19 July 2018

A Conference with Impact

Armenia 2018: Realities and Perspectives

The Armenian Communities department supported the organisation of the international conference in Yerevan “Armenia 2018: Realities and Perspectives.”

Approximately a year ago, Professor Ashot Voskanyan and I were speaking about the need to analyse appropriately the current situation in Armenia, based on meaningful research, and with the view of making some feasible policy recommendations for economic, social and political development. Armenia was in a rut and not enough academic work was being done to explain the causes of the malaise. Little did we realise back then that the meaning of “the current situation” was going to change so profoundly within several months. A popular and non-violent “velvet revolution” in April swept away the old guard, bringing to power a young and dynamic new government, under the leadership of a new Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan.

The international conference “Armenia 2018: Realities and Perspectives” took place as planned between 22 and 24 June 2018, at the American University of Armenia, organised by the Armenian Research Center in Humanities. However, its main topic of discussion had to shift: from analysing ways to bring about gradual change to offering suggestions on how to consolidate the gains of a peaceful revolution. Approximately 100 people participated in various panels and discussions. Most of the speakers were from Armenia; several had come from Russia and the USA. Some of the experts who were invited months ago to present their research now spoke as Deputy Ministers or as advisors in the new government.

The conference programme was packed with 11 panels – including plenaries and parallel sessions. Topics ranged from the appropriateness of Western theoretical models in understanding Armenian realities to educational reform within the country, from paths to economic development to issues of justice, corruption and political parties, from the study of the diaspora to cultural dynamics in Armenia. An important recurring theme was the need for a new “social contract” in Armenia and the rewriting of the constitution that it would entail. All discussion were, needless to say, in the context of the political changes currently taking place in the country – the challenges that that presents and the opportunities it provides. Papers were presented and discussions took place in Armenian (mostly), Russian and English. There was simultaneous interpretation.

I had the privilege of providing an overall summary of the conference at the end. Seven points struck me as noteworthy. First, what to call the political changes in April-May 2018? Was it a revolution or a change of government due to popular pressure? It is probably too early to tell, but initial indications are that the country is in the midst of a non-violent revolution. Hopefully it will remain peaceful and succeed in bringing about much needed and profound changes. Second, there was considerable discussion about consolidating the gains of the revolution in all sectors of society, so that a sense of justice prevails and economic development takes off. Third, realism is important – i.e. slow but steady progress – keeping in mind that democracy is a process, a permanent goal, and not a “final stage” to achieve and then stop.  Fourth, there was a real desire to understand the complexities of the diaspora and its multiple identities. How is it going to relate to the “new” Armenia. Fifth, the need to reform the educational sector in Armenia was highlighted; reforms are needed at all levels, from universities and research centres to the way primary school is taught. Sixth, in terms of next steps, there were calls for further research-based policy recommendations, the need for expert advice to the government, the importance of analysing the revolution in Armenia in a global context, as a positive example of social change. Finally, it was interesting to note the “silences” at the conference – i.e. what was not talked about: the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the possibility of a counter-revolution by the old guard, and gender-based analysis was minimal.

The conference abstracts can be consulted online

While in Armenia, I asked our Focal Point there, Hamazasp Danielyan, to give me his impressions as an eyewitness of the revolution in Armenia.Our short conversation can be found here.  

Razmik Panossian 

Director, Armenian Communities – Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation