Q&A with OWM Fellow Hermine Virabian

Our 2020 Fellow, Hermine Virabian, spoke with us about her photojournalism piece as part of the One World Media Fellowship. The piece was published in Open Caucasus Media

Tell us a little bit about your project, what medium were you working in and what was your story about?

I’m Hermine Virabian, a multimedia journalist from Armenia, where I mostly cover social and human rights issues. And there are many. For the Fellowship, I worked on a human rights story about Yazidi people living in Armenia. They are the biggest national minority who are very integrated but also very closed and isolated from the rest of the country’s society. They live very traditional lives and sometimes I have a feeling that other Armenians forget about them. The Yazidis follow a tradition of forcing their children to married young, as early as 15 or 16 years, which means they often drop out of full-time education that is mandatory by Armenian law. 

But the government doesn’t charge these parents and  so they continue to live in their community, for generations, by their own rules. My story is not against them. I learned so many beautiful things in exploring the community. They have a beautiful rich culture. But these people are forgotten by the government and the government needs to remember that they need support. The younger generation of Yazdis are fighting these traditions, voicing themselves to say we are human beings who have a right to education just as much as everyone else and that they must get an education, not just get married and do household chores. This is especially tough for women. 

How did you meet the characters? Why were you drawn to them?

My first character was an activist. This girl, who belonged to the community, was speaking to the media about underage marriage. I contacted her and asked questions. During my research, I learned there are several villages in Armenia that are entirely Yazidi, which I visited. When I was in the field, sometimes it was difficult to communicate because I remember in one of the villages, for example, I was walking with one of my characters and he translated to me that a woman said, “Do not come to this place. Don’t walk to my house.” They’re closed in this way. But as I mentioned, they are such kind people. When you gain their trust, they’re open to you, they want to help you and want to show their rich culture.

How was your journey from the development phase of finding your characters through the reporting and the writing. What did you learn in the process?

I have learned that you will never get results from the first day and there is a lot of disappointment. You just  start to knock on doors. Sometimes no one opens, sometimes they do and you have a good conversation. When working on a photo story, it’s very important to visit the same places several times, to be ready for long-term hard work. I would document my experiences and visit the same village many times, looking at the same things from different perspectives, analysing and trying to structure my story. 

What made you want to do this story?

I believe in human rights and Yazidis have the right to an education, as much as anyone else in Armenia.  

Could you tell us more about your experience as part of the Fellowship?

When you study or do a workshop or attend a great event, it’s always good for your CV. But with the Fellowship, you also meet such nice vibrant people who have so much good energy. It’s such a positive, fun community. You feel like you are not alone. There is this huge network of amazing professionals you can turn to. 

Hermine’s advice for early-career journalists:

  1. Be patient. Do what you like and believe in, good results will come. 
  2. Gain the trust of the people you’re working with, they’ll want to help you.
  3. Find a network of people or other professionals who are there for you to rely on for support.