Green Academy Armenia 2017: Politicising Our Experience

Summary Report

The Green Academy session took place on November 25-29, 2017 in Aghveran, Armenia. The aim of the academy was to provide knowledge, increase awareness of the participants and open up a platform primarily for the students, young activists, young politicians and public figures to discuss economic and social challenges from a green and gender democratic perspective in Armenia. The academy, titled Politicising Our Experience, was a five-day event comprised of a series of lectures and workshops for 25 participants: 20 students from economy and social sciences departments and 5 recent graduates and activists engaged in some social movements in Armenia. The academy discussed 4 key areas: green transformation, living with/in and without neoliberalism, identified and beyond, conflict transformation. հայերեն

Concept: Green Academy Armenia 2017

Over the course of the past century the signifier green, habitually associated with ecology and environmentalism, has expanded its conceptual scope into signifying sustainability in a widened and deepened sense; i.e., into a concept which not only implies the multifaceted relations and mutual belonging of man and nature or man and the planet, but also the harmonious coexistence of man with man, man with society, man with political institutions, and man with culture and its norms – a complex interdisciplinary fabric of crisscrossed issue areas which not only open up a fertile space for a renewed dialog across disciplines ranging from natural sciences to geography to economics, political science, political economy, sociology, cultural studies, architecture, or to urban planning, but which also opens the way for asking new questions about the classical political problems of power, political institutions, representation and ethics, the core of the values green politics is seeking to maximize being nonviolence, social justice and grassroots democracy.

Coached within this broad contextual framework, this year’s Green Academy of Armenia will address three of the main pillars of the green discourse – ecology, gender democracy, and conflict transformation – through a program which will not only scrutinize the selected issue areas through the lens of the green vision, but also in reference to a broader array of discourses and from a variety of perspectives, keeping in mind, in the meantime, that our present-day political condition is on all levels saturated with the ideology of neoliberalism, a catchword, which underlying the discussions of the Academy, will also inform the main questions it is designed to ask and analyze. What is the link between the contemporary discourses of conflict, gender and conflict and the laissez-faire policies of neoliberalism? Are the policies of neoliberalism instances of economic reform or do they rather cater to the material interests of politically powerful economic elites? Or can it be that neoliberalism is yet another instance of neocolonial domination on part of the wealthier northern countries imposing reforms on the poor south in pursuit of self-serving economic, political and military agendas?

All of the said being equal, the Academy is also aware that the theories and discourses that have emerged in the west to tackle western problems cannot be transferred into the Armenian context non-problematically. Nor, however, can one isolate the problems in Armenia from the broader global milieu, since it is common knowledge that every problem, even the slightest one, is imbedded in the texture of a wider systemic problematic. Accessing, therefore, the local through the prism of the global, and the global – through the prism of the local is a gateway through which one may hope to comprehend the present-day condition of Armenia’s political economy. It is also an instrument to historicize oneself, define and theorize one’s position. In other words, it is a means to politicize one’s experience(s).

Below are the abstracts by the invited speakers which can further elaborate the content of the discussions.

1. Green Transformation: discussing pressing Political, Social, Economic and Ecological Issues

  • How are we, humans, impacting our planet? What human activities are particularly responsible for these impacts? Will these impacts affect human health and ability of future generations to thrive equitably? These are the key questions that will be addressed in this section. In addition, we’ll review some of ways in which humanity is attempting to deal with these challenges (Alen Amirkhanyan).

  • Armenia has a rich natural environment.  It is not only rich in species diversity, it is also rich in ecosystem diversity (from semi-arid to alpine meadows to forests). Some parts of the country are also rich in water resources, with Lake Sevan being the largest freshwater resource in the region. Local and global pressures on these ecosystems are significant. Armenia has also been classified as one of the region's hotspots in climate change vulnerability. This section discussed the current pressures on Armenia’s natural environment and possible paths to preventing degradation and encouraging restoration (Astghine Pasoyan).
  • Since 2007 a new and increasingly visible actor has entered the stage: youth-driven, social media-powered, issue-specific civic activism is a new form of protest and political participation. There have been more than 30 ‘civic initiatives’ in Armenia since 2007, roughly one-quarter of those resulting in a victory for the activists. The emergence of this new component of civil society creates some new internal dynamics in the field of civil society, producing new patterns of operation, networking and mobilizing. Both NGOs and the civic initiatives have their distinct modes of functioning, strengths and weaknesses. There are both cooperation and tensions between the ‘old’ NGO sector and the ‘new’ civic activism elements of the Armenian civil society. The presentation examines patterns of interaction and mutual perceptions of NGOs and civic activists, based on five case studies of activist campaigns (Yevgenia Paturyan).
  • Aarhus Convention is not exercised in Armenia. Without any guarantees for the Protection of Green Rights, the green business will rapidly change into “brown”, turning the procedures for sustainable development into procedures that only imitate and essentially contradict the “green” economy. Green Rights should be included in the agenda of any society, driven by environmental and human rights, as well as development in the economy and social affairs (Inga Zarafyan).
  • In the conditions of a capitalist system individuals’ and groups’ obsession with the accumulation of wealth has led to a global social crisis. The model of an Ecovillage, based on community resources, where investments by individuals are insignificant and even unwelcome, comes to serve as an alternative to the capitalist business model of constantly accumulating wealth and seeking investments as an ultimate goal. Under the pretext of creating workplaces, “investors” constructing hotel complexes are replaced by locals who start their own business. The business is based on the rational use of human and natural potential. Armenia's Kalavan Village is an example of a model, which develops mainly due to ecotourism and organic agriculture. The guesthouse business is popular in the village; the apartments are equipped with solar energy panels. The community residents have developed a ten-year community development plan to put their ideas into action and are planning to adopt it by the local referendum, submitting it to the local self-governing body (Arthur Grigoryan).

  • Since 2007, the RA Government has recognized mining industry as a primary economic sector and, by giving privileges to this sector, has contributed to its expansion at the expense of agriculture, tourism, living ecosystems and residents' health. The Lydian company, situated 10km away from Jermuk town (approximately the same distance as from Nor Nork 7th Micro-District to City Center), seeking to be involved in the sector under the name of  “Responsible mining industry” has planned a gold mining project. Who are the people and companies behind this mining project? What is the role of the RA Government? Why are the experts and environmentalists so concerned? How can it affect the water resources in Armenia? Where will the cyanide leak from and what will uranium be handled? What counter-campaigns are undertaken place and what can be done?( Armenian Environmental Front)

2. Living With/in and Without Neoliberalism: Reflections on Neoliberalism, Neocolonialism, Nationalism and Social Justice  

  • The talk on Neocolonialism, post-colonial theories and nationalism will provide insight into the theories and central concepts, developed in the second half of the twentieth century and deployed for the analysis of decolonized societies and cultures of the Third World. Further, the talk will focus on the applicability of the above-mentioned for the analysis of political, social and cultural issues in post-Soviet Armenia. This report will also focus on the usefulness of perspectives provided by post-colonial theories for the critical interpretation of modern nationalism (Hrach Bayadyan).
  • Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the states of the post-Soviet space have been said to be undergoing a “transition”. This term subsumes the general shift of these states from an ostensibly socialist, command economy-oriented system to a neoliberal, free-market based system. In this lecture, Dr Armine Ishkanian focused specifically on the “transition” period of Armenia, analysing the country’s political and socio-economic developments over the past twenty-five years, and placing these developments in their international context. The emphasis was placed on social justice and democracy in Armenia during this period, addressing issues of poverty, inequality, oligarchy, and the role of the neoliberal agenda in the moulding of Armenia’s “transition” (Armine Ishkhanian via skype).

  • The current force of convergence of Georgian society is mainly based on the anti-communist discourse. Not only in the sense that Soviet Communism is regarded as dreadful and we have to neglect everything related to Soviet past, but also in the sense that we disregard everything that could be common and communal, as if it were unrealizable, essentially violent, unrealistic and denounced by historical experience. The neoliberal project creates its own cultural icons and forms of subjectivity (“freedom”, “success”, “entrepreneurship”, etc.), but it is the negation and denigration of the Soviet past that helps the neoliberal agenda to stabilize itself on the cultural level (Luka Nakhutsrishvili, Giorgi Ghvinjilia).
  • The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the EU and other international credit organizations expect more than just direct financial benefits from the borrowing countries. Often policy changes necessary for ensuring higher income are more important: liberalization would be the generic term for all those changes. However, this term is tricky and incomplete, as by introducing liberal political rights and norms on the one hand (anti-discriminatory laws, demands for the protection of the freedom of speech, etc.) neoliberal changes are introduced into the economic policies of the states on the second, yet invisible hand of the lender. To some extent, a number of countries have experienced the same scenario of cutting down on expenditures in health and education sectors because of the loans, leaving the majority of the population in charge of the social insurance and giving up their responsibilities in the labor market. Taking a look at the recent reforms in Armenia, we can find similarities with the “austerity” route, called differently in Armenia. The initiatives of community consolidation, the cuts of public servants and, particularly, the changes to the LC will be considered during the presentation (Anton Ivchenko).

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  • Soviet repressions of the 1930s targeted not only specific social or ethnic groups, but also the memories of these communities. The urban areas of Tbilisi is a vivid example of such repressive erasure of memory. The Soviet neutralization of ensemble of monuments (cemeteries) to ordinary people and their replacement with parks and gardens have been traumatic for social and ethnic groups in the city. How does the modern post-Soviet state overcome this traumatic past? How can we speak about this "trick" with the memory of an urban area using artistic language? (Tigran Amiryan)

3. Identities and Beyond: Feminist, Queer, and LGBTI Politics and Practices

  • Feminist theories have emerged as a protest against the neglect of gender issues in mainstream social sciences. Different Feminist theories explore gender inequality and the low social status of the woman differently. For example, the representatives of liberal feminism tried to account for the low status of women by inadequate education and lack of freedom of choice, which resulted in women's dependency on men. According to the representatives of the social-feminist and Marxist feminism, the only obstacle in changing the social status of women is the private property and the division of labor by gender, typical of the capitalist society. In terms of both theoretical and social influence, radical feminism is the most vivid and influential direction of feminism. Despite all the important issues raised, all feminist theories have been criticized and revised by more modern approaches (Gohar Shahnazaryan).
  • A Feminist Approach and a Feminist Intervention Model Developed in Women's Resource Center as a Method for Movement  Building . Lara will be talking about Women's rights situation in general in Armenia (main areas) and will present the feminist approach and feminist intervention model developed in Women's Resource Center organisation as a method for movement building (Lara Aharonyan).
  • What is the use of the term ‘queer’ and that of a queer theory (theories)? Before addressing this question, I will set out by defining the term ‘queer’ and briefly introducing the background of this term and related theories. I will also cover various critical discussions on the term ‘queer’ and queer theories, starting with the criticism that queer, as difference, colonizes all difference (making different experiences invisible) leaving sexuality as the fundamental difference (Jacobson 2003) to a degree where in different countries queer is perceived to be the manifestation of American imperialism. Further, I will move on to dwell upon the importance of the queer theory. In particular, by criticizing heteronormativity, queer theorists consider it a norm created over time to serve the purposes of the authorities (Iklor 2008:243) and not something universal. Even though Gopinath (2005) believes that queer theory is not enough to prevent all types of structural and symbolic violence caused by heteronormativity, it, in fact, destabilizes different epistemologies which inevitably reproduce the heterosexual family as a cornerstone of national identity, thus denying other practices (Gopinath 2005: 99). The analysis of social norms from the point of view of queer theories enables an understanding of what, in Gopinath's words, "is impossible within dominant nationalist logic" (Gopinath, 2005: 187). How can the destabilization of social norms imposed on us make the invisible visible? What connection does the war have with the hetero or homonormativity? These are the major issues I will cover in my report from the point of view of queer theories (Nelli Sargsyan via skype).
  • Were introduced exemplary cases to the points of diversity of gender conflicts, of intrinsic contradictions, and of gender battles which are particularly articulated in Soviet and post-Soviet women’s art practices in Armenia. Feminist criticism will hone at yet actual phenomenon of female Soviet-Armenian artists whose works were detached from gender and similar considerations and were rooted in the traditions of ‘classical academic school’ and ‘national fine arts’ to be a mere auxiliary to the ‘rightful trends’ of male artists. The preeminence of male-chauvinist interpretations of female art endured for long years and established a massive grip on the pages of Soviet-Armenian cultural historiography. The post-Soviet 1990s was a period that marked the abandonment of the grand Soviet narratives and saw the deconstructions within the traditional apparatus of thoughts prevailing in art discourses and in contemporary art practices of Armenia. It was time of feminist revision and feminist subversion in women’s art (Susanna Gyulamiryan).

  • According to “Rainbow Europe”, Armenia ranks the 47th among European countries by the LGBT persons’ human rights protection and the index of current legislative regulations1. Even though men's homosexuality was decriminalized in 2003, 91% of the Armenian population believe that homosexuality in Armenia should be "recriminalized". From the perspective of social and behavior change model, research shows that public perception and attitude towards LGBT persons determine a certain attitude and actions towards them. The human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons are violated in all spheres of life, starting with the family and being conditioned by both the lack of knowledge and information on sexuality and the current stereotypes and prejudices of the society towards LGBT persons. LGBT persons have gained more visibility in Armenia over the last decade; the myth that “An Armenian can never be LGBT” has been broken, however, at the same time LGBT issues have become major topics of political manipulations, as well as public dichotomy and polarization (Nvard Margaryan).

  • The emergence of the neoliberal age in Georgia signifies the emergence of rational, selfish, self-interest driven economic man. However, economic man can stand for self-interest and freedom precisely because someone else stands for the opposite – for care, thoughtfulness and solidarity. Do women have to carve out space within the masculine realm embracing the foundations patriarchy was built on? What do economists mean by the economic man? When did they include phenomena like housework in the economic models? What do women have to accept in order to be part of the story of economics? What is the goal of the feminist emancipation: participation in the system or its subversion? How can we respond to the androcentric policies of the Georgian government?? (Maia Barkaia).

4. Understanding  Conflict: Intranational and International  Dimensions

  • Conflicts: Introduction; What is a conflict and when does it emerge? Types of conflicts. Conflict Analysis. Major Theories and Approaches to Conflict. Conflict Resolution, Management, and Transformation (Anahit Shirinyan).

  • International Relations Theories of War and Peace: The lecture was designed as a brief introduction to the theories of war and peace in International Relations. To provide a holistic, albeit a schematic, introduction to key concepts, main causal variables leading to war or to peace, and the conditions under which various outcomes are likely to occur, the lecture will map and compare the main tenets of Realist; Neorealist; Neoclassical; Hegemonic; Liberal; Democratic; Economic; Ideational/Constructivist theories of War and Peace in line with reflections on the recent shifts in the nature of war away from interstate war towards civil war and terrorism (Davit Isajanyan).
  • From National Unity to Nation-Army: Today, in Yerevan several hundred students are protesting against the latest legislative initiative of the Ministry of Defense to abolish the Right to Deferment. Does this protest, which is against the militarization of the country at the expense of the science and education, have a potential to profoundly criticize the militarization process in Armenia, or is it just a partial response to larger scale problems? What is the attitude of these students towards the Nation-Army concept, the “tax” initiative of 1000 AMD or the April escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict eighteen months ago? How have the policies, pursued over years, led to the adoption of militarization ideology among young people? These questions will be addressed from the perspective of abuse and speculation of the “National Unity” concept by leading political forces. To pursue this purpose, we will primarily focus on the notion of “unity” as a characteristic feature of ideology and a discursive narrative in itself. We will dwell upon the historical tradition of “National unity” and its use in modern political life. Finally, we will address the paradoxes of “unity” and the possibility of its revision (Anna Zhamkochyan).
  • Non-conventional dimensions of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and the Turkey factor : This presentation focused on aspects of the NK conflict that make it difficult to understand and to resolve. These aspects include the role of domestic, regional and international players in the conflict resolution process and the role this conflict plays in the wider agendas of these same players( Gerard Libaritian via skype).

  • The possibilities and limitations of peacebuilding initiatives of civil society in the conflict regions will be addressed based on the example of initiatives undertaken by “Peace Dialogue” NGO. Through an interactive discussion, the participants will try to find answers to the following questions:  What does the word ‘peacebuilding’ imply in the context of ethnic and political conflicts in the South Caucasus region? What is the role of the civil society in the peaceful resolution process of ethnic and political conflicts in the region? Which problems will be addressed with the help of peacebuilding initiatives undertaken by the civil society? (Edgar Khachatryan)