Eastern Partnership’s 10th anniversary: AEGEE-Yerevan

The AEGEEan starts a collaboration with the AEGEE Eastern Partnership Plus project. This year, the Eastern Partnership bloc celebrates its 10th anniversary. The six member countries plus Russia have been very active during the last decade, organising and hosting a lot of events within AEGEE and raising awareness about the EU in their respective countries. In order to show what has been done so far and where our EaP+ antennas are heading to, we interviewed them on their activities and plans. Our next antennae will be AEGEE-Yerevan.

Can you tell us a bit about your local?

AEGEE-Yerevan is one of the leading student organisations in Armenia. We usually describe ourselves as a youth hub and policy-oriented youth organisation. With around 100 members recruited annually, the number of active participants in AEGEE-Yerevan has risen to 60 members, who are active in both a local and European level. We have many local highlights, one of them is of course the Armenia Model EU Conference gathering more than 100 students annually (well, except this year), the other one is Euroclubs Armenia which established 11 Euroclubs covering each region in Armenia. For our internal projects, we also value the expertise of the European bodies, thus we ensure having at least 2 guest trainers yearly for various events (LTCs, team building, etc) throughout the year. Outside of the “AEGEE bubble”, we are currently focusing on our Erasmus Key Action 2 Capacity Building projects where our members participate in around 5 -10 funded exchanges every year and we also host at least 2 exchanges in Yerevan. With all of these projects around, we are of course busy every month and some of us have already adapted to the 24/7 working schedule during the projects quite well.

Please tell us something about the history of your local. How did it develop?

AEGEE-Yerevan was founded back in August 2010 by a group of western minded and ambitious students and civic activists. Over a span of almost 10 years the organisation has grown immensely and has passed through being a grassroot local level organisation into a real youth hub in the country. The development of our local should mainly be credited to the most committed members we have had throughout the years. The organisation has developed a clear financial sustainability policy, a network of local and international donors and strong ties with the democratic Government of Armenia and its various agencies, as well as diplomatic institutions, embassies and a number of international organisations.

What do you consider your biggest achievement so far? In your viewpoint, what’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

As of now, the biggest achievement of our local was definitely hosting the European Planning Meeting Yerevan 2018 – the biggest European youth event in Armenia’s history and also the first-ever AEGEE statutory event in the South Caucasus Region! Looking back, hosting an EPM was a very logical step for our local and despite the numerous challenges an event of that scale has posed, gathering almost 200 youth workers and AEGEEans from 34 European countries together in Armenia, EPM Yerevan 2018 is considered to be one of the highest level events in recent history of AEGEE-Europe, and it even received the patronage of Ms Federica Mogherini, Vice President of the European Commission. On the other hand, the active participation of more than 50 of our members in the Velvet Revolution, our strong effort for democracy and transparency, is on the shelf of our success story. It has also impacted on our national recognition as a leading youth network. At AEGEE-Yerevan we obviously never speak about challenges or problems, as our mentality is different – every challenge is an opportunity, not a problem. 

What are your plans for the future? Would you like to organise a big event? What activities do you have in mind?

As everybody in the AEGEE community knows, AEGEE-Yerevan is honoured to be the host of Spring Agora 2020. We cannot think of any bigger event than the Agora, which in our case will be highlighted with the engagement of various high-level speakers, unique and entertaining content, amazing accommodation conditions (hostels and youth hotels), the most fun parties and of course it will all be accompanied by the tremendous pre-Agora event. So the plan for the future is simple – to go and to make an historical agora happen! 

This year the Eastern Partnership Project is celebrating its 10th year of existence. What did it change in your lives, personally and as an AEGEE local? What do you think about the partnership between your country and the EU in this context?

Firstly, the establishment of the EaP initiative in 2009 was a huge step towards strengthening the relationship of the partner countries, including Armenia, with the EU. Over the years it has proved to achieve great heights. On the personal level, Armenia and the EU signed an ambitious agreement – Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement, which is aimed to create better living conditions for the Armenians. The EU has an extremely positive perception in Armenia, and we are sure the partnership of Armenia and the EU will only become stronger in the years to come. We hope that the reform oriented Government will also facilitate the process of visa liberalisation, as mobility is not a privilege, but a natural right. 

How would you improve the work of the EaP? Are there any needs that haven’t been addressed by the Project?

For us, the AEGEE EaP project has always been a reliable and good partner since day 1 of the project.  Seeing a “model” project founded in AEGEE was a great decision. However, we think that there should be a more in-depth approach to the engagement of the EaP locals in the broader AEGEE network. For example, currently, EaP is doing a great job promoting the events being organised in the East, however, we believe, that in many cases, there is a huge lack of knowledge among our EU-based locals about the Eastern part of the network, we would rather call them stereotypes, and they are not only about Armenia, but for any of the EaP countries.    

In the upcoming year, we would like to see EaP addressing the AEGEE-Europe’s internal and external projects. It is great to see so many funded opportunities for our EU-based partners, however, wherever possible, the projects should also cover the non-EU segment of the network, especially the EaP region, as we are the real neighbourhood of the EU and the security and well-being of the EU depend also on us. 

We would also love to see more of the field-oriented research conducted, with real-time analysis of the situation on the ground, more of a real field action and study visits of the EaP team. 

In your opinion, what should EaP+ as an AEGEE project concentrate on? How can they help you grow and develop? How could it interact with you?

Finally, in our opinion, EaP+ should concentrate more on the locals and take the role of initiator of projects and joint initiatives, rather than a participant. The EaP project has a great team and capacity to make a tangible effect on the regional locals, by connecting them with the western-based locals, building real bridges of partnership, based on the interests of different segments of the network. Furthermore, we would love to see the EaP+ project staying realistic and pragmatic both on the political and AEGEE levels. The ambitions should go hand in hand with the realities of the region, with the fast-changing geopolitics and perception of various societies on the EU and the other regional players. 

Finally, we want to officially thank the whole EaP team for their hard work and continuous support to the Eastern locals!