In the social welfare and economic modernization of a country, science and technology play a vital role. In Armenia’s case, scientific advancement is not just one aspect of growth, but a critical factor in addressing the major external threats and internal challenges we face. The scientific ecosystem in Armenia that was left unaddressed for decades has degraded, public perceptions regarding science and scientists, disproportionately affected. The scientific community is aware of the problems and the vital contributions science and technology can make to address our precarious security, economy and overall development. There is a connected moral responsibility to participate in discussions about the role of science in the above-mentioned and to critically evaluate and adopt processes through which the beneficial potential of science will be promoted.
To this end, almost 200 founders, entrepreneurs and businessmen from the high-tech industry and beyond, as well as 18 major associations and foundations came together to form the Gituzh initiative to prioritize the development and modernization of Armenia’s scientific ecosystem to promote the rapid development of the country and serve its security. The demand formulated by the Gituzh community has the support of representatives of over 700 companies.
In a conversation with the Weekly, Aram Pakhchanian, a member of the Gituzh initiative, and chairman of the Board at Ayb Foundation, stressed the absence of scientific growth in Armenia following independence, with science being more of a social issue, rather than one to secure the future. Such an approach has brought about a recession with all its vices: decrease in the number of scientists, increase in the average age, insufficient staff, petty funding and so on.
Tigran Shahverdyan, a member of the Gituzh initiative and a co-founder and CTO of Robomart, stresses that there is no clear cut state order for scientific research and R&D and “no awareness of its vital role.” One of the tasks of Gituzh is also the formation of such a state order and the public demand for it.
The short-term focus of the initiative is to ensure increased funding for science, a promise that at least four-percent of the budget or one-percent of GDP should be spent on R&D. “This is our demand, which should be reflected in the law,” Pakhchanian said, so that people who decide to get involved in science realize that it is not a situational decision, but one that guarantees long-term stability. The long-term goal is to work with the public and make them reconsider their approach to science, “to stop looking at science as a strange occupation, but rather as their only guarantee of development and security. We have to achieve that, and the way to do that is to explain, to clarify, to share, to persuade.”
When it comes to security, Shahverdyan notes with dismay that in 2021 less than half of the budget allocated for defense R&D was spent for that purpose, the other half was disseminated for other unknown purposes. “There is no strategy for defense R&D. This is the problem that should be number one for any state leadership.”
The essence of how science contributes to society is the creation of new knowledge and its utilization to improve human lives and solve various issues facing them. But societal progress through science requires sufficient accumulation of scientific knowledge. This is not something that can be acquired in a single day but instead requires a steady, continuous build-up.
Armenia has the human resources that can invigorate the physical and economic infrastructures to help overthrow the 1990s sense of values, build robust R&D capabilities and drive the country into the modern age. The objective of Gituzh is the continuous development of science in Armenia for the country’s security, prosperity and economic development.
“Our belief is that there can’t be a state in a country that will develop and at the same time will not have powerful scientific potential,” Pakhchanian added. “We are in a very early stage of development, which has a good side. The faster you act, the faster the development will be because in the initial stages everything goes faster.”
To boost the scientific potential of Armenia, the Science Committee has announced new programs for both young and experienced researchers abroad who will relocate to Armenia or work remotely, win grants and form teams. “Entrepreneurs can also make their contribution by donating funds and equipment to the development of science in Armenia,” Shahverdyan said.
The Diaspora has a significant role to play in the development of science in Armenia. However, according to Pakhchanian, the government and policymakers in Armenia also have to understand what needs to be done in order to engage the Diaspora’s scientific potential.
Armenia can take that giant leap of faith and action to put the country on the global scientific map with all its inherent privileges. Scientists and entrepreneurs from the motherland and Diaspora can also make a difference and collaborate to help develop science that serves the nation. “Fast and hard work is required here, and the goal of the Gituzh is to direct, support and promote those efforts.”
Shahverdyan calls on the Diaspora not to wait for special conditions or a completely adapted environment to contribute and invest. The opportunities are there, from the minimum to the most ambitious. “It all starts with a desire.”
“We have in Armenia bright minds, who, despite all the difficulties, persevere in scientific research. But the consistent, rapid growth of science potential in Armenia is impossible without the involvement of scientists, entrepreneurs living in the Diaspora, why not also non-Armenian,” Pakhchanian added.
Both members of the Gituzh initiative agree that Armenia’s true chance for development lies in involving the Diaspora. In Gituzh, they have profound faith in the potential and dream to make Armenia a scientific center whose successes have magnetism. “I call on the Armenian scientists, be they in Diaspora or Armenia, not to break that faith. This is a unique chance to unite around a goal with a vital value for us,” Pakhchanian stresses. “We will either do that and become what we dream to become, or we can’t and there will be no dream.”