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Naira Melkoumian

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Since Armenia proclaimed independence in 1991, Naira Melkoumyan has been a significant part of its history, forging a career of leadership that has stretched across Armenia, Karabakh and Diaspora.

“Each problem has a solution, you just have to find the right way.” Melkoumyan, who holds a PhD in philology, was a lecturer at Yerevan State University, when, soon after independence, she became chief specialist in the analytical department in the Office of the President of Armenia.

Then, from 1993-95, she was first secretary of Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, before relocating to Stepanakert in 1997, to become Karabakh’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, where she was involved in peace talks and other international concerns.

Since 2003 she has been executive director of the Hayastan All Armenian Fund, where, among other duties, she has helped raise money for the Fund’s Karabakh road construction project.

Melkoumyan does not consider her career to be remarkable only for the fact she is a woman but believes that a strong personality and will, rather than gender, make a person exceptional.

“I am often asked whether it is hard for me to be in politics. I do not think such questions are relevant only because I am woman,” says the 53-year old. “Of course it is hard, just as it is for everyone, including men. Just like it is not easy to be a doctor, or teacher. It is always hard to do any work if you do it properly, and want to do it better than the others.”

Like her contemporaries, Melkoumyan says politics in Armenia is a “men’s society”. She says, though, that women must share some of the blame for the overwhelming odds in favor or male representation in politics and government.

The educator/minister/executive director sees obstacles as challenges.

“My work taught me there are no stalemates. Like sometimes we see the signs ‘The exit is from the opposite side’ instead of ‘No exit’. Each problem has a solution, you just have to find the right way.”

Melkoumyan adds that the mentality of society is changing and that in recent years she has seen shifts in attitude from ordinary women turning into public leaders.

“I feel the empathy of women. It is a true indicator that women are ready to support women. That’s very important, as it is the clear perception that a woman can be as responsible as a man or even more,” she says.

Armenian women have played a significant, if unheralded, role in independent Armenia’s history. Responsibility, Melkoumyan says, is the Armenian woman’s primary attribute, demonstrated most convincingly in the early 1990s when women managed homes in which there was neither electricity nor water.

Melkoumyan welcomes Armenian women’ leaders initiative of 25 quota system in parliament and believes that the reform would force parties’ leaders to more carefully select men as well.

Despite her successful career Melkoumyan shares the notion that a woman is the keeper of the hearth and the main teacher of children. She herself devoted time to her family and started full time work when her daughter turned 8. (Now her daughter is married and works in a bank.)

“Gender progress is directly influenced by scientific-technical progress, social reforms and the welfare of the country and we observe the biggest number of women leaders in such countries,” Melkoumyan says. “Today both in West and East more and more women are ready to share with men the responsibility for the future of their country.

“I do not want to compare Armenian women with Western women. Each country is unique and women there have different ways to reach success. I just only want to wish to Armenian women to be more confident and believe in themselves.”