December 15, 2013

Gulbenkian Foundation publishes Armenian communities plan

Gulbenkian Foundation publishes Armenian communities plan -




LISBON, PORTUGAL - The new Programming Plan of the Armenian Communities Department (ACD) of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation lays out the key components of its funding priorities and activities for the next five years (2014-2018). Launching in December 2013, it is based on the Department's mission "to create a viable future for the Armenian people in which its culture and language are preserved and valued." The Plan is structured around the four priority areas which are crucial in fulfilling that mission: promoting the preservation of Armenian language and culture through education, supporting Armenia by investing in its youth and civil society, helping to improve Armenian-Turkish relations and preserving Armenian literary heritage.

A consultative process was undertaken that affirmed these needs. The most important issue arising is the rapid loss of the language Calouste Gulbenkian spoke: Western Armenian. For this reason much of the funding will go towards safeguarding and developing the language and culture, particularly in the diaspora. A strategic approach is being adopted as the Department begins to provide larger sums to fewer initiatives, so that greater impact is assured.

What follows is a presentation of the programmes, grouped around four priority areas. In addition to these, two further initiatives will be introduced: turning the Department into a hub of connections and strategic thinking for the Armenian world, and humanitarian support in unforeseen circumstances (e.g. the Armenian community in Syria). Programmes will be implemented throughout the world by trusted partners.

1. Preservation of the Armenian language and culture, and the development of the diaspora by linking its different parts and investing in education

i) Loss of the Western Armenian Language

Western Armenian is an "Endangered Language" according to UNESCO, under the threat of disappearing if serious initiatives are not undertaken to reinforce it. This generation is probably the last generation that can halt or possibly reverse this process of not-so-gradual loss of a language that was a vibrant source of Armenian culture only half a century ago. The ACD will focus on the following four areas to reinforce and develop the language:

A.  Support to Armenian Schools and Other Educational Initiatives in the Diaspora

Armenian schools will continue to receive funding. There will be a focus on less developed countries where the Armenian community faces significant material limitations, and where there also is a critical mass of Armenian speakers (or the potential of having such a critical mass). Where there is demographic growth in a community, support for the set-up of new schools or the strengthening of existing ones will be considered.

Student-related initiatives that preserve the language will also be financed. Innovative youth initiatives that encourage Armenians in the diaspora to speak the language and to produce culture in it will be backed, particularly in Western countries. Emphasis will be put on extra-curricular activities related to culture and initiatives that are led by young people speaking totheir interests as defined by them rather than defined by traditional community leaders.

B. Support the Creation of a Teacher Training Centre for Western Armenian

The Department aims to foster an intellectual community that can teach the language in schools, edit the newspapers and websites of tomorrow, produce culture and manage community affairs in Armenian. To this end, it will provide a significant grant over the next two years to establish somewhere in the diaspora an Armenian Teacher Training Centre or Programme. It will also support the establishment of an International Western Armenian Teachers Association.

C. Academic Centres and University-Based Initiatives that Teach Western Armenian and Culture, Research the Use of Western Armenian or Contribute to Armenian Studies 

Support will be available for academic centres and initiatives where Western Armenian is taught to students who specialise in Armenian studies or are learning the language for personal reasons, as well as innovative projects on the use and reinforcement of Western Armenian. Additionally, some support will be given to conferences and lectures focused on Armenian studies.

D. Use of New Technologies 

Historically Armenians have been at the forefront of new technologies and have adapted these to the needs of Armenian culture. The ACD hopes to continue this tradition and encourage the use of modern technologies in teaching the language, producing culture and making Armenian part of the "technological world" of youth. As such, web courses and other electronic learning opportunities, innovative apps for culture and language, interactive electronic publications, online networks and other such initiatives will be considered for support. Emphasis will be put upon initiatives that reach out to Armenian youth around the world electronically, linking them, bringing Armenian culture to them and encouraging them to produce culture.

ii) Scholarships 

Scholarships continue to be at the heart of the Department's funding. It has developed five principal categories for university student support. In general, fewer, larger, merit-based scholarships will be awarded in order to ensure greater impact. Full information on each grant and applicant eligibility will be available on the Department's website. The scholarship categories for the next five years are as follows: i) The Calouste Gulbenkian Global Excellence Scholarship for Armenian Students (four per year); ii) The Calouste Gulbenkian Armenian Studies Scholarship (six to ten)iii) Western Armenian Teacher Training Scholarships (six); iv) Short Term Conference and Travel Grants to Students in Armenia (approx. forty); v) The Calouste Gulbenkian Undergraduate Studies Scholarships (approx. forty). On an ad hoc basis, modest support to Armenian university students already studying in Portugal may be considered. Emergency scholarships will be provided to students caught up in conflict or other major crisis situations.

Finally, the potential for a Calouste Gulbenkian Armenian Communities Department "Alumni Association" and the establishment of an "Internship Programme" for young Armenians will be explored.

Development of a viable Armenia through investing in its youth and their commitment to civil society 

Grants will be provided to civil society organisations that encourage civic education, engagement and mobilisation among the youth, providing them employment opportunities while being socially active citizens. Projects that balance engagement in Yerevan with activities and initiatives outside of the capital city will be favoured.

Another element of the Department's work in Armenia will be to link young intellectuals in the country with their peers in Europe, North America and other developed countries. A series of exchange programmes, study tours and intensive summer courses are planned to enhance the exposure of Armenia's scientific and cultural community to innovations and trends elsewhere, particularly in the social sciences and humanities.

The ACD will collaborate with the Ministry of the Diaspora on certain initiatives, particularly to strengthen the Western Armenian language and culture.

Within the Armenia "envelope" of funding, there is scope for initiatives from Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh). 

3. Improve Armenian-Turkish relations by sponsoring projects that encourage a common understanding of their long shared history 

Turkey is in the process of undergoing a significant transformation which has enabled the discussion of subjects previously considered taboo, including the Armenian Genocide. The Department welcomes this and is keen to contribute to it.  Two types of activities will be supported in Turkey: first, the reinforcement of Armenian community structures and institutions in the country, including schools, particularly if they contribute to the preservation of Western Armenian language, culture and traditions. Second, initiatives of civil society and academic dialogue between Armenians on the one hand, and Turks and Kurds on the other. This will include projects of translation from Armenian into Turkish and Kurdish (and vice versa), arts and cultural events, as well as research and training in Ottoman studies.

4. Preserve and make available the Armenian literary heritage

A signature programme of the Department has been its publication support for books, journals and newspapers, whether in Armenian or about Armenian issues. This work continues, but will be modernised it in two important respects.

First, while maintaining some funding for the "classics", more emphasis will be put upon producing publications on modern and contemporary topics, including original research on current issues and problems facing Armenia and the diaspora, contemporary literature, social and cultural issues of interest to younger readers. Second, print publishing will be complemented by electronic publishing. Digital media will be privileged: funding will go towards supporting newspapers and journals to go online, and encouraging the production of interactive e-books, as well as Armenian-related smartphone applications, online dictionaries and lexicons. It is anticipated that online publications will receive the majority of this funding by 2020.

Projects will be undertaken to digitise important ancient manuscripts, archival documents and other rare texts.

A two-way translation programme will be developed: initiatives to make important Armenian texts available in other significant languages will be financed, along with translation into Armenian of important foreign language texts.

Some funds will be set aside to explicitly encourage the creation of new literature and culture - be it in Western Armenian or in another language but concerning Armenians. To this end, the Department will sponsor initiatives such as creative writing workshops that encourage Armenians to engage in cultural production that is innovative and participatory.

Plans are being made for an international prize for best new fiction and non-fiction, open to younger authors writing in Western Armenian.

5. Turning the Department into a hub of connections and strategic thinking, and collaborating with other Departments within the Foundation 

The ACD is changing from a traditional funder into a catalyst for change, and a facilitator of strategic thinking and long term planning. Its international and independent position is unique in the Armenian world, enabling it to act above partisan community politics. Organisations, experts and noted leaders will be invited to Lisbon on a yearly basis to discuss current issues of mutual concern and to strategise collectively to find solutions. The meetings will focus on common interests and concrete goals, linking components of the Armenian world that do not usually come together. The first meeting will take place in 2014 on a broad "inaugural" theme: Armenians in 2115. This will be a valuable chance for community leaders to ask: "Where is the Armenian nation heading after the commemoration of 2015?"

In collaboration with other colleagues at the Foundation, Armenian cultural events will be staged in Portugal so that Armenian culture, music, art and history becomes known in the Foundation's home country.

6. Unforeseen circumstances and humanitarian needs (Urgent Action fund)

From time to time there are calls to intervene in a major humanitarian crisis (e.g. Syria). Some funds will be set aside in order to cope with such unforeseen circumstances. On occasions important opportunities related to the Department's mission but not necessarily programmed in its budget will be financed.

Conclusion: Working through Partners

To realise its objectives, the ACD needs to work with excellent partners around the world, be they organisations or individuals. The first group of partners are its grantees. The Department is eager to work much more closely with partners to ensure results. Funds will not simply be distributed to organisations and individuals. Collaborative work will continue on an ongoing basis.

Second, further partnership opportunities will be explored between the Department and other organisations that have an interest in supporting Armenia and Armenian initiatives. Joint programmes will be sought with organisations whereby the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation will be one funder among several others.                

The ACD's vision of the Armenian world of the early 2020s is a world in which Western Armenian is more secure as a living language, sustained through a network of young qualified teachers and intellectuals using innovative teaching and communication methods, as well as a youthful generation in diaspora that continues to speak it and create in it. It is hoped that in a few years Armenians will reap the rewards of the Foundation's scholarship programmes, as hundreds of university educated men and women assume leadership positions in their respective fields, and that Armenian Studies, as an academic field, gains a number of new graduates not only researching issues and problems currently facing the Armenian nation but also offering evidence-based solutions.

The ACD hopes for a much stronger civil society in Armenia, with an engaged youth that contributes to the country's democratic development, and an academic community that is globally connected and participating in international debates using the latest research methods and approaches in the social sciences. It also hopes to see engagement between Armenians and Turks advance to such a degree that the dialogue between the two peoples - and the issues it deals with - becomes part of the mainstream of the two societies instead of being confined to the sidelines. Finally, it will be a source of pride for the Department to see at the end of the Five Year Plan a younger generation using scores of IT-based applications, books, journals, newspapers and other electronic initiatives that either use Western Armenian or enhance Armenian culture and learning in the digital world.

In short, through the activities of this Plan, the Armenian Communities Department strives to create a more viable future for the Armenian people in which its culture and language are preserved and valued. That, after all, is its mission.

       Kantsasar Weekly  Diario Armenia