The story of an Armenian feminist woman: Ani Kojoyan

The image shows Ani Kojoyan, a light brown-skinned woman with long wavy brown hair, wearing a white cowl-necked dress and silver chain necklace. She stands in front of a window with a countryside scene faintly visible behind her. Ani's hands are held together in front of her and she is looking straight into the camera with a confident gaze and slight smile.In our first EFAP paper, our narrator, Anna Mekhakyan, reflects on Ani Kojoyan, a modern Armenian feminist who has inspired Anna’s own feminist practice

In Armenian history, there were Armenian feminist women who lived and worked in difficult times, when women did not have the right to do all they could and dared to do. They changed the seemingly impossible: the potential of women. The extent of women’s opportunities has expanded today, thanks to their rebellion. Among these feminist women are Zabel Yesayan, Srbuhi Tyusab and Aurora Mardiganian. Each of them is an inspirational and strong figure in Armenian history.

But I would like to talk about the present: the modern woman in the current era. In this context is Ani Kojoyan, an Armenian feminist who is the main heroine of my story and my source of inexhaustible inspiration. I met Ani at university, and it was a turning point in my life. There are people who can inspire and offer wings for flying; if you miss the moment, the magic loses its power.

Ani Kojoyan was born on April 6, 1987, in one of the beautiful districts of Yerevan. Ever since childhood, she has demonstrated high human qualities of protection and compassion: she was one and a half years old and at kindergarten when the 1988 earthquake took place and while everyone was trying to save themselves and survive, Ani was trying to save the fish, dropping them into the aquarium so they wouldn’t drown.

Ani’s childhood was quite colourful and interesting and her grandfather’s beautiful and fascinating fairy tales and stories formed the basis of her later scientific study of fairy tales. Ani’s range of interests is quite wide, from crafts to arts and sciences, including singing and dancing, music, cuisine and sport. From childhood, she was given decision-making positions and approached any question with great responsibility. She learned German at school but decided to enter the English Department of Romance-Germanic Philology at Yerevan State University. After earning a Master’s Degree in Armenia, she started teaching at Yerevan State University as an English lecturer. Participating in her first international conference at Oxford University, Ani decided she wanted to study there. She mentions that she found England a distinct and impressive country with a magical and inexplicable power that captured and strengthened her.

Despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, such as qualitative differences in the education system, Ani graduated from Oxford University. Several have now passed and, today, I can say with confidence that many people are more easily given the opportunity to study at Oxford University thanks to Ani and others like her. She created an Armenian community here, introduced Armenian culture and history to others and presented Armenia to the world in a new way.

Ani’s next scholarly study tour led her to the University of Arizona, where she began to participate in Gender Studies. Arizona was a turning point for her. She met new people, discovered a new and different culture and learned to feel the colours of life. She also gained good and lasting friends who lived, worked and created in Arizona with the Armenian spirit. While studying at the University of Arizona, Ani took a ‘Gender, Linguistics and Communication’ course. On returning to Armenia, Ani enabled the master’s degree students of the English Philology Department at the University of Armenia to study this field. This represented a novelty in Armenian education and the other faculties at the university still do not have such a course. There are a number of reasons for this, such as a lack of relevant specialists, but it is largely because a significant part of our society does not have gender sensitivity. And it is for this reason that artificial problems are created at every step for Ani whenever she does any work in this field.

Ani has published many articles in which she describes gender inequality and translated books on gender and feminism, making this area more accessible to different groups of society. Her interest, concerns and aspirations for this topic were redirected to Oxford University, but this time not for studying English philology, but conducting gender studies. At Lady Margaret Hall, Ani had another big opportunity, which led her to start to change traditional Armenian concepts on gender and begin the fight to stop cultural relativity where it prevents people from living dignified lives.

Ani Kojoyan devotes herself to education, and it is no coincidence that she works in the Open Society Foundations-Armenia as an Educational programme manager. She is convinced that, through knowledge, our society will change its attitude towards the rights of women, equality between women and men, and ultimately human dignity. Ani calls on her students to be demanding, create critical thinking and develop a broad mindset. She also teaches them not to be indifferent: to be compassionate even if the problem does not directly impact on them, as this does not mean the problem does not exist in our society. Apart from academic knowledge, she raises the students’ levels of consciousness and creates informed citizens, being assured that “Youth is Power”.

Do not follow other people’s hardened mindset, but take a moment to pause and think what you want, what your version is and how you want to live

Ani Kojoyan works with the conviction that she will create an open, fair and equal society. She also cooperates with non-governmental organisations and leaves her mark in this field too: her most recent project, in which I also took part, was a programme organised in cooperation with the ‘Youth is Power’ NGO, where she joined us from Oxford University and shared her knowledge and experience with us. Having someone who will save you from drowning gives hope, power and confidence.

Armenia has signed a number of documents stating that women and men have equal rights. However, having equal rights in documents does not mean having equal opportunities for realising those rights. This problem becomes more complicated in Armenia because of the following typical justification: ‘Armenian women have all rights like men.’ What can be done in the face of this statement? How do we go about treating people who need help but do not have the ability to avoid drowning? This situation has deep roots, as Armenia is a traditional country, and sometimes these traditions can serve as the main reason for discriminating against women. Within traditions there are many stereotypes leading women into a lack of consciousness. In addressing this, Ani has inner power which is beyond my words. Her every day is full of challenges, which she accepts. At Yerevan State University, she has mostly worked with female students and many of her lectures and talks are directed towards breaking down deep stereotypes, changing attitudes to life and becoming more demanding. Ani has worked as a lecturer at Yerevan State University since 2009 and it is nine years since she started her campaign.

In order to illustrate the importance of Ani’s work, I would like to use my own personal and professional progress as an example. Ani has become my everyday working source of inspiration. Whenever I feel that I am starting to lose my inspiration and motivation, I remember Ani’s example and everything is changed in a minute. This is like a magic that needs to be explained. However, human words are not enough to do justice to this complicated phenomenon. It seems there are some things that cannot be changed even in this developed era and that it is the power of nature. However, with the help of Ani, I have found my inner freedom and seen what I want and why I want it. She led me to start questioning critically. I realised the importance of social inclusion and found my role.

Ani is a liberating person; sometimes we can just see her freedom in her writing. I would like to share with you a small part from one of her pieces:

‘Freedom is something a person needs to feel inside. Independence is a form: let form and content match with and to each other.

Feel the importance of time, and look at you as you walk along it. Do not follow other people’s hardened mindset, but take a moment to pause and think what you want, what your version is and how you want to live. It is easy to be in the mainstream and be indifferent. But again, in time, you realise that being human is the highest value and respect for the other person is obligatory.’

Ani’s power lies in trying to challenge and compete with herself, so as to learn and spread knowledge as something to be used in society. It also lies in her aim to create something that is new and good, opening a path for others and reaching seemingly impossible places.

Ani works with the younger generation, and her work is invaluable. She gives love, dedication and knowledge to her students and the proof of it is in the results of her work. For me, besides being a source of academic inspiration, Ani is also an image of a strong woman whose power is her knowledge, for which it is not necessary to be a man. She is a striking example of a modern woman who leads you to social justice and the awareness of equality, freedom and consciousness. She lets you know that you must feel, realise and evaluate the power of the present: to walk on the current stage. If you miss the moment, the magic loses its power.


AUTHOR BIO

I am Anna Mekhakyan, who is studying English Language and Literature at Yerevan State University. I was born on October 25, 1996, in Yerevan, Armenia. I am a feminist!

Academic knowledge is important for me and I do my best to gain the knowledge I need, both as a good specialist and also as a citizen of the world. I have my own dreams about life and I imagine that I have the power to realise them.

Volunteering, social inclusion and participation in different training programmes are the next important parts of my life: areas I consider so necessary for understanding your own place in your society. I am a volunteer in the Federation of Youth Clubs of Armenia, where I do translations, organise events and participate in different programmes with EVS Volunteers from different countries.

I am very interested in Human Rights, Gender Equality and Feminism and have taken part in the ‘Empowering Women in the context of Gender Equality and Human Rights’ project organised by the Youth is Power NGO. The next programme I took part in was ‘Fem Camp’, which was organised by the Society Without Violence NGO. There, I had an opportunity to deepen my knowledge about Feminism, Human/Women’s Rights, Gender and Art Activism. I also explored the magic of meditation and took part in other programmes. Each one gave me a new approach towards life.

I am currently participating in a Women’s Mentoring Programme organised by the United States Embassy in Armenia. I work efficiently with my mentor, Gohar Hayrapetyan, who is a journalist. Working with her I have found a new side of myself. I have started writing articles on different social issues, which are published in Champord on a weekly basis. One of these is on Domestic Violence, for which I interviewed Ani Kojoyan.

Along with this, I am currently writing another article on Higher Education (also with Ani Kojoyan). I am concerned about the Quality of Education in Armenia and this was the main reason for accepting a job in Arevik Publishing, where I work as a programme manager. My interest in Education has also been my motivation to participate in the ‘Promoting public demand for higher education’ programme, which is organised by the Armenian Progressive Youth NGO and sponsored by Open Society Foundations – Armenia. During this programme, we are studying Active Citizenship and Democratic Education, Equality and Anti-discrimination, Critical Thinking, Public Speaking, Academic Freedom, Advocacy and Social Justice.

I am thinking about specialising in Human Rights, Gender Studies or Education. I am sure that I will have an opportunity to study in England and get a Master’s degree in one of these professions.

Image of Ani Kojoyan taken from the LMH WEF fellows page.