In the 1995 epic movie Braveheart, the young protagonist – William Wallace has just survived the murder of his brother and father. As he dozes aimlessly through the following days in despair, his estranged uncle comes to bury William’s father. As they stand around the burial ceremony during the middle of the night listening to the tunes of a distant bagpipe outlawed by the tyrannical English Empire – the empire in which the King of was responsible for William’s father’s murder – William looks to his uncle’s sword. William grabs hold of it and his eyes start to brood with a look of ‘vengeance by steel.’ His uncle takes away the sword and reassures William with wisdom that rivals Tsan Zu’s:
“First, learn to use this,” says the uncle as he pokes William’s forhead motioning to his mind. “Then, I’ll teach you to use this,” he says while raising the broadsword and holding it up to be shown in the moonlight.
It’s apparent that during the four day breach of ceasefire from beleaguering Azerbaijian – and the quick call to arms of those supporting Artsahk’s sovereignty that Armenians are prepared to do whatever it takes to protect Artsahk.
As quick as some have been to take up arms, calling of times from Sasun, to Sardarabad – the reality is that the long term goals of our nation will not change however many times we claim to take up arms. The Diaspora cannot, and should not be reactionary – which is what this situation has brought on. Chatter of revolution, dissent, and chaos don’t augment the growth of a nation.
Armenia and Artsahk are no different. As we mentioned before – removing the idea that we need to “help” is the key. Helping insists a handicap on the behalf of one party. Instead, “participate” – because participation is a two way road. The first step in the detox of the dialogue we have about Armenia should be the language we use. The second is a list of actionable items that we can start to work on today that are long term strategies that builds a greater bond and transparency with the place we are distant from, yet claim as our homeland.
7 Ways That The Pen Can Win in Armenia & Artsahk
1.) Bank Local
Regardless of your opinion on banks, they do serve a purpose in society. At their most basic level, a bank collects money from its local community, and redistributes it via home loans, car loans, and personal loans with an added interest rate. The ecosystem becomes sustainable for a society when those looking to start businesses borrow from the bank, profit from their merchandise and pay the monthly interest on their loans -which adds to more capital that the bank manages. That sum again gets borrowed by another enterprising spirit, and the cycle continues.
For Artsahk and Armenia, the idea of direct investment into a bank isn’t discussed as much as it should be.
Take Vartan Sirmakes and Hratch Kaprielian – two men who hold a collective 48% share of Artsahk Bank. Who are they? Sirmakes is the CEO of Franck Muller Watchland, the luxury watch company with an average, annual revenue of $300 million. Kaprielian is the CEO of Franck Muller USA. Both have invested their efforts, and money into Artsahk Bank as progressive philanthropists – understanding that donations and investments are separate things in the era of a nation’s growth.
The idea of investment through the Diaspora is such a strong initiative that even Ameria Bank has created a specific “Diaspora Savings Account,” and “Motherland Deposit” to initiate investment in Armenia beyond donation channels. With some accounts offering upwards to 4.25% interest on savings accounts – it should be a “no brainer” compared to the the 0.01% Wells Fargo offers.
3.) Hire Local
Let’s say you’re not in the local economy of Armenia to physically purchase anything new. Fortunately for everyone, there is a fantastic forum called the Internet where $23 billion was traded between 2011 – 2012 alone – oh, and that’s just e-commerce, and it doesn’t include transactions of the digital service industry.
Take initiative from companies like Andela. The Google Ventures funded group focuses on a new way of thinking about how philanthropists can create a meaningful impact in Africa. They do this by finding domestic and international companies that are interested in experienced computer programmers and developers. They train and educate their network of African youth that are part of their program, and make them ready for jobs offered by Microsoft, Google, IBM and more.
The truth is – you can outsource most work these days. Armenian innovators across the Atlantic can be assigned a task, and while you sleep, they work. Need a logo designed? Need an event flier drafted? What about that new mobile-app idea that you have? Hire in Armenia – the country has already produced companies such as PicsArt, Shadomatic, LimeTech and more!
Hire Armenian Developers, Programmers, or Software Engineers from UpWork
Hire Armenian Designers, Graphic Artists, or Art Direction Consultant from BeHance
3.) Host an event
When Ray Walia and Alex Popa set out to create a tech conference in British Columbia, they had one goal in mind: How to organize a profitable, yet substantive tech event within 3 months. After their eleven step plan for the Traction Conference was executed with obscene diligence, they had profited $250,000, and inspired a new generation of Canadians on how to grow their tech businesses.
Events are a profitable and useful way to energize the centers seeking to grow their economic endeavors, as well as serving as a platform to showcase old traditions with new innovations. Take the 2015, “French Days of Artsahk” which was hosted in Stephanakert. Over 200 guests from France participated in the event that was hosted in an effort to inspire collaboration between Artsahk and France. There were concerts, art displays, film screenings and business meetings within the two days of festivities – all in an effort to grow the dialogue between both communities.
Ofcourse you can host, attend, and support entertaining festivals that make it pleasant for the state of Artsahk, such as the Jengalov Hats Festival, or the 2nd Annual Wine festival – these are great initiatives.But if you’re looking for a less festive and more professional event, the most recent example is the interdisciplinary collaboration of the International Medical Congress of Armenia, now in its fourth year. Medical professionals from the United States, France, Germany, Russia and more came to Yerevan for 2 days to discuss medical breakthroughs, medical initiatives and to collaborate on new enterprises to focus efforts on. Either augment the ranks of current events by asking to participate and organize, or start your own!
4a.) Invest in Education
Name a genius throughout time, and they will surely have a quote attributed to them citing the importance of education, and the pursuit of knowledge. Armenia boasts its place among the top 10 countries in the world with a literacy rate of 99.8%. From this statistic, it is apparent that education is a huge part of not only the country, but of the Armenian culture.
Here are some educational initiatives that can use more investment of money, volunteerism and attention:
TUMO Center has already made waves as one of Armenia’s newest and strongest technological center of education for the new generations of Armenians growing up. Now they are pouring their efforts into Stepanakert where they plan to educate 1000 students twice a week (image above).
Support libraries as knowledge centers
If this doesn’t have you nodding in agreement then you don’t go to the library often enough. Education is not single term process that ends with a certificate and the name of a school. It’s an eternal pursuit. Libraries have the ability to not only house literature, but to be a host for language workshops, computer labs, and weekend classes.
Armenian Technology Group
No better way to explain this initiative than for the founders to explain that the ATG works to “empower the people through educational and training seminars to help farmers lower their production cost and increase profit margin; combine profitable/sustainable agricultural production with environmentally concerned conservation agriculture.”
The AYB School might just be the best model for what the educational system from elementary school to high school should be. With modern initiatives and goals that focus on the future of the youth that they educate, AYB is a pioneer in the Armenian education system, much like TUMO- and it should have your support financially, socially or by participation by sending your child to their summer program.
4.b) Enroll in Education
AUA Undergraduate Program
The American University of Armenia is associated with the University of California system – one of the most funded and well known research university systems in the United States. They recently opened their doors to an enterprising undergraduate program that offers students from all over the world an opportunity to live in Armenia while earning an American degree.
Birthright Armenia is the perfect way to enroll in a program that will give you an immersive experience with the homeland. The program boasts over 1000 alumni, each having spent anywhere from three-months as a volunteer, to living in Armenia as a resident. Sign on with the choice of working at hundreds of non-profits, private companies or on public projects. Stay with a host family, make new friends and forge new memories for a lifetime.
Tumo Summer Camp
Everyone has that younger sibling, or cousin that they want to get more involved in Armenia, and Armenian culture. The Tumo Summer Camp is the best experience they can have to experience Armenia, modern technologies and a culture they know little about at the ripe age of 12 to 18.
AYF Youth Core
With a 6 week program full of volunteerism, friendship, history, education, activities and touring, it’s no wonder that the AYF Youth Corps has been growing in popularity since 2008. Now with a camp in Artsahk, the program concentrates on interacting heavily with local populations and giving volunteers the opportunity to explore what it means to be an Armenian youth.
5.) Start a Conversation
“Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character; it becomes lack of power to act with courage proportionate to danger. All this must lead to the destruction of our intellectual life unless the danger summons up strong personalities able to fill the lukewarm and discouraged with new strength and resolution.” – Albert Einstein
Don’t let negativity misguide your intellect. It is not uncommon to bypass our capacity to formulate a coherent opinion that is influenced by critical thinking, in place of knee-jerk reactions to comments that bait us into momentary reaction.
Start a conversation, and leave poor temperament at the door. Don’t take anecdotal evidence as statistical fact. But more so than being a wall of denial where you may think the person across from you an imbecile – dig deep and present your own evidence to the contrary. Try harder to have a conversation than to define your position within one; the lines will define themselves.
Remember, the Armenian culture, and the country itself offers more than the image you may have of it. If you are proud to be Armenian you must express it above the fact that we are survivors. You must embrace the language’s potential, and not stick to only the elementary fluency of speaking it. Learn its poetry, its literature, its philosophy. Society has taught us about Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Cohelo, Nietzsche and Camus – all foreign thinkers that are now staples of intellectual identity. Don’t stop at listing Armenian words, foods, and phrases – dig deep, and talk about their relevance. This is how a culture lives.
6.) Share Successes
If your brother, sister or friend achieved something great such as graduating with a bachelor’s degree, or starting a new job, or creating a new piece of artwork – wouldn’t you be proud to share that moment with your inner circles?
When you hear of great stories of success, progress and achievement in Armenia, the best thing to do is put the social media that you likely underutilize to good use. Share stories, comment on topics, email friends, and bring it up in conversation.
PicsArt – the Armenian startup in Yerevan that has revolutionized mobile photo editing received an investment from Sequia Capital for $15 million. to Understand how significant that is, just remember that the venture capital firm has invested in Apple, Google, PayPal, YouTube, Yahoo, and WhatsApp when all of them were startups.
Looking for innovative Armenian entrepreneurs – or want to become one yourself? Find them at Hive – and Armenian venture capital group.
Tweet it. Share it. Post it. Email it. Text it. — the power is in your hands, literally.
7.) Encourage Trade
Ever heard that saying, “vote with your dollar?” Turns out, it’s true. Your spending habits are what dictate a store to stock more of a certain item, or use that item in next week’s advertisements. What, you really thought you Vons Rewards card was saving you money? It’s a tracking tool!
Companies are starting to see Armenia as more than just a place to go. There are treasures beyond the educated workforce and culture that can be exported to the European Union, Russia or the United States.
Look into companies like:
Harvest Song – Exporting specialty jams made in Armenia
WoodPeckers Wood Toys – Wooden toys made in Artsahk
Armeniac – Hosting a wide variety of “Made in Armenia” products such tea and spices
Gourmet Dourmet – Armenia’s first chocolate factory started by two Syrian repatriates.
Host your next wedding event with Armenian Brandy, or Artsahk Vodka!
When you travel to Armenia, and anywhere for that matter – you do more than just show up as a tourist. You are driving part of an industry that whole communities rely on! It’s not philanthropy either. The tourism industry has a revenue of $7 trillion (yes with a “t”) worldwide.
(The graph is titled for America, but the concept can be applied to Armenia)
Traveling to Armenia and Artsahk does more than just add money to the pockets of locals that you’ve purchased home-made wine from. It boosts the transportation industry, hospitality (hotels, bed & breakfasts, etc). It hires tour guides, chefs and cooks, bartenders, bands, entertainers. You consume food and beverage which increases demand from suppliers and in turn the rural villages harvesting and trading their crop to the restaurants. The airline industry become more alluring with higher traffic – and air travel become more economic for travelers.
Don’t only take our word for it, we can already see the results! For example, with the advent of Uber came a company that developed a ride-share app for the transportation market in Armenia; and so, ggTaxi was born. ggTaxi allows you to bypass taxi services just like Uber, except that with ggTaxi, the services are for residents in Armenia and Artsahk.
The great news as well is that the more people that travel to Armenia, the more the international communities of the world will start to recognize Armenia and Artsahk as a tourist destination. Airlines definitely have. Look to Qatar Airlines offering flights from LAX to Yerevan for $750! Or the increased flights that AeroFloat and AirFrance have now.
(Rate is for June 2017)
Travel can be split into leisure, business, or even something with a lifetime of memory, such an Armenian Wedding, or a Baptism in Armenia.
In all, if it is the country, the culture, the people, the songs, the dance, the food, the language of Armenia and Artsahk that you want to keep whole – you will need to stop reading this article, pick one of the eight and make a goal for yourself to achieve that thing. Travel, invest, or change your vantage in order to have meaningful dialogue about Armenia and Artsahk beyond just “war torn,” or “third-world.” These are lazy ways of finding an excuse to not be involved with a culture that we all cling to, and only aim to showcase the veneer of our culture through barbecues, “barahandes” and call to arms during distressful situations. The sword is always a tool to be wielded in times of necessity – and throughout our history, we have shown that we have the ability to wield it. But in the time when Armenia is experiencing the growing pains of being an independent country that the sword brought – it is time that we take the pen, and utilize its function to forge a potent agenda that can become a national agenda for the Diaspora, and the country of Armenia and Artsahk as a whole.
“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.” ~ Henry David Thoreau