The Youth of any country is its lifeblood, none more so than in Artsakh.
I remember when I first arrived in Shushi a few years ago, and I walked around the streets with my Armenian friend, just talking to each other, camera over my shoulder. There were a number of youths sitting by the mosque shouting over to us; my initial impression from my experience in the UK was that they were being troublesome. We walked closer, and my friend entered into dialogue with them, I was anxious but everything seemed ok, but I wasn’t sure. When we left, I asked her what they wanted, and she replied “ They just wanted to know if they could help”. That simple anecdote started my journey of realising that the youth of Artsakh were perhaps different to what I had experienced before.
During that first visit it was with great sadness that I walked round the shell of the old University in Shushi. One could imagine the noises from many years ago as the rooms and corridors would have bustled with the activities of the students. In contrast, I had the privilege, recently, to visit the Artsakh State University in Stepanakert , an impressive establishment, with an interesting history and to see how the government was investing in the education of the students. I read, on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary celebrations in 2009 a quote from the President, Bako Sahakian, “The University serves as one of Karabakh’s key educational establishments. The college is at the forefront of educating and preparing younger generations, laying the groundwork for a healthy and civil society and democracy”. I was surprised and pleased to find out during my meeting with the Rector, Stepan Dadayn, that despite Artsakh’s unrecognised status, the qualifications from the University were recognised, internationally, under the Bologna agreement, and so the students were able to participate with other establishments beyond the borders of Artsakh, and Armenia. (This seems like a small slither of recognition by the international community that Artsakh has an independent identity). It was only during my interviews with the Rector, and a number of the senior Heads within the University, including Arzik Mkhitaryan, Rudolf Israelyan, Gagik Baghunts, and Valery Avanesyan that it became clear how much of a link there is between the people who were actively involved in the original independence initiatives in 1988, as well as the subsequent liberation struggle, and the education and development of the young people of Artsakh. This connection is a key part of nurturing the national identity, and preserving the strong sense of purpose that they acted on 25 years ago.
In the UK, Youth affairs is left to charities and non-Governmental organisations , with there being little by way of central policy on this level of issue except in so far as it directly relates to education. I was interested to discover that Artsakh has a Ministry of Culture and Youth Affairs, and the fact that the two are linked is pertinent to how the government views the relevance of promoting youth development. One of the Ministry’s objectives sums this up “ensuring favourable conditions and possibilities for physical, mental and professional spiritual development of the coming generation”. This is a unique and important objective for Artsakh.
The Artsakh Youth Development Center, formed recently by Susanna Petrossian, which builds on the governmental aims, also provides an opportunity for the youth to be involved in broader aims – “enhancing the role of the youth in building civil society” , “building bridges to the rest of the world”, “peace building” and ”professional human development”. Events over the recent weeks have included hosting a group of French students, IT training, a representation to the BarCamp in Yerevan, Pilgrimage to Spitakavor, as well as receiving Lady Cox at her last visit in May. It will undoubtedly go from strength to strength as it establishes itself, locally, and through social networking, and blogging which in turn will provide the group with a much broader, international, and relevant voice.
The event which brought many of the strands together on the Youth policy was the walk remembering the 20th Anniversary of the Liberation of Shushi. An event which attracted many of the young people from the University and AYDC, as well as a few visitors from Georgia, and, of course , England. The whole occasion was a poignant way of emphasising the iconic nature of the original mission, as well as, symbolic of the involvement of the University in the independence movement, and the Youth, who 20 years ago would have participated in the Liberation. On this occasion, the Remembrance was for the heroic acts of the past, but also, a glance at the future, as these people, who mostly were not born when the war started, represent the inheritance of the struggle of their forebears and are the ultimate protectors of Artsakh’s uncertain destiny.
Such is the importance of the Youth to Artsakh.
Categories: Life and People Artsakh