PSIA 2019 AUA Conference: Scholars Discuss the Velvet Revolution
YEREVAN, Armenia – On November 14-15, 2019, the American University of Armenia (AUA) held the Inaugural Political Science and International Affairs Conference organized by The Zoryan Institute and AUA with support from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.
The two-day conference titled Armenia’s Transformation in a Comparative Context: Restarting Democratization? brought together 21 scholars and specialists from Armenia and abroad to discuss various aspects of the 2018 Armenian Velvet Revolution and its aftermath in a comparative context.
Dr. Noubar Afeyan, a lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard Business School, co-founder of the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity and the founder and CEO of Flagship Pioneering, was the keynote speaker of the event.
The PSIA 2019 AUA conference started with opening remarks by AUA President Dr. Karin Markides; Conference Organizing Committee Chair, Dr. Alina Gharabegian; President of The Zoryan Institute, Greg Sarkissian; followed by remarks from Director of Armenian Communities Department of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Dr. Razmik Panossian; and Dean of the AUA College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS), Dr. Brian Ellison.
Dr. Markides highlighted AUA’s role in providing the Armenian government with research-based data and analysis that support effective decision- and policy-making throughout the government. She placed emphasis on AUA’s mission to promote the development of Armenia and Artsakh.
Expressing gratitude to the AUA faculty and staff, as well as to the participants and attendees, Dr. Gharabegian noted, “The object of today’s conference is to shed light on our near and distant political futures in the context of the April 2018 uprisings by a glance backward at the country’s political and historical past and through a multi-perspectival, multi-vocal assessment of our current state by experts in various fields. The conference brings together 21 scholars and practitioners, 14 of whom are here from abroad. Their expertise covers an impressive swath of multiple academic fields, and the conversation that will ensue from the exchange of ideas will potentially give rise to conclusions we can draw about directions to pursue, moving forward. Ultimately, as is the goal of a conference of this nature and the stance of the PSIA Program vis-à-vis the government, we hope, in part, to inform policy for the future of Armenia.”
In his opening remarks, President of The Zoryan Institute raised several questions regarding the assessment of the Velvet Revolution, he stated: “It is our hope that over the next few days, scholars and specialists who have come together here in Yerevan will be able to raise substantial questions such as: How can we assess both the merits and the flaws of the Revolution?” Sarkissian continued by stating: “Naturally, the best way of addressing these questions is to look at this process from a multidisciplinary and comparative approach. The Velvet Revolution in Armenia encourages us also to think about its relevance in a larger context, such as historical and contemporary responses in places with increasingly authoritarian regimes, such as Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.”
The PSIA 2019 AUA conference was comprised of five panel discussions in two days. The first day touched upon topics related to the post-Soviet heritage: stagnant democratization and rising aspirations, offering comparisons within the former Soviet space. Another panel was about contentious politics, mobilization, and media use, covering comparisons on a wide range of activities from digital engagement to street presence. The third panel attempted to answer the important question of how systemic the changes were that ensued from the Velvet Revolution. This panel continued the next day with other researchers presenting their findings and analyses of the topic. The fourth panel tackled the issues of international relations after a political upheaval and available choices for small states in foreign policies. The final panel dealt with human rights, justice, and the rule of law, tackling issues of stability vs. change in Armenia and beyond.
Each panel was followed by a Q&A session that gave the audience the opportunity to pose questions and offer comments and perspectives.
At the conclusion of the first day, a keynote speech was delivered by Dr. Afeyan, who shared several observations about what is needed for Armenia and Armenians worldwide. He noted:
“Over the long term I would like to see the effort that has been put into genocide recognition expand to include a parallel effort in genocide reversal, and the only way to reserve the genocide, in my view, is to reconstitute, reassemble, reintegrate and basically, form an Armenian nation of any kind that we collectively desire, but nevertheless do it.”
The conference concluded with a synthesis of the conference presented by Dr. Hovhannes Nikoghosyan, adjunct lecturer at AUA Political Science and International Affairs (PSIA) program. Dr. Nikoghosyan thanked the panelists for their work and readiness to share their findings with the audience and beyond, highlighting the key takeaways of the conference.
The live-streamed version of the conference for the first and second days is available online. For more information about the panel discussions and the panelists, please visit the PSIA Conference 2019 official webpage.
Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia, affiliated with the University of California, and accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission in the United States. AUA provides local and international students with Western-style education through top-quality undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs, promotes research and innovation, encourages civic engagement and community service, and fosters democratic values.
The Zoryan Institute and its subsidiary, the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, is the first non-profit, international centre devoted to the research and documentation of contemporary issues with a focus on Genocide, Diaspora and Homeland.