YEREVAN — Anna Hakobyan, journalist and wife of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, is coming this week to the United States for an extensive 17-day trip with stops in the four cities of Washington DC, Boston, Los Angeles, New York and Memphis.
Hakobyan said in an interview on March 26 that she will maintain a tight schedule, with a variety of meetings, events and gala dinners. The trip is primarily devoted to fundraising for two foundations whose boards Hakobyan heads, the City of Smile Foundation and My Step Foundation. In addition, there will be meetings with the Armenian community and other gatherings in which Hakobyan will represent the Republic of Armenia as the spouse of the prime minister.
In Boston, Hakobyan will be the keynote speaker at a sold-out banquet on April 5 for the City of Smile, at which Michael Aram and Arpi Krikorian will participate.
During her trip, Hakobyan will meet with representatives of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis to sign an agreement between its foundation and the City of Smile Foundation. In New York, she will meet with community members.
In Los Angeles, she will be present at an April 6 fundraiser with the Armenian American Medical Society and at the celebration marking the 25th anniversary of the Armenian consulate on April 7. She will speak at a community meeting the next evening.
In Washington, besides an April 3 fundraiser, she will give a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace with Representatives Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo, both of Armenian background, and meet with community members.
Hakobyan, giving her interview in English, said, “I have high expectations from this trip. I would like to introduce our country and what happened here, to introduce the current situation, and to answer all questions. I want to make connections and acquaintances, and, most importantly, to fundraise for the foundations because we have a large number of important projects.”
When asked whether there might be some difficulties in trying to raise money for two different foundations concurrently, she replied, “I don’t think we will have a conflict of interest because the two foundations operate in different areas. The cancer issue is very specific and many people want to donate only for addressing the issue of childhood cancer. On the other hand, many people value development programs as well, so I do not think we will have problems. Originally, the trip was initiated for the City of Smile Foundation. However, here in Yerevan, I have a tight schedule too, so it is hard for me to leave the country and be away a long time. It would be very hard to come to the US with My Step [separately] and I decided to combine these two goals.”
Hakobyan said that she got involved in these two foundations by force of circumstance. Concerning the City of Smile Foundation, she said, “I was a journalist engaged in political issues and foundations, and health care was not in my scope of interest. Right after the revolution, a foundation named Grant Life (Nvivir Kyank) announced about suspending its operations. It was covering the treatment of children with cancer in Armenia. A group of doctors came to me to raise the issue and asked me to find a solution: we could not wait, while children with cancer needed drugs and treatment. It was an obligation. I had no choice and I decided to head this foundation and find money for these children. It was not my idea and I would have never come to this if the previous foundation would not have suspended its work.”
Something similar happened with My Step Foundation. Before the revolution, various cultural and educational initiatives were receiving funding through different formal and informal channels. Hakobyan said, “After the change of government their funding stopped and people faced a big problem of finding funding to continue their work. … Again, because the new government could not take care of these issues and provide them with enough money, as the state budget was already allocated, no other way was found for these groups to continue, regardless of their importance for Armenia…I talked about this with my husband, and it was his idea to establish a foundation.” After finding money to cover the most immediate needs, she said thinking began about their own projects. The work of My Step encompasses a broad range of issues in educational, social and environmental matters, culture and healthcare.
Hakobyan said a further explanation of why both prior foundations halted their activities was beyond the scope of the present interview, but pointed to corruption and incorrect activity in Armenia in the past.
Hakobyan is involved in one other major initiative, the Women for Peace campaign. She said, “With this campaign, my message is to stop killing soldiers on the border of Nagorno Karabakh and to take care of the lives of our children, both Azerbaijani and Armenian soldiers, and keep peace on the borders.” She announced this initiative last summer and took a group of Russian women to Artsakh. However, recently, she said, “I took a break to do brainstorming on how to continue the campaign and not make mistakes. I value this campaign very much. I will talk about this campaign during my visit to the US.”Hakobyan said, “I have no goals to enter politics. I think one person in the family is enough, and for a mother of a large household with four children I think it will be difficult to enter politics.” She added that she had never been involved in politics and does not imagine herself doing so, stressing, “Personally, I am a journalist and even after the revolution I prefer to stay in my field of work and continue in the newspaper because it is what I like very much.”
Hakobyan said that while political issues might be outside the scope of her responsibilities, she saw her role as public figure as an honor and an obligation to serve her country. She said, “I think that women can play a big role and unfortunately in Armenia before the revolution, I can say that women were oppressed and did not have enough courage to enter the public sphere and be active in social and political issues. With my role, I want to inspire women in Armenia to be more active. I want to show them that we can combine this with household issues and child care. We can help our husbands in caring for the family and contribute a lot to our society and our families.”
Hakobyan was born and raised in Yerevan. Her maternal grandmother’s parents were from Erzeroum and came to Gyumri sometime after the Armenian Genocide. Hakobyan graduated from Yerevan State University in journalism and met her husband there. After graduation in 1997, she had children so she stayed home for two years before starting to work as a journalist in the newspaper her husband was editing. She covered educational issues at first, then the international relations of Armenia and domestic politics. She took some courses at the American University of Armenia in 2001.
When her husband had to go underground after the March 1, 2008 events in Armenia, and then went to jail, she temporarily became chief editor of Haykakan Zhamanak (Armenian Times) newspaper. When Pashinyan returned from prison he briefly took over as editor but then became a member of parliament in 2012 and returned the post to Hakobyan as a permanent one.
She said that she keeps strict boundaries between her work as a journalist and her connection through her husband to the current government. She said, “I have never used information which I obtained through my husband. I have never used that kind of information in the newspaper. It was my belief that I have to be professional in the newspaper and I can only use the information received through professional activity. This is my principle.”