Yulia Antonyan and Haykuhi Muradyan
Last update: Ocotber 15th 2021
Yulia Antonyan and Haykuhi Muradyan
Last update: Ocotber 15th 2021
THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC’S DEVELOPMENTS AND CONSEQUENCES IN THE CULTURAL SPHERE: ARMENIA
On 16 March 2020, a lockdown regime was introduced in Armenia because of the identification of the first cases of Covid-19. Since then, life and political/cultural/social developments in the country have been influenced by the ebbs and flows of the disease, social/economic life regulations, travel and vaccination politics and the internal Covid related public discourses. However, starting in September 2020 another serious event aggravated the situation, the Armenian-Azerbaijani war. Sometimes, when analyzing the situation, it was really difficult to define whether developments were more determined by the Covid-situation or war/post-war time affects. So, we decided not to separate one occurrence from another and to present them interconnected.
To be more organized in our analysis, we try to stick to the chronological order of events, splitting them into several periods, characterized by different developments, public imperatives and political approaches.
March –September 2020
The Lockdown and the economic collapse
Introducing the lockdown regime, the government closed all education and cultural institutions, and forbade the organization of any public cultural activities and events (performances, exhibitions, celebrations, etc.). Education institutions were recommended to apply online learning methodologies. Simultaneously, the process of re-tuning and re-furnishing of the education system started, which included training for teachers and technical provisions for schoolchildren who did not have technical opportunities to learn distantly. The last component was implemented with the assistance and cooperation of NGOs, social activists’ groups and volunteers.
This period is also remarkable with the activation of online cultural programmes and events. Since the end of March 2020 the project “From museums and libraries to home” started. 12 museums and 12 libraries joined this programme, aimed at the organization of online excursions and exhibitions, available to everyone. Almost from the beginning of the lockdown, state theatres launched online performances and musicians started the online broadcasting of their concerts. All kind of academic, business and public events were converted to the online regime. The number of online conferences, webinars and online training activities increased dramatically. However, the economic and social situation, as everywhere in the world was constantly deteriorating in Armenia. The cultural sphere (cultural institutions, creative industries, especially those existing in close connection with the tourism sphere) has suffered enormously. Throughout 2020, the number of tourists plummeted by 77, 5% if compared with the precious year.
Starting in April 2020, the Armenian government developed a number of crisis management programmes aimed at the alleviation of economic and social consequences of the lockdown. This included part or full compensation for salaries and education fees, in addition to the allocation of funds for infrastructural and content development of educational institutions (repairs, renovation of repertoires, etc.), etc.
September 27, 2020 – January 2021
The war and the post-war developments
On September 27, 2020 the Armenian-Azerbaijani war started abruptly and unexpectedly for the majority of the population of RA. Starting this day, the pandemic and everything related to it was considered unimportant. Although not canceled officially, the lockdown and all related limitations actually stopped operating. The majority of cultural and education institutions, while keeping the online regime of teaching, simultaneously turned into centres for the accumulation and distribution of the humanitarian assistance for hundreds of refugees, army volunteers, etc.
Cultural institutions and art agencies started producing short artistic productions (concerts, cartoons, video- and photo-production, etc.), that would be broadcasted online and could be used to keep people’s spirits high.
Different types of cultural charity events were organized throughout the country and the Armenian Diaspora, both offline and online, such as exhibitions and sales of works of art, charity concerts and performances, charity marathons with the participation of representatives of the cultural sphere, etc. to help to meet the financial demands of war time.
Numerous art and craft training events for refugees and exhibitions of their art and other products were organized to alleviate their economic situation.
In the post-war time, all cultural events, street and official celebrations related to seasonal holidays (New Year and Christmas) were officially canceled as a sign of mourning for thousands of killed soldiers.
February – August 2021
Post-war political crisis and a new Covid wave/vaccination period
Returning to peace time coincided with the temporary decline of Covid-19. This allowed the opening of all cultural institutions (theatres, museums, exhibitions, concert-halls, libraries) and schools, while the universities still kept the online education mode. However, any policy-making activities in the sphere were frozen and postponed because of the political crisis, which was resolved only by the urgent Parliamentary elections held in June 2021 and the appointment of a new cabinet at the beginning of August 2021.
In the meantime, only crisis programmes were developed and implemented. Thus, infrastructural projects in the cultural field were continued. To activate cultural life in the border regions most affected by the war and continuing military escalations and help people to psychologically survive the war consequences, the state programme “The home front is culture, and borders are the centre” was launched.It includes the organization of cultural activities and events in the border regions of Armenia, especially in Syunik and Tavush.
Armenia canceled all main limitations on traveling to and from the country, keeping some basic testing requirements. This helped much in the process of restoration of tourism flows. The tourism and culture spheres were the most impacted, and during 2021 they managed to restore only about 40 % of their pre-Covid potential, as recently declared by the head of the Armenian Federation of Tourism, notwithstanding the constant growth.
September– October 2021
The offline education process was restored in all schools and universities of Armenia. Since late spring of 2021, the vaccination process was launched in Armenia. Its pace was unsatisfactory in the beginning, and then was significantly raised by late September, when the Government accepted a number of decrees about the forced vaccination of state employees. These decrees evoked the discontent of some civic activists and NGO representatives who thought they were violating people’s human rights. However, no QR codes or vaccination passport policies have been introduced so far and all cultural and educational institutions remain available, with only some common safety rules required (social distancing, wearing masks).