Forty-three Armenian towns will work together with Counterpart International to train municipal employees, share information and collaborate to resolve some of their ongoing development problems.
As part of the community development initiative, communities will unite to discuss the issues that concern them most and then draw up solutions to those issues. They will be able to learn from each other’s experience and put the newly acquired knowledge and skills to good use in their villages and towns.
Lusine Avetyan, the Mayor of Karahunj village, spoke of the community’s excitement for the new program: “Our village Karahunj is on a slope, and thus does not have much opportunity for agricultural development, we have a large unemployment rate and rely heavily on donor organizations for support. Being included in Counterpart’s program has been cause for great celebration in our community.”
Counterpart launched the community development initiative as part of its existing United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Civil Society Local Government Support (CSLGS) Program.
Other development activities will include promoting a ‘sister city’ concept in which two or more communities with a similar issues of concern support each other, and building local government capacity to sustain newly-fostered development.
“With this program we will help in reducing the gap between large cities and small villages,” said USAID Mission Director Jatinder Cheema, emphasizing the need to address civic participation beyond urban areas.
Joining USAID’s Cheema at the event were Deputy Prime Minister Armen Gevorgyan, Counterpart’s Armenia Country Director Alex Sardar, diplomats, Armenian government officials and partner organizations.
Sardar spoke about four core principles in moving forward with this new initiative: Dedication of the Armenian government to its citizens; responsibility of citizens to their community; commitment of Counterpart to this program; and mutual accountability. “Everyone in this room believes and bears the promise of accountability to make Armenia a better place for her children,” Sardar said June 3.
Extending our reach beyond Armenia
Another way in which the project hopes to strengthen communities is through diaspora outreach.
According to World Bank figures, Armenia has a modest population of just over 3 million. However, the country boasts a significant non-resident diaspora of almost another 3 million. By contacting and encouraging some of those people to support their communities from abroad, the various development projects have an even greater chance of success.
The program’s launch took place in tandem with Counterpart’s Community Development Perspectives: Public Dialogue and Participatory Governance Conference, held at the American University of Armenia. The highlight of the event was a signing ceremony where Counterpart signed a Memoranda of Cooperation with the 43 participating communities.
By taking charge of their own development and building local government capacity, it is hoped these communities can look forward to a brighter future. Bella Muradyan, a civic activist, from the remote border village of Bardzruni, shared this story at the event: “One needs a great amount of hope to live in Bardzruni, which has a diminishing population and a large unemployment rate. The village school highlights the thinning numbers as there will only be two first graders this year.”
Current Efforts and Reforms
A lack of engagement between the Armenian people and their national government has hampered development efforts over the past few years. At the beginning of this year, President Sargsyan’s promised reforms and more citizen inclusion were nowhere to be seen.
However, recent appointments in certain government departments and municipalities, such as the Ministry of Justice and the Yerevan community, have paved the way for a new culture of transparency and cooperation with Armenia’s citizens.
Counterpart already has an established presence in Armenia through its International Humanitarian Relief Program. Since 2001, Counterpart has carried out other development projects in the region including; the Civil Society and Local Government Support Program (CSLGS) and the Civic Advocacy Support Program (CASP).