The Road to Change

By Cara Taylor, Jinishian Memorial Program

November 7, 2017

Although erosion in Armenia has helped excavate some of its glorious history dating to 4,000 B.C., for the modern nation, it also creates deadly driving hazards. The pot hole problem may seem trivial after a century of genocide, oppressive communist rule and a devastating earthquake, but a group of budding leaders trained by the Jinishian Memorial Program knew it was a way to make a difference in their struggling community.

Caption: Armenia sits in the south Caucasus highlands of Mount Ararat, where Noah’s ark hit land. Political and seismic fault lines have troubled Armenia throughout its history, but it has clung to its Christian identity for over 1700 years.

“The idea for this project came to us after a car accident that happened due to bad road conditions,” said Lilit Ghabuzyan of Vanadzor City. “It took the life of a 20-year-old girl. We were wondering how to protect the rights of people in our community and how to address this problem for the entire country.”

Lilit is part of “Youth in Action for Change” (YAC) which mobilizes young adults to research issues and impact their communities in areas of the environment, human rights and economic stability. “The pot holes became a great platform for us to raise awareness and take this issue to higher levels through legal action,” she said.

As part of a mission tour in Armenia two years ago with the Jinishian Memorial Program, I have encountered those pitted roads as well as the industrious young people fighting for progress. From farms to villages to universities, I saw Jinishian projects empowering people in creative ways, restoring dignity and faith to the beleaguered Armenian people. Training a new generation of leaders to transform their own communities through YAC is just one way they are building Armenia’s capacity for growth as a thriving democracy.

Caption: I met Meline and Ophelia in 2015, part of a Youth in Action for Change chapter in Gyumri where students have implemented creative outreach projects to address homelessness, pollution and other local issues effecting the environment, human rights and the economy.

Another YAC project member, Arbak Sargsyan, recalled that “in the beginning when we initiated the pot hole project, there was a great apathy among the drivers as they did not show any trust in the legal system.”

The apathy is understandable. Project leader Gevorg Kotanjyan explained that “drivers are not protected and do not receive any compensation when their vehicles are damaged. They have no idea what to do or who is responsible. There are no clear laws for police to enforce, nor procedures for victims to submit a court claim.”

The students reached out to more than 200 drivers to raise awareness of the issues and provide legal consultation. As a result, a lawyer prepared a claim on behalf of a vehicle owner and submitted it to a regional court in Vanadzor. The volunteers supported the case for compensation, which is now before a higher court in the capital city Yerevan for hearings.  Locally, the team continues working with police and lawmakers to adopt appropriate laws.

Although they still await a positive outcome in the courts, the petition created an important precedent and many citizens became more aware and engaged in protecting their own rights. Most importantly, Gevorg, Arbak and Lilit are learning to hope, to work, to lead and to be the change they want to see in the world.

Caption: For the past four years, Youth in Action for Change has been growing, establishing youth centers throughout the country that train young adults to initiate positive social change and develop democratic values.