Can a new generation of peace ambassadors save the world?

By Lavinia Ortu featuring Ilona Sahakyan, a participant from Armenia within our project Youth Ambassadors for Peace.

“Young people are not part of their past, they have power now, they can impact their communities daily. See the world, tackle the issues and make actions” I started typing quickly on my laptop, trying to catch all these powerful words after I asked what the “Youth ambassadors for peace” project was about. As I listened carefully, I got more curious, the more I learned about the project, the more I wanted to know about it.

Funded by CISU and implemented by our partners along side Crossing Borders, this project took place in 4 different countries that share a very complex past: Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia. In a 2 year span, more than 960 youth got the opportunity to experience activities about important topics such as: conflict resolution, mediation, non-violent communication, active citizenship and participation among others.

One of the participants to this project, Ilona Sahakyan, agreed to answer to all my curious questions. Ilona, a 16 years old Armenian girl, incarnates all the beliefs and prospects that we at Crossing Borders have about youth. As an “activist by heart”, Ilona, is already accomplishing so many dreams and wonder- ful things that a lifetime would’t be long enough.

After a quick introduction and some ice breakers I pressed the recording button and got ready to take notes. These are some of the highlights of our conversation.

Ilona Sahakyan - from her Facebook page

Did you have any expectations prior to starting the activities?

I only knew it was going to be about peace and conflicts. But the stress wasn’t on conflicts, it was rather on tools for solving these conflicts. We expected it to be a very formal project, you know, one of those cold seminars, just taking notes and discussing; instead, it turned out to be a completely different, unique experience! It didn’t just meet my expectations, it exceeded them. I met all the other ambassa- dors in a friendly environment, shared thoughts and discussed serious topics at the same time.

How was it like meeting a lot of young people from different countries?

It was amazing, we studied together and learnt from each other. I appreciate the new friendships, although I didn’t keep contacts with everyone. My teacher used an Armenian expression: “Ilona, you see everything with pink glasses” meaning that I was being too optimistic about keeping contacts with every- one. He was right but I’m happy we could share those experiences together and I still keep contacts with some of them.

What projects are you involved into at the moment?

I am an activist by heart; I love being engaged in various activities. I recently started a project called Educational revolution; I gathered students and teachers like me and we are working to improve the educational system in Armenia. If we want to have a better society, a better government, we must start from education. I believe that education is at the root of humanity. If you want to be happy in life you must start from education.

From the Archive - Youth Ambassadors visiting Denmark

Did the Youth Ambassadors for Peace project helped you in some way to develop Educational revolu- tion?

It did! I think it was great that we cooperated with the peace ambassadors because they have interesting ideas. It’s not important to have the same perspectives but everyone’s thoughts are valuable. Discussing topics with students from different countries can be a clear advantage.

How was your first day at the Peace camp you had in Moldova?

It was like entering another world. I wasn’t scared about meeting new people because I’m very easygoing. The first day at the camp was very impressive because Garba (the director of Crossing Borders) announced that we are all peace ambassadors and we could feel the atmosphere change, everyone was excited, he said: “Now you are the peace ambassadors of the world and it is our responsibility to expand this idea across the world, starting from our society” we were all sitting down, it was such a solemn moment, it looked straight out of a movie.

How did you feel when you heard those words?

I’m from Armenia and living in a country that is constantly facing conflicts, I know in my heart that peace is everything. I experienced war on myself, everyone experienced it, my friend, their family members… but in this world conflicts are everywhere and peace should be rooted in our mentality, that’s why I always remember I am a peace ambassador and I always mention that. I’m planning on having a peace speech and I want to start a peace making project after I succeed in the Educational revolution and open up my educational center.

– hold on, hold on! I just wanted to take a moment to appreciate all the work Ilona is doing! I was mind blown when she was telling me her story, she probably read the astonishment in my face. Now back to the interview

I also talk about conflict with my friends and relatives. Our neighbours are not our enemies, it’s not a conflict between nations it’s a conflict between governments. As a peace ambassador I was proud to represent the youth peace camp during a conference in Armenia.

Which activity signed you the most at peace camp?

One of the activities was about the consequences of our actions. We all had a piece of paper and we could doeverything we wanted to do with it. they told us “imagine the paper is your enemy what would you do that piece of paper?”. One girl placed the paper on her head acknowledging that her and the enemy are equals. Another one put it behind her back, ignoring the enemy and keeping looking forward. Personally I bended the paper in half, to show my enemy that I am powerful and could hurt it if I wanted to; I then put it back to its normal flat shape because I don’t want to take the violent route and negotiate with it instead.

As a peace ambassador how was it being involved in the conflict last year and still being in school?

It felt like life stopped the 27th of September, when we woke up and found out that the war had started. We didn’t know it would be that serious. We are always ready for war, like in 2016 when it lasted only 4 days, but this time was different, it lasted 40 days. Seeing people losing their loved ones was heartbreaking. We still went to school but no one payed that much attention to classes. I always used to complain about our nation’s mentali- ty, why don’t we cooperate with each other? We must help each other, we used to be one united entity during the Soviet union, why can’t we coexist now? But now I understand: it’s not us that are enemies, the govern- ments are. They need to solve the conflict without involving the civilians in it. During the war we expected a lot of media awareness but that wasn’t the case. It was hurtful that the world didn’t give enough attention, we needed that help and as a peace ambassador I will give that attention to other countries if they ever need it.

We concluded the interview on a sad note. It hasn’t even been a week since our conversation and there are already new developments in the Armenian conflict that highlight its fragility to stand in front of its neighbours. It is a time where projects like the Youth Ambassadors for peace are more and more needed. Youth is our hope and future; empowering them to take action and raise awareness about these topics can really help change the mentality surrounding conflicts.

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This interview by Lavinia Ortu - Crossing Borders Intern

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