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“I am a strong woman, I feel it in my soul”: Haje Bakoyan

Haje Bakoyan, a 47-year-old Yezidi woman, is one of those women who do not obey the generally accepted rules that restrict women in various aspects. She was able not only to change the course of her own life, but also help other women and girls to go through the life path closest to their hearts.

Reality and the dreams of a young girl

In the Yezidi community, parents usually wed their daughters before they reach adulthood. Haje’s father married her when she was eighteen, which, according to Haje, “was already unacceptable in the community.”

“When I was a teenager and my family talked about marriage in my presence, I kept saying, “study, study, I want to continue my education.” But, unfortunately, I did not finish high school: My father wedded me,” Haje says in a low voice.

Haje never adapted to customs and reality. Living in a reality that was not very acceptable to her, she did not give up and at the same time did things that she really liked. Haje remembers her stubbornness of those years with a smile: “When I was newly married, I was sent to work in the mountains, and I have never done anything like that. I took about twenty books with me. I had to milk the cows in the mountains and filter the milk. Working with a milk filter is also a very difficult job. You have to stir the milk constantly, from one part comes the refined milk, from the other – the cream, in short, you have to be very careful. Meanwhile, I was reading the book, and filtering the milk by hand. Then I noticed that everyone’s milk turned out very well and mine was completely spoiled,” says Haje, laughing and adding that she did not feel bad about that: at that time she was only happy that she had read one more book.

“Then the neighbors told my mother-in-law: “Look what a bride you have. She doesn’t know how to do work, she reads books all day.” I was lucky to have my husband’s family. They let me do my favorite things, they accepted me as I am,” says Haje.

Dreams that teach to fly

Haje fondly recalls the moment she received a job offer from Public Radio as the editor-in-chief of the Yezidi section.

“Every time I was in the mountains, I wrote letters to the radio for years. I gave letters to my family to mail them to the radio. Once a contest was announced on the radio with the theme of the most beautiful love letter, I participated in it several times. I was writing letters, and I didn’t want to win, because, anyway, I wouldn’t have even known about it, I would have regretted it. Years passed, and I got a job offer from the radio. My first day on the radio was unique, I had indescribable feelings: pride, confusion, excitement. It seemed to me that everyone in the city was smiling at me, proud of me. On the radio I felt like a bird, to whom all roads are open. It seemed like I could fly in any direction I wanted, at any speed I wanted. I felt like my soul was flying,” says Haje with shining eyes.

Community problems as personal challenges

Haje worked in Public Radio for 4 years. At the same time, since 2014, Haje has been working in 3 schools as a Yezidi language teacher.

Working with Yezidi children, Haje found out all the problems in their community. The 47-year-old teacher turned these problems into her personal challenges, and now she spares no effort to solve them.

Haje mentions the issue of early marriage as the main problem of the Yezidi community, as well as the issues of education. “Our girls already know their future in their mother’s womb. They know that they will not even finish high school, they will get married. Because of this, our girls do not even allow themselves to dream about big things,” Haje says.

Haje’s biggest dream is to have her own school where Yezidi children will study, and will gain knowledge about their language and culture.

Cooperation with the WFA

Haje has been cooperating with the Fund for about three years. She has implemented programs based on the problems of Yezidi women. Through the first program, she conducted a series of trainings for Yezidi women in Ghukasavan community. According to her, the program had a great impact on the participants. The parents of one of the participating girls even allowed her to continue her education at the university.

Through the program, Haje revealed how deep the problems in their community are. “At the end of the program, we asked the 30 participants to write about their dreams. You can not imagine how painful it was that most of them could not even write. It was a pity that none of them had real dreams. They were wishing for abstract things: peace to the world, kindness, and so on. There was no one who wrote about her own wishes. Can you imagine how painful it is when women do not even have dreams,” says Haje in a sad tone.

With the support of the WFA, Haje has implemented a rapid response and emergency relief program during the coronavirus and war.

“I have the impression that I have been with the Fund all my life: it is everywhere – in my soul, in my mind. WFA has changed a lot in my life. In addition to financial support, they also support your capacity building. I would like to emphasize the psychological meetings, which have made a big difference in my life. After working with the WFA, I felt much stronger, I became more confident, and my steps started to be more balanced. Thanks to the Fund, I started to feel like a useful person for society, I felt like a confident woman standing on my own feet. WFA helped me discover the new Haje, she says with a smile.

Road to higher peaks

Haje has new plans for this year, which will help her to make higher flights. “This year I have to realize the biggest dream of my life: I have to enter the university. I will definitely do this. I will also be taking driving lessons this month, so I’m very happy. In short, I still have a lot to do,” Haje says excitedly.

47-year-old Haje Bakoyan considers her determination to be one of her strengths. “When I said a few years ago that I should study at the university, many people laughed at me and said: “It is too late for that. You are already a grandmother: what are you talking about?” But I think that there’s no expiration date on a person’s dreams. You have to be always on the go, even very slowly, but you always have to move. I’m a strong woman, that’s how I feel inside,” Hajе concludes.

Interview by Yelena Sargsyan