On June 3 and 4, over 65 participants from around the world gathered in Geneva for the AGBU Central Board European Consultative Meeting—the second in a series of such regional conferences to be held over the next two years. The delegates included members of the AGBU Central Board of Directors, Council of Trustees and Strategic Advisory Council, Chapter and Young Professionals Chairs from Europe as well as guest speakers, AGBU friends and staff members from Argentina, Armenia, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Lebanon, Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Held at the Hotel Beau Rivage on the shores of Lake Geneva, the intensive two-day summit involved multiple panel discussions, presentations and breakout sessions intended to take serious inventory of the new realities, changing trends, shifting attitudes and evolving behaviors of Armenians worldwide—with the ultimate goal of reimagining what the future looks like for the overall AGBU mission.
The New Armenian World
The conference began on June 3, with AGBU President Berge Setrakian welcoming the attendees and outlining the objective of the conference, taking into consideration the historically significant events and crises of the last few years and stressing the need to explore new priorities for AGBU and the Armenian Nation, and also accounting for the diversity of perspectives from the Diaspora.
The panel discussion that followed focused on Armenia’s current geopolitical and institutional challenges. Moderated by Achren Verdian, a journalist at France 24, the panel included Aix en Provence-based political scientist Dr. Taline Papazian (via Zoom) and Dr. Vicken Cheterian, lecturer in history and international relations at the University of Geneva and at Webster University Geneva. The aim was to better understand the current geopolitical realities in Armenia. This involved reflections on the strategy of Armenia’s leadership for the past 30 years and on the collective responsibility of Armenia and the Diaspora in the defeat of the Second Artsakh War of 2020. Emphasis was placed on the necessity to engage in proactive diplomacy and implement reforms in Armenia to build stronger national institutions, particularly in the field of education. It also insisted on the urgent need to overcome current internal political conflicts in order to move forward.
A Changing Diaspora
The afternoon presentations focused on the changing landscape of the Armenian diaspora and its current challenges, this time centered on European communities. AGBU Central Board member and Founding President of the AGBU Armenian Virtual College (AVC) Dr. Yervant Zorian examined how Armenians, in their 4000 years of history, have moved around extensively while periods of independent Armenia have been very short. He observed the demographic impact of the last 30 years on the new and old Armenian communities of Europe.
Freelance journalist and researcher at the French Intelligence Researcher Center (CF2R) Tigran Yegavian presented the challenges and prospects of the Armenian diaspora today. Looking at the diversity and particularities of the communities and their culture, he assessed the role of the State, the Church and the Armenian language and described possible ways to fill the gap between Armenia and the Diaspora.
In the evening, following a visit to the Saint Hagop Church and the Armenian Center, funded by the Topalian Foundation, in the outskirts of Geneva, participants were invited to a welcome dinner at the Domaine de Plein Vent, where President Setrakian was honored for his 20 years of service to AGBU. A special gift from the Topalian Foundation was presented to him by its chairman and AGBU Central Board member Vahé Gabrache.
AGBU in Europe and Armenia
The next day’s sessions were introduced and moderated by AGBU Central Board member Ani Manoukian who explained its purpose: to examine the work of AGBU in meeting the diverse needs of the Armenian communities in which it operates. To this end, an overview of AGBU Europe’s programs, activities and partnerships was presented by Executive Director of AGBU France Anouch Dzagoyan.
Newly appointed Executive Director of AGBU Armenia Marina Mkhitaryan described the activities and strategies in the homeland. Through the diversity of their programs, based on the four core pillars of AGBU’s mission, both entities work to develop the Armenian homeland with a forward-looking mindset that involves partnerships with European or global organizations and investing in Diaspora-Armenia mentorship programs, leadership trainings and volunteer services.
Nation-building in Armenia
AGBU Central Board Member Arda Haratunian presented a new institutional initiative—the Applied Policy Research Institute (APRI) Armenia, which will be formally launched mid-June in Yerevan. As an emerging think tank and policy accelerator, APRI is focused on advancing regional stability and sustainable prosperity, and concrete problem-solving. She explained that AGBU founded APRI in response to the dire need for deep insight, dynamic policy dialogue and a clearer understanding of Armenia in its geopolitical context. As a nonpartisan, independent platform that will foster constructive engagement on concrete issues, APRI intends to collaborate with public, private and civil society partners committed to addressing key challenges for the near-term and long-term realization of Armenia’s potential. While operations will expand, APRI’s first set of strategic initiatives will address foreign policy, public health, energy security and local community development.
In exploring opportunities for economic growth and development in Armenia, both from a public and private perspective, panelists Mike Baronian, a successful businessman in the pharmaceutical industry, and Camilio Azzouz, Managing Partner at Amber Capital and AGBU Central Board member, pursued the possibilities for growth and success in Armenia from the perspective of private businesses. Azzouz shared his experience at Amber Capital Armenia as the co-founder and fund manager of the country’s first private equity fund launched by the EU and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
A Free Flow of Ideas
The afternoon was dedicated to break out and brainstorming sessions designed to encourage the audience members to exchange diverse, original, and high-level ideas for the future of the global Armenian Nation. These suggestions and recommendations were later reported to all participants in a full session.
The two-day meetings concluded with a farewell dinner at the Hotel Beau Rivage, hosted by AGBU Central Board members Vartkess & Sylvia Knadjian, Vahé & Huguette Gabrache and Camilio & Dalia Azzouz, with the presence of H.E. Mr. Andranik Hovhannisyan, Ambassador of Armenia to Switzerland, and Very Rev. Fr. Goossan Aljanian, Locum Tenens of the Armenian Diocese of Switzerland. In his closing remarks, President Berge Setrakian expressed his personal gratitude to all the members and friends of AGBU for taking the time and traveling a distance to contribute to the intensive discussions, and for igniting encouraging conversations for future development.
He later summed up the proceedings by saying, “These open forums among valued friends and esteemed colleagues are critical for building the future of AGBU and of the Armenian Nation. It is through these enlightening and productive exercises that we will ensure that our organization will serve Armenians well in the critical years ahead.”