From 6th to 10th of May the first Agora will take place in the Caucasus. And it will be an Agora of superlatives, for example when it comes to fundraising, partners and comfortable accommodation for the participants. The GT spoke with Kalipso Bznuni, President of AEGEE-Yerevan, about this spectacular event. She answered all questions on behalf and in cooperation with the Agora organising team.

Kalipso Bznuni

Golden Times: The applications are opened. How many participants can Agora Yerevan host?
Kalipso Bznuni: We obviously want to host as many AEGEEans as possible. However, at the moment we can realistically accommodate around 600 participants, not including the organizational team.

GT: AEGEE-Yerevan will host its second statutory event in just two years! Is your antenna proud of this achievement?
Kalipso: Inexplicably proud! Statutory events are the core of our organization and we are honored to have been the trend-setters for organizing them in the South Caucasus! Back in 2018, the EPM Yerevan was one of the highest-level events in the recent history of AEGEE-Europe. Looking back, honestly, it is a surreal realization that EPM Yerevan happened two years ago. It seems that such a long time has passed since then, and at the same time it feels as if it was yesterday when we said goodbye to everyone on the closing ceremony stage after Armenak’s emotional speech. Still, it was two years of organizational development and personal and professional growth of its members who were not just ready but craving another challenge to be taken on!

GT: Why did your antenna decide to apply for the Agora?
Kalipso: An Agora is a huge project for any local, including us, even though we have had the successful EPM Yerevan 2018, which brought together one of the biggest participants number for the last editions of EPM: 178. While applying to host the Agora, we were also motivated by the rapid democratic changes happening in our country as a result of the Velvet Revolution of 2018, which has completely changed the landscape in our society. AEGEE-Yerevan also has passed through its generational change and we have now much younger and new faces combined with the expertise of old members. Capitalizing on this and having now a huge team of motivated volunteers, being led by the experienced and proven AEGEEans – the local is more than ready for this!

EPM Yerevan 2018

GT: At Agora Salerno quite a lot of people were amazed when you gave a preview on the Agora. For example about logistics. Everyone will sleep in hotels or hostels?
Kalipso: Well, our intention was to amaze! We believe that more comfort means more effectiveness and that AEGEEans shaping the future of our organization deserve that comfort! So yes, no mattresses or sleeping bags are needed for the upcoming Agora, as all participants will be accommodated in hostels located in the city center area. This has obviously made our team to work twice as hard on fundraising but as a result, we now have around 15 accommodation venues in the heart of Yerevan. Our logistical team is currently implementing the most efficient strategy for the smoothest coordination of participants’ lodging.

GT: You also announced short distances. What can you tell us about the Agora venues? And how much will people walk?
Kalipso: All Agora Yerevan main venues, including the hotels and hostels, the university, opening, closing, and social program venues are situated in the city center of Yerevan! Although we will provide transportation via metro for everyone from all venues to the main venue and back, participants can technically walk in between pretty much all venues in under 30 minutes, since the maximum distance hardly reaches 3 to 4 kilometres.

GT: What can we expect at the opening ceremony?
Kalipso: The Opening Ceremony is taking place at the National Assembly of Armenia, we are finalizing it with the Parliament colleagues. We envisage very high-level guests from a number of Armenian governmental institutions, local and international partners and guests. The solemn ceremony will be followed by diverse performances of various artists and a cocktail reception.

AEGEE-Yerevan is proud of the partnerships with the government.

GT: People were also amazed about the long list of confirmed partnerships: government, parliament, EU delegation and more. And has the list got longer since Agora Salerno?
Kalipso: At AEGEE-Yerevan we are strong supporters of institutional partnerships and we have been so since the day of our establishment. The list of the confirmed partnership has more than doubled since Agora Salerno and continues to grow daily!

GT: How did you manage to get these?
Kalipso: Our key to success is two-fold: proving yourself as a noteworthy partner beforehand and tailored very detailed and comprehensive partnership proposals. Firstly, as a leading youth organization in Armenia, we are regularly working with many governmental institutions, international organizations and diplomatic missions over various projects and campaigns we do. This obviously paves a positive path towards more sustainable project proposals, such as the Agora. At the same time, for a project with this scale, a single partnership might take months to develop. For most, we have been working on a number of documents, concept notes, and budget narratives. Some of those documents were 20 pages long and were translated into two or three languages, some were shorter but were translated into more than five languages… The whole cycle has taken months of work but to this day is proving its efficiency. It is hard to give a short answer to how we managed all of it. A better answer would be to share all the knowledge we as AEGEE-Yerevan have acquired with the network. Maybe a workshop during the Agora? We’ll see!

GT: Can you name some benefits of these partnerships?
Kalipso: The Agora Yerevan partnerships can be divided into several categories: institutional, in-kind, financial, diplomatic and administrative. The financial partners’ role is quite self-explanatory. In the case of our institutional partnerships, the benefits vary greatly, for example, thanks to our partnership with the Armenian Government we are able to organize the event in the best facilities that our city offers. While the donors’ community and local partners help us with the finances, most of our international content partners help us to shape the thematics of the Agora and provide high-level guest speakers and experts for the event. With more partnerships being sought and confirmed every day, we hope that our future participants will be inspired into adapting our approaches in their fundraising policies.

AEGEE-Yerevan has many volunteers, ready to help!

GT: Which organizational part makes you most proud?
Kalipso: We are quite proud of the fundraising. Yet, the Secretariat, Public Relations and Logistical teams have also been overdelivering on many fronts, way ahead of any internal deadline. We might be the first Agora that has prepared such detailed information about the upcoming event so early and has held such extensive communication all across the network.

GT: And which organisational part gave you the biggest headache?
Kalipso: The logistics, only because of how challenging it has been to pre-book all the venues and arranging the in-between coordination.

GT: Which are the main things that still need to be finalized in the remaining months?
Kalipso: Well, with the serious stuff done, we can now finally focus on the social programme and post-Agora event organization. Our Secretariat will work on the participants’ confirmation, the PR will work on spreading Armenian vibes and excitement throughout the AEGEE network. And finally, after the confirmation, the Logistical team will publish the accommodation distribution lists.

GT: Let’s talk about the organizing team. How big is that? And how is the atmosphere in your team?
Kalipso: The organizers are the heart and soul of the Agora Yerevan organization. At the moment we have three head organizers, ten people in the local core team, five local assistants and eight people in the international core team. The atmosphere is one of the most inspiring ones, especially now with the applications open, our motivation grows by each new applicant.

Yerevan is full of interesting places, like the musical fountain

GT: You just mentioned something new, called the International Core Team. What do these members do? And what is the benefit of this structure?
Kalipso: “Suicide Squad” is what Armenak has called it! We are honored to have engaged so many talented and experienced members from across AEGEE. The Agora organization is a huge task and should be a shared responsibility in the network. Currently, the international team is an instrumental part of the organization. They work closely with the local core team but also have portfolios of their own, such as the European Affairs team, Content team, Promotion adviser, Policy officers, International Helpers’ Coordinator, and mentors for the local organizers.

GT: You just launched the open call for international helpers. Can you tell more?
Kalipso: AEGEE-Yerevan values the international and inclusive character of the association and would, therefore, like to include AEGEEans from all around the network in its organization. We are currently looking for international helpers, who will be able to assist during the event. Our ideal international helper is adaptable, already has some experience in AEGEE and of course a high sense of responsibility. Anyone interested apply by 4th of March here: http://bit.ly/agorayerevanhelpers.

GT: Your members played a role in the recent revolution in the country. What happened exactly?
Kalipso: The Velvet Revolution was a non-violent and peaceful revolution that has successfully overthrown the corrupt and authoritarian regime that we had in Armenia for more than two decades. As active citizens and youth leaders, many AEGEE-Yerevan members and alumni were involved in the processes from the very beginning and we never hide that many of them were detained, beaten, but more notably they were also leading the civic disobediences and protests and never stopped believing in change. The revolution also changed their lives and now many of them are holding governmental positions: they are members of our parliament, deputy ministers, they lead our judiciary reforms, just to give some examples. Fun fact: The Armenian Velvet Revolution began right after the EPM Yerevan and successfully ended a day before Agora Kraków.

As one of the first Christian countries, Armenia is full of amazing historical sites.

GT: Agoras often try to pick up on the political climate and the challenges of the country where the Agora takes place. Will you also incorporate elements like that? In what way?
Kalipso: Capitalizing on our passion for content-rich events and the recent Velvet Revolution in our country, Spring Agora Yerevan 2020 will be highlighted with a big amount of content and thematic activities. At AEGEE-Yerevan we care about democracy and we care about the open society, based on the rule of law, media freedom, and protection of rights of vulnerable groups. As the general theme of the Agora we have selected digitalization and youth work, aiming to understand the connection between digitalization and politics in young people’s lives, good and transparent governance in the digital era; the difference between active citizenship and digital citizenship and political activism. We believe these topics are relevant all across Europe.

GT: Can you tell us a few words about AEGEE-Yerevan? How big is your antenna, what are the main events that you organized in the last year?
Kalipso: Being established in 2010 by a group of like-minded Erasmus alumni and civic activists, AEGEE-Yerevan has grown to become one of the leading youth organizations in Armenia and one of the strongest in the AEGEE network. The broader mission of AEGEE-Yerevan on the local level is to promote European integration, active citizenship, and youth mobility in education in Armenia and beyond. In recent years AEGEE-Yerevan has organized more than 60 local youth projects, international conferences, as well as Erasmus Capacity Building trainings, allowing for more than 5000 students and young people from both Yerevan, other regions of Armenia and other European countries to take part in youth empowerment, civic education and leadership events.

GT: Can you highlight a few of these projects?
Kalipso: Every year since 2011 AEGEE-Yerevan has organized an event known as the Armenian Model EU Conference, which typically brings 130 participants from various European countries to Yerevan to participate in a political simulation alongside their local counterparts. Another highlight is the Euroclubs in Armenia funded by the European Union Delegation in Armenia and the objective to promote and develop European values among youth. In the period 2016-2018, 11 Euroclubs were established, one in each region of Armenia. In the course of the two years since its establishment, Euroclubs have involved over 900 youngsters in more than 40 different trainings. Afterward, in late 2018, AEGEE-Yerevan hosted a specially outlined training dem-camp titled “Youth: Trends & Leaders”. This event was organized in partnership with the Prague Civil Society Center and brought to Yerevan for an experience-sharing and study visit 60 leading civic and political activists from the former-Soviet Union space, including all Central Asian countries, and Eastern Europe. The aim of the event was training them with the knowledge and experience of developing civic education and active citizenship concepts.

GT: How do you manage to stay so active when traveling is so much harder for people in Central Europe?
Kalipso: As AEGEE-Yerevan we greatly value the impact of youth exchanges in a young person’s life. Thus, since our establishment, besides numerous local events, we are frequently doing Erasmus projects, sending around 30 members to different European countries every year. Still, sadly when it comes to AEGEE, traveling has not always been so easy. And truthfully, we have not always been this active on the European level at least. However, in the past few years our boards have been working extra hard on the promotion of European events and our members’ sustainable integration into the European bodies. Currently, we have special teams assisting our members with their applications, planning their travels and visas. The number of AEGEE-Yerevan members traveling to European events is growing immensely and with the low-cost airlines entering Armenia, the AEGEE network can soon expect to meet at least one Armenian at any event!

GT: Agora is always a great chance to learn about the country. Armenia is beautiful and very rich in culture and history. How much time should the participants bring to visit Yerevan and Armenia?
Kalipso: Armenia is currently listed among the top new and Must-Go travel destinations for 2020 by all leading travel portals. So the Agora participants should book as many extra days as possible because we will have endless recommendations of places to go, sites to discover, food to try and activities to do. Check the RyanAir and Wizzair connections!

GT: Will you help the participants to discover it in pre- or post-Agora trips? And will there be sightseeing tours?
Kalipso: We firmly believe that participants should further explore the South Caucasus region. That is why we are proud of having both pre- and post-events! After the Agora the recovery can be quite challenging for many participants. Visiting a pagan temple? Hiking 4096 meters to the highest mountain in Armenia? Or chill at the lakeside with some good Armenian BBQ? There is no universal best way to end an Agora, so we are offering all of them!

Take the time and visit also beautiful Georgia before the event!

GT: Will there be pre-events or post-events by other antennae? What can you tell us about them?
Kalipso: From 2nd to 5th of May our amazing colleagues from AEGEE-Tbilisi are organizing the official Pre-Agora Event: “Check It Before You Decide where around 70 participants will not only discover the beautiful country of Georgia but also learn more about ways to counter disinformation and strengthening democracies.

GT: What’s the best way to travel to Yerevan? It got easier, right?
Kalipso: Yes, a lot easier and a lot cheaper too! With RyanAir and WizzAir launching a variety of flights to Armenia, traveling options have become much more simplified. You can fly directly to Armenia via the possibilities of having transit connection flights on RyanAir and WizzAir via Milan, Rome, Berlin Schönefeld, Memmingen, Vienna, Vilnius, Athens, and Thessaloniki. On the other hand, the airports located in Georgia – Tbilisi and Kutaisi – also offer plenty of choices for arranging affordable and fast traveling options to the South Caucasus. Important: the Agora Secretariat has also prepared a special spreadsheet with some travel routes which can be used while booking trips. You can access the given list here: https://www.bit.ly/traveltoYerevan. If you plan to travel via Georgia, the local organizers will help you to arrange your fast and secure car or bus transfer to Yerevan.

GT: How about the visa? Who needs them?
Kalipso: In fact, the majority of the AEGEE network does not need to worry about visa. We have a visa-free regime to travel to Armenia for the citizens of the EU member states, EEA, Eastern Partnership countries and Russia, who do not have to apply or to pay for Armenia’s visa entrance. Nevertheless, the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, and Turkey with ordinary passports should obtain an entrance visa upon arrival at the Armenian border check. The price for Armenia’s visa is 3000 Armenian Dram, which is around 6 Euro, and it will be issued for 21 days of stay in Armenia. AEGEEans of the aforementioned countries may also apply for an online visa via the E-Visa system following the link https://evisa.mfa.am/. Visas are also available at the passport control upon arrival to Armenia.

Organisers on stage of EPM Yerevan 2018. They did an amazing job!

GT: Last year there was the issue of participation from Azerbaijan. What is the latest status in that matter?
Kalipso: Since the announcement of Agora Yerevan, Azerbaijani members have expressed their concern regarding the impossibility of attending the event due to the current tense political relations between our countries. Although, technically they can freely attend the event, there is grounded and reasonable fear of possible prosecution upon their return to the homeland. We as local organizers have stated from day one our willingness to support their attendance at the event, as an important confidence-building action. However, as fellow AEGEEans and also simply citizens of a formerly authoritarian regime, we can understand their uncertainty to participate at the Agora Yerevan. After quite extensive open, as well as a number of closed door discussions, we have promised to make the Agora Yerevan as digital as it can possibly be, so that our fellow AEGEEans in Azerbaijan can fully exercise their right of participation at the Agora. On a side note, I personally find it very saddening that whilst advocating for youth mobility we as an organization are still bound by political limitations and this is not the first case. I hope to stay in AEGEE for long enough to see it successfully tackling these issues. We need to develop a very open and honest conversation and to understand how AEGEE could advance confidence-building between conflicting societies.

GT: Will there be a good Internet coonection during the plenary?
Kalipso: Yes!

GT: How can the members stay updated about the Agora?
Kalipso: We are everywhere! So they can just stay tuned to updates and important news by following Agora on all social media:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/agorayerevan2020/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/agorayerevan2020/
Telegram: https://www.t.me/agorayerevan2020news/
And of course the AEGEE-Yerevan accounts:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AEGEE.Yerevan/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/aegeeyerevan/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AEGEE_Yerevan/

Apply here: https://my.aegee.eu/statutory/spring-agora-yerevan

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