«Who is Right and What to Do?!». Seminar in Yerevan

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20231017 151200  NNN VVVDuring the project   “Return Our Hug to the Hague” (ttp://www.west-east-fund.com/index.php/en/ ) at the plenary session in the Hague in July, 2022, there was a heated discussion at the Abovian Armenian Center if all the citizens of Russia are responsible for the war in Ukraine.

The fact that the Council of the EU rejected a preference for a simplified procedure for issuing Schengen visas to all Russian citizens, and the Baltic countries have refused visas altogether, proves that the problem raised at the Plenary is of pan-European significance.

In July 2023 года Dutch National Agency Erasmus+ awarded our new project 2023-2-NL02-KA154-YOU-000167606 «Who is Right and What to Do?!»

Project goals 

1. To create for the young people (seminar participants) the space for discussion on if the citizens of the country are responsible for hostilities provoked by the leadership of their country with neighbors or not

2. To get familiar with the official position of the decision-makers from the Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Armenia, Georgia and Russia on the above mentioned question

3. To create bridges between young citizens of Russia and youth from other European countries for promotion of the idea of peace and cooperation

4. To popularize the project results

20231016 125517  lll aaaStory 1. We received unpleasant news two months before the start of the seminar. It turned out that there are no direct flights from Chisinau to Yerevan. And flights through other cities to Yerevan were significantly more expensive than 275 euros - the maximum amount that the Erasmus+ program can allocate for tickets for such a trip. Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Neither our partner organization nor the young participants from Moldova were able to pay the additional costs required to purchase tickets. As a result, they refused to participate in the project. We had already ordered and paid for hotel rooms in Yerevan and the cost of food

We were lucky, as it turned out that the goals of our seminar were relevant for our friends in Georgia. Because of the war in Russia and Ukraine, more than one hundred thousand Russian citizens moved to Georgia. And yet, in 2008, Russian troops entered Georgia, after which South Ossetia seceded from Georgia. The question whether these visitors bear responsibility for the invasion of Russian troops into Georgia is relevant for Georgians too.

As a result, Junior Achievement Georgia, headed by Professor Eka Gegeshidze, kindly agreed to become our partner from Georgia in this project. It should be already emphasized that the participation of Eka Gegeshidze and her team in the seminar largely determined its success

20231016 112703 AAAStory 2. On September 19, Azerbaijani troops launched an attack on the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Before the offensive, Azerbaijan pulled up its troops to the borders of Armenia. The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is mainly inhabited by Armenians. The support of the Armenian troops for the residents of Karabakh meant the beginning of a new full-scale war with Azerbaijan and, possibly, with its ally Turkey. It was impossible to hold a seminar in such an environment. The Armenian armed forces did not support the Karabakh Defense Army. Azerbaijan easily captured Karabakh. A full-scale war with Armenia did not take place.

The Armenians and residents of Karabakh did not believe that after so many years of armed confrontation they could live normally as part of Azerbaijan. As a result, they left Azerbaijan and moved to Armenia. A number of political forces declared the leadership of Armenia traitors and demanded their resignation. The threat of civil war hung over Armenia. Only at the beginning of October the situation in Armenia more or less stabilized. However, a week before the seminar, an influential American agency disseminated information that within a few days Azerbaijan would nevertheless begin military operations against Armenia. As a result, participants from the Netherlands and Germany refused to come to our seminar. We did a lot of work to explain to them that the situation in Yerevan is calm and that there will be no war. However, we were not able to persuade everyone, and some of them gave up their tickets.

20231019 115259  aaaStory 3. A young student from the Greek team, let's call him Costa, has never been to Armenia before. But he had two familiar Armenian girls whom he met on other projects. Costa flew to Yerevan with a Greek team. Armenian girls were already waiting for him at the airport. The three of them went to the center of Yerevan and sat for a couple of hours in one of the many cafes. Then they took a taxi to the Olympus Hotel, where the seminar participants were supposed to live. Two hours later, Lusine Hayrapetyan, the head of our partner organization the Armenian Public Center for the Promotion of International Cooperation, received a call from the Greek’s group leader. The taxi with Kosta and the girls got into a car accident. They were taken to the hospital. The group leader only knew the hospital number. Half an hour later Lusine was already there. She was told that Costa is now undergoing magnetic resonance imaging. It was suspected that Costa suffered a concussion. Lusine was able to see Costa only after the procedure. He could not walk on his own and was taken in a wheelchair. The face was all bloody. Thus, luckily he didn't have a concussion. The doctor said that Costa should remain in the hospital at least until the next day and three days later come for examination. Armenian girls suffered more severely. One of them had a wound stitched on her head, the other on her lip.

Unfortunately, Costa was only able to participate in a few workshops. He was very upset and wanted to return home earlier. The Greek and Armenian teams did everything to help him. However, Costa changed his ticket and flew to Greece the day before the end of the seminar.

Thanks God the troubles were over. Thus, the weather in Yerevan was so-so. It rained from time to time and it became much colder

As planned, on October 16, our seminar began in Yerevan. The first lesson was dedicated to Greeting of the participants. Only four people came from the Netherlands to the seminar. Among them was the legendary Geert Ates, head of UNITED for Intercultural Action, which has been organizing wonderful international youth conferences for more than thirty years to support tolerance, intercultural dialogue and counteract racism and xenophobia. Another representative from the Netherlands was our long-time friend Mato Hakhverdian, head of the Armenian Cultural Center Abovian located in the Hague. Mato lived for many years in both Armenia and the Netherlands. He knows the laws, customs and culture of these countries very well. He speaks fluent Armenian, Dutch, English, Russian and other languages. As a policy maker, the Russian team included Danna, a Swiss citizen who has worked in Russia for many years and knows this country very well.

IMG-20231017-WA0007   aaaAlthough there was no team from Ukraine at the Yerevan seminar, there were Ukrainians among the participants. Tanja Hecker, the leader of the German team, has been living in Germany for many years, but maintains ties with her historical homeland. She took part in our conference “Return Our Hug to the Hague” in July, 2022. Tanja helped us a lot and she also made many good photos during the workshop in Yerevan. Another Ukrainian, a young girl Irina, moved to Germany immediately after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Both Tatyana and Irina take part in events in their cities to support refugees from Ukraine.

The Olympus Hotel, where the participants lived and worked, is located on the very edge of the Hrazdan River not far from the Memorial Complex to the Victims of the Armenian Genocide. In the courtyard, at different levels, there are several cozy spaces, surrounded by trees, where hotel residents could gather in good weather and enjoy the view.

After the participants got to know each other, we divided them into small mixed groups and asked them to discuss what they understand by Common European Values. Discussion of the results of the working groups showed that the participants had approximately the same understanding of the Common European Values. In particular, everyone agreed that concrete people can be judged based on their actions but not when race, religion or country they represent is taken into account. After lunch, the rain stopped and we invited the participants to visit the Memorial Complex to the Victims of the Armenian Genocide. This complex is located in a beautiful park. We went there on foot. When we were at the monument we talked about why Armenian people suffered the most in the war between Russia and Turkey.

The meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia was very important for the seminar participants. Not in all European countries the authorities give such honor to the participants of the youth seminars. We were welcomed by the head of the Department of Europe, Ara Margaryan. It should be emphasized that the moderator of the meeting was Lusine, which is common for modern Armenia, but for some European countries it looked simply fantastic. At the beginning, at Lusine’s request, the guests briefly talked about themselves. Then Ara Margaryan took the floor. The situation in Armenia is complex. Of the neighboring countries, only Georgia holds normal elections and there is a legally functioning opposition. Therefore, the rulers of other neighboring countries perceived the peaceful revolution of 2018 and the coming to power of people chosen by the people very negatively. They are especially irritated by Armenia's desire to create closer ties with the EU. One of the reasons for Azerbaijan’s attack on Armenia in 2020, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, is the creation of chaos and a political crisis in the country, as a result of which former corrupt officials will return to power. While Turkey supported Azerbaijan in every possible way in that war, Armenia found itself alone. Unfortunately, many leaders of the EU countries not only failed to stop this war, but also did not condemn the actions of Azerbaijan. In the same way, the nine-month blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan did not provoke the proper reaction from the world community. After Azerbaijan ensured that the entire Armenian population left Karabakh, EU countries entered into new agreements to purchase oil from Azerbaijan. It is not surprising that some countries and political forces have decided that the use of military force is the best way to resolve territorial disputes with neighbors. Ara Margaryan also noted that for small countries like Armenia, the EU requirement is much stricter than for others. Apparently, the diplomat was referring to Turkey, which, in fact, helps Russia circumvent sanctions imposed by the EU. In Armenia, during the 2020 war, there was an active discussion in which direction the country should develop. One hundred and twenty thousand Armenians were forced to leave Karabakh, there are significantly more citizens who believe that Armenia’s desire to move closer to the EU will only bring problems to the country. Therefore, the leadership of Armenia welcomes any direct work of young people from Armenia with their peers from the EU. This gives young people a better understanding of European values, and thus better guidance in choosing the right direction for the country's development. Therefore, the Armenian leadership greatly values the Erasmus+ Program, which provides young people with such opportunities

The head of the Department of Europe of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia answered numerous questions from the participants, and after the meeting he kindly agreed to take photographs with us for memory.

20231016 123012  NNN  VVVOne of the topics of our seminar was the use of modern digital technologies to create communication between youth organizations from different countries. Participants shared their experiences of how such problems are solved in their country. We also had practical applications of such technologies. All results of working groups, announcements and proposals were posted in a group created on Facebook. Not only our meetings, but also lunches and dinners took place in different places. Participants were given the opportunity to get acquainted with Armenian cuisine and visit famous cafes and restaurants in Yerevan. But they had to find their location themselves.

A day later, in the morning, a meeting was planned with employees of the Dutch Embassy in Yerevan. At that time, due to the difficult political situation in Armenia, embassies worked from early morning until late in the evening. A number of EU countries have provided serious humanitarian support to refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore, the Ambassador of the Netherlands was busy and could not participate in the meeting with us. He sent his deputy to the meeting. We understood the importance of this meeting and rented a beautiful and expensive hall in the center of Yerevan. Seminar participants had to find the hall on their own. That day was cloudy, drizzling, and the hall, as it turned out, was securely hidden on the first floor of a residential building, which was surrounded on all sides by similar houses. Like many houses in Yerevan, it did not have a number or street name. And then it turned out that representatives of the Armenian partner organization had never been in this room. There was a real threat that the vice ambassador wouldn’t find the hall we rented. It should be emphasized that on the first day of the seminar, some participants, among other European values, noted discipline and the ability to comply with accepted agreements. Ten minutes before the start of the meeting, one group of participants finally found the hall. After that, teamwork began. Young people from this group went to the streets and began to lead other participants into the meeting room. We succeeded.

At 11.00 all participants were in the hall. It was really very modern and beautiful. In addition, the hosts treated us to coffee and tea with Armenian sweets, which was very welcoming in such a weather. Fifteen minutes later, the unscheduled coffee break ended, and the representative of the Dutch Embassy still did not appear. Half an hour later we received a message - the ambassador and his deputy were urgently invited to the Government of Armenia. They are still there, and therefore the Vice Ambassador does not have the opportunity to meet with us. But he is ready to meet with us after 16.00.

The next meeting was scheduled with the NGO Armenian progressive youth. APY aims to support, inspire and engage young people from Armenia to develop their social leadership skills, take up their civic responsibility and act as change makers. Through various projects, initiatives and non-formal education tools, we help young people to succeed by ensuring that they develop knowledge, skills, attitudes and abilities relevant to the modern world.

20231016 152934 aaaFrom the Armenian progressive youth office you could reach our hotel on foot in 20 minutes through the park. The seminar participants decided to walk but it started to rain. Now the deputy ambassador was waiting for the seminar participants at the hotel. An extra twenty minutes were spent drying and changing clothes. However, the vice Ambassador Thymen Kouwenaar turned out to be a very charming and sociable person, with extensive diplomatic experience working in different countries and with different people. He talked about himself, talked about the difficult situation in Armenia. When asked “could the EU leaders have prevented military actions in Karabakh and Ukraine,” the vice ambassador said that he did not believe that military actions in Europe became possible because of the mistakes of the EU leaders. The EU is unable and does not have the authority to solve the problems of surrounding countries. Each country must solve its own problems independently. The parties to the conflicts assess the situation differently, and it is very difficult for both to understand what the EU can do to prevent such conflicts. In response, Thanos, an active participant in the seminar from Greece, stated that there was obvious aggression on the part of Azerbaijan against the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh, but for this the EU leaders did not condemn the leadership of Azerbaijan, while the aggression of the Russian leadership against Ukraine was not only condemned, but the EU also singled out huge funds to support Ukraine. The meeting ended, but the participants did not want to let go of the vice ambassador. He happily answered all the questions, despite the fact that some of them were quite sharp.

It was clear that the participants were pleased with the way the seminar was conducted. They enjoyed the meeting with activists of the Armenian Public Center for the Promotion of International Cooperation, organized in a popular restaurant in Yerevan.

The main result of the seminar is well summed up by the impressions of Anastasiia from the Russian team. “We were divided into small groups, in a way that each small group had representatives from different countries. Our group included representatives of Georgia, Greece, and Russia. We had to discuss how the war in Europe affected the attitudes of young people towards residents of other countries. Thus. The representatives from Georgia began to talk about their relationship with the Russians. One girl said that she could not even look at Russians; she immediately felt bad because of what she had experienced in childhood and what she was experiencing now. She added that she understood that we (those Russians who sat at the same table with her) had nothing to do with what she had experienced but she felt negativity for all the Russians she met on her way. She was trying to cope with her feelings, but there was a lot of tension inside. However, a few days passed and we all became so close. We sat on the balcony in the room of the girls from Georgia, they invited us all. The view from the window to the gorge was marvelous. Everyone was talking and laughing. And suddenly this girl highlighted that she was easily communicating with everyone, especially with Russians, and that she could even now call those Russians - friends.”

20231020 192523 AAAAmong the goals of the Erasmus+ Program are those to learn to listen to each other and show respect for other participants. During other projects supported by this program, we noticed that after a couple of days, participants from conflicting countries begin to communicate with each other and treat each other just as participants from other countries with which there are no conflicts. This preserves the old truth that wars and conflicts are provoked not by peoples, but by the rulers of their states in order to strengthen their power. They successfully use the collective responsibility syndrome to justify their aggressiveness. Thus, as soon as people of different nations and different religions have the opportunity to communicate with each other under normal conditions, the infection, because “they are not like us,” disappears, because it is obvious that they are not much different from us.


West-East Bridges Foundation Team