On teamwork and revolutions: Interview with Vardges Shahmenendyan

“As an active citizen, you initiate change or join change that has already started, and contribute to it with the best of your abilities.”

Vardges Shahmenendyan, 22, is the president of the National Committee of the European Youth Parliament in Armenia. He studies architecture and works at an architecture studio in Yerevan. Read the full interview here.

Do you remember how you got involved in the European Youth Parliament?

I am an architectural student and live in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. I have been doing EYP for four years now. It’s surreal to look back and realise how many things have changed in this time. Before, I thought of politics as something appalling and avoided contact with any organisations that had the word “parliament” in their name. However, in 2014, EYP Armenia organised an International Forum and I am quite interested in different cultures and people. I wanted to learn more about the other participants’ countries and to know about simple things, like what music they listened to. This overshadowed my fear of politics, so I applied as a participant.

What do you think being a part of EYP has taught you?

My understanding of political education has definitely changed. Today, I view it as a path where you can understand yourself not as a detached individual, but as part of society. This means that you need to work in a team to achieve a goal. In EYP, we live this every day. For each project, we gather in teams and set goals for ourselves. Every time, we are working together with different people who come from different backgrounds, and we all have to make compromises to decide about something. In my opinion, this is also how politics works. We all as individuals have different goals, but in society, we come together and sometimes need to adjust to a goal that’s bigger than our individual needs.

So you would say EYP encourages its participants to take an interest in society around them?

Absolutely. I consider myself to be an active citizen now, and I try to be aware of what happens around me. When the Velvet Revolution took place in Armenia this year in April and May, I was still doing an exchange semester in Portugal. I was following the news about the protests on social media and watching live streams of the events. I felt so much responsibility for what was happening in Armenia at that moment, even though I wasn’t physically there. There are elections coming soon and I know I will encourage my friends to go and vote, too. It’s about being a part of the change and not just letting change wash over you.

In what ways would you say EYP empowers young people? 

EYP is a platform where you decide what responsibilities and challenges you want to take on yourself. This idea of ownership of how you want to develop yourself as part of the organisation makes it different from any other experience. For example, when I was studying, I was unhappy about assignments that didn’t interest me, or that I had to complete in a specific way. I was also looking into joining some other organisations, but they required from you a certain work culture. In EYP, I feel that I can do things my own way. Here, contributions and taking responsibility are valued. As a young person, you can feed into a big organisation, but you get a lot of appreciation back. It allows you to take on challenges and stretch your comfort zone. You and the project you work on are always connected to others, and yet you still maintain ownership of your work.

To conclude, what does activism mean to you?

It can start from really small things – from expressing your self, forming an opinion and making sure your opinion is heard – and then also listening to others. It makes it possible to understand what is going on around you. In general, I think activism is about taking responsibility for what you are doing and caring for the people you work with. As an active citizen, you initiate change or join change that has already started, and contribute to it with the best of your abilities.

Interview by Anna Saraste.