Born in Moscow, Maria Bagdasarova moved to Brussels in 2015 where she works as Head of Projects and Diplomatic Affairs for the European Jewish Congress. She has been involved with AGBU through its Young Professionals network in Belgium and has been an active member of AGBU's European programs.
How and when did you get involved with AGBU and why were you drawn to the organization?
My involvement with AGBU started with the program “A Europe of Diasporas” led by AGBU Europe in 2015-2016 which sought to explore the notion of diaspora and find synergies between Armenian, Jewish, Roma and Assyrian diaspora communities. I have always put a lot of value on intercultural and cross-community dialogue and this project spoke to my heart. At the time, I had just moved to Brussels from Moscow and it was inspiring to discover such an inclusive environment from AGBU which welcomed every Armenian. Shortly prior to that I had finally felt ready to connect closer to my Armenian origin and went to Armenia for the first time as an adult, looking for a framework where to take the first steps in the Armenian community and put my interest and intention into practice. My path crossed the one of AGBU Europe and its director at the time, Nicolas Tavitian, at the best moment possible.
Ever since, I have participated in several AGBU initiatives, such as Goriz and YERIA, as well as in incredibly enriching events, including the FOCUS in Sao Paulo which provided a unique opportunity to meet and exchange with Armenian young professionals from the Western hemisphere.
Additionally, after taking part in the activities of the YP Belgium for quite a few years, I was delighted to become a member of its Steering Committee in 2019.
Can you please describe the activities of the YP Belgium and share with us some of their recent and/or upcoming initiatives?
YP Belgium is currently re-activating its activities after a hiatus caused by the pandemic. We are working on a series of professional, educational and social events for this year which will start in late April with an after-work gathering in Brussels. We look forward to catching up with our current members and to meeting new ones. Looking ahead, we plan to organize job search and career orientation forums as well as lectures and workshops on a variety of topics, such as entrepreneurship, cryptocurrencies, finance and others. And of course, we won’t forget our social gatherings and YP Belgium’s signature format ‘Fireside chat’ – an informal dialogue with a prominent and successful personality.
We are also at the disposal of AGBU Europe and Global to leverage our network to support fundraising and volunteering programmes directed at Artsakh and Armenia.
As an alumni of the Goriz Leadership Development Program, could you please describe how the program contributed to your professional and/or personal development?
The program was an extremely stimulating and motivating experience and I would like to commend the whole team behind it. Goriz gave me a marvellous opportunity to hear and learn from an impressive line-up of high-level speakers and coaches. Throughout the program, there was a great energy in the room from fellow participants, which allowed us to network, be inspired and be driven by other like-minded Armenian professionals. All practical exercises on self-reflection during the first seminar in Brussels were helpful to identify patterns and define fields to work on. During the second seminar in Yerevan, the experiential workshops focused on analysing concrete challenges the participants faced in their careers, and thanks to the insights gained from speakers and fellow participants I went back home feeling more skilled and empowered in managing a difficult project I was working on at the time.
In between the two seminars, I had the chance to consult the Tonir Wedding project in Armenia which was looking for experts through AGBU’s Together4Armenia talent matching programme. It was an inspiration to see such a creative and thought-through project emerge in Armenia and it was a pleasure to support the team of Tonir in their quest to grow their business.
Besides equipping me with strategies and tactics of centred leadership that I try to apply every day, the Goriz program also inspired me to take an Armenian angle in pursuit of my other interests, to attach a meaningful purpose to them. As such, being a contributing writer in figure skating, I recently authored and published an article about Armenian Olympic figure skaters both in English language media and in Armenian outlets. The latter would not have happened without the network I managed to nurture thanks to AGBU.
Could you share your experience as a member of the AGBU YERIA delegation sent to Armenia during the Artsakh war?
I was part of a group of 20 young Armenians from the European diaspora who went on a five-day mission to Armenia during what happened to be the last week of the 2020 Artsakh war. In order to be better positioned to raise awareness in our countries about the humanitarian crisis at the gates of Europe and to call for the recognition of Artsakh, we sought to collect first-hand accounts about the perils and atrocities of the war raged by the Azerbaijani forces on 27 September 2022. In Yerevan, Etchmiadzin, and Goris we met with refugees and heard their testimonies on what they had to face to leave their homes and flee Artsakh under the shelling of civilian settlements; many of them had to face this ordeal for the second time in 30 years. We also visited health facilities and spoke with medical professionals who elaborated on the gravity of wounds and suffering caused by modern-day weapons. Hearing and seeing all of that with your own ears and eyes underpinned the magnitude of the tragedy and the need to amplify our voice as a nation.
Also on a personal level, this trip was a crucial step in my Armenian journey and it motivated me to dedicate more time and to work harder for the future of a strong Artsakh and Armenia.
According to you, what are the strongest assets of AGBU?
In my view, the key strength of AGBU is its global network of people and projects that range from purely cultural to women empowerment and awareness raising about the Armenian cause. The organisation also gives a lot of attention and resources to support future generations of Armenians. AGBU unites leaders and amazing activists who together have already achieved and will achieve ground-breaking successes for the benefit of our nation. AGBU’s openness allows every Armenian to find their place within AGBU projects, enabling them to serve their local community, Armenia and Artsakh in a meaningful way.