The USC Institute of Armenian Studies hosted scholars, artists, musicians, politicians and other prominent Armenian figures for its fifth annual Innovate Armenia festival Saturday. Attendees were able to learn about Armenian culture through discussions, artistic and musical performances and exhibitions.
“In order for Armenia to develop democratically, thrive economically and for the diaspora to have a tangible source of connection to a language, a land, a way of life, it is imperative that the two understand each other better,” said IAS associate director Syuzanna Petrosyan.
While panelists discussed politics inside Bovard Auditorium, chess players ran competitions and musicians performed outside at Founders Park for festival goers.
The Nur Qanon Ensemble, a musical group of four young women whose work was shown at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival last year, performed traditional Armenian folk songs, and the Element Band performed “Sound Stories,” an hour-long rendition of classical Armenian music accompanied by spoken-word prose.
Booths at Founders Park offered information about the Institute, their research and participating nonprofit organizations, such as the Armenia Tree Project, which aims to limit deforestation in rural Armenia.
This year’s theme focused on old and new identities of the Armenian diaspora, ranging from presentations on history, memory and genealogy to discussions on current technological innovations and politics in the Republic of Armenia.
Last spring, the country underwent a “Velvet Revolution” — a series of peaceful anti-government protests led by parliament member Nikol Pashinyan. After the protests, Pashinyan was elected as the country’s prime minister.
Innovate Armenia hosted Pashinyan via a live Skype call to discuss life in post-revolution Armenia and his goals for the nation moving forward.
“Today, Armenia is by and large considered a free and democratic country, and I think it is one of the important achievements of the revolution,” Pashinyan said. “The general goal of our government … is to encourage people, to trigger a burst of new talents.”
Pashinyan said he hopes to create a new Armenia that can address its previous challenges, such as political corruption and unstable political infrastructure.
“Our main challenge is to address the controversies we have from the past,” Pashinyan said. “To create [a] new Armenia, we have to understand what happened to Armenia since our country’s independence [from the Soviet Union in 1991] — why we failed in creating a strong, competitive and contemporary country.”
Pashinyan said he was hopeful for the country’s future.
“I am sure we are going in the right way,” Pashinyan said. “[We are] fully devoted to the principles of democracy, of rule of law, of transparency and for human rights.”
Following Pashinyan, intellectuals, politicians, historians and creative thinkers discussed topics like the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and how it has shaped contemporary identity, the diaspora and government policies across sectors like healthcare, technology development and education.
Shushan Karapetian, the Institute’s deputy director, said the foundation for rebuilding and innovating Armenia rests on its historical status as the Silicon Valley of the Soviet Union.
“We have the infrastructure for sciences and technology,” Karapetian said. “For a landlocked country, technology is the way out.”
A final panel discussion about the Armenian diaspora concluded the festival. Panelists included Secretary of the Security Council Armen Grigorian, First Deputy Minister of Nature Protection Irina Ghaplanyan, Former Deputy Prime Minister Vache Gabrielyan and Bishop Bagrat Galstanyan. They said the most significant way the diaspora can help Armenia grow is through engagement.
“What we need from the diaspora is knowing about Armenia, and I think it’s a two-way street,” Ghaplanyan said. “We need to communicate better as to what challenges we have and how we can solve [them] together.”