Interviews on the Future I: Armenia

By JONATHAN

In order to better understand trends and international developments, I interview people of interest in the different countries we’re working. This time, I was lucky to spend some time with a person working in the growing Armenian art scene. Thank you so much!

 

Q: What, in your opinion, are the main topics, drivers or important influences for the future of mankind in general?

A: The main thing for the future will be simply survival. Maybe thanks to the biological integration of AI into humans, which is an interesting idea – and the ethical implication on that is an interesting discussion to be held. I am surprised by the speed of the development of AI and its connection to liveforms, the future is happening tomorrow!

Q: What about Armenia, what drivers do you see here? Or to put it differently, do you see a common vision for the future of the country?

A: Armenia is far behind of the international developments regarding future and innovation; environment for example is barely a topic. Armenia is rather trapped in reacting to the moves of the threatening neighbors Turkey and Azerbaijan. Our topics are rather: Are the Turks going to recognize the genocide one day? Will Armenia maintain its independence and territorial sovereignty? The permanent threat of an attack hinders the development of a future vision, as the country is concentrated on defense and reaction.

A big national topic is national identity and how to preserve it in the age of globalization – the Persian community is getting bigger and bigger in Armenia – and with that, the fear of losing identity is growing among Armenians, which is, for now, one of most mono-ethic countries in the world.

The question of national identity is deeply rooted in the Armenian national consciousness of the loss of culture, territory and population more than 100 years ago. The nation didn’t have a moment to mourn over these losses while being faced with the continuous external threats.

In the same time, we Armenians are a very adaptive and pragmatic people. As we are concentrated on surviving the day, change can happen quickly, easily and unexpectedly. Armenian wine for instance was not a topic five years ago – now Yerevan suddenly has plenty of wine-bars and Armenians enjoy a glass of good Armenian wine. This happened in less than three years.

We are a nation of opportunity without hope. We see opportunities. We always find a way out if everything is on fire. We can react quickly and pragmatic but we do not hope or wish for a better or different future. Hope leads to thinking about the future. As we are struggling to make it through the day, we cope, but we don’t hope. We are very adaptive and we can react quick and concrete, but not necessarily in a sustainable manner. A very down to earth attitude.

Change happens unconsciously and slowly, almost invisible. I call it a stillness of movement. A future utopia isn’t tangible as long as everybody is obsessed by the past.

Q: How about Yerevan? What main drivers do you see for your capital? Is there a common vision for the future of the city?

A: I think you can see in Yerevan very obviously the absence of a vision. To the contrary, every oligarch just builds whatever he wants anywhere. We are sitting now in Saryan Street, named after the famous Armenian painter and founder of the National School of Painting, Martiros Saryan. In this street intellectuals used to meet and to discuss. Just in front of us was the house of Armenia’s most famous Architect, Rafael Israelyan. The house, designed by Israelyan himself, was built in 1954 on Saryan Street. It was torn down in 2011 and replaced by a hotel complex. And as you can see, this hotel was probably not even designed by an architect but by a civil engineer. A monster! Instead of preserving the memory of our city and making it a museum, the house was taken down on almost one day. This is a good example about how the city is losing its memory and culture for the sake of financial interests, you can see it everywhere. You can see the absolute absence of a vision for the city by the official side on every corner of the city. The memory of the city disappears slowly by an ambivalent destructive drive. It is an unconscious vision of who pays most. The contemporary architecture tells a lot: big, broad, strong. Status symbols like cars. Manifested egos in public space. The uneducated oligarchs show off their bad taste like weird exhibitionists. This divides the society even more.

Even most of the young people are concentrated on their ego, they do not care that much about society. The system is too powerful and it doesn’t offer a model of society. Even young artists are mild. The rare artistic interventions in public space are barely understood by the public. This leads to detachment from society and to introversion.

I think the most progressive and emancipated forces now in Armenian society are the women and young female, notably artists. We still live in a society where gender determines your social status and women are tired not to take part in shaping the society. It is their time now. Change is female.

Europe is training military forces in weak states – and that’s seriously risky

By Adrian

This may be another example of the law of unintended consequences. By training the military from countries with weaker African states, the EU aims to support them in joining Peace-Keeping Operations in theatres where we do not wish to send our own troops. But better trained officers are more effectively able to seize power with a coup d’état…

I do wonder if what is presented in the article as being “causality” is actually not “correlation”. A state whose military has received Western training is 2x more likely to have suffered a coup, could easily just reflect the fact that we have chosen to train those forces in countries that we consider more “coup prone”. However, independently of this quibble, the key message is: Security Sector Reform, and civilian oversight really is a vital component in any such work – bravo to the likes of in this field.

Energy Revolution?

By ADRIAN

An interesting piece at a number of levels, as it:

  • Is written by the President of the China Photovoltaic Industry Association. Sure, in the last decade, China has wiped out many competitors here, but the surprise is the language used – it could have come from a Western green developmentalist. A timely reminder that China is re-positioning itself as a global green player.
  • Points out poorer countries could leap-frog richer ones by going straight to solar. Good, but if I think back to my experience in N.Africa, it is not just a question of offering solar technology “cheaply”: a lot needs to be done on behaviour too. 1. In some places having a PV is seen as a stigmatic mark – you are too poor to be on the “real” grid! – and 2. With big power stations people can “only” steal electricity, not the generator. Sadly, decentralised PVs can go missing in large numbers.
  • Fails to address a point: how to get from today to that sustainable future in richer places. If you are a fossil-based power producer, why invest if your assets will be stranded  shortly? Governments will have to pay to keep “old” technologies in place so as the lights do not go out, and at the same time build up the new infrastructure needed – and that is expensive.

What future? Foresight and theatre

By ADRIAN

Thanks to Andres Veiel and Jutta Doberstein for the chance to have co-moderated a fascinating couple of sessions on “Welche Zukunft”at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin.

Turning the usual process on its head, we gathered headlines of future news from 250 participants who sacrificed their Saturday to look at how the future may change – and what a future crisis may bring. In the process we uncovered a number of driving forces, and contours of the landscape in which we are – and may have to – operate.

https://www.deutschestheater.de/programm/a-z/welche_zukunft

Energy for Displaced People: A Global Plan of Action

by Adrian

Just facilitated a very interesting conference on “Energy for Displaced People: A Global Plan of Action for Sustainable Energy Solutions in Situations of Displacement”.

Most striking: this is a clear reaffirmation that nobody should be left behind with regards to access to energy (as per SDG 7) – not even those displaced by conflict or disaster. Also that UN agencies and donors really must walk the talk themselves: if they wish to be carbon neutral by 2020 (declared aim), then even in urgent humanitarian cases it is time to stop shipping diesel generators (often to the middle of nowhere), thereby developing a fossil fuel supply and dependency chain.

Also remarkable was the very broad representation of people present from almost all corners of the energy and refugee/ displaced people spectrum, and the fact this was a bottom-up initiative, where those concerned with these issues were often trying to win over their own organisations for a sustainable energy solution (a particular challenge given that energy is not a focus of humanitarian/ development work in many cases, despite the fact that it enables so much of this work).

Half-virtual workshop: It works!

by Adrian

Just completed a two-day workshop which involved distance participation from Kabul. The technology worked really well on day one, and even in a highly-interactive workshop format (no powerpoints, no presentations, only joint work on pin-boards) they were really well involved (at one point, we were all standing, and so were they in front of the TV screen, which (as it was integrated right next to the pin-board) gave the feeling we were all in one room.

Sadly on day 2 the technology failed miserably – so the lesson is: still be present if you can, but we are getting there with distance participation!