(First row, left to right) AUA President Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian with hosts Alice & Ron Altoon; (sitting, left to right, Lilia Mamikonyan, Dr. Ann Karagozian, Dr. Mary Papazian and Dr. Shakeh Kaftarian

‘Yes, Armenian Women Can!’ Campaign Benefit in Los Angeles


By Taleen Babayan

LOS ANGELES — Women’s empowerment took center stage at a benefit for the American University of Armenia (AUA)’s “Yes, Armenian Women Can!” campaign on Sunday, August 12, at the home of Alice and Ronald Altoon, in Encino.

The integral role of women in society and the workplace was highlighted during the panel, consisting of academics Dr. Mary Papazian, Dr. Ann Karagozian, Dr. Shakeh Kaftarian and Lilia Mamikonyan (CS ’19). Throughout the afternoon, the importance of scholarships was underscored to facilitate the education of women in Armenia who have the brainpower and work ethic to contribute greatly to the country.

Emphasizing a significant turning point in Armenia’s history during the successful Velvet Revolution, Papazian, president of San Jose State University, said the time was ripe for women to take a more active role in the country.

“We are in a transitional moment that is incredibly profound and we can either grasp it or let it slip away,” said Papazian. “We need Armenia to survive and thrive and recognize that this investment in the success of women is an investment in the country’s future.”

She highlighted the importance of building up women not only in the capital city, but throughout the rural regions of Armenia, citing the potential of economic growth in the provinces. “It takes a whole population to succeed and we have the chance to create a partnership that enriches all of us,” she said.

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Karagozian, Distinguished Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), said AUA has brought a western style education to Armenia and is “one of the best Diasporan investments in the country.”

“The best way to change cultural norms is through education and opportunity,” said Karagozian, who is also a member of the AUA Board of Trustees. “It is essential for the health and well-being of society.”

She expressed her positive impressions of the enthusiasm and intelligence of AUA students and stressed the value of educating women while sharing a personal story of her grandmother, who was denied schooling due to the oppressive rule of the Ottoman Empire.

“My grandmother would tell me that an education is like a bracelet that no one can ever take off your wrist,” said Karagozian. “I want others to have the opportunities she never had.”

As moderator of the panel, Kaftarian, a medical psychologist and Fulbright Specialist, shared the concerning news that women in Armenia are not enjoying the same rights as men in family or in society and highlighted that “education is a tool towards empowerment.”

“AUA took the first step by initiating the “Yes, Armenian Women Can!” campaign that shines a light on empowering urban and rural women through education,” she said.

Alluding to the World Bank’s recent statistics that show a 17-percent growth in IT around the globe, and a 20-percent increase in Armenia, she noted there is an abundant supply of jobs in the field that women can pursue, ultimately strengthening themselves and their lives.

“Women should have the decision-making power of what happens to them and their children and to live a full life in order to rise to their full potential,” said Kaftarian.

As Mamikonyan shared her journey to AUA from Sissian, a region in Southern Armenia, she served as a powerful reminder of the positive results that can occur when supporting the education of young women.

AUA supporters at the home of the Honorable Alice & Ron Altoon

A rising senior studying computer science, Mamikonyan, a scholarship recipient, has already secured a job offer upon graduation, but remembers the challenges she faced while applying to college. Living a few hours from the capital city, she had to travel to Yerevan from her hometown to study with tutors for the TOEFL and SAT exams, and also schedule to take the standardized tests in the capital city, as there were no other testing sites.

“There are a lot of bright minds from the rural regions, from Sissian to Megri to Kapan,” said Mamikonyan. “Currently only 7 percent of AUA’s student body is from the rural areas, but if the process was more accessible, many more qualified students would apply.”

In her welcoming remarks, Alice Altoon, a retired judge, emphasized the importance of the scholarship program through the “Yes, Armenian Women Can!” campaign, noting it as a “worthy cause” that will help young Armenians remain in the homeland and “have hope for the future.”

She commented that scholarships benefited her and her husband’s lives when he received a full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania to pursue his master’s degree in architecture.

“It made a big difference in our lives and I know the AUA scholarships will make a big difference for these women at AUA,” she said.

Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian, President of AUA, said women are an important force in Armenia and are more than half the student population at AUA, who are increasingly pursuing degrees in the tech fields.

“Armenia’s future is bound to technology,” said Der Kiureghian. “Women in this field can play a significant role in the development of the country.” He noted that by establishing an endowment that aims to provide up to 100 scholarships, in perpetuity, for female AUA students studying science and engineering, the country will be on a stronger footing.

Amid the event’s inspirational tone, Elizabeth Agbabian, whose husband, Dr. Mihran Agbabian, helped found the university along with Der Kiureghian, Dr. Stephan Karamardian and Louise Simone, announced she would sponsor the education of two AUA students in her mother’s honor to benefit the “Yes, Armenian Women Can!” campaign.

Concluding the afternoon, Ronald Altoon said Armenia is at a crossroads and needs the assistance of the Diaspora and the homeland.

“Sciences are no longer gender specific and the voices of women are essential to our conversation,” he said. “Armenia needs a moral, ethical and cultural transfusion and it needs it now.”

The goal of the “Yes, Armenian Women Can!” campaign is to raise a $2.5-million endowment in order to support up to 100 female students at AUA each year, in perpetuity, who are studying science, engineering or technology. Numerous supporters have joined the campaign, in the Diaspora and in Armenia, including Yerevan-based artist Arev Petrosyan, who will donate proceeds of her sold paintings to the program. Additional paintings of hers are available at http://yawc.aua.am/campaign-supporters/.

To learn more about the “Yes, Armenian Women Can!” campaign, visit http://yawc.aua.am/ or contact the Development Office by emailing development@aua.am.


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