It’s our pleasure to announce that Ayo!’s Breathe Freely project is finally complete and its murals are all over Yerevan. The project happened thanks to Ayo!’s persistent efforts. While its dedicated volunteers organized an awareness-raising campaign advocating for a healthier lifestyle, the many talented artists who painted these murals made it possible to better inform the public of the dangers of second-hand smoke.

“Our initiative sought to address the pervasive smoking among Yerevan’s adults by hosting street artists to paint murals throughout Yerevan that bring awareness to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke,” said Ayo!’s manager Jemma Safaryan in one of her interviews during the May 31st Worldwide No Tobacco Day Campaign.

With murals painted on the walls of the residential streets in the capital, Ayo! is sure that the effects will soon be felt. “We learned about this project one year ago and I really wanted to create a mural using this topic. We’ve been waiting for a whole year to seize an opportunity and have free rein of our complaints against smoking,” remarked Anush Ghazaryan, 29, one of the painters. “I hate smoke. It makes me feel sick. However, I’m OK if people smoke in the appropriate places.”

The seven artists who participated in the project came from different regions of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Most of them refer to themselves as graffiti street artists. Many of them confessed that they thought this project was their chance to give their work some exposure while at the same time protesting against smoking in public areas – in restaurants, pubs, on the bus. Each of them had to create a specific painting demonstrating the dangers of second hand smoking. Ayo! wanted all the artists to be creative and make murals that would carry a strong message. Locations for the murals were selected by Ayo! in collaboration with Yerevan’s municipality to make sure they were in places where they could have maximum impact on the public like public gardens, and pathways and walkways where there’s heavy foot traffic in the Nork, Shengavit and Kentron districts of Yerevan.

“I often notice people at the bus stop sitting on the benches and smoking with a child or a pregnant woman nearby. They don’t see the effects of second-hand smoke. My mural carries a message aimed toward breaking this detrimental habit in public areas,” said Anush, who’s mural depicts a bus station with a man smoking and a child wearing a respirator as a way to indicate the danger.

To make it happen, Anush even invited her friend Artur to help her finish the painting on one of the alleyways in Yerevan. “We picked up the idea together,” remarked 29-year-old Artur. A German artist, Artur Block had been in Karabakh working on a project. He became friends with Anush who told him about Breathe Freely and agreed to help her develop the idea for the mural. “It’s been eight months since I arrived in Armenia, and I’ve encountered a lot of people smoking in public areas. It’s not good. I myself used to smoke but I quit last year because I don’t want to be addicted to anything.”

Harut Mesropyan, 18, is from Yerevan. An aspiring painter, he learned about the project through Ayo!’s Facebook page. “In my circle, I see a lot of girls smoking. One out of 10 can be a non-smoker. It’s fine if you smoke, but don’t endanger the lives of the others who don’t smoke. This is the message of my mural,” said Harut whose work depicts a girl chain smoking inside an isolated chamber.

“This mural is my first attempt to disclose my inner views and ideas about specific issues such as smoking or second-hand smoking,” said 20-year old Avetik Sahakyan from Gyumri. A student at the Yerevan State Academy of Fine Arts, this is Avetik’s first experience in street art. He learned about the project from Ayo!’s Facebook page. “I don’t like when people smoke in public areas. I smoke, however, I never smoke when my friends are around or when I’m with my family. The message of my mural is simple: Don’t make others a slave to your cigarette.”