BY KNAR KAHKEJIAN
People say you should never judge a person until you walk a mile in his shoe, or in my case, her heels. Life deals us circumstances of which we can’t help because we are born into them, but we can always change the outcome of any situation we find ourselves in. Coming to Artsakh, I found myself lost in my thoughts as to how I would be able to interact with the locals of Stepanagert, let alone find something in common to discuss with them. I knew ahead of time that I’d be conversing with the girls more than the boys because it’s not very common for women to just sit and talk with a man one on one, unless it was within a group of guys and girls all together. Surprisingly, it wasn’t hard to find something to talk about.
The first day we spent in Stepanagert was pretty awkward, we had to adjust as a group to present ourselves as respectful diasporans. Anything out of the ordinary was noticed, partly because we stick out like a sore thumb as non-Artsakh residents. Luckily the AYF/ARF girls did not leave us out and instead made us feel as though we were welcomed. We were all worried about not having anything to talk about with them but the conversations we had just rolled along so smoothly. I had all these pre-conceived thoughts that these girls would be either engaged/married, probably not in school, or would stand in the background and keep quiet by standing behind the men. I was dead wrong. These women were so friendly, intelligent, outspoken, and driven with passion for Tashnagtsootyoon and the AYF/ARF. I found myself to be so comfortable when speaking with these girls, even if there was a slight language barrier. Although we both speak Armenian, I say barrier because of the different dialects and “par-par” (slang) they use, but when both sides listen carefully to what the other is saying, it’s smooth sailing.
We discussed things like school, their AYF/ARF work and agoump life, boyfriends, and the typical girly questions as to where the best place is to get our nails and eyebrows done. I was utterly impressed to find that these women put education first before marriage, one being Arevig. Arevig is a beautiful and intelligent young woman, she’s also 24 and not married. For a country like Armenia, girls are prone to getting married young, its not unlikely that they get married off by the age of 18, even 16. Arevig chose to become one of the few to become educated, which majority of the AYF/ARF girls have chosen to do as well. When you ask about why they chose education over marriage, all their answers are the same: “Marriage is luck, sometimes we find love young and sometimes we don’t, but an education is not something you can base off of luck. It is better to finish school, get a degree, and establish yourself with a respectable job. Once those are in place, getting married will follow suit.” I literally sat there in awe and was so intrigued by her answer. In the U.S. it’s almost a given to finish up school first and then focus on having a relationship, but in other countries it’s not even an option. Once a girl passes the “ripe age” of 16, up until 21 or so, it’s very difficult to find someone that is willing to marry them. But these girls don’t care if they get married right away, for them education is much more important than a wedding band around their delicate fingers. If a man appreciates her beauty, he should appreciate her mind as well.
In essence as diasporans we have so much more in common with these girls than we imagined. We both believe in higher education, having passion for the AYF/ARF, and love for our homeland. If they taught me anything, it would be to never compromise my dreams for my future in order to satisfy what the masses want or expect for you to do. They added fuel to an already lit fire within me to establish myself as an independent, hard working, and passionate woman for the cause and for life in general. So this is for the women that don’t take no for an answer and go above and beyond for what they believe they deserve. It may be a man’s world, but we can definitely play hard ball along side them.
With love from Artsakh and all its women.
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