By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
YEREVAN — Karen Vardanyan has an ambitious vision for Armenia’s future. If his program continues to garner success, the country will become a leader in the field of complex engineering solutions, not only in software but also in related fields. Thus far, the project has captured the imagination of hundreds of Armenian youngsters and enjoys the support of private industry and some governmental agencies.
The basic concept is deceptively simple. He and his colleagues set up robotics clubs in public schools, where pupils can take part, on a voluntary basis, and learn all about the field. They can build their own robots, as well as learn to operate them through remote control. They become proficient in computer programming. Once a year, they can participate in a nationwide competition, where they present their creations. Those youth who excel and wish to continue their education in electronics, can study at universities thanks to scholarships, and even travel abroad to further their higher education. When they return to Armenia, they will either embark on teaching careers or enter industry at some level, and either way contribute to rebuilding this vital sector.
We met with Karen, an old friend, at the Digitec Expo 2014, held between October 3-5 at the Mergelyan Institute in Erevan. Twenty-five years ago there were 8,000 people, working at the Mergelyan Institute, whereas now there are 400. These figures spell out the dimensions of the tragedy that has afflicted the sector, which earlier had been the leader in military electronics in the entire Soviet Union. When Armenia became independent in 1991 there was opposition in both east and west to the perspective of a strong sector in the country. In the early 1990s conflict situation, electricity was scarce or not available, the factories had been gutted, their equipment removed or stolen, and former employees had to seek jobs elsewhere. Thousands of highly qualified Armenians in this and other high-tech areas sought and found employment abroad, and the brain drain threatened to rob the country of its most precious resource: its human capital.