The work of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Armenia
The work of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Armenia
The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) began its dialogue work in the South Caucasus in 1996 and has started implementing projects in Armenia since 2002. The FNF works as an innovation platform for liberal politics in more than 60 countries. Our work focuses on the freedom, responsibility, and dignity of every human being. We support the political, social, and economic institutions that make this possible: liberal democracy, the rule of law, the protection of human rights, and the social market economy.
In Armenia, our work focuses on democratization and the protection of human rights. To this end, we offer political education activities to strengthen the participation of citizens in Armenia. The foundation works with local partners to support them through cooperation. At the same time, the foundation promotes international dialogue and integrates Armenian interlocutors into liberal networks. For example, the current president, Vahagn Khachaturyan, was involved in international events organized by the foundation and its partners for decades, including as an economics expert.
Since the Velvet Revolution, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation has increased its budget in Armenia and has two people in the Yerevan office. Despite the difficult conditions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and the Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020, we were able to implement many activities, some of which we would like to present below.
Our work focuses on human rights. For example, with students, our partner, "For Equal Rights" (FER), developed thirty-five Wikipedia entries on human rights in Armenian. The articles were also published as a book, including a Braille edition.
In recent years, the foundation has devoted itself, in particular, to gender equality. "Mapping Women Stories" is one of these projects. "I live without an opinion, without a decision, without a wish. I don't exist." These are the words of a woman who was a victim of domestic violence. Unfortunately, she is not the only one. There are many such stories that our partner MIHR Theatre was able to uncover and present in the publication Mapping Women Stories.
When MIHR Theatre started this project, they wanted to understand the situation of domestic violence in different parts of Armenia. Usually, it is a complicated subject because women are afraid to share their stories. The family is seen as a closed unit in which conflicts are not fought out in public, not among spectators. It was, therefore, not easy to show the life stories of the affected women. The MIHR team managed step by step, including through art therapy, to help the victims face their past and present, reflect on their lives and look into the future. The members of the MIHR theatre collected about 40 stories of women from all over Armenia.
In the project's second phase, an immersive art exhibition with theatrical performance was organized in the Modern Art Museum in Yerevan, which over 700 people attended. With the help of dance, the performance intended for people to think about domestic violence and encourage them to fight back (see two photos). This short film reports on the project.
In December 2021, For Equal Rights (FER) and the FNF organized an exhibition entitled "Breaking Gender Stereotypes through Success Stories." The exhibition with 16 photo stories showed women who managed to break through gender discrimination. "I try not to get upset and ignore the discriminatory attitudes that exist everywhere, especially in this field. I've always been guided by the idea that there is no work that is for women or men. If there is work, it should be done. And with that mindset, things become easier," says winemaker Margarita, who has found success in her community despite years of struggling with traditional attitudes. There are many stories like this that the exhibition showed. The stories were so interesting that local and international media picked them up and ran separate reports on the lives of these women. Because of the remarkable success, FER and FNF decided to continue the project and collect more stories, which will be translated into English and Georgian together with the stories from the first exhibition and will be presented in Tbilisi in autumn 2022. Visitors will then be able to discover similarities between Armenia and Georgia.
FER and FNF started a human rights course for Armenian law students this year. Monitoring by FER showed that crucial actors in court proceedings, including judges, lawyers, and prosecutors, lack equality sensitivity. In many cases, those involved in the proceedings are double discriminated against. There are currently no human rights courses in the curricula of law schools in Armenia (except for International Law courses which also include human rights corpus in a small portion). The training seeks to fill this gap and raise awareness of human rights among future lawyers, law enforcement officials, etc.
In 2020, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and the Paradigma Educational Foundation organized the Edcamp Armenia 2020. The conference is a platform connecting educators, policymakers, and researchers to share their experiences and discuss policy-related issues, thus advocating for changes in the education field. Because of Covid-19, the conference was organized online, but the number of participants was enormous: almost 5,000 participants, including leading education experts, the Minister of Education and Science, and MPs. More than 2,000 policy questions were asked at the conference, with the opportunity to discuss them with policymakers.
In 2021, the FNF partnered with the Paradigma Foundation to create a series of podcasts on educational reform. The topics ranged from the analysis of education policy in the election programs of the political parties to the optimal organization of education processes. The podcasts provided an opportunity to reflect on current educational issues in Armenia, discuss international experiences, and report on possible changes. The podcast episodes attracted the interest of the National Center for Education Development and Innovation Foundation (NCEDI, an entity under the Ministry of Education, Science, Youth, and Sports), which subsequently offered some podcasts on its website. This formed the starting point for the collaboration between NCEDI and the Paradigma Foundation, for instance, by deciding to organize educational camps in different regions of Armenia - now with financial support from Armenian tax money.
This year, the foundation, together with the Paradigma Foundation, will develop school materials - also in digital form - for history lessons that focus on the role of the economic-business agency of women. So far, very little has been reported in the history books about the critical contribution of Armenian women to economic development. A published code of laws from the 1760s, which was used by the Armenian communities for centuries, as well as letters, petitions, and wills of Armenian women depicting their business and economic agency in a community with the strictest social norms concerning women's activity, are used as primary sources for the preparation of the teaching materials.
Another current project is the publication of the children's book Uno, Beno, and Wings of Freedom. The book offers an opportunity to discuss individual rights through the fictional characters Uno and Beno. It is aimed at children, but above all at their parents, who can read the story to them. The book was presented to the public in June 2022.
Freedom of speech
We see again and again how strongly media reports, including fake news, influence politics. That is why the foundation also supports media literacy projects so that people can unmask fake news more quickly and find their way in the daily flood of information. In autumn 2021, the FNF and the Media Initiatives Center (MIC) organized a media literacy pavilion in one of Yerevan's major shopping malls. Visitors to the pavilion could learn about media literacy and play games that further developed their understanding of the role of the media, fact-checking, and internet safety.
This fitted in with another project undertaken by the FNF and the Digital Communication Network (DCN) in 2021. The digital literacy training was a month-long course for current and aspiring journalists from Armenia and Georgia to deepen their knowledge of media, disinformation, and digital literacy.
Reforms on the way to democratization
To enliven the discussion about reforms and, at the same time to tie in with its history of reforms, the foundation published a book on the liberal reforms of the 1990s in Armenia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Two volumes in Armenian and the translated one-volume book in English provide a comprehensive overview of the reform process in political, economic, and social areas, written by people involved in policy making and implementation at the time. The process was coordinated by Aram Manukyan, Vice President of the Armenian National Congress (ANC). This year a series of lectures are being organized by the authors who discuss the reforms of the 1990s and the current reform challenges (see photo).
"All are equal before the law." This simple idea is quite problematic in the implementation. Corruption, nepotism, and the Soviet past still pose many obstacles on the way to liberal democracy. Even if the Velvet Revolution in 2018 sent a clear signal for a new beginning, there is still a lot to do. Therefore, the FNF and the Yerevan city municipality invited people to paint large-scale murals in various parts of the city. One of the issues was equality before the law. Themis, the blindfolded Greek goddess of justice, is a symbol of justice because she judges with closed eyes fairly without regard to persons. As soon as she opens one eye, justice falters. The street art was intended to make passers-by think.
Entrepreneurship and innovation
Measures of entrepreneurship supplement the human rights work of the foundation. To promote a culture of innovation, the foundation and the Risomastic NGO offer regular Fuckup Nights where young entrepreneurs can openly discuss failures. In 2020, for the first time in the world, a Fuckup Night was held in Armenia as a virtual reality activity, in which people met in a virtual world and talked about business failures and the acquired knowledge from those experiences.
These examples of the current work of the FNF in Armenia show that the foundation and its partners use a variety of creative ways to reach people with political issues and encourage them to think and participate. You can find up-to-date information about our work on the FNF Armenia Facebook page or the FNF South Caucasus website and FB page.
Katrin Bannach, FNF South Caucasus Project Director, and Armen Grigoryan, FNF Armenia Project Coordinator