ImpACT your world – the story behind the communications conference in Armenia.

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Arriving after long travelling from 13 different countries around Europe, we had the chance to see the center of Yerevan before heading to the mountainous town of Dilijan. First impressions were of a gray communist country with poor infrastructure, as the holes in the roads were making our cab from the airport to the city shake and us jumping up and down on the back seat. As if to compensate the poor first impressions, The Republic Square in the city center, meant to resemble a traditional Armenian rug from above, was making you feel warmness and was grabbing you with its beauty in each direction you look at. The pedestrian valley near to it, as if to prove the discrepancy with the communist past, was full of fancy shops and posh cars passing through.
Later travelling up the mountains of Armenia to Dilijan, revealed more of the real treasure of the country – its nature. At arrival we were kindly welcomed from the hotel staff of hotel Dghyak, warm people who as we would later understand were unable to say no to any request and were disposable to help us at any time of the day. As Dilijan is famous for its forestry and waters, we were enjoying green surrounding, fresh air and mineral water during our stay. Probably the good food and the healthy environment were some of the reasons the city was referred to as the place where “people forget death”.
Initially we were thinking that we have come to the end of the world, and as if Armenia wasn’t far enough from home, we had climbed up to the mountain tops in the town of Dilijan. But soon as our sessions had started it would all make sense – despite being so far up and detached, we could still ImpACT our worlds. Armenia, as a mountainous country, with lots of villages and towns up high, reaching up to 4090metres is probably the only country situated that high up having almost 50% usage of internet. It is exactly at such places that people are most active in the cyber space.locals
The “getting to know each other” beginning sessions of the seminar made me realize that we are all from very different backgrounds, cultures but we have a lot in common and a lot to learn from each other. Exploring the city and getting to know the locals was an amazing experience, which did not only help us to understand better the local culture, meals, explore their monuments, bazaars but it was also a nice teamwork, helping us find out more about one another. The “little Switzerland of Armenia”, as Dilijan was sometimes referred as, was very friendly and hospitable. The locals were kind enough to offer us a ride, to show us their homes and art, explain us their culture and particularities. Many of the locals we met were part of the military force of Armenia but their duties did not prevent them from spearing a moment to speak with the new coming strangers invading in their town.
The following days we started exploring the topic of internet and communications. We had our chance to share our knowledge and perceptions of new legislation on the internet, on the UN vision on internet governance, on ACTA agreement and property rights violations. We later on discussed some very successful campaigns online which spread mostly through social media and blogging – campaigns that started from a simple idea like “THERE’S PROBABLY NO GOD. NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE” Bus campaign,nogodcamp graphic through the success of the anarchically existing global brain – the “Anonymous group”, to more politically sensitive campaigns like the one for setting free the Belarusian  activist: “Freedom For Ales Bialiatski”.
freedomfor-ales graphicWe also discussed the role of social media in the spreading of the Arab spring and the contribution in speeding up the protests and spreading the news of the actual state of affairs.
When it comes to techniques we had the chance to learn the basics of blogging and webpage creating, including the ones you see in this post, from an Armenian geek who spent the morning demonstrating us html and WordPress in use. He assisted us in showing us the tricks when we were working on creating our own campaigns. But most of the techniques we learned by other participants, who being there the whole week together managed to each show what they know  from media movie making, editing and uploading on line, blogging, web design, Flickr and pictures selection and copyrights requirements, Facebook usage for campaigning, Twitter and others. There were plenty of new ideas for the future we tried to develop for which I wouldn’t have the time to explain in detail. But just to give an example “Qele Qele Baku” was one of the very creative ideas. Inspired by the name of the Armenian song of Sirusho for Eurovision – “Qele Qele”, meaning “Go, Go!”, some of the participants presented a plan for online campaign. [youtube=]
The idea is to bring the Armenian singers to the next Eurovision contest which will take place in Azerbaijan. This action also helped the participants to understand the gravity of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the status of the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and triggered constructive conversations. Two of the afternoons a good break from technology we would go visiting the monasteries close to Dilijan, namely the Jukhtak Monastery and the Goshavank monastery. Situated high up, surrounded by mountain tops from each side, the 12th centuries were looking so picturesque, swimminginsevanit was hard to believe you are really there in that postcard. But speaking of beauty, definitely the top of the top was the lake Sevan and the church on a peninsula in the middle of the lake – Sevanavank.  On the small peninsula surrounded by what people call the “Armenian sea” you could see in one direction the horizon in the distance and the mountains all covered in snow finding their way up through the clouds.
A day for a trip to Yerevan was planned. The tour started from TUMO Technology centre. A gigantic building with a huge park in front dedicated to young students, who would like to explore more about information technologies, Internet, robotics and various other topics that might be of the interest of the next geek generation. Kinds from 6, 7 years old to high school students 18 and 19 years old were visiting the classes, amounting to 7000 young learners in total. Needless to say the place was equipped with the newest technology – apple computers everywhere, 3D cinema inside the place, as well as special robotics classroom. The place was sponsored not by the government or a particular software company; it was sponsored by an Armenian expat, working in the Silicon Valley.
tumocentr graphicThis was very interesting to see because of the philanthropic idea and incredible impact on youth in Armenia it has, but also as an evidence of the country’s large Diaspora living abroad and huge investment flowing from outside the country. Later on we divided in groups and saw different parts of the city – some went to see the Yerevan Cascade, the Genocide Museum, the  Blue Mosque, The Ararat brewery etc. I can personally tell just my experience. I went to see the famous movie director – Sergey Parajanov’s museum. He was banned from producing because his cinematic style was very special and particular to him was not fitting in the Soviet movie requirements. He could not live without art and turned into turning everything around him in art. He made his own puppets, various collages, paintings, frames. But what was most striking were the things in his house – from the tap of the milk bottle, the dishes to the chairs and all the furniture in his house, he had drawn something on it, he had created a shape that would express his talent. Except for all the activities during the day, we had a lot of fun international parties at night. For example – one evening we showed Cantus to everybody, accommodating the game with songs from each country present.  A lot of crazy parties, a lot of stories and a lot of material for gossiping, that would stay exclusively with the ones present ;) So with a lot of new knowledge in IT, with an improved knowledge of Armenia and their perspective of the conflicts in the region, with a lot of memories and new friends, 30 participants headed back home, promising to make a change – to organize a seminar, to organize campaigns and conferences using the new tools they have learned to ImpACT their world.
Sibila Ivanova
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