My first trip to Armenia was in the year 2000 with my family. Although I was quite young at the time, the trip would leave a lasting impression on me, which would prompt me to visit several times thereafter, for various different reasons – from attending conferences and meetings, to sightseeing and exploration with friends. Although I had visited Armenia many times and contributed voluntarily within the Armenian community of Toronto for many years, I had never been able to volunteer my time and efforts within the country. As I approached my university graduation, I felt as if it was time to visit Armenia for an extended period of time, to give back to my homeland directly – something that I believe everybody of Armenian descent is obliged to do at least once in their lifetime. Luckily, there exists an organization called “Birthright Armenia”, which facilitates diasporan youth volunteerism in Armenia.
I decided to volunteer at the Hrayr Maroukhian Foundation (HMF). Founded in 2009, the HMF is a non-profit Armenian think-tank, committed to the development and advancement of public policy issues that promote the core values of social democracy through education, training, research, and regional and international cooperation. Although a relatively new initiative, the HMF has already began laying the foundations for long-term, systematic solutions to Armenia’s social, political and economic problems, and has contributed to the development of a more transparent, accountable, equitable and prosperous society. Through the HMF, I have been able to take part in several exciting and interesting projects and initiatives. From planning conferences and seminars, to aiding with the day-to-day activities of the foundation, in my short time at the HMF, I quickly realized that Armenia is in great need of such programs, which look to find enduring and practical solutions to the various problems our country faces.
On September 21, 1991, Armenia declared itself independent from Soviet rule, with over ninety-nine percent of eligible voters saying “yes” to statehood. After seventy long years under the USSR, Armenia was once again a free and independent country. While most believed that joy and prosperity would come about, the years immediately following independence would prove to be bleak and disappointing. Ongoing war with neighbouring Azerbaijan, devastation following the major earthquake of 1988, severe economic hardship, unchecked ownership and entrepreneurship and an illegal blockade were just a few of the several problems the newly formed republic faced. The people of Armenia, who had been so optimistic at the ballot boxes, were soon losing faith in the system they had so courageously fought for and, for the first time, feeling a sense of disenchantment toward the idea of independence. Continue reading