The New Freedom Fighters: Women and Non-Violent Resistance
In the Republics of Armenia and Artsakh in the Caucasus mountains, women are shaping a unique movement of nonviolent resistance to state-sponsored violence. In villages and towns hardest hit by the shelling of petroleum powerhouse Azerbaijan, poverty, despair, and terror penetrate the most intimate spaces of everyday life. Once robust factories lay empty, and bullets invade bedrooms, bathrooms, and kindergartens. This intrusion of violence into civilian spaces is a common thread, tying together communities from Armenia, to Syria, to Chicago, and so is the creative nonviolence that people are developing to resist it.
In Armenia, women have realized that they cannot shoot their way out of this conflict. Bullets will not win this war, but agribusiness may. Women are using modern innovations to produce wine, honey, and cheese for export, revitalizing an agriculture sector decimated by years of conquest, imperialism, and occupation. They continue to fight imperialism today, protecting their homes and the environment that they love. In one town, women activists used a peaceful protest campaign to stop a huge Russian company from strip mining their mountains, promoting ecotourism as an alternative for development. They are making this dream a reality, encouraging environmental protection in their community, and creating infrastructure like maps, guesthouses, and nature tours.
Traveling to the Republics of Armenia and Artsakh five times since 2015, I gathered these stories through an extended process of interviewing and photographing farmers, teachers, artists, politicians, and others. I am inspired by the stories I grew up with of women in my family who survived the Armenian Genocide, held our family together, and built a future for us in America. These were strong, powerful women, and I saw them in these women’s movement to create a peace culture. “We teach our kids to love their enemy. Even though there is bombing, we want them to learn that it’s the government not the people who are behind the violence,” says a teacher from a village under fire. She and other women are serious about change, combating domestic violence, gender stereotyping, and oppressive traditions. “We are learning to diffuse violence at all levels: within the self, between individuals, between communities, and even between states,” say the women of a local women’s center. They know that change starts by making their own community strong.
“It’s not from selling petroleum or gold that a people develop. They need good music, art, literature, theater, all the things that make a culture rich,” says a politician and journalist turned theater teacher. The women in this movement work together. They teach their children arts and culture to strengthen their mental and community health, and technology education to give them the skills to work in the global economy. “There are many women in tech fields in my country, and I believe tech will push us forward,” says a startup director and university math student, thinking of her all-female math class and creative co-workers.
The New Freedom Fighters uses photography, video, three dimensional works, and writing to tell a story of women changing the world, addressing the fundamental issues of human rights and social justice. These women’s efforts to meet gunfire with economic, social, and cultural empowerment has impacts beyond the borders of these tiny republics. Looking at this example of suffering and resistance has changed the way I think about the problems in my own city, and the possibilities I see for building our communities and healing our divides. Through showing this work, I hope to use these stories to show viewers how we can all use our backgrounds as immigrants, refugees, or forced migrants to understand our unique issues and solutions. In the words of a social worker in a village under fire, “Our goal is to change old ways of thinking, to break old habits, to work towards the future.” Resistance takes many forms. And “...sometimes a woman must lead.”