Religion and Church as cultural policy development factors
Religion is one of the most important factors of cultural specificity and cultural development of nations and countries. Armenia is a secular country which means the religious institutions de-jure does not intervene in the state policy development process, but a de-facto religious factor definitely impacts on the decision-making process in some spheres, such as cultural heritage, education, and cultural tourism. The Armenian Apostolic Church is a dominant religious institution in Armenia, and about 94.7% of citizens belong to it. Its role and functions are much more than those of just a religious institution. The Armenian Apostolic Church implemented functions identical to those of a state since the last Armenian state collapsed in 14 c. So far, it has been playing a central role in the organisation, management and protection of the Armenian Communities of Diaspora. For the vast number of Armenians, the Armenian Apostolic Church is a symbol of national and ethnic identity rather than that of a religion.
Since the declaration of independence in 1991, the Armenian Apostolic Church has significantly enlarged the scope of its activities in many spheres of culture.
- In many communities the Armenian Apostolic Church has taken over the functions of cultural centres and cultural houses. Local church communities fulfil different projects on religious and cultural education of children, adolescents, youth and the elderly. The Church officials and activists organise excursions, lectures and cultural events for the locals. Typically, they maintain and support choirs, youth organisations, arts and crafts (see Hayordyats Tner, in chapter 8.4.1). Some of the most active church communities are involved in environmental protection and charitable activities. It should be noted that similar activities are organised by other religious movements in Armenia for their own communities.
- The Armenian Apostolic Church has also succeeded in its efforts to make religion a part of secular education. The course on “History of the Armenian Apostolic Church” is delivered in secondary schools and, in fact, fully addresses Christian dogmatism, mythology and values. This course has become an issue of public debates among the secular part of the population. Secular intelligentsia criticise the introduction of the subject and the content of the textbooks, considering it a step backward from the idea of a secular state.
- The Armenian Apostolic Church tends to be one of the central players in cultural heritage related activities. Most of the historical monuments in Armenia that are preserved from antiquity and the Middle Ages are of religious nature. There are approximately 1 300 officially registered historical and architectural monuments, mostly related to early and medieval Christianity. Since 1997 (State resolution N274, 1997), the state has started the process of restitution of Christian monuments (churches, monasteries, chapels) to the Armenian Apostolic Church. Activation of churches and monasteries highlights the necessity for renovation and modernisation so that religious services can be facilitated. The Armenian Apostolic Church raises money from private donors and Diaspora organisations for this renovation. Some restoration projects are carried out along with the Ministry of Culture. However, some cases of inaccurate restoration and / or modernisation of ancient churches and monasteries irritate the local and pan-Armenian community of architects, historians and cultural studies specialists and have become an issue for public debates and political activities.
Cultural sustainability constitutes one of the four domains of the concept of sustainable development. The Sustainable Development Strategy of Armenia (October, 2008) considers cultural sustainability among its priorities. In particular, the Program prioritises:
- Preservation and promotion of the Armenian Cultural Heritage;
- Stimulation of modern cultural processes and promotion of modern art;
- Cultural education;
- Development of international cultural cooperation and ties.
In June of 2012 the Armenian delegation participated in Rio de Janeiro summit “Rio +20”, devoted to sustainable development. The RA Ministry of Culture developed a report entitled “Cultural policy in 2000-2012 in the context of sustainable development” that had been presented in the summit.
Some sports may be considered as a factor strongly impacting culture and development. Unprecedented success of the Armenian chess-players in the World Chess Olympiads 2006, 2008, and 2012 promoted national interest in chess and stimulated the introduction of chess into secondary schools as a part of the national education programme (2011). Chess has also become an additional means for international recognition of Armenia, the Armenian people and culture.
The discipline of “Sport and Physical culture” is taught in the Institute of physical culture (since 2013). It includes history and cultural evolution of sports and its sociocultural role.
Transparency of Culture related State Institutions
Criticism of the activities of the Ministry of Culture that periodically appear in the mass media sometimes stem from the lack of transparency of ministerial activities, appropriate information on cultural projects, awareness about decision-making and selection processes, etc. Public debates on this issue often do not get immediate and adequate feedback from government officials, so people do not feel their opinion is valued by the state.
During 2011, there have been several positive changes in the situation. The Minister of Culture tried to be more open to the public and obtain feedback on some important issues that were emerging (the issue of restoration and displacement of frescos of Minas Avetissyan, the famous Armenian painter, the gradual removal of book stores, etc.) through various mass media outlets. A meeting with the Armenian blogging community was organised in August 2011, where all these and other issues were discussed and at least addressed. The official website of the Ministry (http://www.mincult.am) also plays an important role in the provision of public awareness, but the question of transparency still remains open. Since 2013 the website of the Ministry has been restructured and significantly improved. It has become more informative, more transparent and more user-friendly.