Photo Credit Lexie Davitian
Author: Natalie Manukian
Though surprisingly young given the amount of struggle, trial and error, and metamorphosis Armenia has faced as a country, resilience and reinvention have kept its people looking and moving forward. The new Armenia encompasses core threads of traditional culture entangled with a budding drive to flourish, despite the obstacles.
Here are ten examples of what’s going on in Armenia and how you can get involved.
Revolution: New Spirit, New Energy
Armenia's Velvet Revolution, which unfolded during the months of April and May, redefined the political conversation and expanded people’s perception of what is possible. Civil commitment to expressing and exercising agency brought an infectious sense of hope that spilled onto the streets and into homes. This fresh momentum of energy has outlasted the movement’s afterglow. A recent exhibition of protest posters created by Ruben Malayan during the revolution showcased an artistic representation of the demands that were realized through this process of collective action. With calls to boycott corruption and encouragement to demonstrate political agency, the revolution’s discourse has made Armenia even more attractive both internally to its own people and to the international eye.
Holding claim to one of the oldest wine-producing regions globally, the Armenian wine industry has experienced a renaissance of sorts within the past decade. After a long hiatus prompted by Soviet-era priorities (think: brandy), Armenian wine has blossomed into not only a product reaching beyond the country’s borders but also an ever-evolving experience to enjoy. From homemade bottled wine found at roadside stops amongst the vineyard-dense Vayots Dzor province to chic wine bars dotting Saryan St. and popping up around Yerevan, wine culture is seeping into every corner of the country. Festivals like that held in Areni and Yerevan Wine Days showcase the diverse variety of grapes and unique flavors Armenia’s terroir helps to construct. Most importantly, a revival in the Armenian wine industry brings opportunity for farmers to stay on their lands and investment in the surrounding communities.
Tech On the Rise
Nicknamed the Silicon Valley of the former Soviet Union, Armenia is host to branches of tech giants like Intel and Microsoft as well as a growing startup ecosystem- placing the country in an interesting position concerning the industry’s development. Education-focused organizations like TUMO and COAF are leading the way in ensuring a future filled with endless possibilities for Armenia’s youth. Providing supplementary educational resources and access to technology for young Armenians to develop their skills in a host of domains (no pun intended), these organizations are investing in the country’s future by giving kids the tools and vision necessary to succeed. Centers are located across the provinces and accessible to both rural and urban kids alike, building a strong network of motivated alumnae that are already pioneering the front of tech and design.
Repats and Expats
Armenia is home to a growing community of both repatriated diasporans and expats. This network of people, whether brought by patriotism or work, bring external perspectives and ideas that can meaningfully contribute to the national trajectory. Though moving to a new place (let alone culture) can be tough, organizations like Repat Armenia offer support and mentorship for repatriates who need help navigating a new chapter. With frequent events and networking opportunities, it shouldn’t be difficult to find others also beginning their new journey in Armenia.
Beyond the Yerevan Bubble
Armenia is more than just Yerevan, and to really understand the depth of the nation’s identity one must explore outwards. Exciting development projects are also unfolding in other urban centers around the country, each with a spin unique to the communities they serve. The redevelopment of Gyumri has been a delicate but intentional process, considering the city’s history, notable architecture, and contribution to the arts. Ecotourism is also spreading across Armenia from Dilijan (where UWC students call home), to Jermuk, to Kapan- and it is easy to understand why. Outside of a more hectic Yerevan, a ubiquitously charming and hospitable attitude can be found amongst the beautiful nature.
Nature, Nature Everywhere
A trip across Armenia unveils the many microclimates that can be found across the country. Due to the variation in elevation, each region is home to unique flora and fauna making a small Armenia feel a lot bigger. A quick 45-minute trip out of Yerevan brings you to Khosrov Forest, one of the many beautiful places in Armenia to hike and escape the city bustle. A bit further and in another direction lies Dilijan National Park, where a team of passionate trail builders are working on the 85 km (and expanding) Armenian portion of the Transcaucasian Trail (TCT) in the Tavush province. The TCT is an ambitious project enabling people to hike through the untouched forests and peaceful mountains of the Caucuses, leading to ethereal spaces tucked away from the main road. Another amazing initiative that boosts hiking in Armenia is HIKE Armenia. They have a great mobile app and website that can help you pick your hiking rout and learn about it. Besides the app, they also have a resource center on 5 Vardanants Street in Yerevan, where they can help you with equipment and advice.
Aside from hiking, some fun ways to experience Armenia’s magical vistas include: zip-lining in Tsaghkadzor, walking across the swinging bridge of Khndzoresk, or hopping onto the Wings of Tatev!
With an open slate of possibility, locals and diasporans are taking this canvas as an opportunity to exercise their talent and skills.
A chance to do creative work with creative startups and organizations. There are so many options for creatives - from animation to game design, from performance art to art curation. Young startups such as Yelling Animation Studio, Rockbite Games are taking digital artists to the next level of character design and storytelling. HAYP Pop Up Gallery is moving contemporary art from galleries to public spaces and inviting artists from very diverse backgrounds and experience. Organizations like Creative Armenia and Armenia Art Foundation are boosting the contemporary art scene in Armenia, trying to contribute to the development of art infrastructure.
And for architects the options are so many – from Storaket Studios, innovating the architecture of Armenia with their perspective of modern architecture. SNKH studios with their fresh approach to architecture and interior design and many others.
It’s Tuesday Night- WYD?
Yerevan, like any city, is filled with cultural events and happenings to feed anyone’s appetite. Weekly movie screening clubs like at TUMO or The Club curate an interesting line-up, exploring a range of genres and films from around the world. Museums, permanent/ephemeral galleries, and art fairs offer plenty of visual arts to take in, with exhibition openings sprinkled through the year. Educational lectures open to the public are held throughout each week at AUA, the Goethe Institut, and AGBU for example. Live music and shows ranging from traditional to techno can be found most evenings around the city, as well as ballet or opera performances throughout the month.
Development in the field of science is becoming more evident throughout the years. In 2016 Foundation for Armenian Science and Technology (FAST) was founded to help boost the science infrastructure in Armenia. There are also great organizations like National Instruments, who work with engineers and scientists to find solutions to their clients’ problems with science and technology.
The Soviet science history is still present and visible in some areas, but with modern upgrades to it. One of the examples of this is Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory, that has the facility left from the soviet times, but modern technology as well.
Testing Your Limits
To really understand and partake in the new Armenia, one must dive in fully- meaning stepping outside of your comfort zone and pushing boundaries of what you thought you could do. Armenia is a place to (responsibly) test the waters- whether it be starting a business, picking up a new hobby, or setting out to explore what the country has to offer. Mindset and attitude are everything in this case- maintaining a flexible approach and keeping an open mind will reward you with surprises and bring you to delightfully unexpected places.