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 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 two-day conference.

Noubar Afeyan, Conference Keynote Speaker, Founder and CEO of Flagship Pioneering

Dr. Karin Markides, President of AUA

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.

Dr. Alina Gharabeghian, Conference Chair, Zoryan Institute Advisor of Academic Affairs

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.”

From L-R: Razmik Panossian, Gregory Areshian, Susanne Brunnbauer, and Stas Gorelik

In his opening remarks, President of the Zoryan Institute, K.M. Greg Sarkissian, 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?” He 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.”

K.M. Greg Sarkissian, Zoryan Institute President

The 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.

From L-R: Narek Sukiasyan, Vedran Obućina, Anna Hakobyan and Jenny Paturyan

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. Noubar Afeyan, founder and CEO of Flagship Pioneering. 

In his keynote address held at the end of the first day, Dr. Afeyan shared several observations about what is needed for Armenia and Armenians worldwide. He had this to say,

“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 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 two day 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. 

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.