On 3-6 February 2017, Yerevan became a hub of innovative ideas which flew in the air spreading creativity and EYP-spirit. AYSOR4Innovation NSC of EYP Armenia gathered 120 local and international participants under the theme of social entrepreneurship and innovation. “New ideas, project initiatives, hundreds of new friends and much more” organizers claimed. It sounded so impressive and innovative, so I decided to apply.
As I have already participated in the EYP Armenia, I know that it is well organized, the debates are interesting, international delegates have time to enjoy the city and you just feel as at home! I was also curious to know more about the social innovation in Armenia and how the organizers are going to handle this topic. This topic is not obvious for Western countries, so how an Armenian NGO can handle it? How to make the Armenian youth to adhere to social innovation? What do they know about the social innovation and entrepreneurship?
The AYSOR forum has the part of the classic EYP session, which includes resolutions, teambuilding and the General Assembly with voting procedure. Additionally, participants have to present the concept of the social entrepreneurship project, a start-up. This was the main difficulty of the AYSOR session. The start-up should have a name, a logo, values and a business plan. Moreover, participants should think about social innovation, sustainability and the financing of the project. Such ambitious plans for young Armenian participants!
As organizers insisted, the main idea was to reuse the existing things to make it more sustainable and socially responsible. As the founder of EYP Armenia, Suzanna Shamakhyan rightly stated “We have maximization about new: innovation sometimes puts a shade to what is old, but innovation is using the old in a new way, that will be sustainable, and bring a long-term impact”. Caroline Steiner, Junior professional at the EU delegation to Armenia, who took part in the forum reiterated that she “sees Armenia as a very innovative country: it has great technological and innovative potential to achieve even more”. So to reuse or create a new project? So how did the participants handle the topic? Which innovative and original ideas they could bring?
I must admit that the topics to handle were quite difficult and challenging. For instance how to handle the challenge to create a more favorable environment for the development and the extension of startups in Europe? It is quite a multi-level complicated topic, as participants should know about the political, legal and economic environment of the EU. Or in my committee, the topic was to ensure protection of whistleblowers in the EU while simultaneously maintaining protection of sensitive information. Whistleblow….what? Have you ever heart about whistleblowers? I am ashamed to admit that I discovered this word for the first time. In Switzerland financial institutions and banks are regularly shaken by the whistleblowing scandals; it is such a complicated topic, which includes so many aspects of the problem. It is a complicated topic for experienced specialists in European affairs, so for students, it is even more complicated.
However, Armenian participants surprised me with their ideas, their capacity to think and act quickly and their creativity. They had so limited time to brainstorm, to find a logo, and to make a business project. These kinds of projects need a lot of time, some of the real star-ups take months to be realized, while in Yerevan inexperienced Armenians did a miracle being so concentrated.
In the committee “legal affairs”, my committee, the debates were heated! We tried to use the Swiss time management; Swiss moo box announcement, however, it was difficult to stop the debates 😉 After the stormy brainstorming, we accepted the idea of Elizabeth, who came up with the whole project, called “Pen & Paper. The right to write!” This project is innovative for Armenia as it handles such as complex cultural and economic problem as the corruption and complaints. As participants explained to me, it is not in the Armenian culture to report about the cases of corruption or to report to your boss. Often it is considered as a shame to do it. Moreover population does not trust in a hierarchy and in the government to solve the problem, if not to mention the police. The project consists of the online platform, where the employees of any organization can report any mismanagement, corruption, illegality or wrongdoing anonymously. From one side the cultural problem of the “reporting” problem is solved, as it is anonymous. No more feeling ashamed to report on your boss or the corruption problem! From the other side, this project foresees the secure channel for reporting it further to the police. If no actions have been taken, this complaint is going to the police with the legal obligation to start the investigation.
The real novelty came from the FEMM committee, the Committee on women’s rights and gender equality. They had a difficult task to handle the problem of women’s presence in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) domains, where women represent only 13% of working staff. How could they assure the gender equality at the heart of Horizon 2020 and in STEM? The FEMM committee traditionally fails to pass their resolutions. However this time the topic seems to be less political and emotionally charged. Nevertheless the discussions were heated and the debates passionate. The committee offered to promote “soft” gender quotas (hotly debated), legal protection, as well as the online platform about the discrimination within the workplace. Nothing shocking or outstanding, however these measures were virulently contested.
The committee made a quite conservative, according to the European standards, project about women making the home-made food, called “Women in the kitchen”. The main idea was to involve the housewives in the project by making them to prepare the home-made food, done exclusively from local and organic ingredients, which is sold after in the lunch-boxes. Thus women with small children or elder parents can also work and be paid. Some of the participants protested that women’s anticipation is not in the kitchen. Yes, I agree, but to my mind, it is always better for women to work and to have their own revenue than locking them at home. Probably this project is not a perfect project for women’s emancipation, but it allows women to combine work at home, the care for small children and some kind of emancipation. So I can only say big “Yes” to this project. And guess what? A miracle happened! The resolution and the project passed. Passed! Ok, it was not the crushing victory, but a big step for discussions.
Another novelty for Armenia was the project (2 projects!) related to the waste recycling. All these projects offered innovative ways to recycle the waste in order to improve the environmental condition within the country, as well as to give job opportunities for the unemployed persons. One of the committees offered even to make the refugees work on recycling the waste. It seems to be a cultural problem in the country toward the litter recycling and working at this job. Is it shameful to recycle its own waste?
In the conclusion, I can say that the AYSOR forum was quite intense but productive in terms of ideas and conclusions. It is not only about some abstract ideas and resolutions about Europe, I can understand that somehow it can be difficult to debate if you have never been to Europe. However participants had a solid knowledge of European legislation and structure. Moreover, they came up with concrete projects, designed for Armenia, with the idea to include the socially excluded population and handle the urgent problems of the Armenian society: corruption, women’s rights, education and the waste-management. I was really impressed and it was also revitalizing to see young Armenians to be fully involved in the debates, as well as to believe in Europe and European values. During the times of Eurosceptics in Europe, this Armenian energy and their trust in Europe is very refreshing and gratifying. I hope that this experience will be beneficial for all participants, and we all will become active citizens and one day, (who knows?), will change something in this world, to contribute to the society in order to make it a more just and more socially responsible. Thanks to AYSOR forum and the EYP Armenia to give the opportunity to youngsters to do it.
By Nataliya Borys.
Eternal friendship of Russian and Ukrainian peoples.
When I was accepted to participate in the AYSOR session in Yerevan, Armenia, I was truly excited by meeting old friends, but in the same time, I apprehended the political debates about Ukraine, Crimea, Russia, Putin and all these conversations that I faced few years ago in the full crisis of Crimea, or exactly 3 years ago.
When in 2014 I came to Armenia for the first time, I arrived to Georgia and took a taxi to Yerevan. During the long ride from Tbilisi to Yerevan, while contemplating the beautiful scenery, I also had a long conversation, or rather the monologue by the taxi-driver, who was happy to debate the issue of Russia and Ukraine with me. I listened for long hours about the “eternal friendship of Russian and Ukrainian peoples” and about “Slavic brothers”. When I tried to sleep a bit, other passengers fueled the debates adding more to an old Soviet myth about the “eternal brothers, Russians and Ukrainians”. Another day, another taxi in Yerevan, and the same discussion about “eternal friendship of Russian and Ukrainian nations”. It seemed that nobody supported Ukraine. Even during the EYP session, the participants gladly agreed and made a resolution that Crimea is the part of Russia against the virulent protestations of Ukrainian participants.
Thus I was morally ready in 2017 to listen about “eternal friendship of Russian and Ukrainian nations” and to agree with it in order to get rid of this conversation. Half sleepy in the taxi driving from the airport, I was sincerely surprised by the taxi-driver, who uncovered my Ukrainian accent, and gladly made a passionate speech against Putin “Go ahead Ukrainians, f…Putin and all this mafia in the Kremlin”. What?! Am I in Armenia? Can’t believe it. What’s about the “eternal friendship”? Another day, another taxi, and another surprise. A taxi-driver once again gladly debated about the war in Ukraine and even though admitting that we shouldn’t fight against “brothers”, concluded that the war was created by Putin and completely useless.
Am I in Armenia? The same Armenia?
Eco-friendly and smoking free spots in Yerevan.
During my last visit to Armenia, I discovered that all public places were smoking places. There was no way to avoid the smoke in Yerevan, no difference if you‘re a pregnant woman or a child, you always in a smoke. Once I dropped into the hairdresser’s shop and discovered that everyone was in a thick fog, my smoke-stinking hair became more smoke-saturated. Only the EYP was a non-smoking area when we could breathe a bit. After few days, I started to suffocate.
I really feared the smoke and what a surprise! I discovered new non-smoking places in Yerevan. Some cafés offered non-smoking places and some of them, particularly the Green Bean coffee shop, were completely smoking-free. And do you know what? These places were full! Moreover, the hostel was also the smoke-free place. Such a nice surprise!
Few years ago, during the EYP session we debated about the ecological topic, something relating to the traffic problem and the alternative to cars in Armenia. Being in the ecological committee means to be in “loser’s” committee when you fail to accept your ideas to others. We tried to discuss the topic, but Armenian participants did not want to listen to. It seems that only the idea to have a bike was extremely hilarious for Armenians. Is it a joke? The car and only the car. It was my another surprise to discover that participants not only to listen to some ecological ideas, but they also tried to find solutions to ecological issues. Such a victory! A bike is not anymore considered to be the loser’s vehicle! Hurrah!
Moreover, the Green Bean coffee shop is Armenian-based, eco-friendly green café where you can enjoy a real good coffee without smoke, gluten-free cakes and salads. Everything is so delicious. On its walls, there are posters about green Yerevan, items made in Armenia, waste-sorting and other things that seem to be alien in Yerevan just few years ago. Somehow it became a reality in Yerevan. It is another small victory. It is a small victory for Yerevan to have non-smoking places and it reflects the changes in the Armenian society. It becomes acceptable not to tolerate the smoking places. I can breathe!
Women in the kitchen.
Another sensitive topic and another committee, who fails every time, it is the FEMM committee and women’s question. After bikes and dogs, women’s committee is a kind of another “losers” committee. Delegates feel often upset to be in this committee, as their resolutions seldom pass, especially if it is about sensitive topics, such as the burqa, women’s rights, Muslim women or refugees. In 2017 delegates in the committee of FEMM were excited about the topic but did not really believe in their success. If even the officials do not believe in it, so what’s about ordinary participants?
When the delegates presented very careful resolutions (it was all about “suggesting”, “encouraging” and “trying”) I was still pessimistic about the issue. They made a quite conservative, according to the European standards, the project about housewives making the home-made food, called “Women in the kitchen”. In another place, I would probably protest, but it was already a big step and a bald project for Armenia. I made a lot of noise to encourage the committee. And guess what? Another miracle happened! The resolution and the project passed. Passed! Ok, it was not the crushing victory, some of the participants were proud to vote against it. Another audacious idea from the committee was to promote the paternity leave. It was something that seemed to be the most alien thing for most of Armenian participants.
Discussing women’s rights and its place in the society was another small victory in the Armenian society. The topic and the committee which fails to be discussed got its first victory. Viva women’s rights!
Small but perceptible changes.
Small but perceptible changes occurred in the Armenian society among youth, and not only. Of course, I was in Yerevan, in the capital, among “progressive” youth, members of EYP, who are English-speakers, kind of new elite of the country. But there were also taxi-drivers, talks in the hostel, in the museums, in the coffee shops and all other random encounters. Somehow this situation reminds me Ukraine before Maidan, the youth, who aspires for changes and for more just, equality and peaceful society, with European values of tolerance, openness and the rule of law.
Probably these coffee shops, non-smoking places and talks about women’s rights in Yerevan can be seen anecdotic comparing to the whole country, however for me, they are the indicator of the slow, but steady changes in the Armenian society.
Russia and Putin lost it’s the most fervent supporters in Armenia. No more passionate speeches about eternal friendship among “Slavic” nations and “everything but not the war”. The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) neither brought peace nor prosperity in the country. Prices are high comparing to neighboring countries. The society remains highly corrupted and there are no jobs for young Armenians. Many Armenians still go to Russia to work. The government overuses the pretext of the conflict with neighbouring countries to blame everything on it and not to conduct reforms (as in Ukraine). The country seems to be locked in the political and economic deadlock.
The youngsters understand this deadlock and seem to be trapped in this situation. They understand that there is no other alternative for the European Union and for the rule of law. They are quite supportive of Ukraine, who dared to challenge Putin. However it is not easy to be surrounded by highly nationalistic, aggressive and powerful neighbours, thus there is no other political choice for such a small country as Armenia.
Nobody expected the Ukrainian Maidan to happen. While Ukrainian political corrupted class arranged the political deal with both Russia and the EU, Ukrainian youth lived its own life: travelling and studying around the world, chatting on the internet, launched new projects. The ignorance of the Ukrainian youth’s aspirations and its steady Europeanization was fatal to the regime of Yanukovych.
The similar changes occur in Armenia. The political class and the youth live quite different lives. The Armenian youth aspires to changes: for a more just society, the state of law, for jobs and for having a possibility to choose for their lives. I am quite optimistic, if even the political and economic situation seems not to develop, the youth of Armenia has already affirmed its choices and voiced loudly their dissatisfaction.
 AYSOR means Activate Youth for sustainability: obtaining & rebuilding. On 3-6 February 2017 Yerevan became a hub of innovative ideas which flew in the air spreading creativity and EYP-spirit. AYSOR4Innovation NSC of EYP Armenia gathered 120 local and international participants under the theme of social entrepreneurship and innovation. Billions of new ideas, thousands of project initiatives, hundreds of new friends and much more.
 Former Ukrainian president, who fled to Russia after the Maidan.
On the night of July 15, 2016 parts of the Turkish Armed Forces attempted to overthrow Turkey’s AKP government. While the coup d’état failed and many questions about it linger to this day, its consequences were enormous and continue to shape Turkish politics.
This is an account of that fateful Friday night by someone who happened to fly to Istanbul during the coup d’état. The person who recounted his experiences wishes to remain anonymous.
“I had decided to fly from Switzerland to Istanbul on the 15th of July 2016 to oversee the construction of our house there”
Before I left Switzerland, I hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary, with one exception: a banker, friend of mine had heard that I was leaving for Turkey on that day. He wrote me that he had an “intuition” and that I should leave the Istanbul Atatürk Airport immediately on arrival and stay clear of any crowds I might encounter.
The first sign that something unusual was going on happened shortly before touchdown in Istanbul. I’ve flown certainly more than 100 times to Turkey. But this was the first time that our airplane suddenly accelerated and started climbing again when we were only minutes away from landing. When the aircraft aborted the landing, we were so close to the ground that we could clearly see the houses, cars and people of Büyükçekmece. Büyükçekmece is already part of Istanbul, the last district that an aircraft coming from Switzerland overflies before landing at Atatürk International Airport.
After gaining altitude again, the aircraft veered off towards the Sea of Marmara, over which we were flying a holding pattern for about 15 minutes. This was very strange. Even if it’s peak season, the planes are never put on a holding pattern after having begun the final approach. Normally, that happens much earlier. We finally landed at around 7PM local time.
After the landing, another strange thing happened. After disembarking the aircraft, we had to get on the airport bus. But I had never been on an airport bus that drove around for such a long time on the airport grounds only to get to the arrival terminal. The route the bus took was completely different from the usual one.
At that moment, I thought that these strange occurrences could be explained with the charter flight, which I had booked for the first time to fly to Istanbul. Maybe they were doing things differently. But then we also had to wait unusually long to claim our baggage. I finally left the terminal and took the shuttle bus that connects the airport to Taksim Square, one of the hubs on the European side of Istanbul. Shortly before eight o’clock, the bus departed from the airport.
When I got to Taksim Square, I saw people who were singing and playing music. It was almost a festival. There were a lot of people standing by and watching. It was a typical display of the Gezi Park spirit on a Friday evening. The musicians were still the same Gezi Park activists from 2013. There were several groups who were playing music in different languages. There was one group with maybe 50 or 60 spectators and several meters further there was already another music group. It was half past nine at this point.
Then I took the Metro from Taksim Square to Sarıyer, a district on the European coast of the Bosporus. A lot of incidents related to the coup d’état were already taking place at that moment, but because I was in the Metro I didn’t see much of that. In the hotel in which I stayed everything was as usual, there was no palpable difference from the previous times I had checked in there. I laid down for a while in my hotel room because I had a slight headache from the flight. After resting, I wanted to leave the hotel to eat something but I fell asleep.
At half past eleven I woke up from a phone call. A relative asked me where I were, if everything were alright, if I were well. She told me that a “darbe” (coup d’état) probably had taken place. I was still so drowsy at first that I thought she was talking about a “deprem” (earthquake) instead of “darbe”.
Then I saw that my wife, who had not come with me to Turkey, had tried to call me several times while I was asleep, so I called back. She told me that live broadcasts on TV were showing that a putsch was underway in Turkey and that she was worried about me.
She also told me that when she had first heard of the putsch, she was on a visit of relatives. The brother of one of those relatives was living close to the MIT headquarters (the Turkish intelligence organization) in Ankara. He had sent them videos he had recorded, which my wife forwarded to me via WhatsApp. The videos showed helicopters shooting into buildings, apparently belonging to the MIT. I deleted that footage later, in case that I would end up in a security check somewhere. I didn’t want the security forces to think that I was trying to smuggle something out of the country.
After the phone calls, I decided to leave the hotel and go outside because I wanted to see what was going on. It was shortly after midnight.
While I was leaving the hotel, nobody at the reception said anything. The reception was occupied but the man there didn’t speak with me. It was very calm in the hotel, there was no one to be seen.
The hotel I was staying in was in Büyükdere, a neighbourhood close to Sarıyer. I walked down to the main street. That’s where all the restaurants and cafés are. On a typical Friday night, these places are bustling with activity. Now however, I barely saw a car or a person. Everything seemed deserted.
But then I came across an ATM and spotted a crowd. There were about thirty people who were withdrawing money. It seemed that they were afraid that they wouldn’t be able to access their savings anymore because of the coup d’état.
Then I saw three or four of these little grocery shops, which are very typical for Turkey. The gates of these grocery shops were rolled down halfway. They were raised just high enough so people could enter the shops when they crouched. They probably wanted to stock up on necessities. From hearsay, I knew that it is a warning sign in Turkey, when people are starting to withdraw money and buy supplies. They knew that a crisis was imminent. When I saw these people doing that, I knew that things were serious. There were two important streets in the area. One was the main street with the cafés, shops and the banks. And the other was the coastal road that runs parallel to the Bosporus. I walked down to that road at the waterfront. That’s usually a very busy road, even at midnight. Now however, there wasn’t a single vehicle to be seen.
I wanted to take this road and walk to our house, which we were building. I guess the distance I had to walk was about three or four kilometres.
While I was walking towards our house, a fighter jet flew over the area at a very low altitude. It was very confusing, because you couldn’t locate the fighter jet. There was just a very loud noise coming simultaneously from all directions. It suddenly changed when the jet stopped flying over the waters of the Bosporus and started to fly over land. Now, the noise was reverberated by all the buildings.
I soon reached the base of the coast guard in the next neighbourhood. The Regional Command of the Turkish Coast Guard for the Bosporus is stationed in Çayirbasi. They usually control the ships which are traversing the Bosporus. Now the base seemed deserted. In fact, I had not seen a single representative of the state so far. No coast guard, no military, no police.
At this point, I decided to return to the hotel, since there was nobody on the streets and nobody knew where I was. What’s more, I didn’t know to whom the fighter jet belonged to that had overflown the area. Was it an aircraft belonging to the group that supported the coup d’état? Was it flying here to show the military’s strength and presence? To demonstrate that the military had taken control of the government?
On the way back, I wanted to check out three or four cafés in Büyükdere, which were normally frequented by social democrats. I wanted to drop by to see if anybody was there, what they were doing and if everything was ok. Usually, you would have a hard time finding a place to sit in these cafés. Women and men visit these cafés, play carts and stuff like that. It’s a place where people with a certain way of life meet. When I reached the cafés, they were almost empty. I saw maybe five or ten people, who weren’t staying outside but were playing cards inside. There was a TV running, which they were watching while they were playing. I have a friend who is living there and I thought that he might be in the café, but when I couldn’t spot him amongst the guests, I continued my way back to the hotel. It’s also not the best moment to approach these people who have never met you before. They can’t really be sure who you are or what you might be up to. I returned to the hotel because I wanted to follow the events on TV and talk to people in Switzerland. That way I could get much more information.
When I was back at the hotel, it was after one o’clock. I was watching TV and trying to figure out what was happening. On the TV, I saw that at half past eight, pro-coup soldiers had stormed the Atatürk International Airport with tanks. That had taken place about half an hour after I had left the airport. And then I also saw that at half past nine one of the bridges over the Bosporus had been occupied by the military. That footage was shown time and time again.
At that time, several politicians appeared on TV. Ahmet Davutoğlu (then Prime Minister of Turkey) and Abdulla Gül (former President of Turkey) were talking. Abdullah Gül was speaking very aggressively and pugnaciously, which was not his style at all. But what struck me the most was that even though each of them called from a different place, their message was still the same, almost as if it had been agreed upon in advance: That the people should protect and support the government. They were saying that the people should stand up for the government and take to the streets. The government’s demand to take to the streets seemed very strange to me. On the TV you could see that the pro-coup faction had deployed heavy weaponry. And the government was sending unarmed civilians to counter them? That didn’t make sense to me.
Beginning at about two o’clock, the muezzin of every mosque started to recite the call to prayer. And then they started to spread the same message as on the TV: That the people should protect their government and that anyone who was trying to harm the government would be severely punished. I thought that this was very unusual. You weren’t hearing appeals against violence from the minarets, instead they were asking the people to fight.
I stayed awake until six o’clock in the morning and was writing and talking with people in Switzerland. Then I tried to get some sleep.
When I woke up at nine o’clock, the news was reporting how many people working in the state institutions had been arrested. The number they were giving was 3000 people. And apparently those 3000 people weren’t directly involved in the coup d’état but rather alleged supporters. I was wondering how they could identify this quickly who belonged to which side in that chaotic night, let alone apprehend them.
After eating breakfast, I wanted to know what had happened to our house under construction. Outside, everything was still very calm. There wasn’t a single taxi, urban bus or minibus operating. The streets of Istanbul are usually full of these.
Since there was no public transportation available, I had to walk to our house again. On the way, I passed once again the base of the coast guard and then the local police station. There was still nobody around. Only the long urban buses were standing in front of the entrance of the police station. At first, I thought that they were there to bring soldiers quickly from one place to another. Later we learned that they were placed there for the protection of the police buildings. That way, the tanks of the pro-coup faction wouldn’t be able to attack the police as easily. The police were protecting themselves but I didn’t see any protection for the civilians.
But when you did come across some security forces, you didn’t even know on which side they were on. During the whole night, we had heard of the police, army and intelligence service units that were fighting for pro-coup faction. But nobody knew how strong they really were and if some remnants were still operating.
When I reached the construction site of our house, everything was silent. Only one carpenter was working, who was living nearby. The others couldn’t come to work because there were still road blocks in the city. At that time, we could also still hear the mosques every twenty minutes with the same message as during the night.
At noon, the news was becoming increasingly absurd. Using your common sense, you couldn’t possibly reach the same conclusions as the ones the news were broadcasting at that moment. Suddenly the once venerated Fethullah Gülen had become the terrorist Fetö. And even though the coup d’état had completely failed, the news was trying to make it look like as if the entire military, economic and judicial power of Turkey had been controlled by Fethullah Gülen before the putsch.
Then motorcades started to appear in the streets. At first, there were only a few cars who were part of it, maybe five or six. But over the course of the next two days, these motorcades became longer and longer. And vehicles that were belonging to the state became part of these motorcades as well: The garbage trucks and trucks of the municipalities and so on. A lot of people with Turkish flags were on top of these vehicles.
Before the coup, one didn’t have the impression that the supporters of the AKP liked the Turkish flag too much. But suddenly, all these people were flaunting the Turkish flag on their motorcade. And they were playing military marches from the Ottoman Empire. They were screaming “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is the greatest) as well.
On Saturday evening, there was an incident in Büyükdere, at the cafés that were frequented by the social democrats. The people on the motorcades and the visitors of the cafés got into an argument. The social democrats told the supporters of the government that they should refrain from deliberately driving in “their area”. They wouldn’t accept their show of force.
And then you could also see how the nationalist party (MHP) became part of these motorcades. Their nationalistic symbols became more and more visible. On the first day after the coup d’état, the leader of the nationalistic party had assured the government their support. And one could see how the both parties were trying to form an alliance. But there were also people who were demonstrating exclusively for democracy and liberty.
That was the state of affairs, when I returned to Switzerland, after having made sure that the construction of our house was going well.”
By Mawuli Affognon.
This is my last blog post for the 18th Geneva International Model United Nations Annual Conference. I would just like to let you know. I hate writing in the first person. I don’t like talking much about my life not because I don’t think it’s that interesting, but that’s how it is. From 25th to 31st March 2017, I watched young people from all around the world debate a variety of topics. I saw conviction, emotions and bursts of laughter. I worked with ambitious young people; worried about their image and under pressure to be successful in life. It was the first time that I’d spent a few days in Geneva. It’s often just a transit city for other destinations around the world. This Swiss city is beautiful, particularly because of its buildings, but above all these people that come from all seven continents. Over the course of the week, the gaze of the woman who was serving the NATURA menu at the restaurant has intrigued me. I would have liked to have asked her opinion on the issues that our delegates have been discussing over the last six days. Does she have an opinion on international politics?
Within these beautiful institutions with its impressive walls, sometimes it is easy to forget about the little cogs in the big wheel. The woman who wakes up early in the morning to clean, the gardener who looks after the flowers or the cook behind stoves that light up to the appetite of the undeterred men and women. I drank a lot of coffee to keep up. I arrived in Geneva on the evening of 24 March from Paris, where I had participated in UNESCO’s Mobile Learning Week on behalf of KEKELI LAB based in Togo. In other words, I was tired when I arrived in the city of the Jet d’Eau. But I wanted to do this. I have to admit that I didn’t drink just coffee; vanilla chocolate and vanilla milk were also favourites of mine. I confess. I had the honour of meeting the lady who was in charge of the big coffee machine. Yes, it was an immense honour to meet the person that made magic possible. I think that our world would be more peaceful if we had the humility to observe and to give a voice to those who often do not have one. I’m going to stop there so I don’t miss my train to Lausanne.
In a few years’ time, I hope the young people who had simulated UN negotiations will not lose their innocence, their faith in humanity and their desire for a better world. Many of them will represent governments, multi-nations, powerful lobbyist groups over the coming years, and I hope they don’t succumb to the animal face of humanity. I hope that they don’t succumb to the desire for destruction and the greed that lives in each one of us. As for me, I’ll be heading back to my life as an African student in Europe. Like our world, I think I need love and to smile.
Long live GIMUN! May peace reign over our families in the regions of the world where the greed for surplus value and the murderous madness of trigger-happy madmen reside.
About five months ago now, hundreds of students from all around the world were reunited at the UN headquarters in Geneva for the annual GIMUN conference. During a week, time stopped, and almost all boundaries vanished. The excitement around this event is like no other! It starts when you first apply to participate. For most of us I think, it began with a leap of faith and a few expectations here and there. Until we received that first email, the kind that turns your day around. It says: ”Congratulations, you have been selected for the 18Th annual conference of GIMUN”
And that’s when the real adventure begins…
All of us, no matter the mission, we had during this conference had to get to work at that point. Whether it was, writing study guides, designing the Journal (GIMUN chronicles), setting up the program, preparing proposals and much more.
Then came the Big day. On March 25th. We all met at UNI Bastion in Geneva, and even though we were all over eighteen, we could sense this childlike feeling, in the atmosphere, that one can experience at every age when discovering a new world, or getting into one that he or she loves.
It was a Saturday, the first day of the preparation week-end; leading towards our very first day of work inside the UN, on Monday. Meeting the people that we talked to on WhatsApp or via email, for the first time, sharing first impressions and expectations, and of course running around getting everything ready for the conference.
During our week and the UN headquarters, I felt like we all lived a life-changing experience, to a greater or lesser degree.
When I started my work as a journalist, I was immediately impressed with the involvement of the delegates, who for most of them seemed so young, but so well prepared and passionate about their subjects.
Watching them throughout the week, getting more comfortable and professional each day, made me understand their love for diplomacy. It, in fact, holds the great power to bring people’s mind’s together, before and beyond anything else. Diplomacy is a chance to really communicate and be heard, as there are so few in the outside world.
My personal experience was not only a fulfilling professional one but also a very enriching human one. First with the Press and Media team, which I think wouldn’t be exaggerated to qualify as “my family for a week.“ And with all the USG’s I got to interview and learn about behind the scenes work.
And finally, comes this one encounter that leaves us with the best memories, and the motivation to keep up the good work. I had the chance to meet and share moments with people who traveled all the way from Egypt, USA, or Ghana for example, and I realize we share the same hopes and values…and even the same humor!
Translated by Matthew and Ashlee Pitts.
The use cinematography and film-making have become an outlet for creative individuals to analyse, criticise and question society in real-time. In Iran, women are playing an important role in this, even after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Historically, women have had extremely limited opportunities and were noticeably absent in the film world in Iran, however, the presence of women behind and in front of the camera has steadily increased since the start of the Revolution despite policies that required women to wear hijab and to keep chastity on screen. Asal Bagheri, a cinema expert, has described the current situation of women in Iranian cinema as being part of a “politically engaged” type of cinema.
In Iranian films, women are typically casted in subordinate roles to accompany their male counterparts, a lifestyle where they are subordinate to men. Moreover, women are reduced to playing traditional roles, such as the mother, wife and housewife, whose activities are limited to managing their children’s education, appearing desirable their husband, and doing household jobs. These films convey sexist and misogynistic images of the relationship between men and women. Men are generally placed on a pedestal and represent authority whereas women are portrayed in a negative light by encompassing their beauté fatale and a dependence on men. Many films in Iran depict recurring sexist and misogynic clichés.
Over time, the obligation to wear the hijab has become increasingly significant in representing a special image of women in Iranian cinema in comparison to other countries, in particular because of the way it conveys stereotypes and makes them a part of the norms of Iranian society. Gender plays an important part in contemporary Iran, and is at the center of this analysis of the films of Ashgar Farhadi, who is considered to be a prominent screenwriter and film director in Iran and throughout the world of cinema. Farhadi is most famous for his film Fireworks Wednesday, released in 2006, which was given a positive reception and won awards in film festivals in Nantes and Chicago.
Tested by Adultery
The film is focused on an Iranian couple whose relationship is tested by adultery. The film takes place during the Iranian New Year, also known as the Festival of Fire (Chaharshanbeh Suri in Persian), which was banned by religious authorities. During the celebrations, lamps and decorations are set up in large towns and cities. This festival provides the backdrop to the dramas between a young Iranian couple, and sheds a light on three main female characters.
The first female character to appear in this film is a cleaner named Rouhi, who a poor and religious woman who comes from outside the main city and wears the chador. She does the housework on a weekly basis and comes for the traditional final cleaning before the New Year. Throughout the film, she quietly observes all goings-on as a passive spectator and she is portrayed as being content with her life. The viewer discovers parts of the plot through the eyes of Rouhi, and she plays a key role in the film despite her passive nature.
The second female character in the film is Mojdeh, who lives in the home where Rouhi goes to do housework. Mojdeh comes from a modest family background and is not particularly religious. She has short hair, does not cook, does not respect norms in society regarding the duty of women at home and does not have a typically feminine appearance. The third female character is Simin, a divorced beautician. We do not have a lot of details about Simin, but it is revealed that Mojdeh’s husband Mojtaba is having an affair with Simin.
Women under the control of men
The film depicts some of the social, economic and religious pressures faced by women in different social classes in Iran. All Iranian women face enormous pressure, and the man remains the master over his wife. However, in the case of Rouhi, the director shows an example of her disadvantaged background. When Rouhi wants to ask permission from her husband in order to trim her eyebrows, this shocks Mojdeh who asks: “do you need the approval from your husband to trim your eyebrows?” Nevertheless, Rouhi insists that asking permission for something so ordinary is completely normal in Iran.
In comparison to Rouhi, Mojdeh is from a moderate family and she does not have to ask permission from her husband. However, she is subjected to physical violence. In one scene, Mojdeh’s husband hits her, and the camera shows her crying in a taxi. In addition to violence, this scene portrays the low status of women in the patriarchal society of Iran. Mojdeh also cries in the bathroom when she discovers that her husband has been unfaithful. She is helpless to do anything other than crying, and is unable to change her situation. In Iran, women are not afforded the legal right to file for divorce whereas men are able to do so fairly easily. Moreover, in one scene where the Mojdeh’s son is crying, a male friend of Mojtaba says to him: “men never cry!”. In this film, tears are the sign of weakness, and, as women are portrayed as weak, only women should cry.
In addition, Motjaba places the blame on his wife who, in his eyes, is not sufficiently feminine. Motjaba complains that he “can’t remember the last time she cooked. Ask the neighbours if they can smell food being cooked”. Cooking is the main duty of women in Iran, as well as being the sign of their feminine nature and social standing.
What is the role of women in cinema in Iran?
Women generally play an important role in Iranian cinema. They were originally caricatured as being dependent on men and, for most of the time, content to be inferior to men, whereas the characters played by men were portrayed as charismatic, confident and firm in standing up for their religious beliefs. Over time, the status of men and women changed in Iranian cinema, and now women are capable of taking the initiative in changing their situation. In the film Fireworks Wednesday, the film director attempts to alter the static position of women in society by demonstrating the plot through the eyes of women and the way they feel, which consequently allows the viewer to feel empathy towards the female characters. However, as it has already been noted, signs of masculine dominance and the masculine viewpoint of the director are shown in an apparent way in the film. Women are reduced to just a few emotions, notably anger, anxiety, irritability and crying. In short, although Asghar Farhadi intended to depict the true nature of the status of women in contemporary Iranian society, it is evident that he has not shown their true position. His interpretation of the role of women has been influenced by the masculine point of view that he has of society, and this consequently has an impact on the way he represents women in Fireworks Wednesday.
 The hijab – which means headscarf or veil in Arabic – refers to the Islamic headscarf only covering the head. It can surround the whole face or be tied more loosely to reveal some of the women’s hair.
 For women in Iran, sexual relations outside of marriage are strictly forbidden, and adultery can be punished by stoning. The control of feminine sexuality represents the guarantee of ensuring chastity. For a full explanation, see https://blogs.mediapart.fr/irani/blog/040416/iran-la-condition-feminine.
 Quoted from « Et la censure créa le cinéma des femmes iraniennes » https://www.opinion-internationale.com/2016/01/26/et-la-necessite-crea-le-cinema-des-femmes-iraniennes-entretien-avec-asal-bagheri-specialiste-du-cinema-iranien_23169.html
 The lamps and fire symbolise the hope of the arrival of light and happiness in the following year. There are many fireworks and fires in the streets.
 The chador is a type of fabric in the shape of a semi-circle that is worn in Iran. It hides both the head and the body of the women. It has to be held up at all times to avoid falling on the floor. The chador was originally worn during prayers before it became obligatory to wear it all times in public. Reza Shah banned the chador in 1936, but it was reintroduced upon the arrival to power of the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979.
 This is the final cleaning before the start of the New Year, which is called Norouz and takes place on 21 March according to the Iranian calendar.
 Only men have the right to ask for divorce according to Islamic law. In Article 1133 of the Islamic civil code, it is stated that “a man can divorce his wife whenever he so chooses”. The current family law on divorce (or talaq in Arabic) supports the right of the husband to ask for a divorce at any time, while at the same time applying some restrictions. For instance, a man has to ask permission at a tribunal to grant a divorce if his wife disagrees. The role of the tribunal is to attempt to reach a mediation between the couple. If a reconciliation is not possible, the man then has the right to a divorce.
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