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Anna Gevorgyan and the Center for Culture and Civilization Studies

Young academics reach out across the divides in Armenian society to foster policy dialogue.

In Armenia, foreign policy is anything but low-hanging fruit. It is quite simply the hardest issue of all and one that goes to core of Armenia’s post-Soviet experience. 

For decades, ritualised rhetoric has locked people into predefined positions, on issues such as the Armenia-Azerbaijan question and most other issues in this polarised society. It is these entrenched positions that Anna Gevorgyan has set out to change. 

“Simultaneous monologues pass for political debate on foreign policy, in domestic politics and on our relationships with the EU and with our neighbours. Positions are set in stone and non-negotiable. And there is nothing in between. Our researchers and experts are holed up in the academy while our political parties speak to themselves from outdated talking points. Everyone is preaching to the converted,” she says.

Anna was initially approached by Professor Davit Hovhannissian of the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Yerevan State University to work with the Center for Culture and Civilization Studies (CCCS), then part of the university. Professor Havhannissian is currently the Director of the CCCS. He is a highly respected figure in academic and diplomatic circles.

Anna is now the CCCS project manager and is a well-known face in national television discussions. She is also a board member of the Think Tank Network on the Eastern Partnership, which brings together think tanks from the EU and the countries of the region. 

A vocation for dialogue

For Anna, the 2021 snap election in Armenia was a turning point. As the second woman candidate on the list of the Armenia National Congress, the party of Armenia’s first post-Soviet president, Levon Ter-Petrasian, she was a frequent participant in televised debates. She did not get elected – none of her list did – but she says this experience honed her ability to translate complex ideas into a language everyone can understand. 

“Finding the right words taught me that it is not only important what you say, but how you say it,” she recalls. 

“What mattered for me most was the feedback I received. People from all sides of politics told me they wanted to hear what I had to say. That got me thinking,” she says.

Engaging with people from different political camps and facilitating dialogue across the deep divides in Armenian society became part of what she does.   

Building Bridges

From its establishment in 2007 as an independent structure within Yerevan State University, the CCCS became a fully autonomous foundation in 2021, with EED providing support for organisation-building and strategic planning. The Centre specialises in situational analysis and fundamental research with a focus on regional politics, Armenia’s relations with the diaspora, and the adaptation of democratic values through institutional transformation. The Center has also complemented its core mission of academic research with various projects to bridge the gap between Armenian academia and the national debate. 

Anna explains the bridging role of CCCS. “Through our projects and with EED support, we have opened up Armenia’s rather self-referential academic culture to reflect on current affairs and issues of national interest, and enriched the analysis served up on television and other media with insights from academia,” she says.

The photos on the website testify to the inter-generational culture at CCCS, where a cohort of young researchers work alongside senior figures from the fields of diplomacy and policymaking. For Anna, the Center is all about this dynamic team of talented researchers and the way they combine academic expertise with outreach and communication. 

The Foreign Policy Club 

The Center’s primary instrument for overcoming the crisis of discourse on foreign policy and for developing knowledge-based approaches to[OP1]  security dialogue is the “Foreign Policy Club”. This is a pan-Armenian network that links Armenian diplomats, politicians, international experts, and Armenian researchers. It works to identify and examine Armenia’s foreign policy issues and priorities and prepare proposals for decision makers and other interested parties.

As part of the Foreign Policy Club, and in collaboration with EED partner Boon TV, CCCS has also developed “Boon Club, a gender-inclusive, non-polarised zone where people from all sides of Armenia’s divided society feel comfortable. 

Discussions are inter-generational and inter-party and promote interaction between government representatives and civil society. Topics range from the Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh issue and the Armenian diaspora to the economy and the environment.  

Anna believes that building this extended network of experts, academics, civil society representatives and officials is one of the main achievements of the Foreign Policy Club. Government representatives and MPs increasingly turn to the Club’s leadership for advice on specific issues and have even requested special discussions on topics of particular relevance to policymaking. 

Boon Talk

CCCS staff and experts contribute to public debate through regular appearances on national television, on-line political talk shows and interviews, in particular on Boon TV.   

“Boon Talk”, a Boon TV foreign policy television programme hosted by Anna, often features speakers from Foreign Policy Club events, providing important visibility for the CCCS as well as wider outreach. 

Today, thanks to the work of the Center, there are now a lot more people in Armenia talking to each other. However, as far as Anna is concerned, in the current political and humanitarian context, “success” is still a fruit that remains out of reach - for now.

 

This article reflects the views of the grantees featured and does not necessarily represent the official opinion of the EED.