Empowering Women in a ‘strong-man’ Culture: Reflections on the Particularity of the Karabakhi Case

This research project proposes to discuss the issues of women’s political participation in the de facto Nagorno-Karabakh (Karabakh hereafter)republic in the South Caucasus region, focusing both on the changes in the system of earmarked spaces for women (i.e. the quota system) and the gendered discourses around the construction of Armenian national identity. The study deciphers what discursive or verbal, non-verbal, and other strategies women use in politics in order to be ‘accepted’ (equally)in the public sphere. The project aims to understand and explain why the level of women’s political involvement is relatively higher in Karabakh (than in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia, and the de facto states), despite the patriarchal environment, politics, and discourses around constructions of Armenianness.

These dynamics in Karabakh need to be investigated and understood in order to comprehend the link between more active participation of women in the political life and women’s involvement and contribution during the periods of tension, both in the 1990s and in the recent escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan in April 2016. The central research question that we seek to address in our research project is: How has the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in Karabakh shaped women’s involvement in politics? What avenues lead women to be more strongly represented in the public domain? In the case of Karabakh, the aspect of the conflict is fundamental in comprehending the way in which the gendered discourses around the nation are constructed. It is evident that women’s engagement in military activities translate to a political status, as a ‘tangible’ social recognition of their contribution in the aftermath of conflict.


METHOD: The research will be based on two types of interviews: semi-structured interviews conducted with the institutes, think tanks, centers and other civil society organizations that deal with issues directly linked to women (such as Julia Arustamyan, Zhanna Krikorova, Gayane Hambartsumyan); and in-depth biographical interviews with women politicians will be conducted. In addition, participant observation will also be useful to ensure a deeper understanding of the context during our research stay in the republic. Feminist methodologies will be used to base our theoretical and methodological framework because such perspectives can reveal the spaces of struggles by using oral history, visual images, or popular culture to record lived experience, especially of those who are in the margins of history.

Co-authors: Sevan Beukian (University of Alberta) and Nona Shahnazaryan