most widespread-yet-unheralded problems, as it is largely treated as a private, family affair rather than a legitimate social concern. He also commented that it is a result not simply of patriarchal custom or backward mentalities, but also of the severe social tensions and dislocations created by Armenia’s continuing underdevelopment. All of these lead to problems that impact the family, and none is more destructive than domestic violence, he noted.

To address domestic violence effectively, he said, myriad efforts are required – ranging from humanitarian care to political activism. For its part, the Tufenkian Foundation has promoted the establishment of a Women’s Support Center which encourages women to come out of their isolation and seek help for themselves and, when possible, their spouses as well. The result thus far has been modestly successful, Kasbarian noted, as women often find themselves subject to intensified abuse once their partners discover they have come out and sought treatment openly. The logical next step, therefore, is to establish shelters that afford women full protection and anonymity as they seek to regain their mental and physical health following abuse.

Garapedian is the well-known director of “Screamers” and “Lifting the Veil” (the latter concerning the plight of women in Afghanistan). In her remarks she focused on the broader social and cultural ramifications of domestic violence: “Talking about domestic violence in Armenia has been one of the Big Taboos. The fact we are talking about it now, could not have happened without a shift in thinking in Armenia. It’s a glimmer, it’s new. Sometimes, if you are in a small village, you might wonder if it’s there at all,” she stated.

“It’s a new idea – what I would call ‘Enough.’ Enough — domestic violence does not have to be tolerated. In any household. In any family. Enough — it is no longer acceptable to perpetrate violence against women. It is no longer acceptable for men to take their frustrations out by beating their wives. This is part of old Armenia, not new Armenia. However difficult life is, however tough, you don’t beat women and children.”
Also greeting the audience were California Senator Carol Liu and Glendale Mayor Laura Friedman, both of whom expressed support and confnidence that the shelter initiative would succeed.

The program was capably MC’d by Nareg Keshishian, who acknowledged various guests in the audience, including noted actor John Heard as well as area Armenian notables. The event was tastefully catered by Salpi’s catering, with invigorating Armenian jazz piano music from Sergey Kyosayan.

One of the evening’s highlights came when singer/songwriter Gor Mkhitarian announced that he had composed a song dedicated to the occasion, expressing the combination of pain and frustration, hope and aspiration, that mark the problem of domestic violence and efforts to solve it. Mkhitarian proceeded to offer a premiere performance, with his signature guitar accompaniment, which drew accolades from those in attendance. The new song will soon be released publicly.

By evening’s end, Keshishian announced that more than $40,000 had been raised toward the effort, with another fundraiser of similar scope now being planned on the East Coast. He also announced that USAID has pledged partnership support, which will hopefully build upon the amounts raised in order to develop a robust shelter program including all needed staff and facilities.

For further information and to support these efforts, please contact the Tufenkian Foundation at (212) 475-2475, ext.327, or visit the Foundation’s Web site. Additional information is also available on AIWA’s Web site.

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