By Jennifer Brookland

Civil rights activists, government officials, media and civil society representatives who excelled in promoting human rights were honored with Universal Rights Awards at an annual ceremony in Armenia’s capital. In a remarkable sweep, every recipient of this year’s awards was a partner or grantee of Counterpart International.

“We have been working alongside these individuals and institutions and have a very deep understanding and appreciation of their contribution to human rights in Armenia,” says Counterpart’s Chief of Party in Armenia Carel Hofstra.

The awards, sponsored by the U.S. Embassy, the European Union, the British Embassy, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe and Counterpart, honor Armenians who made outstanding contributions to human rights, accountable governance, civic activism and free speech.

Hofstra presented the Media Excellence Award to Civilnet, an online media outlet that seeks to improve public discourse in Armenia and inform and encourage action from a young, Internet-savvy public.

“Civilnet has changed and improved the media landscape in Armenia,” Hofstra said. “By bringing context to news, using all the technological opportunities that social media offers and by mobilizing young local and Diaspora reporters, Civilnet sets a high standard for media outlets in Armenia.”

Counterpart supported Civilnet with a grant used to organize public debates for both parties running for Parliament and the Municipal Council of Yerevan, the capital.

Levon Barseghyan, President of Journalists Club Asparez, received the Freedom Defender Award from Oleksandr Pavluk, Head of the Council of Europe Office in Yerevan.

The club protects freedom of speech, information, press and expression, and received support from Counterpart to ensure trained electoral journalists could publish non-partisan information during Parliamentary and Presidential elections.

“Levon has demonstrated extraordinary courage and remarkable personal commitment in defending a broad spectrum of rights and in providing an open platform for the exercise of free speech to virtually anyone, irrespective of their political, national, social or religious views,” said Pavluk.

The British Ambassador to Armenia, Kathy Leach, awarded the Civic Activism Award to the Europe in Law Association, which fosters values such as human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and rule of law.

With Counterpart’s support, it successfully monitored the presidential elections in Armenia’s Ararat region—observation that led to several prosecutions.

Leach praised association members for proving that the legal system itself can be a vital tool in protecting the right to vote.

“It requires a professional and painstaking approach with a first-class understanding of the law,” said Ambassador Leach. “This group of young lawyers has shown that they have the determination to make a difference.”

The Woman of Courage Award went to Naira Arakelyan, Head of the Armavir Development Centre. The center works toward social and economic development by establishing transparent and responsible democratic governance, and received grants from Counterpart that allowed it to carry out independent monitoring for multiple elections.

“Naira has demonstrated tremendous courage promoting economic, social and political development in her community,” said Ambassador Andrey Sorokin, Head of the OSCE Office in Yerevan. “She is truly an inspiration, and I am proud to recognize someone who embodies the spirit of the commitments on which the OSCE is founded.”

The Head of the European Union Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Traian Hristea, presented the Government Reformer Award to the Artavazd Varosyan, the mayor of Alaverdi.

Varosyan initiated a town hall meeting in Alaverdi, a mining and industrial city with a population of around 16,500, where he reported on the annual budget and inspired residents to get more involved in local government issues.

“Local communities are important building blocks of Armenian society and have the potential to become hubs of positive change,” said Hristea. “Mr. Varosyan sets the example of a community leader who promotes transparent and inclusive local government.”

Reporting was contributed by Madlene Minassian

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