Lodg­ing in hos­tels, high speed Inter­net and amaz­ing hos­pi­tal­i­ty in the old­est cap­i­tal in Europe: AEGEE mem­bers who attend the Euro­pean Plan­ning Meet­ing (EPM) in Yere­van next March can expect an event of high­est qual­i­ty. The organ­is­ing anten­na is work­ing hard with a team of 50 peo­ple on the event – and they are proud to show you more about their coun­try, a place at the cross­road between Europe and Asia. Arme­nak Minasyants, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of AEGEE-Yere­van and EPM Main Head Orga­niz­er: Main organ­is­er is Arme­nak Minasyants, who co-found­ed the anten­na sev­en years ago and serves at its Exec­u­tive Direc­tor right now. He and his team told the Gold­en Times why you can­not mustn’t miss this event.

Arme­nak Minasyants

Gold­en Times: How are the EPM prepa­ra­tions going?
Arme­nak Minasyants, EPM Main Head Orga­niz­er: The prepara­to­ry activ­i­ties start­ed almost five months ago, when we were informed about the selec­tion results. It is very chal­leng­ing to have so many dif­fer­ent tasks at the same time. We are in a very good shape, the com­mu­ni­ca­tion is per­fect, our team works dai­ly and we already have had a quite sol­id num­ber of appli­ca­tions sub­mit­ted. I enjoy the prepara­to­ry peri­od, I enjoy every minute of our team meet­ings and work.

GT: How many peo­ple are work­ing on the EPM?
Arme­nak: We approach the EPM in an extreme­ly seri­ous man­ner. We have a very well estab­lished struc­ture, hav­ing six head orga­niz­ers and five dif­fer­ent com­mit­tees work­ing on the project, thus over­all reach­ing 50 peo­ple in the orga­ni­za­tion­al team. Only the best out of the best shall be in the orga­ni­za­tion­al team.

Armine Sahakyan

GT: What do you think about the EPM top­ic “Bor­der­less Europe – Can we dream that big?”?
Armine Sahakyan, Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al: A tru­ly Euro­pean nation will host the Euro­pean Plan­ning Meet­ing, at one of the most excit­ing cor­ners of our net­work — at the cross­road of Asia and Europe. The event will be a step for­ward in terms of enlarg­ing the scopes of inter­ac­tion with the youth of the non-EU mem­ber states and over­com­ing the exist­ing bar­ri­ers of youth mobil­i­ty. A few days ago Arme­nia signed the Com­pre­hen­sive Enhanced Part­ner­ship Agree­ment with the EU, mark­ing its inten­tion to elim­i­nate those bar­ri­ers and bring Europe clos­er to its East­ern neigh­bors. You see that we, Arme­ni­ans, already dream that big and we want to share this vision with the rest of you.

The EPM logo

GT: What do bor­ders mean for AEGEE-Yere­van? Which obsta­cles do you face when trav­el­ling to the rest of Europe?
Arme­nak: I strong­ly believe that mobil­i­ty is not a priv­i­lege but the mobil­i­ty is a right. In addi­tion to the dis­tance, our mem­bers usu­al­ly face visa mat­ters, as we still do not have a visa-free regime with the EU. This both­ers us a lot, as you can­not imag­ine all the dif­fi­cul­ties you pass at some of the EU mem­ber states embassies for get­ting that visa and mak­ing a vis­it for two or three days.

Wall­paint­ing in Yere­van. Pic­ture by Tso­line Alek­sanyan

GT: At a recent NWM work­shop in Sankt-Peter­burg many mem­bers of Rus­sia, Ukraine and Belarus said that many peo­ple in their coun­tries don’t feel Euro­pean, because their coun­tries are polit­i­cal­ly and cul­tur­al­ly dif­fer­ent. Do you under­stand their point of view?
Arme­nak: I total­ly don’t share their point of view as feel­ing Euro­pean is not about the pol­i­tics or cul­ture. Europe is not a geog­ra­phy and bor­ders, Europe is about val­ues, and the Euro­pean val­ues are uni­ver­sal, they have human-cen­tric nature and an impact on our soci­eties every day. If you share these val­ues no mat­ter where do you live, for me you are ide­al­ly a Euro­pean. The nation­al iden­ti­ty and sense of being Euro­pean are just sup­ple­ment­ing each oth­er.

GT: How Euro­pean do peo­ple in the Cau­ca­sus coun­tries feel?
Arme­nak: The South Cau­ca­sus is a region of com­pli­cat­ed geopol­i­tics, splits, sep­a­ra­tion lines and of course true friend­ship and hos­pi­tal­i­ty. If I refer only to sta­tis­tics, the clear major­i­ty of the pop­u­la­tion in Arme­nia and Geor­gia are con­sid­er­ing them­selves as Euro­peans, and the Euro­pean Union’s per­cep­tion among our soci­eties is extreme­ly pos­i­tive. I can tell you more about my coun­try.

Arme­nia is full of amaz­ing church­es and monas­ter­ies that show the Chris­t­ian her­itage

GT: Yes, please.
Arme­nak: In Arme­nia we have a deep sense of being tru­ly a Euro­pean nation. We are the first Chris­t­ian nation in the world, hav­ing adopt­ed Chris­tian­i­ty as the state reli­gion in 301 A.D., more than a decade ear­li­er than the Roman Empire. We have the old­est Euro­pean cap­i­tal – Yere­van, being estab­lished in 782 B.C. Our lan­guage, even though our alpha­bet is not Latin or Cyril­lic, is a part of the Indo-Euro­pean lan­guage fam­i­ly. Our coun­try is devel­op­ing a close polit­i­cal coop­er­a­tion with the EU. The EU is the biggest inter­na­tion­al trade part­ner and inter­na­tion­al donor of Arme­nia, annu­al­ly invest­ing in our economy’s devel­op­ment more than 60 mil­lion Euros. The Armen­ian young peo­ple most­ly have flu­en­cy at least in one Euro­pean lan­guage, not count­ing also Russ­ian. Annu­al­ly hun­dreds of tal­ent­ed Armen­ian stu­dents make their stud­ies at the lead­ing Euro­pean uni­ver­si­ties. Our dias­po­ra is well rep­re­sent­ed almost every­where in Europe.

Izabel­la Khanzratyan

GT: Back to the EPM: where will the EPM par­tic­i­pants be lodged? Hos­tel or gym?
Izabel­la Khanzratyan, Local Activ­i­ties Direc­tor:  Our par­tic­i­pants will be accom­mo­dat­ed in com­fort­able and pleas­ant hos­tels in Yere­van. The accom­mo­da­tion venues are friend­ly, cozy places, where you can find good spir­it, tasty break­fast and of course soft beds. All hos­tels where our par­tic­i­pants will stay are near to the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty of Arme­nia, where we are going to host our events, or they are near metro sta­tions, from where our par­tic­i­pants can get to the uni­ver­si­ty very eas­i­ly in five to ten min­utes. At the same time the hos­tels are near to the cen­ter. My team mem­bers will help every­body not be lost in our city of sun.

Vik­to­ria Muradyan

GT: How many par­tic­i­pants can you host?
Vik­to­ria Muradyan, Finan­cial and Fundrais­ing Direc­tor (laugh­ing): If I reply in an Armen­ian style, it will sound like “how many do you want?” On more seri­ous note, for us the ide­al num­ber will be 250, as this is the capac­i­ty of the ple­nary hall. Every par­tic­i­pant is impor­tant for us, every par­tic­i­pant makes a dif­fer­ence, every par­tic­i­pant mat­ters! We want to make this event a tru­ly remark­able expe­ri­ence for every­one.

Kalip­so Bznuni

GT: Will there be a video livestream at the EPM?
Kalip­so Bznuni, PR Direc­tor: The EPM venues will be equipped with a very high speed WiFi inter­net and it goes with­out say­ing that we will have a livestream at the EPM both on YouTube and on Face­book. On the oth­er hand, some Armen­ian local TV chan­nels have also agreed to have the livestream of the event on their web­pages, hence if some­body would like to watch the activ­i­ties in a high­er qual­i­ty, they can always switch to the pro­fes­sion­al chan­nels as well.

Yere­van is 2799 years old

GT: What’s the best way to trav­el to Yere­van?
Armine: It depends on from which coun­try you trav­el from. There are many direct flights as well as tran­sit routes via Turkey, Geor­gia, Rus­sia, Poland and Ukraine. Our team has pre­pared a detailed and sol­id info pack­age, dis­trib­uted via e-mail, for AEGEEans to arrange their trav­el eas­i­er and faster. There you can find the arrival and depar­ture routes, dates and the low­est pos­si­ble prices to the trav­el to Yere­van. Addi­tion­al­ly, if you fol­low our Face­book page Euro­pean Plan­ning Meet­ing 2018, you’ll find the info leaflets about cheap­est flights to Yere­van pre­pared by our PR team. You can access the pre­pared pack­age by the fol­low­ing link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Pifh9uCuYZBrUO6OYgNTEjh-bwdoccaHrD_LltUa3dg/edit?usp=sharing

One of the high­lights of Yere­van are the musi­cal foun­tains

GT: How about visa? Are they hard to obtain?
Armine: Arme­nia is most­ly a visa free coun­try. Most of the coun­tries, where AEGEE has locals, enjoy a visa free regime with Arme­nia, includ­ing all EU mem­ber states, East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries, for­mer Sovi­et Union mem­bers, as well as EEA mem­ber states. The cit­i­zens of Ser­bia, Mon­tene­gro, Mace­do­nia, Alba­nia, Koso­vo and Turkey can obtain visa upon the arrival at the bor­der check. The price for visa is 6 Euros, and it will be issued for 21 days of stay in Arme­nia. More­over, our local will glad­ly dis­trib­ute offi­cial invi­ta­tion let­ters, if request­ed.

Anna Jotyan

GT: Should the par­tic­i­pants bring more time to vis­it Yere­van?
Anna Jotyan and Anna Suki­asyan, HR Man­agers: It goes with­out say­ing, that yes, they need to spend more time here! Our city is 2800 years old, yet mod­ern – and it whole­heart­ed­ly offers to all trav­el­ers a wide range of his­toric sights to explore and enter­tain­ment cen­ters to enjoy. Many AEGEEans have enjoyed our coun­try so much that they keep return­ing for new dis­cov­er­ies: some of them are the par­tic­i­pants of this year’s Sum­mer Uni­ver­si­ty “Keep Up with the Kar­dashi­ans”: hik­ing Armenia’s high­est sum­mits, swim­ming in Armenia’s largest lake, tast­ing tra­di­tion­al bar­beque, try­ing the longest rope­way in the world, jump­ing from moun­tain to moun­tain on the ziplines, drink­ing Armen­ian brandy, enjoy­ing the high qual­i­ty wine, bar­gain­ing and shop­ping in East­ern style open air bazaars are just a few means through which they have expe­ri­enced the local hos­pitable spir­it.

Anna Suki­asyan

GT: Will you offer excur­sions to oth­er parts of Arme­nia?
Anna & Anna: With­in the EPM activ­i­ties, we have excur­sions only with­in Yere­van, but we will present some offers and trav­el packs to the EPM par­tic­i­pants. Our HR team is dili­gent­ly work­ing on the best com­bi­na­tion of excur­sions in Arme­nia, as well as on a pleas­ant sur­prise for par­tic­i­pants in joint efforts with our neigh­bor­ing local in Tbil­isi.

GT: Do you already know some pre-events or post-events that you can tell us about?
Kalip­so: AEGEE-Tbil­isi will host the offi­cial pre-event of the EPM, which will be orga­nized in Tbil­isi on 4–7 March 2018! So, ide­al­ly if you arrive ear­ly to Tbil­isi or Kutaisi, the best way you can spend the time is just join­ing the amaz­ing team of AEGEE-Tbil­isi and dis­cov­er also Geor­gia! By the way, try and eat some deli­cious khacha­puri and khinkali! You can access their pre-event on Face­book: https://www.facebook.com/events/163118380963077/

The Les Anciens Autumn Uni­ver­si­ty in 2012 was one of the land­mark events of the anten­na.

GT: How old is AEGEE-Yere­van?
Arme­nak (laugh­ing): We are sev­en years old, in Armen­ian edu­ca­tion terms we are in the age of going to school! Our local was estab­lished in August 2010 by a group of the for­mer Eras­mus Mundus stu­dents and civic activists like me. If I can be frank with you, I would not have expect­ed us to grow into such a seri­ous local, which also became a strong and impact­ful youth NGO on the local lev­el.

Lots of things to see in Yere­van

GT: What were your antenna’s biggest or most leg­endary events so far?
Kalip­so: Through­out these sev­en years, we imple­ment­ed var­i­ous tremen­dous and impact­ful events and projects! Prob­a­bly the Les Anciens Autumn Uni­ver­si­ty in 2012 and all our SUs were the most known Euro­pean events we did! On the local lev­el we com­plete­ly rebrand­ed AEGEE’s face and we do real youth work, being both as a stu­dent hub, a real resource cen­ter for every­body inter­est­ed in Europe and engag­ing with Armenia’s Gov­ern­ment and the Euro­pean Union Del­e­ga­tion to Arme­nia into a real pol­i­cy dia­logue. Just vis­it our Face­book page, you will under­stand what I mean!

GT: How big is your anten­na?
Anna and Anna:  Cur­rent­ly, our anten­na has around 100 mem­bers, a vast major­i­ty of which have either vol­un­teered dur­ing the AEGEE events orga­nized with­in the past year, par­tic­i­pat­ed as del­e­gates or have been involved in the local’s teams of PR, HR, Logis­tics, Fundrais­ing and Sec­re­tari­at. Our mem­bers come from diverse edu­ca­tion­al back­grounds, from IT to Polit­i­cal Sci­ence, and a par­tic­u­lar por­tion comes from the regions as AEGEE-Yere­van is the only func­tion­ing local in Arme­nia.

GT: How many mem­bers are active?
Anna and Anna: If you are a mem­ber of AEGEE-Yere­van you are active by default.

Try to iden­ti­fy this in the city!

GT: Arme­nak, you were one of the founders of your anten­na. And how dif­fi­cult was it to set up your anten­na?
Arme­nak: It took us almost two to three years to become a vis­i­ble local orga­ni­za­tion. Anoth­er two years were spent on insti­tu­tion­al devel­op­ment. The last two years we have been in the process of con­stant devel­op­ment. We suc­cess­ful­ly fin­ished the insti­tu­tion­al tran­si­tion, result­ing in the com­plete re-brand­ing of our activ­i­ties and aims at the local lev­el. Our bud­get back in 2010 was rough­ly 100 Euros; when some peo­ple now see what AEGEE-Yere­van is doing, for exam­ple an LTC at the Hilton Hotel, peo­ple think we always had it!

Trav­el more in Arme­nia and dis­cov­er the full cul­ture!

GT: What was your moti­va­tion to stay so active?
Arme­nak: What I try to teach to the new­er gen­er­a­tion mem­bers of my anten­na is that you shall nev­er take some­thing for grant­ed! I have not been afraid to try some­thing new, and when you’re not afraid, you don’t feel any pres­sures. You are not too wor­ried; you can express your­self in a dif­fer­ent way. It makes you bet­ter. And my moti­va­tion is sim­ple: to see a bet­ter com­mu­ni­ty I live in, to have a bet­ter youth pol­i­cy and to have a bet­ter Europe in gen­er­al! So, I know all about the ups and downs of life, I know that one day I will retire from AEGEE as well, but I always say that I need com­pe­ti­tion, and I need com­pe­ti­tion every week, and I don’t know anoth­er way than to work at the top lev­el, which is what I do every day.

GT: Any­thing else you would like to say?
Arme­nak: Get ready for the most excit­ing and the thrilling expe­ri­ence of your life! See you soon in Yere­van! And don’t for­get your self­ie-sticks!

The EPM will take place from 8th to 12th of March 2018. You can apply here. The dead­line: 1st of Decem­ber. Check out the EPM on Face­book.