Meet Gayane Abrahamyan from Armenia
Armenian politician, journalist, and activist Gayane Abrahamyan has long been devoted to different causes, from raising awareness of domestic violence to advocating long-needed judicial reforms. “I’m showing that there are no limits to what a woman or anyone else can do”, she says.
Born in 1979, she’s part of a generation which saw the country become independent from the USSR in 1991 but since then, continuously face challenges. Before entering politics and becoming a member of the centrist My Step Alliance, Abrahamyan built a reputation as a journalist and a correspondent from Armenia. She has more than two decades of experience in media. In the mid-2000’s she was one of the journalists trying to put forward the topic of domestic abuse in Armenia and raise awareness of the issue.
“The answer from the authorities was that there’s simply no domestic violence happening in Armenia. But it not only existed, it was rather widespread and was perceived as a normal part of family life.”
In 2017 a law on the prevention of domestic violence was adopted. “It was only in the past two years that government programmes were launched to introduce protection and prevention. Still, there is an immense amount of work that has to be done.”
Through the years, she has been actively fighting to shine more light on these issues. Abrahamyan has been engaged with media campaigns and educational projects, one of which is the NGO For Equal Rights. “As a journalist, as a leader of a non-governmental organisation and as an MP, I have always taken measures not only to protect the victims, but also to prevent violence, to fight the culture of violence through education.
A watershed moment for her was Armenia’s Revolution in 2018, the protest movement against the third term of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan, a former President and the long-time leader of the Republic Party. This movement led to the rise of the current Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan of the Civil Contract party and of the My Step Alliance.
“I agreed to join since I was sure that this was a historic chance for our country to build a real democracy. Joining Armenian politics was a challenge per se since the political culture is not yet mature.”
My Step Alliance won 2021’s snap elections. Abrahamyan says that the previous political status quo, now in opposition, still has a huge influence in the media landscape of the country. “The spread of fake news, manipulative information, and hate speech have all dramatically increased, which often leads to the violation of human rights. This has the potential to become a threat to national and public security. Last year, as an MP, I initiated the drafting of the law on the financial and ownership transparency of the media, but I didn’t manage to get it adopted.”
This led to Abrahamyan being targeted and threatened. “For three years, being one of the most active MPs in the parliament, I was the most targeted, my family was a subject of intimidation many times. I have received death threats. I expected such challenges and knew that the former ruling authorities would strive for revenge through insidious means.”
“In terms of its values, the system still incorporates all the principles of the corrupt system we thought we left behind and resists all potential changes. It was harder when it became obvious that our revolutionary team was also stepping back from their democratic values and principles. I confess to having failed in fighting it.”
She announced her resignation on 25 September 2020 but decided to stay on-board because the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the long-time ethnic and territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, reignited last September 27th. She decided to stay and act and lead Armenia’s delegation at the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, which is the key EU platform for the Eastern partnership countries. “I had an extensive network and different international platforms through which I could address this problem.”
After fires of war were doused on 9 November, she submitted her second and final resignation on 19 November, amid further frustrations over how little influence she had as an MP.
As the war has been present for much of her adult life, she’s now even more aware of the role it has in contemporary Armenia. She finds that throughout Armenia’s independence, even in moments when its democracy appeared healthy and fundamental liberties were intact, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has played an instrumental role in shaping her country’s identity. Abrahamyan sees the conflict and the past 30 years of independence as a moment where the society should think about what it did wrong and what lessons were learnt.
“The pressure on women is permanently present in all spheres.” For Abrahamyan, this pressure was at its most noticeable in politics. “The biggest challenge is the much higher milestone that women must chase in comparison to men. Female public figures are not forgiven even the slightest mistakes. While being in politics, I realized that society requires more from women, but also has more trust in them.”
She finds that over the last few years, there has been a growing trust in female politicians. “This is a new tendency for Armenia, which I hope we’ll see more of.”
This tendency also reflects on how she’s perceived in the country: “After my resignation, I received multiple letters from people not only expressing regret that I’m not in parliament anymore, but also insisting that I should continue and reach the position of the country’s leader. Which they would definitely not be saying years ago.”