It is difficult to write about a person who does not speak in the first person during an hour-and-a-half interview. Gohar is like that. She talks about everyone and tries to help everyone. Even in stories about herself, she talks about the people she cares about, and it doesn’t matter if she knows them or not.
Gohar Khachatryan has a lot of experience with feminist activism in Armenia. Her interest in various fields and constant desire to learn helped her with this. She started her education in the field of economics, then continued in the field of political science.
“My first profession was chosen a bit by chance; I didn’t think much. I wanted to continue my Master’s degree in the field of economics, but I didn’t pass. The second choice was political science. I’m actually very glad now that I didn’t pursue economics because I realized it wasn’t for me. Although I didn’t continue my professional path in the field of political science, it helped me understand the world better,” she says, talking about her profession.
Gohar also studied at the Institute of Contemporary Art. “It was a very strange period of my life. I had very strong anxiety; I was lost; I didn’t know what to do with my life, and I thought it would be interesting and would help me get out of that situation,” says Gohar.
Gohar Khachatryan has been working for the “Depi Hayk” foundation for many years. During her work, she noticed that volunteers from abroad (mainly women and girls) are often harassed in Armenia. In order to raise awareness and protect volunteers, she initiated training in self-defense.
Feminism as a way of life and work
Gohar does not remember a specific event or period in her life during or after which she became interested in feminism. According to her, feminism has always been within her interests. “I remember when I started reading feminist literature, I realized that there were many people who had the same experience as me. I had the feeling that not only am I not alone, but also that I did not invent the problems that women face, because so often in our society people say, “There are no such problems, it’s not as bad as you think, etc.” Most importantly, I came to the realization that it is not only my problem or the problem of those living in Armenia; it is a global problem,” she says.
Gohar wonders why people who acknowledge feminist concepts still avoid calling themselves feminists. “I think it is the result of stereotypes and misunderstandings. Our problem is that many people misunderstand us. If we can properly explain what feminists want, maybe those fears will go away. I think that a lot of work should be done with men as well; it is important that we include them in those conversations,” says Gohar.
Engaging in social processes is often difficult when you are an introvert, and sometimes you have to force yourself to do a lot of things.
“I wouldn’t say it’s out of my comfort zone to participate in community activities, but as an introvert, I really need time for myself. Communicating with the community gives me strength, motivates me, and is also enjoyable. But staying alone is a must. There are other things that I run away from, such as these types of interviews,” says Gohar with a smile.
Starting a feminist activity came naturally to Gohar. She collaborated on many projects with her friend Anahit Ghazaryan, including the translation of feminist films and articles. Perhaps one of their most important works was the creation of the first Armenian feminist podcast, “Akanjogh.”
“When we saw a podcast contest, Anahit offered to apply, but we didn’t understand for a long time what we could offer, and then one of my friends said, “You should choose something that is not only interesting to you personally but you can stay with the topic for months and not get bored. And immediately it became very clear what it was going to be about,” she recalls.
In Armenian society, people are taught from childhood to always strive to get the perfect result at work, and these demands are especially placed on women and girls. Gohar once said that her life philosophy is “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Although she tries to follow this motto, it often turns out to be very difficult. “I’ll just say one thing about this: if Anahit wasn’t with me, I might be working on the first episode of “Akanjogh” by now,” she says with a laugh.
She mentions that there are many women whose desire to achieve perfection prevents them from creating something. “It’s very difficult for me too, but I’m trying to fight against it,” she says.
Self-defense as a priority in life
Gohar Khachatryan understands self-defense as an ideology as a result of her own experience and analysis gained over the years. “Self-defense for me is not only fighting. There are various studies that show that people who take self-defense training become more confident in all areas. Women have been told “you are weak” so much that we have started to believe it, and when you take this course, you feel how strong you really are. All women are extremely powerful; unfortunately, many have forgotten this. Patriarchy often makes us forget about this. When you get out of it, you find that strength, and you have a very strange and pleasant feeling,” says Gohar.
In May of this year, Gohar Khachatryan took a self-defense course in Prague (ESD Global, Teacher Training). This is when the cooperation between her and the WFA started. “I had heard a lot about the fund, and decided to write to them about the self-defense training scholarship that I needed to participate in. I wrote to many, many other organizations for the scholarship, but only the WFA agreed to help me,” recalls Gohar.
Gohar now organizes self-defense classes in various regions of Armenia, revealing and demonstrating to participants their own strengths and abilities. “When women open up during the training, that tells me I’m doing something right. It is very important and responsible for me when people trust me,” she says.
Gohar aims to carry out self-defense courses in rural communities of Armenia as well. “I especially want to do it among rural teenage girls, because they have fewer such opportunities,” she emphasizes.
About the “relationship” between women and war
During the days of the 2020 war, Anahit, being in London, encouraged Gohar in every possible way to document the war and to write about her feelings and emotions. During the war, Gohar was in Goris, then in Stepanakert, and was involved in the work of the media center team.
This year, on November 25, Gohar and Anahit published their book with the support of the WFA. The title of the book is “Dark Matter: Notes on War”.
“The book has a healing impact. It is a process that you live, feel, and take the pain out and treat yourself in that way,” says Gohar.
Writing down Gohar’s words, I remember her notes from the book: “After the war, it is more difficult than during the war.”
Women, their experiences, and the losses they have suffered are frequently cast into the shadows during wartime. From this point of view, Gohar and Anahit’s book also has a lot to say. “It is very different from the stories written by men. I thought that I didn’t have much to say; my words about the war may not be important to many, but it is something that I have lived and felt,” says Gohar.
Cooperation with the WFA
The activities of feminist organizations and foundations in Armenia are very important for Gohar. “It is very important to have organizations like the Fund. For example, if before I had desires, goals to do something important, I didn’t have the answer to the question “How?” Now there is the Fund, and I know that I can implement my plans with the support of the WFA. It gives me a lot of confidence, as if there is solid ground under your feet,” she says.
Gohar’s relationship with the world
Gohar considers her strongest side to be empathy. “It seems to me that it is very underrated and at the same time very powerful. Empathy helps me feel connected to other person, thereby giving me the opportunity to live a full and meaningful life,” she says, smiling and looking up, as if she were devising new steps to help people.
In crisis situations, the most helpful thing for Gohar is communication with like-minded friends. “Perhaps the most important thing is to have friends who are always with you, will always listen to you, and will always help you. I often overcome difficulties through my friends,” she says.
Talking about her vision for change, Gohar says: “I think the change involves a lot of work and time. It all comes down to education in the end. Through education, it becomes possible to change something. In this regard, it is also very important to have positive examples; people you can look up to and be inspired by,” she says, adding that at this stage of her life, she sees herself teaching people self-defense skills. “At the moment, I see my role there. I have come a long way; I have the impression that the desire to do this has been there for a long time; it has grown and matured, and now it is giving its results,” concludes Gohar.
Interview by Yelena Sargsyan