By Aram Arkun
BOSTON — The Armenian Business Network (ABN) sponsored a networking event with a presentation by Dr. Vardan Urutyan on winemaking and agribusiness education in Armenia on June 9 at the Kingston Grille and Bar (KGB) in downtown Boston. The event also included presentations from two organizations fundraising for aid to Armenia and Artsakh – the Tekeyan Cultural Association of the US and Canada (TCA), and the Memory Dignity Justice Association. As many as 120 people were present.
Karina Demurchyan, a member of the ABN executive council, served as master of ceremonies in the lively, crowded environment. After briefly speaking about ABN, she introduced this writer, Aram Arkun, TCA executive director, who pointed out that Tekeyan’s new program is small and transparent. It sends aid directly to victims of the recent fighting in Artsakh and Armenia, including wounded soldiers and the families of soldiers killed during the fighting, through its representative in Yerevan, and it obtains receipts. It will report on the distributions, which are now beginning. It does not charge any administrative costs, which the organization itself absorbs (see the TCA-Boston Facebook site or call 617 924-4455).
Manoog Kaprielian then spoke about the Memory Dignity Justice Association (MDJA), which strives to achieve the three goals embedded in its name concerning the violence against Armenians in Azerbaijan from 1988 to 1990. One of its members, Eduard Fandunyan, recently donated an ambulance and a bus for people with physical disabilities, to Artaskh. The Association is raising funds as well as collecting certain items necessary there such as medical supplies or clothing as donations. He said that MDJA will post details for donation drop-off arrangements and financial contributions on its Facebook page. Interested parties can also contact Garen Bagdasarian (firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. 401 569-7305). The shipment is expected to be ready at the end of this June.
Representatives of the government of the Republic of Mountainous Karabagh as well as the association’s local contacts will make the final delivery of the shipment. Donations and delivery will be fully transparent and reported.
Urutyan then made his presentation, accompanied by slides. He is the general director of the International Center for Agribusiness Research and Education (ICARE) in Yerevan, established by Texas A&M University in 2005 to run the Agribusiness Teaching Center (ATC) previously created in 2000 as part of the Armenian National Agrarian University (ANAU). ATC offers undergraduate and graduate programs, including the Master of Agribusiness program from ANAU, and a graduate certificate from Texas A&M University. In 2015, it had 127 students.
Urutyan’s focus, however, was about wine as part of agribusiness in Armenia. It is one of the most important exports of the Republic of Armenia along with the rest of agribusiness.
About one-third of the population of Armenia is involved in agriculture and it produces 26 percent of the gross domestic product, according to Urutyan. Agriculture is important for national security as well as the economy, as it provides a livelihood for people in the villages near the borders of Armenia.
The wine sector has recently been growing well, especially exports. The discovery of the oldest winery of the world, 6,100 years old, in the Areni caves has stimulated world interest in Armenian wines. The number of wineries has increased so that today there are 35 in Armenia.
It is not only wine exportation that has increased. Wine consumption per capita has been rising in Armenia with the creation of new wine bars and restaurants serving wine. Consumption in Armenia per capita per year today is 8.8 liters, up from 1.4 in 2010, while imported wines are decreasing in quantity.
There are some 400 native varieties of grapes in Armenia but only 70 have been preserved, and of these, 12 are being cultivated. Urutyan brought several types of Armenian wines, both red and white, and offered them for tasting to the guests. They included Zorah, Karas, ArmAs, Vanardi and Zara. Urutyan was assisted by Arthur Grigoryan, the development director of ICARE.
They also brought the first wine made by three students from EVN, who happened to all be women. It took the students approximately 8 months to make the wine and about 6 months to do the necessary paperwork so that the wine would be ready by their June 1 graduation.
In the old days, Soviet winemakers did not use advanced technology. Back then, Armenia focused on cognac. ICARE created the EVN Wine Academy two years ago in cooperation with Semina Consulting. It offers an 18-month enology program taught in English with instructors from the German Geisenheim university. The first graduation took place this June, and the 14 graduates all already have been placed in jobs. One is Mariam Saghatelyan, the founder and manager of the first specialized wine shop and bar in Yerevan, In Vino.
EVN has a Wine Laboratory which is the only educational wine laboratory in the Caucasus region. Contributions from the German Development Corporation (GIZ) and the Boston area couple Judith Saryan and Victor Zarougian made it possible.
Urutyan said that ICARE and ANAU could draw upon 15 years of general experience to make EVN Wine Academy successful. It all began in 2000 with ATC. The United States Department of Agriclture and Texas AM helped make the organization more mature and in 2014 USAID and Virginia Tech began assisting it. Virginia Tech, Penn State and the University of Florida are helping add more educational programs. In 2015, Geisenheim University in Germany decided to support the wine academy. It is the top European wine research and education institute. EVN offers short courses and a professional certificate program in enology and wine business jointly with Geisenheim.
Many ICARE ATC graduates have become professors in US and other Western universities or have jobs in corporations. One, Armen Harutyunyan, is the deputy minister of agriculture today in Armenia. It has approximately 92 percent job placement of the 455 graduates of the ATC undergraduate and master’s programs. It continues to collaborate with Texas A&M University, which gives certificates to its graduates. Their salaries are two to three times higher than the industry sector average.
With a student-centered environment, Urutyan stated that the curriculum is in the Western style, with highly qualified instructors and extracurricular activities, while the programs are industry-driven. Urutyan said, “We are very closely tied with the industry.” Aside from economics and finance, leadership and other “soft” skills are stressed to build emotional intelligence. Students are given opportunities to meet with CEOs.
Boston area Armenians Judith Saryan and Victor Zarougian were present in the audience. Urutyan pointed them out and explained that in addition to the aforementioned wine laboratory, they supported the establishment of the largest solar panel system in Armenia at ICARE. This saved much money as well as helped the environment.
After the event, Zarougian said that he was so impressed by the work done by Urutyan and ATC that even without meeting the latter in person, after doing some research, he decided to help in the creation of the solar panel system. He was amazed that up until that time, 2011 or 2012, there was no such system in all of Armenia despite the advantage of having great sunlight to power it. Now, the technology has begun to proliferate.
Zarougian and his wife supported the EVN laboratory a year ago because they felt it would be a useful spur to the Armenian economy. Zarougian said, “This is one of the sectors that has a very, very bright future. It is a sustainable and self-dependent field.” The soil and climate are favorable for growing grapes, and now better quality wines are being created, Zarougian said.
He added that in addition to the direct benefits for the Armenian economy through job creation, the creation of wine bars and other outlets for wine consumption might lead to a more attractive environment for tourism. Interestingly, there may also be domestic health and societal benefits. The increased domestic consumption of wine seems to be replacing vodka drinking to a certain extent.
Ralph Yirikian and Viva Cell helped establish a video conference facility for ICARE so that executives in the US and elsewhere can teach students in Armenia. Internally there is fundraising in Armenia to get a modernized computer lab.
Among its other projects, ICARE runs the Agribusiness Research Center, which gets funding from various private and governmental American and European agencies and organizations to conduct research and rural development projects.
To ensure its long-term success and viability, ICARE is building an endowment fund and soliciting support from the Armenian diaspora for this and a fund to sponsor student tuition (for more information, see www.icare.am).
Institutional Sustainability Campaign @ https://www.ICARE.am/donate/index.php
Dimitri Petrosian and Shahrokh Reza of Kingston Grille and Bar sponsored the ABN event, with the support of their staff, while Ara Sarkissian procured the Armenian wine provided for the tasting.