Thousands gather in Yerevan’s Republic Square for the Gala Concert in honor of Charles Aznavour.

Tour de Force

Armenia pulls out all the stops as host of the 2018 Francophonie Summit 

Only months after the streets of Yerevan served as the staging ground for a peaceful people’s revolution, the city transformed itself into a gathering place for the largest international conference ever organized in a former soviet state, with delegations from 84 countries, with 54 heads of state among them. Under the motto, “Vivre ensemble” (Live Together), representatives of different countries, creeds and cultures gathered to adopt resolutions on the advancement of human rights—from access to education to global health initiatives. The official summit ran from October 11-12, providing a milestone opportunity for Armenia to extend its hospitality to 3,500 visitors, along with as many as 600 registered members of the global media, and foster diplomacy and international strategic partnerships in the process. 

Announced as the official host of La Francophonie in January 2018, Armenia might have seemed like an unlikely place to celebrate the French language. Since 1970, when the Francophonie organization was first established, its mission revolved around the language as a lingua franca, and its first member states were former French colonies.Today, the vision encompasses much more. 

Inspired by the seminal democratic values of France, La Francophonie celebrates “equality, complementarity and solidarity” above all. With Armenia’s historic ties to France—diplomatic, artistic and social—Armenia was awarded the high honor of host, responsible for creating the infrastructure and environment for a full agenda of workshops, lectures, conferences, a pop-up village and a gala finale. La Francophonie may have had Yerevan teeming with French for just a couple of days, but the spirit of “Vivre ensemble” is Armenia’s responsibility to sustain over the next two years with other related activities and events until the next Francophonie host is named. 

Despite Yerevan’s attention on internal politics over the past few months, La Francophonie was praised as a success by a number of visiting dignitaries. “At this year’s Summit, we made significant progress to advance our shared values of peace, democracy, inclusion, diversity, gender equality, and respect for human rights,” declared Prime Minister Trudeau. Demonstrating that idea was the full-scale Francophonie village erected to display the diversity of cultures represented. Visitors had a chance to liaise with diplomats, librarians, activists, educators and business people. 

Official programs such as the Economic Forum allowed members of delegations to delve into such topical presentations as “The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Technologies of the Future” and “Sus-tainability in Development: Towards Modern Economies,” to name a few. Armenian thought leaders also had the chance to facilitate these conversations and promote investment in the Armenian economy. Migration was also discussed in a parallel program for members of the press, called “Media and Migration.”

The Summit’s legacy with regards to diplomatic and developmental progress will be assessed in the coming years. But for a young Armenian democracy hosting a celebration of enduring humanistic values—especially after the Velvet Revolution—is truly historic. 

At this year’s Summit, we made significant progress to advance our shared values of peace, democracy, inclusion, diversity, gender equality, and respect for human rights.

An homage to Charles 

Amidst the celebration, one man was noticeably missing from the festivities. Beloved cultural icon Charles Aznavour passed away on October 1, 2018, at the age of 94. “The singer who represented francophone culture across the world, we all knew him to be Armenian,” President Macron said while Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, described Aznavour as “an incarnation of the friendship between Armenia and France.” 

Credited by many for making Francophonie in Yerevan a reality, Aznavour was set to perform at the Gala Concert in Republic Square, the culmination of the Summit. In his absence, the concert was a vibrant, multicultural celebration of his life’s work: unifying fans from across the francophonie and Armenian world through his art. 

The evening also featured a stunning theatrical reenactment of Armenian history, awing the audience and receiving thunderous applause from thousands, especially as images of the Velvet Revolu-tion were projected through the night sky. Star entertainers Angélique Kidjo from Benin and Melody Gardot from the United States performed. French singer-songwriter Zaz took the stage with a touching tribute to Aznavour, who had given her the opportunity to perform duets with him in the final years of his life. The performance ended with fireworks and a medley of Aznavour’s hits, his iconic voice drifting through the heart of Yerevan, surely not for the last time. 

Banner photo by Davit Hakobyan

Originally published in the December 2018 ​issue of AGBU Magazine. end character

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