Syunik NGO has been organizing camps since 1994. Initial camps were supported and organized by the local Diocese and Armenian Diaspora for teenagers and youth who had lost their parents or family members during the Karabakh War. Later on, the camps slowly transformed to include new participants selected from ethnic minorities living in Armenia in order to promote friendship among youth with different backgrounds and help them better integrate into Armenian society. From 2006, HEKS began to finance the project and the Georgian NGO Lazarus joined with Syunik to increase collaboration across the South Caucasus by giving Georgian youth an opportunity to participate in the camps. Based on the established cooperation between the Armenian and Georgian organizations, a further partnership was formed with an NGO from Georgia, the “Association of Azeri Women”. As a result, Azeri teenagers from Georgia took part in the camp project in 2010 and 2013. Starting from 2013, an Abkhazian partner organization, Regional Network for Peace and Reintegration, joined the project as well thus allowing Abkhazian youth and teenagers to participate in the camps and creating a truly unique cross-cultural environment.
The present phase (2015-2017) of the project works to enlarge the scope of activities from simply camp activities with teenagers as a target group towards a more active involvement of youth leader through comprehensive, yearlong activities. Overall, the project aims at developing effective peace seeking behavior among project participants living in both Armenia and Georgia.
In 2016, project activities launched with a workshop for project staff and trainers taking place in Borjomi, Georgia. The trainers designed the structure and organization for upcoming leader trainings during this workshop with the assistance of the project staff. Technical and logistical issues were discussed based on lessons learned during previous years. Twenty two leaders (ages from 22-28) were selected by the project partners in their respective home country. Two trainings were organized for these future camp leaders. In the trainings, participants reflected upon the role of young people as “Multicultural Camp Leaders”, explored the ways of revealing and developing leadership potential of youth, considered how to best equip youth with skills on Conflict Mediation and Transformation, and discussed ways to provide camp participations with space to exchange best practices, communicate, and introduce different cultures while encouraging cooperation.
Following the preparation phase, the camps began: The first camp shift was held in Borjomi, Georgia for 15 Armenians, 15 Georgians, 15 Azeris and 15 Abkhazian teenagers. The second shift was held in Vayots Dzor region, Armenia, where 60 Armenian and Georgian as well as ethnic minorities living in Armenia had an opportunity to take part. The camp program consists of four central parts: 1) team building and large-scale games, 2) sessions on Conflict Mediation and Transformation, 3) Intercultural sessions, and 4) evening ceremonies. In addition, each camp day had a special theme for example singing/dancing, drama/journalism, or painting/handicraft and participants prepared for an evening ceremony according to the day’s theme. During these ceremonies mixed groups of participants took turns presenting national songs and dances, poems, movie presentations, small dramas, and interviews as part of a engaging talent show.
Each camp shift has a closing ceremony where a large farewell party is organized. During these parties, participants present on all they have learned during the previous ten days of camp. Cheerful songs and dances accompany the party and it becomes impossible to distinguish Armenians from Georgians and Georgian from Armenian as the group celebrates together. In 2016, the final part of the farewell party was the traditional “Camping Fair” with a beautiful show presented by the ‘’Fire Show’’ Group. At the Armenian shift, alumni beneficiaries and leaders, parents of beneficiaries, and many high ranking guests including Edgar Ghazaryan, Governor of the Vayots Dzor region and, Bishop Abraham Mkrtchyan, the primate of Vayots Dzor Diocese, attended the camp’s farewell party.
After the camps, intensive sessions on Conflict Mediation, Diversity and Stereotype serve as a follow-up for the camp sessions and are organized by the project leaders and camp participants with the support of the partner organizations in their home country or region. In 2016, photo exhibitions with the themes of “Peace in My Eyes” and “Talking Photos” were organized. During these events participants shared their own opinion about the concept of peace, their impressions about the camps, and their many success stories. Finally, film screenings and discussions related to theme of finding common ground and peace were conducted in Syunik NGO’s community centers (Vayk, Chiva, Hermon, Taratumb and Jermuk) for youth.