Summary of Comments from Vahan Kololian at Conference
Gyumri Revival Project “HOPE” Discussed at “Innovate Armenia” in Los Angeles
Innovate Armenia event organized by the Institute of Armenian Studies, University of Southern California, brought together Armenians from around the world to discuss prospects of fostering development in Armenia. During Innovate Armenia event (Los Angeles, February 21, 2015) Vahan Kololian, founding director of Mosaic Institute and Kololian Foundation of Toronto, was asked by CIVILNET news agency to speak about a new positive change project for Gyumri initiated by the Kololian Foundation and the Depop Group.
“One of the biggest challenges Armenia has faced recently is emigration. Being concerned about Armenia’s population reduction trends, in 2012 I reached out to two universities and two think-tanks in Armenia for the purpose of doing scientific research in Armenia with a goal to find out main reasons behind emigration,” said Vahan Kololian and emphasized that it was important to have a scientifically researched and proven document from within Armenia, which would also inform diasporans around the world about reasons behind Armenians’ decisions to leave their home. It was hoped that the Depop Research Report would provoke constructive debate in Armenia.
“Two universities and two think-tanks from Armenia did research in Armenia over a one-year period and came up with a comprehensive report, which is available for download at www.depop.am , setting out the main reasons of emigration from Armenia. Among those reasons are institutional shortcomings such as corruption, a lack of hope and lack of development opportunities. One of the most important institutional gaps fostering migration out of the country is a lack of institutions that would provide an independent judiciary system and enable ordinary citizens to participate in a democratic government process. If ten per cent of a country’s population is living in good conditions, but the remaining ninety per cent is living in poor conditions, it is not normal, it cannot continue,” said Vahan and emphasized the critical role of corruption in people’s decisions to leave their home.
The research report, which is entitled “The Depopulation Crisis in Armenia or Depop,” was first presented in October 2013, in Yerevan at an event organized by the United Nations Population Fund and the Kololian Foundation. The presentation was followed by a speaking tour in the beginning of 2014 to major Armenian diaspora communities in Beirut, Paris, Toronto, New York and Los Angeles. During the presentation events, and question and answer periods, many people asked the Research team “what is next?” Did the group have solutions, recommendations, and will they try to make a change?
“How can you expect people not to leave Armenia? Look at Gyumri. A quarter century after the earthquake, it is still a shambles. It now has half its pre-earthquake population.”
“We decided to turn our efforts into a positive development project. Different entities and organizations have concluded research work for Gyumri, but there must be a scientific approach to bring those works together and make a strong feasibility plan. The development plan for Gyumri will target business sectors and will try to restore once strong industrial directions such as wool production and textiles.”
Vahan Kololian has donated a part of the necessary amount of the first phase of the project. Ruben Vardanyan, philanthropist from Russia has also committed to donate to the first phase and support future works of the project. “A privilege we have in Gyumri is its current mayor, who is a very reputable and honest person and has welcomed our initiative. We will coordinate with the municipal authorities in Gyumri,” said the president of the Kololian Foundation and added that he was expecting to see three more donors of the first phase of the project.
Next steps of the Gyumri HOPE project will include the creation of a comprehensive feasibility plan, developed over a one-year period, by a research team based in Gyumri, which will be the roadmap for a long term, ten-year urban and economic development strategy for Gyumri and the Chirak region.