Accomplishing the goals on the table
Winters in Armenia are cold and often snowy. Arsen Sahakyan and his family shivered through dark bitter nights without electricity, the result of a blockade to the west along the Turkish border and along both an eastern and southwestern border with Azerbaijan. Landlocked and relying on exports for fuel, Armenia survived on supply lines through its border with Georgia to the north and a tiny mountainous border with Iran in the south. Armenian economy was in ruins, however, and Arsen remembers the long queues of exhausted people waiting for a loaf of bread or a gallon of kerosene. The conflict involved the Nagorno-Karabakh region, an island of predominantly Armenian Christians within the border of Muslim Azerbaijan. “The terrible war that broke out took thousands of lives on both sides,” Arsen says, and he knew of “hundreds of mothers crying for their sons killed in the war.”
The conflict is ongoing and tensions constantly threaten to erupt, but Arsen believes that good leaders would be able to “resolve it through intercultural dialog and peaceful negotiations.” A great sense of commitment arose inside Arsen to learn more and contribute to making his country a better place to live, and his primary professional objective was to be involved in international relations. While enrolled at Yerevan State University, he received diplomas with first class honors from the Ministry of Education for state Olympiad achievements in English and Russian. He later studied French as well.
Arsen also gained practical experience by working, volunteering, and participating in different international events. In his second year at the university, he joined the All-Armenian Youth Foundation, through which he earned a Golden Eagle award. The next year he began working as an English translator and news writer for Armenia TV where he impressed his employer with his high academic standards, people skills, his “uncanny ability to adapt,” and “to accomplish the goals on the table.” After the TV station, he began work as a freelance translator.
Arsen had also joined KASA, a Swiss humanitarian foundation active in Armenia. Through KASA, he developed a project to familiarize Armenian youngsters with the basics of human rights, democratic society, and international cooperation. He organized training sessions and conferences to which he invited outstanding professionals from different spheres as lecturers, receiving commendation from the head office in Geneva as well as from other NGOs. Arsen realized that he hoped to be part of shaping future executives in the area of politics, administration, economy, science, and religion.
The following summer he took a course in Graz, Austria, the beginning of his international forays. A Youth Festival in Trondheim drew him to Norway the next February, and in March, he was in Endhoven, Netherlands for a month attending a conference. Then the next summer, he participated in a forum in Alpbach, Austria. Arsen joined HSI as a graduate student, working toward a master’s in international relations at Yerevan, but he would also be heading toward the oldest degree-granting university, the University of Bologna, for a master’s in Interdisciplinary Research and Studies on Eastern Europe.