Last month, I travelled to Yerevan, Armenia to meet with people from the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute
(AGMI). They’re working to raise greater awareness of a horrific genocide that saw the murder of 1.5 million people during the final years of the Ottoman Empire around 1915. Ongoing denial of this historic atrocity, waged in the name of racial and religious homogeneity, makes it a contemporary human-rights concern.
When the CMHR opens next year, information about this atrocity will be included in its galleries. We are also working to establish formal ties of cooperation with the Museum in Yerevan that could help both institutions in our efforts to use awareness and dialogue as a way to promote enhanced human rights for Armenians and all of humanity.
On my trip, I was accompanied and assisted by members of the Toronto-based Zoryan Institute of Canada
, a group that supports scholarship and public awareness relating to issues of universal human rights, genocide, and diaspora-homeland relations.
EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the Crisis in Georgia, Philippe Lefort, along with the Head of the European Union Delegation to Armenia, Traian Hristea, visited the Civilitas Foundation today. In a meeting with Civilitas Founder Vartan Oskanian, the diplomats discussed a range of regional issues with an emphasis on the settlement of the Nagorno Karabagh conflict.
Mr. Lefort examined current Civilitas' programs and their role in civil society and media development in Armenia. He laid out the main goals that his mission pursues in Armenia and his outlook on the region’s issues. Discussions also revolved around the opportunities for the European Union to become more effectively engaged in Armenia.
On Wednesday November 30, Sciences Po Paris
played host to a panel discussion on the subject of new media and conflict prevention. The prestigious panel included: Anne-Sophie Bordry
, public affairs director for Facebook
, France; William Echikson
, former journalist and spokesperson for Google
in Brussels; Fabrice Epelboin
, publisher of the French version of ReadWriteWeb
and co-founder of the Tunisian Association for Digital Liberties; Salpi H. Ghazarian
, director of the Civilitas Foundation; Lilane Landor
, language controller of BBC Global News; Joseph Maïla
, founder of the Institue for training in Mediation
and Negotiation and Omar Saghi
, Sciences Po. professor and screenwriter.
On October 20 Civilitas received a senior delegation of foreign policy and development experts from the European Union and the United States. The meeting was held in the framework of a South Caucasus Study Tour organized by the Black Sea Trust of the German Marshall Trust in cooperation with the Robert Bosch Stiftung. Yerevan is the last stop of the delegation after Azerbaijan and Georgia.
In September Civilitas founder Vartan Oskanian received International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Chief of Mission to Armenia Mark Horton, Resident Representative Guillermo Tolosa, Mission Economist Carlos Caceres, and Economist Anna Roze Bordon. The group discussed economic trends and developments in Armenia, the nature of upcoming Civilitas initiatives, including polling and CivilNet.TV, a daily Internet news and researched based channel.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, accompanied by Sweden’s ambassador to Armenia Diana Janse and a delegation of Swedish diplomats visited the Civilitas Foundation on Tuesday, June 14. Minister Bildt heard about the Civilitas Foundation’s various programs and future plans. Civilitas founder and former foreign minister Vartan Oskanian and Mr. Bildt discussed regional issues, particularly current discussions regarding the Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement. Discussion also revolved around the domestic political and economic situation, and prospects for greater civic involvement.
In recent years Armenia is seeing a commendable rise in welcoming and hosting youth from our Diaspora. While this should be encouraged as a continuous effort, it is also essential to provide the necessary setting for mutual learning experiences and lifetime memories.
During the past few months, Civilitas was the place where a promising attorney from Florida and the first Chilean-Armenian student volunteer in Yerevan came to share their cultural and professional experiences with their peers.
Rubina K. Shaldjian, from Florida, took a three-month sabbatical to volunteer at Civilitas through the Armenian Volunteer Corps. Her professional and academic input was indispensable in many tasks ranging from drafting various documents to assisting staff experts to formulate future project ideas. “The fast-paced work environment at Civilitas was just what I was looking for. I wasn’t bored for a second,” says Shaldjian. “From the second I got there, I began what felt like a three-month crash course in the political and social issues that abound in Armenia. I admit that, at first, I was slightly overwhelmed by the fact that there was so much I didn’t know about the history, politics and culture of Armenia and the Caucasus. But as I began to develop relationships with my colleagues, I gained a tremendous amount of insight as to the culture of Yerevan and the issues Armenians face. I can honestly say that it was a true cultural experience... and it was too short!”
Vartan Oskanian participated in a one-day conference entitled “The Black Sea Region – Current and Future Prospects” in Berlin. The conference was held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on January 25.
Mr. Oskanian is a member of the Black Sea Commission, which had sponsored the conference. The Commission, an initiative of the German Marshall Fund, the International Center for Black Sea Studies, the Bertelsmann Foundation, and TEPAV, has as its members several former high-level officials from Black Sea region member countries. The commission members have met several times over the last year in order to try to identify common interests which would serve to move the governments of Black Sea region countries towards closer cooperation.
An International Alert delegation headed by Eurasia Senior Program Officer Oskari Pentikainen visited the Civilitas Foundation on November 3. The guests met with Vartan Oskanian and Salpi Ghazarian. Regional economic issues were discussed during the meeting with a specific eye to Armenia-Turkey relations and the Karabakh conflict resolution process. The guests were interested in Mr. Oskanian’s opinion regarding recent developments in those two areas. Vartan Oskanian was interested in the organization’s activities through the Caucasus Business and Development Network, which works in Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh, Turkey, Georgia, S. Ossetia, Abkhazia and Azerbaijan to encourage economic cooperation.
A Lithuanian delegation, headed by the deputy foreign minister Mr. Evaldas Ignatavicius, member of the European Parliament Mr. Leonidas Donskis, as well as the Ambassador of the Republic of Lithuania to the Republic of Armenia, visited the Civilitas Foundation on October 30.
The guests had a meeting with Vartan Oskanian and discussed internal and external developments in Armenia. They were interested particularly in Mr. Oskanian’s views regarding the recent developments in Armenia-Turkey relations, as well as the Karabakh resolution process. Mr. Oskanian talked about the obvious links between these two processes, and stated that judging from the statements that come from the Turkish side, the Turkey-Armenia process cannot play a positive role in the Karabakh resolution process. The guests also discussed other regional issues, as well as the economic situation both in Armenia and Lithuania.
The Civilitas Foundation was pleased to participate in a book fair which took place in Gyumri on the 12th of June, 2009, organised by the “Art Bridge” bookstore-café (Yerevan), and Gyumri’s “Elav” bookstore.
A sunny afternoon on the newly-renovated Rizhkov Street in central Gyumri saw a lot of activity in front of the “Elav” bookstore. Tables were laden with books on various subjects – history, art, religion, science, novels and textbooks – some of which were being made available to the citizens of Gyumri for the first time. The books were, of course, marked at discounted rates for this special occasion.
Moreover, three authors had arrived to present and sign copies of their recently-published works, an event which took place at a different location in Gyumri, the quaint Dzitoghtsyan-Merkurov museum complex.
The city of Dilijan was bustling on May 17, on the International Day of Museums. On the city’s old, cobble-stone Sharambeyan Street, the Artbridge Bookstore-Café and the Sharan Arts Center had organized an open-air festival with musical groups, vendors and local artisans.
The “Bambir” rock band, as well as local musicians played for three hours entertaining many guests from Yerevan, as well as the residents of Dilijan. Civilitas board members and staff participated in the fair, and had a lot of fun, enjoying an unusually sunny weather in Dilijan, and the festive atmosphere of the day. Artbridge is the distributor of Vartan Oskanian’s Speaking to be Heard, A Decade of Speeches.
A group of military professionals studying at the Washington DC-based National War College visited the Civilitas Foundation on May 13. The visit was part of their study tour to the South Caucasus.
The group met with Civilitas Director Salpi Ghazarian who described Civilitas programs and projects. The visitors had an opportunity to speak extensively with Civilitas Board President Vartan Oskanian.
Civilitas board members Vartan Oskanian and Vahe Aghabegians, Director Salpi Ghazarian and staff members Artashes Darbinian and Hayk Petrosyan traveled to Goris and Meghri to closely view the Civilitas Rural Economic Facilitation Program projects being implemented in Syunik.
The Swiss Development Cooperation has partnered with the Civilitas Foundation to help provide improved water capacity for the villages of Alvank and Shvanidzor in Meghri, just kilometers from the Armenian border with Iran. The support of the Diocesan Council of the Iranian-Armenian community is an important component in this program.
Mr. Levon Kebabdjian and Armen Alaverdian of the NGO, Femme Courage Solidarite, came to Civilitas, accompanied by Mr. Ashot Ghazarian, the AGBU Representative in Yerevan, to talk about common interests in rural development.
On April 22, a presentation celebrating the release of Vartan Oskanian’s new book entitled, Speaking to be Heard: A Decade of Speeches, took place in Mr. Oskanian’s birthplace, Aleppo, Syria. The event was organized by the Syrian chapter of the AGBU together with the Armenian Youth Association. Representatives of all local organizations offered their comments. The keynote presentation on the book was made by Rev. Haroutioun Selimian, who reflected on the evolution of Armenia’s foreign policy as reflected in 10 years of the former foreign minister’s speeches.
On March 31, Civilitas board chairman Vartan Oskanian, together with board member Vahe Aghabegians, Programs Coordinator Hayk Petrosyan and Communications Coordinator Anna Saghabalyan visited Tavush region for the official opening of the community administration building and the inauguration of the gasification of the village of Ditavan.
Both projects were undertaken by the Rural Development Program of the Hayastan All-Armenia Fund.
Christoph Zopel, Former Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, member of Socialist International, a leading figure in the German Social Democratic Party, visited Civilitas on March 18. Mr. Zopel met with Vartan Oskanian and discussed some regional and domestic issues, as well as global economic crisis and its influence on the region. Mr. Oskanian talked about the importance of rule of law especially in these times of crisis, as well as the need for a review of the policy of laissez-faire capitalism. Mr. Oskanian repeated that especially in the post-soviet territory, where rule of law is often a major problem, wild capitalism can’t work effectively, because it is essential that public-private relationships are based on the rule of law.
Mr. Shemi Tzur, the ambassador of Israel to Armenia, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, resident in Jerusalem, visited the Civilitas Foundation on March 19.
Marcus Meckel, a member of the German Parliament, visited Civilitas in late February. A political scientist, former East German dissident, and theologian, he was in Armenia as part of an information gathering visit. Mr. Meckel, a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, is also involved with various German foundations and supports, among other things, a study of the effects of Communism on democratization.
Mr. Meckel expressed concern about domestic developments in Armenia and hope for the development of stronger social and political institutions.
Switzerland’s Ambassador to Armenia, Lorenzo Amberg, visited Civilitas on Thursday, February 19, 2009. Ambassador Amberg and Mr. Oskanian spoke about developments in the region. Mr. Oskanian inquired about the domestic situation in Georgia, in the aftermath of the August clash with Russia. The Swiss ambassador was particularly interested in Armenian perceptions about Turkish-Armenian relations.
They also spoke about the new partnership between the Civilitas Foundation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
In December, Civilitas founder Vartan Oskanian was hosted by the Yerevan School of Political Studies of the Council of Europe. The school has semi- annual retreats in Tsakhkadzor, with invited lecturers participating. Vartan Oskanian was asked by the school to lecture to the young professionals, working in a variety of public and government organizations, as well as representatives of NGOs and journalists.
A group of Turkish filmmakers visited The Civilitas foundation on December 4. Ten young filmmakers, visiting Armenia to participate in the Second Turkish- Armenian Workshop on "Cinema as Means of Cross-Border Dialogue and Mutual Understanding".
The workshop, initiated by the Golden Apricot International Film Festival, was a partnership between the Yerevan festival and the Anadolu Kültür Association of Turkey, as well as the Armenian Writers Union.
OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs Matthew Bryza, Bernard Fassier and Yuri Merzlyakov visited the Civilitas Foundation on November 17. They held a meeting with Civilitas founder Vartan Oskanian.
The Civilitas Foundation participated in a conference on “A European Strategy for the Southern Caucasus,” in Tbilisi at the Heinrich Boell Institute. Civilitas Founder Vartan Oskanian spoke on a panel on “The war in Georgia and its international consequences.” Temuri Yakobashvili, Georgian State Minister for Reintegration also participated in that discussion.
Mr. Ehud Gol, Israel’s ambassador to Armenia, resident in Jerusalem, visited the Civilitas Foundation on October 31.
Ambassador Gol is finishing his term, and he met with Civilitas founder Vartan Oskanian as part of his farewell tour to meet with current and former colleagues.
Mr. Gol and Mr. Oskanian discussed regional issues, international political matters, and Armenia-Israel relations.
Founder of the Civilitas Foundation, former foreign minister of Armenia, Vartan Oskanian spoke in Toronto and Los Angeles at two community gatherings.
In Toronto on October 24, Mr. Oskanian was the guest of the Canada Armenia Business Council. The banquet took place at the Toronto Hilton Suites on October 24, 2008.
Veronique Hulmann, Deputy Head of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) CIS Division accompanied by Sibylle Schmutz, Junior Programme Officer and Derek Mueller, SDC Regional Director for the Caucasus, visited Civilitas on October 18. Zara Allahverdyan Senior National Program Officer accompanied the delegation.
During their meetings with Civilitas staff, the SDC representatives discussed specific areas of cooperation within the sphere of rural economic facilitation.
During his meeting with Vartan Oskanian, Mr. Landaburu presented Mr. Oskanian the perspectives of the European Union on European and regional issues, including the Russian-Georgian conflict, European neighborhood policy and more.
Founder of Civilitas, Armenia's former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian welcomed the European Union's involvement in the region, and stated his belief that EU can and should do more in and for the region.
"The EU should be more ambitious," Vartan Oskanian stated.
Head of the Eastern Europe Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden Johan Frisell visited Civilitas on Wednesday October 15. Mr. Frisell met Civiltas founder Vartan Oskanian and director Salpi Ghazarian. They discussed regional issues, as well as possible future cooperation.
Dr. Daniel Stamboulian, a physician from Buenos Aires, Argentina, engaged in public health issues in Argentina and Armenia, visited Civilitas on October 10. Dr. Stamboulian heads Fidec organization, which is working on fighting infectious diseases in emerging countries. During his meeting with Civilitas Director Salpi Ghazarian and Projects Manager Vahe Aghabegians, they discussed possible fields of cooperation especially in rural areas.
Mr. Johannes Regenbrecht, Head of the German Foreign Ministry's Division for the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia accompanied by Ms. Andrea Wiktorin, the Ambassador of Germany to Armenia, visited the Civilitas Foundation on October 6.
During his meeting with the founder of Civilitas, former foreign minister of Armenia Vartan Oskanian, Mr. Regenbrecht touched upon various issues from Armenia's domestic situation to regional issues.
Speaking about the political situation in Armenia, Mr. Oskanian stated that the situation is still tense, and that the sides are not taking sufficient steps to ease the tension. Mr. Oskanian stressed that addressing the situation of the opposition activists detained since March 1 would go a long way to help defuse the situation.