From left, Hermine Janoyan Founder AIWA L. A. , Arpi Sarafian writer, Ambassador, Cindy Norian AIWA L. A. , Flora Dunaiants Founder AIWA L. A.

Women’s Support Center Celebrates 10th Anniversary

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LOS ANGELES — It was a star-studded program, as well as a festive gathering, on Saturday, December 4, 2021 when approximately 100 guests celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Women’s Support Center. This event was hosted by benefactors Zarig and Jack Youredjian at their home in Toluca Lake.

The guests consisted mainly of activists, Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA) members, community leaders as well as Women’s Support Center supporters.

This event raised more than $100,000.

Antranig Kasbarian, trustee of the Tufenkian Foundation, served as master of ceremonies, representing the Tufenkian Foundation and, together with AIWA and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), were the founders and driving forces behind the creation of the Women’s Support Center. Kasbarian stressed the positive role played by then-US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who displayed strong support and appreciation for Armenia, its people, and the domestic problems they were confronting.

Early on, along with Joan Agajanian Quinn, she encouraged USAID to develop a partnership with AIWA and the Tufenkian Foundation, focusing on women’s rights and particularly on the problem of domestic violence. At the beginning of the program, Armenian society was still in denial about domestic violence, relegating it as a family matter or ignoring it entirely. Ten years later, among its various accomplishments, the Women’s Support Center can proudly state that this issue has been brought irreversibly into public consciousness and today there exists a grudging but growing acceptance both by public officials and civil society.

Nicole Nishanian, president of the LA Affiliate of AIWA, also welcomed the guests and emphasized AIWA’s pride in being associated with this program which has brought progressive change to Armenia regarding women.

From left Antranig Kasbarian Trustee Tufenkian Foundation, Ani Aivazian AIWA L. A. , Joan Quinn AIWA L. A. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, Maro Matosian

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Kasbarian expressed the regrets he received from the Lilit Makunts, Armenia’s new ambassador to the US, who was scheduled to attend, but was unable to do so after being recalled to Armenia following recent escalations of violence on its borders.

Maro Matosian, WSC’s founder and executive director, in her presentation reflected on its decade-long journey. “WSC has come a long way in the 10 years since its inception. We were a completely unknown organization and now we are considered the premier domestic violence support center running the only two professional shelters in Armenia. We started with 40 beneficiaries and now we serve annually over 300. We trained and helped create domestic violence support centers, one in each region of Armenia, and now work to standardize our approach for systematic response to the protection of victims of Domestic Violence. In addition, government agencies, including the Ministry for Social Affairs, rely on us as a source of expertise and information on the subject,” she said.

Yovanovitch was the keynote speaker and in her presentation, not only focused on celebrating the impact of the WSC, but emphasized the 30 years of Armenian independence. Yovanovitch stated that “…in fact, next week, is the anniversary of the signing of the Belovezhskoyoe Accords, which dissolved the Soviet Union, something many of us never thought we’d see. The past three decades have been a consequential time for Armenia. Independence, war, political upheavals, economic struggle, social change, another war. And Armenia still stands. Armenia still thrives. As Armenia has done throughout the ages — and will into the future.”

Yovanovitch reported that while she served in Armenia, she traveled constantly, all over the country and met people who kept on going despite the challenges. They wanted a better life for themselves, and most importantly, a better future for their children. These trips were the highlight of her three years in Armenia, she noted.

Maro Matosian

In 2010, following the tragic murder of a young woman by her husband and mother-in-law, a nucleus of people were finally ready to admit that domestic violence existed in Armenia and that something had to be done. This issue was at the top of her mind and she saw an opening and a part of the solution to a very real problem. The WSC was established in 2010 and, the ambassador noted, has made not only made an important contribution, but has achieved real results. It is saving individuals — women and their children, she added, as well as working at the institutional level to change laws, build budget support, partner with police, and train social workers.

Yovanovitch emphasized that the WSC is at the forefront of the most important thing: changing the way Armenians think about domestic violence. “Changing that mindset, that somehow it is the women’s fault,” she stated “and that raising this issue undermines the family, is absolutely crucial. When domestic violence is not accepted in a culture, a woman feels more comfortable standing up for herself; friends, families, neighbors, report it; the police take the action seriously; social services are provided so that the woman and her children have a place to go; the perpetrator is held accountable. Once that cultural shift is made, domestic violence will still be with us, but it will be far less prevalent. Addressing domestic violence strengthens the family; it strengthens the next generation, and that strengthens Armenia.”

Jack and Zarig Youredjian

In conclusion, Yovanovitch expressed her thanks to the Tufenkian Foundation, AIWA and USAID for having the vision and coming together in a public-private partnership to put their collective shoulders to the wheel and make that vision a reality and a success.

Other noted guests included Varagdet Pahlavuni, Counsel to Armenia’s Consulate General in Armenia and Araksya Karapetyan, Fox TV Newscaster.

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