SOAR - Geneva Chapter
Switzerland became part of the SOAR family in September 2013. The first Armenian families settled in Switzerland at the end of the 19th century, fleeing persecution of Sultan Abdul Hamid in the Ottoman Empire. They settled mainly in French-speaking Switzerland. During and immediately after the Armenian Genocide of 1915, other refugees arrived. In the 1920s, Pastor Kraft Bonnard created an orphanage in Begnins where more than 200 orphans and genocide survivors found refuge. After finishing their studies, some remained permanently in Switzerland.
At the end of the Second World War, the community in Switzerland reached approximately 300 people. Since then, the number has continued to grow. The situations in the Middle East, in the former Soviet Union, and in independent Armenia have encouraged many Armenians to immigrate to the West. It is estimated that approximately 5,000 Armenians live in Switzerland today.
The majority of Swiss Armenians are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, under the jurisdiction of the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin. There are four church regions: Geneva, Zurich, Neuchatel and Lugano. The Saint Hagop Church in Troinex serves mainly the West of the country, while Armenians living in the East conduct their religious services in a number of sister Swiss churches. There are also a smaller number of Armenian Catholics belonging and even a smaller number of Armenian Evangelicals.
Board of Directors:
Gayane comes from Kotayk Marz, Armenia, but she has lived in Brussels, Belgium for twelve years before moving to Geneva in August 2018 due to a diplomatic posting in her family. She holds her degrees in modern languages, translation, and teaching from University of International Relations (Yerevan) and American University of Armenia. She has many years of administrative experience working for international offices: the US Embassy Agriculture projects in Yerevan and the Economist Group Brussels being among some of them. She has worked for over seven years at EastWest Institute, an American NGO on conflict prevention.
Her mother tongues are Russian and Armenian, and she speaks English and French.
In certain periods of her life in Armenia she had been actively involved in volunteering activities: Together with local junior folkloric dance group she participated at charity concerts of her Marz collecting aid for children affected by the 1988 earthquake. Later on, as a part of her school extracurricular activities, she was assisting adults with distributing goods/food/clothes to Armenian refugees arriving from different regions of Azerbaijan – at around the same time her family had welcomed a refugee family for a few months before they were given accommodation. To her making even a little difference in a person’s life is the most rewarding thing, and she is glad life is giving her this opportunity again with SOAR.
Astrig is from Gumri, Armenia. After the earthquake in 1988 she became an orphan and was helped by humanitarian NGO’s and donators. Once an adult, she decided to devote her life to people in need. After her studies in foreign languages in Yerevan State University at the age of 24, she became the director of SPFA, a French humanitarian NGO, one of most successful organizations in the field of family sponsorship, charity restaurants, children summer camps, youth clubs, etc. Her professional experience provided her knowledge and expertise about the problems faced by orphanages in Armenia and related issues. To strengthen her capacities she earned a Masters degree in Humanitarian Action from Geneva University.
She is currently living in Switzerland and working at the Armenian Center of Geneva, as administrator. She is the author of 2 books for children: “Armenian Popular Tales” in French and “Armenian Songs and Poems of Our Childhood” in Armenian. Married, she is mother of two children: Ararat and Loucine.
Joachim was born in Switzerland and got a Master's degree in Political Science at the University of Lausanne. Being very interested in the field of development and cooperation, he worked several months with a Swiss NGO in an educational centre in Nicaragua. His main activities and responsibilities included fundraising, working with children as well as teaching sports and English. Joachim is currently working in Brussels for the Mission of Switzerland to the European Union, as Attaché to the Science & Technology Counselor. By getting involved in SOAR, he wishes to support those who need it the most.
Regional Director overseeing Fundraising/Event Planning Chapters in the Eastern Hemisphere
Victoria was born in Armenia and has lived Belgium since 2008. She has 2 Master degrees in Arabic and European Political and Administrative Studies from Yerevan State University and College of Europe (Belgium). Humanitarian work has always been her field. She has volunteered a few months at the Zatik orphanage in Yerevan, studied and worked for a year in Damascus and Beirut volunteering for local NGOs. For two years Victoria has worked in one of the centers of the Belgian Red Cross as a social assistant working with vulnerable groups of people such as asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants. For the last 3 years she has been working in the field of development and cooperation, previously as a Task manager for Central Asia, Asia and Middle East regional programmes at the European Commission, Directorate General for Development and Cooperation and currently at GIZ International Services, German Development Agency. She is fluent in English, French, German, Russian, Arabic and Armenian. By helping SOAR, Victoria wishes to bring a change to the lives of those who need it the most.
Marietta has an initial background in linguistics, interpreting and teaching. During her studies related to linguistics, she used to work as a teacher of foreign languages (English and German) using her own methodology and as a volunteer for FIFA and other organisations. A few months later she started working as an interpreter for plenty of international organisations such as Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Interkultur etc. After obtaining her Bachelor degree in Linguistics, she started working on her own project called “LingvoHelp” that is directly relevant to technologies for blind and visually impaired people that would enable them to learn foreign languages for free and get access to inclusive education. Her endeavor has been supported by Dr. Esuna Dugarova, Policy Specialist at UNDP, Hans Jorgen Wiberg, founder of Be My Eyes as well as international organisations and companies. Later on she started working as a community manager at Wakie. At this moment she is combining her studies at the University of Geneva in Global Health field with the project development. Marietta hopes to find like-minded people excited about social inclusion and technologies for people with disabilities in Switzerland and beyond to develop her projects which can make a global impact in the field of innovations for disabled people all over the world and in her historical homeland Armenia in particular.
Mariam Stepanyan is currently Master of Science in Management student at University of Geneva and Hosted Meetings Programme Manager at Learnit. Mariam graduated from Anania Shirakatsy Lyceum in Yerevan, Armenia and holds Bachelor of Arts in Business degree from the American University of Armenia, where she has also worked as academic Teaching Assistant. Along studies at college Mariam interned at ARARATBANK OJSC, Technology and Science Dynamics INC. and Microsoft Armenia.
She has always been an active student involved in university life and an active community member.