The airplane landed at 3 in the night at Yerevan airport’s surprisingly modern airport. Modern and well built, but a little faceless as all modern airport buildings are. Our first encounter with real Armenia did we have immediately when I discovered a hedgehog living in the trunk of my taxi. These taxis became a daily experience of our trip as we rode on the backseat of old Ladas, without seatbelts, hoping our trip would go well.
Yerevan downtown is a modern, almost west European city and you could mistakenly believe you are somewhere southern France, but when you come into the outskirts you notice this is a poor country and when you see the countryside you think even the Banlieu is rich. Whilst Yerevan is full of white and black SUV and large Mercedes limousines on the countryside you can see people residing in what are mere shacks. Houses that are little more then a tin roof and some bare walls.
One of the youth centers we visited was opposite from the state security service so we were not allowed to take any pictures, as not to endanger the security of the Republic of Armenia, but I guess they have little trouble with anti social behavior of youth around the place.
However half oft he population lives in Yerevan. As in all places these days mobile phones seem to have become universal and we ad reception of some kind or other everywhere.
Of course this was not a tourist trip and we ad lots of meetings on the three topics of our trip. It was very interesting to see the perceptions and discussions on youth in an east European transformation state. One of the most remarkable visits was when we went to see the leader of the people of a disabled persons NGO in Gyumri. The woman seemed spastic paralysed but had funded this NGO to help other disabled woman in their region. She was very charismatic and she had learned English within just 6 years and could converse with us freely.
Some of the stuff seemed strange, for example some of the questions the ministry for youth and sports asked in their youth study, for people aged 18 – 30. We here would include a different age range, when we do a „youth survey“ and maybe ask not so many questions about divorce and partnerships.
A reoccurring theme of the presentations and workshops we had, was the lack of transparency in organizations, that some youth NGO are funded specifically to grab funding or even funded because a donor organization wishes to have a NGO it can fund a program or project with. Examples of transparency included a new online system in which you can see who got which funding for which project including the recites and through which the application process is conducted. This is very transparent and everyone can check who gets money from the government then.
What is not transparent and right in our place? Does the system of youth ring and the selection of local members on the local level really met transparent standards or is it just placing parties affiliates into the youth committee.
These voyage are always not only about studying how things are done in a different country under difference circumstance but also about our own practices. In Germany we often think that everything is OK here and many things are actually okay, but if you look deeper and see what are the underlying structures you see that many things are not transparent and as democratic as they seem.
Outside Yerevan, Armenia is an empty place, we travelled hours through a mostly empty but beautiful landscape with impressive mountain vistas and panoramic views that you cannot even find in Switzerland. Lake Sevan which we could visit on our free Sunday offered a stark contrast between snow caped peaks in the background, a almost barren dry landscape and a crystal clear lake.
As important as the official meetings and encounters are always the coffee breaks and off time encounters. We made some really interesting connections and had really good side discussions on a variety of topics from Ukrainian politics to the post heroic state of German society.
I strongly feel we will try to use the connections we made for further exchange projects.