RUBEN VARDANYAN: “INNER FREEDOM IS THE GREATEST HAPPINESS”Ruben Vardanyan Aurora Humanitarian Initiative UWC Dilijan College, Armenia
On January 23, businessman and philanthropist Ruben Vardanyan gave an interview to the “Public Agenda” program of the Public TV Company of Armenia. Mediamax picked out some ideas expressed during the interview.
On the 100 LIVES initiative and gratitude
The idea of this project was born in a discussion with my sister and friends. Unfortunately, in a conversation about the Genocide we mostly speak of the horrible events that occurred. However, when we looked at our family and the story of my grandfather, we realized that we should also speak about the people who helped and saved Armenians. It is with their support that we remain Armenians, and survived as a nation.
First, we want this project to show that despite everything, despite the surrounding reality, a man can remain human. Second, we want to show the Turks and ourselves that we won, and the Genocide “project” failed, – we are alive, we live and thrive.
The nation that succeeds becomes stronger. To be strong means that aside from speaking about your own pain you can say “thank you” and help others.
The Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity will be awarded for the first time this year in Yerevan, on April 24. We received applications for 113 candidates, and an independent body consisting of world-known human rights champions will make the choice. However, I don’t want people to perceive this as a competition. The intention of the Aurora Prize is to pay tribute to those who try to help people in our days, when we what we speak about and listen to is mostly negative.
On reconstruction of the Surb Gevorg Church in Tbilisi and national values
When I first took my children to Surb Gevorg Cathedral in Tbilisi and saw the state it was in, I realized that as Armenians we have a responsibility to our nation. It is our duty to preserve the legacy of our ancestors, and to do so not just for the sake of pride. Preservation of legacy is also a source of great strength for the Armenians living abroad.
Surb Gevorg Cathedral is truly unique with its history and frescos. When speaking about the cathedral, we should remember that in the absence of state the church was the only power and the only institute that held us together as a nation, educated us – in Tbilisi, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Jerusalem, Venice, and Singapore and elsewhere.
As a nation, we have privileges that we don’t always realize. For example, the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem. It is both a great privilege and a great responsibility.
By the way, there is nothing wrong with building new churches; everybody decides what to do for them. Nevertheless, we should not only construct or rebuild church walls, but also try to breathe new life into them. On the adjoining territory of the Surb Gevorg Cathedral we plan to have TUMO Center, a museum devoted to the famous Armenians of Tbilisi. Thus, we create an Armenian hearth where people can come and learn about the contribution Armenian people made to the life of Tbilisi.
On UWC Dilijan College and remaining Armenian
For me, foundation of UWC Dilijan College is an opportunity to make my children proud to be Armenian. This is hard to explain, as the connection is indirect. I want to make Armenia a country we can be proud of.
My children were born in Russia and grew up in England, my wife isn’t Armenian, and so their mentality will decide whether they are Armenian. It’s a very serious question – what keeps us Armenian? In the past, the uniting forces were the Genocide and the dream of an independent Armenia. We have been wishing for centuries for a time we have an independent state. Now we do, the Genocide is becoming history, and it is more and more difficult to find factors that unify us. I am sure that creation of a developing Armenia is the only way to unite Armenian people.
In the 21st century, a competitive nation is the nation that has good education and is open to changes. This is the first time we are living in a country where 98% of population is Armenian. For centuries, we have been living in multicultural places next to other nations. We ought to go all the way on a very important road, – stay Armenian, and at the same time, be able to live in a multinational environment, and communicate with other nationalities.
For that purpose, people should get to know Armenia, and we considered it very important to include children of different nationalities in the same college. In future, when they are grown and well-known, this will help them to remember years spent in Armenia and make a special group of Armenian friends.
On political ambitions and “making” his candidate Dilijan’s Mayor
Unfortunately, we live in a society that doesn’t believe in anyone or anything. This is a very dangerous and negative approach. Trust helps to move forward.
As to elections in Dilijan, we only say this: let us respect the people of Dilijan. The development of the region is in the hands of its people, not Ruben Vardanyan. The progress of Dilijan can become an example for other cities of Armenia. We only create necessary conditions, and it is important for us that not a “Ruben’s” mayor, but a “local community’s mayor” gets elected.
I am glad to see the change in mindset among the young people of Dilijan, who, for example, decided on their own to clean litter from the streets. It’s so encouraging when youth want to make a difference and carry out changes independently.
I believe whoever is elected a mayor should be elected by the people, and should be a loyal and accountable mayor.
On the future of Armenia
All the programs that we implement came out of the “Armenia-2020” initiative and have the goal of development of Armenia. Of course, there is also an emotional layer in the programs, as we do this because we love our homeland. However, the programs are well thought through in order to change the way of thinking in the Armenian world that is people living in Armenia and Diaspora. We are strong and capable not only to survive but also to thrive in the 21st century. We can be proud both of our past, and our present achievements.
On good life and the formula of changing the world
When we were discussing 100 LIVES initiative, we came up with an idea that despite an entire state’s plans to destroy the Armenian people, there were Turks who risked their lives to save Armenians. This means that nothing can break the inner strength and faith of a human being. You should just believe in your values and be prepared to fight for them.
Inner freedom is the greatest happiness, when you can freely express your opinion, respect yourself and look into others’ eyes with honesty. Regardless of their position, anyone can serve as an example for others. Your children can be sure that their parents did nothing they should be ashamed of. That gives more confidence than bodyguards could.