AVC partnered with My Armenia to boost tourism and cultural preservation in Vayots Dzor by publishing an e-book on the region.

AGBU Looks Toward the Future

AGBU establishes strategic partnerships to raise the caliber of its work in Armenia and the diaspora


With 110 years of successes and goodwill to its name, AGBU is now setting its sights on making the organization’s next 110 years equally as fruitful. Gone are the days when tragedy and loss marked Armenian experiences. Gone are the days when isolation and insularity defined Armenian lives and gone are the days when scarcity and deprivation describe Armenia and its future. Shaking off these qualities once and for all, AGBU has begun establishing strategic partnerships with renowned international organizations to expand its reach, bolster Armenian society and raise the caliber of its work in Armenia and the diaspora.

United States Agency for International Development and the Smithsonian Institution

On October 21, the AGBU Armenian Virtual College (AVC) officially partnered with My Armenia—a program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the Smithsonian Institution— to boost tourism and cultural preservation in Vayots Dzor by publishing an e-book on the region. The Vayots Dzor e-book—to be launched in spring 2017—will be part of AVC’s multi-platform media product series and will cover the history and geography of the region with a range of information on local cuisine, architecture, archeology, festivals, events and trips.

“Tourism is one of the many dynamic developing sectors in Armenia. Committed to its mission of supporting Armenia’s socio-economic progress, AGBU is actively engaged in the development and promotion of innovative products, such e-books and apps like Im Armenia, to increase awareness and promote Armenia as a unique touristic destination attractive for people of all age groups and diverse interests,” said AGBU Armenia president and AGBU Central Board member Vasken Yacoubian.

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The Smithsonian My Armenia program aims to enhance and increase cultural heritage tourism in regions outside of Yerevan.

The Smithsonian My Armenia program aims to enhance and increase cultural heritage tourism in regions outside of Yerevan.
The Smithsonian My Armenia program aims to enhance and increase cultural heritage tourism in regions outside of Yerevan.

This is AGBU’s first partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum and research institution in the United States, attracting more than 30 million visitors per year. It also has an overseas presence in 130 countries, promoting cultural resilience, conserving biodiversity, and supporting cultural and natural heritage. The Smithsonian My Armenia program aims to enhance and increase cultural heritage tourism in regions outside of Yerevan through a combination of research, scholarship, support for artisan craft, capacity building, and a strong focus on fresh thinking for tourism development. Together Smithsonian and Armenian researchers work with local communities to identify and document their cultural expressions, including food, crafts, music, dance, and traditional knowledge. The information collected will then be used in the AGBU AVC e-book and other platforms to promote and share stories about Armenia’s cultural, historic, and artistic riches with visitors from around the world.

“Through USAID and Smithsonian joint efforts, the My Armenia program will aim to demonstrate the productive relationship that can occur between culture and economic development. Enhanced and diversified cultural heritage tourism developed by experts and the efforts of My Armenia, in close cooperation with key partners such as AGBU AVC, can drive sustainable economic growth in rural communities and support them in improving the sustainability of Armenian cultural heritage,” said Olivier Messmer, chief-of-party of the Smithsonian My Armenia program.

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

In an effort to bring Armenian history into comparative perspective, AGBU Lebanon partnered with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to organize a seminar on the occasion of the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and the Prevention of this Crime on December 9. The seminar—entitled The Crime of Genocide and the MENA Region: Lessons Learnt for Prevention or Protection—was also held in collaboration with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut (AUB), the Foundation for Human and Humanitarian Rights in Lebanon, and the Lepsiushaus Potsdam Research Center for Genocide Studies in Germany. 

Bringing together experts for a day of panel discussions on the theme of genocide in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), AGBU sought to illustrate the responsibility Armenians have—as the victims of the first genocide of the twentieth century—to those who have suffered subsequent genocides past and present. The day’s panel’s centered around three themes: MENA and Gross Human Rights Violations: Realities in the Past: Case Studies, Failures and Successes; The International Protection System: Its Contributions and Shortages to Prevent and Punish the Crime of Genocide; How to Prevent Genocides? and What Is Next for MENA: Final Discussion and Conclusion. 

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AGBU Lebanon partnered with the OHCHR to organize a seminar on the crime of genocide in the MENA region.

AGBU Lebanon partnered with the OHCHR to organize a seminar on the crime of genocide in the MENA region.
AGBU Lebanon partnered with the OHCHR to organize a seminar on the crime of genocide in the MENA region.

The seminar was instrumental for AGBU in that the Armenian Genocide was not the sole focus, but rather served as the impetus to examine other genocides in a spirit of shared trauma. The speakers also focused on examples of institutional mechanisms in the prevention of genocide and contemporary acts of mass violence, including cases in present-day Iraq and Syria. One of the speakers, Dr. Nidal Jurdi, of the OHCHR and AUB, investigated why genocide continues to occur today despite international laws and conventions: “Still there are challenges in the MENA region because there are impunities; conventions are not incorporated into domestic law and there is a culture of impunity. I hope this will end soon, but we need to continue the fight.”

The mark of the success of the day came at the conclusion of the seminar, when participants developed recommendations for the prevention of genocide, including basing rules on the principle of justice; questioning, regulating, and holding politicians accountable for their actions; looking for the root cause of radicalization; developing alternatives, such as capacity-building awareness sessions to prevent radicalization; and further activation of the role of civil society. “The fact that there is no justice by the international system will affect the future of these cycles of violence. It boils down to the pressure that civil society puts on the government and bold individuals who make major decisions at their own risk. We must continue to document these crimes and these incitements to hatred as they happen. It is our role to question and continue to build pressure to send the message that it is the responsibility of the state and judiciary to be addressing these questions, creating laws to prevent these crimes and holding the people who commit them accountable,” said Lynn Maalouf, the Deputy Director of Research at Amnesty International. Through its partnerships and engagement in the wide community, AGBU plans to be at the forefront of these efforts.

The European Union and the Eurasia Partnership Foundation

The development of Armenia has always been at the heart of AGBU programs and activities. On December 15, the organization took a major step in ensuring the continuation of this growth by collaborating with the European Union Delegation to Armenia. The project—Armenian Civil Society Organizations (CSO) 2.0—is financially supported by the European Union and designed to build the capacities of CSOs to respond to the needs of citizens in Armenia.  AGBU will implement the project in collaboration with the Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF), a leading non-profit organization in Armenia that creates opportunities for civic and economic participation; builds capacity for evidence-based research to improve policy-making; and fosters a culture of corporate and community philanthropy. 

Civil society—composed of organizations that fight for the interests of specific groups and act independently from the government—has been evolving since Armenia’s independence 25 years ago. CSOs have grown in number, yet their influence has not been significant in promoting democracy and making Armenian society more responsive to its citizens. To remedy this situation, in December 2016, the Armenian National Assembly enacted an amendment to an existing piece of national legislation to create a better environment for CSOs in Armenia. “This new piece of legislation will allow CSOs in Armenia to have tools for diversifying their funding sources and to become more self-sustainable, actively engaging volunteers, and representing interests of their member in courts. It is a critical time to utilize this new legalization to provide Armenian CSOs with knowledge and skills to enhance their delivery capacity and better serve the needs of their members and beneficiaries. The partnership between the European Union and AGBU comes at a very fortuitous time where the objectives of both institutions have coincided in trying to support Armenia in its efforts to build a more democratic and prosperous society,” said Talar Kazanjian, executive director of AGBU Armenia.

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Hoa-Binh Adjemian, head of section at the European Union’s Delegation to Armenia.

Hoa-Binh Adjemian, head of section at the European Union’s Delegation to Armenia.
Hoa-Binh Adjemian, head of section at the European Union’s Delegation to Armenia.

Understanding the essential role civil society plays in Armenia’s development, AGBU is finding ways to help support this sector’s growth. In an effort to engage more substantially with civil society in the country, AGBU Armenia will take charge of this three-year, € 2.2 million program to implement an approach that aims to support the development of a wide variety of civil society organizations working on a range of issues: from education to healthcare, culture to sports, human rights to youth participation. In addition to supporting registered and active nonprofits, the project will also develop the skills of 200 people through tailor-made trainings to build a pool of local and international professionals. 

One of the unique dimensions of Armenian Civil Society Organizations (CSO) 2.0 is the special focus it puts on forging ties between experts in the diaspora and local CSOs in order to facilitate an exchange of knowledge, know-how and expertise and encourage more active involvement of the diaspora in the inner-workings of civil society in Armenia. AGBU and its partner EPF will assess thematic needs of Armenian nonprofits and reach out to diaspora professionals working in education, culture, sports, chemistry, astronomy, public health or other areas to utilize professional expertise for community-based or national nonprofits in Armenia. 

The overarching goal of the program is to increase trust toward civil society throughout Armenia and raise awareness of the connection between a strong civil society, a strong government and a strong country. 

Through these influential partnerships and those to come, AGBU will continue to play an indispensable role in orienting the Armenian community toward a future brimming with promise and growth, inextricably linked with the dynamic world around it.    

Originally published in the 2017-02-01​ issue of AGBU Magazine. end character

About the AGBU Magazine

AGBU Magazine is of the most widely circulated English language Armenian magazines in the world, available in print and digital format. Each issue delivers insights and perspective on subjects and themes relating to the Armenian world, accompanied by original photography, exclusive high-profile interviews, fun facts and more.