From Surviving to Thriving

By Noubar Afeyan

A little over a century ago, the people of Armenia fell victim to the first genocide in the 20th century at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.  An estimated 1.5 million people were systematically extinguished and thanks largely to the kind acts of others from a variety of nationalities, religions and ethnic groups the remaining 300,000 Armenians escaped annihilation.  

Dispersed to all corners of the earth, our ancestors not only survived…they thrived.  Today, we are 10 million strong with communities in nearly every country on earth.  We have gone on to excel in business, science, the arts and academia. But while many of us have achieved success outside of our homeland, Armenia itself has struggled for decades.

In the last year we have witnessed incredible change.  More than ever  since the Genocide over one hundred years ago, Armenia seems poised to realize its true potential. The Velvet Revolution not only awakened Armenians in the homeland to the power of their collective voices, but also planted a seed amongst many members of the diaspora on the importance of reconnecting to their roots. Our country is positioned to grow economically over the coming years, is home to a burgeoning IT and tourism industry and a growing start-up and entrepreneurial culture that has the potential to elevate Armenian innovation onto the world stage.

Last week, our community gathered with friends and families to remember the tragic events of a century ago. We do so at the dawn of a new Armenia—one which holds great promise for the next generation and one which restores our rightful position as a cradle of civilization, never forgetting our roots or what brought us to where we are today. We are at yet an important crossroad, and what we do next should reflect our ongoing renaissance from a nation devastated by genocide.

We have always been a proud people but now it is just not Armenians alone that see the incredible potential of this small land-locked nation at the foot of the Caucuses. The Economist honoured us last year as their “Country of the Year” for the country’s ability to institute reform and new leadership without spilling a single drop of blood. As they noted Armenia, “an ancient and often misruled nation in a turbulent region has a chance of democracy and renewal.”

Now is the time for Armenians around the globe to harness the power of the diaspora and inspire the next generation to remain connected to the homeland. Individuals, businesses, civil society and the government, all play a role in ushering in a new dawn for the country and for driving pride amongst our global Armenian communities on what it means to “be Armenian”.

As a member of the diaspora, I can say our duty lies in educating our families on the rich culture and history that traces our nation back thousands of years. Books and photographs don’t do justice to the wide range of emotions that is part of experiencing Armenia.  As younger generations of Armenians in the diaspora grow further apart from their roots, we need to continue nurturing this momentum to ultimately integrate the Armenian pride into the fabric of who we are as individuals – no matter where we live.

Business and government equally play a critical role in creating the right opportunities for Armenians to thrive, while also establishing a unique environment that inspires individuals to visit and experience our nation for the first time. That is why I, and a group of Armenian leaders in the diaspora, will join forces with thought leaders from around the world to host the inaugural Aurora Forum on October 14-21.  Through a series of action-oriented events and discussions, we will convene some of the world’s most influential individuals from the fields of humanitarianism, business, technology, science, sustainability, education and health.  At a time of global uncertainty and conflict, we see reason for optimism for the future, and will bring together the international community’s foremost innovators to inspire tangible change and personal responsibility amongst people, businesses and governments.

What will make the Aurora Forum unique is it will be a meeting about action, not just dialogue like so many other global forums. We believe that we all have a personal stake in the progress of humanity, and that this shared responsibility is to be embraced.  Organizations such as IDeA, FAST, Scholae Mundi, UWC Dilijan, Ameriabank and the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative will all come together to build upon this momentum and create unique experiences for global Armenians to fulfil their collective potential.

Through the Aurora Forum, we hope to foster innovation and actionable ideas, not just for Armenia but for other regions of the world contending with their respective challenges. As an entrepreneur and member of the diaspora, I have long believed in the potential of Armenia.  That feeling is reinforced each time I set eyes on Mount Ararat and recognize what it represents – our rich culture, our diverse past and our optimism for the future as the nation of second chances. These are attributes that epitomize what it means to be Armenian and ones that will surely be embraced by others when they join us in October for the Aurora Forum. 

This op-ed first appeared in The Armenian Weekly.

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Through the Aurora Forum, we hope to foster innovation and actionable ideas, not just for Armenia but for other regions of the world contending with their respective challenges.
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