Young, motivated and ready to change the world: this is how the members of the European Youth Parliament of Armenia are best described. Hovsep Patvakanyan, head and founder of EYP Armenia, told us about his experiences establishing this extraordinary youth organization in Armenia, and the wonderful ideas which came to life thanks to the efforts of its members.
Back in 2012, Hovsep, a kind and friendly guy with dark hair and eyes, and a friend of his felt the need to bring a breath of fresh air into the non-formal educational field of Armenia. They wanted to find a way to encourage Armenians to be more knowledgeable and responsible citizens. When they came to know about an educational EYP platform, which exists in around 35 European countries, they decided to comprehensively consider legal and logistical aspects of starting a group in Armenia. To accomplish this goal, they first participated in some of the sessions abroad to gain a better insight into how the EYP session operates. Afterwards, they held several meetings with the Governing Board Members to lay the foundations of full membership for Armenia in the EYP network. Thus, the process was launched, a development plan was worked out and set up for the coming year. EYP Armenia started with only five people, but they were committed to its success and had a clear vision of where they wanted to be in one years time. A very active year got more and more people involved and finally, they achieved full membership on December 14, 2012.
It is not easy to become part of EYP, but definitely worth the hard work as you gain and learn so much all at once. This is a requirement for anyone who is interested in changing something in our world. “Being a pan-European network, EYP encourages participation of its members in international events, hence at least basic knowledge of English is required. The age restriction is 14-30, with no geographical restrictions as such. However, most importantly, EYP always looks for people who can think critically and creatively on the matters in their country and Europe overall”, explains Hovsep.
But even if you are not under 30, you can participate. “As we are sending high school delegations from Armenia to participate in international sessions, you can be their chaperone. Also, if you are an expert in a certain field, we’ll gladly host you during one of our committee works, so that you can share your experience”, says Hovsep.
The independent educational project, tailored towards the needs of the young European and Armenian citizen, encourages independent thinking and sociopolitical initiative in young people and facilitates the learning of crucial social and professional skills such as intercultural communication and teamwork. Since its inauguration in 1987, millions of young people have taken part in regional, national and international sessions, formed friendships and made international contacts across and beyond borders. Today the EYP is one of the largest European platforms for political debate, intercultural encounters, political educational work and exchange of ideas among young people in Europe. The EYP consists of a network of 35 European associations and organizations in which thousands of young people are active on a voluntary basis.
After only four years after having started the project, EYP Armenia became the biggest youth organization in the country with the engagement of 3600 young people of high school, university and graduate level in ten regions of Armenia. They try to have a balanced Alumni Network, though based on Hovsep’s observation, around 65% of EYP Alumni in Armenia are girls, and only 35% are boys. He also mentions that the situation is much different in Germany, Italy and some other EYP representations where the skew is leaning towards boys.
According to Hovsep, there are two main differences to other projects. Unlike other organizations, EYP forums are not onetime events. Every participant of an EYP Session automatically becomes an Alumnus and gets the code to register on the EYP Alumni Platform where millions of Alumni throughout Europe are registered since its etablishment in 1987. Here, alongside sharing the best international practices with their peers in Europe, they gain access to a database of around 400 EYP events per year, organized by different branches of EYP in their home countries. “In this way, participation in one local event opens up the door to many opportunities at home and abroad”, he says.
The second point that makes EYP stand out, is its principle of “nothing should stay on paper”. All the resolutions adopted through the forum are sent to respective institutions as policy recommendations and are brought to the table for consideration by respective members. Hovsep is proud to say, that “on this matter, very fruitful cooperation has been set with municipalities of Dilijan, Yerevan, Gyumri, the Central Bank of Armenia, Ministry of Economy of Republic of Armenia, and others.” The resolution packages referring to the European issues are respectively sent to European Commission, European Parliament and other institutions.
However, there is another important difference for Hovsep. “What makes EYP very different for me is the family atmosphere existing here, everyone gets to know each other through the non-formal Alumni gatherings held every month in Tsakhkadzor, Dilijan, Artsakh, and other cities. I personally know all of those 3600 people by name, I know what they are up to, what they are specializing in and how they can be helpful to each other. After all, isn’t this synergy what is needed to create a brighter and more responsible future for our country?”
Hovsep also talks about the future plans and emphasizes the importance of the development plan for 2016/2017 which focuses on the implementation of more sessions in the high schools in each region of Armenia and then sends the best participants of these schools abroad to share practice.
“For young people it is an opportunity not only to make their voice heard but to actually meet with the parliamentarians of European institutions, sit at the same table and discuss a certain matter, express their opinion and become a part of the decision making process. What’s more, for most of them it is a life-changing experience in terms of interaction with their peers from over 40 countries, getting to know their cultures and opening up the boundaries formal education imposes, especially in Armenia”, explains Hovsep.
When asked about the biggest challenges for young people in Armenia, he says: “On one hand there’s the mindset of the young people, the starting point of ‘things are bad’ and the assumption that nothing can be changed in the country. On the other hand, the non-practical knowledge they receive in universities and schools. As a result we don’t have competitive units when students graduate and enter the job market for the first time, entailing big flows of unskilled migration.”
That is why at EYP Armenia, members put a special focus on bringing across their message to young people: “This country has a bright future”. Hovsep says: “This message is our starting point, it’s not questioned or contested, we take it as given.” Once this is set, step by step it’s achieved through the skills obtained through EYP forums and its platform for a brand new level of participatory decision making processes. Hovsep thinks that a revolution of mind is what matters. “That’s the reality we have been creating for all these years, and it is proving a success.”
The European Youth Parliament aims to make important changes to institutionalize the notion of citizenship, and has already done so successfully. Hovsep dreams of a time when young people will not be saying that they are proud to be Armenian because of its history, or culture. “How can one be given proud of something, that is given to you at birth?” he asks. He hopes that though EYP, people will one day learn to be proud Armenians because of its strong institutions, the respect for the law and its transparent government.