SOS Culture: Revival of Forgotten Cultural Assets in the Armenian and Georgian Border Regions

Abandoned and ruined churches, monasteries, dwelling caves from the Middle Ages, graveyards or prehistoric cult sites…

Throughout remote areas in the South Caucasus one can find a large number of neglected cultural assets, that are in deep need of care and attention. Under the slogan “Crossing borders to save, preserve and care” this issue is currently addressed by the SOS Culture project which was launched in January 2012 by the Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC)

With an overall duration of 24 months, the SOS Culture project is funded by the European Union within the framework of the Eastern Partnership Culture Program and is implemented by FPWC in cooperation with the dvv international – Georgia Country office and Research on Armenian Architecture Foundation. The overall EU contribution to SOS Culture project is 492,754 Euro.

The overall objective of the project is to register and preserve endangered cultural assets in the remote border regions of Armenia and Georgia with the involvement of local citizenry. Involvement of local communities will in its turn promote economic, social and cultural development in the areas, covered by the project.

The approach of the SOS Culture project is rooted in the idea that well preserved and explored historic sites have a tremendous positive influence on the creation of an environment, which nurtures sustainable economic, social and human development in remote and impoverished regions, making those regions attractive for tourists.

SOS Culture relies on the active involvement of youths (age 14 -23) from different national and ethnic origins living in the target areas of Armenia and Georgia. The young people participate in protection and research activities, implemented in the vicinity of their villages. These activities include cultural assets of different origins and religions, as well as pre-historic sites and medieval architectural monuments. By doing this, the project underlines that “Cultural assets belong to everybody”: regardless of nationality, religious faith or language, people living nearby a monument should care and preserve. This instils a new approach and knowledge about local cultural assets among the members of the youth clubs, established by FPWC and its Georgian project partner dvv international. Participating in the project activities, the members of the youth clubs support the cultural and touristic development of their regions.

The youth clubs members are trained in intercultural communication, leadership skills, multicultural awareness, art history, photography, filmmaking and basics of tourism management. Accompanied by FPWC and dvv international representatives and project experts youth club members visit cultural monuments. On the sites they learn how to advocate for neglected assets through photography and videos. Moreover they acquire basic skills which are needed to preserve them. Through these hands-on activities young people develop a more attentive, caring attitude and sense of responsibility towards cultural monuments. The photos and video films are published on the website and will be presented during exhibitions.

In cooperation with Georgian colleagues, RAA contributes to the project with the organization’s vast experiences in tracing historic monuments in remote and inaccessible areas. dvv international  contributes to the action with its rich experience in Adult Education and working with youths, involving innovative interactive teaching methods and tools which make the learning process lively and attractive.

SOS Culture project partner and expert from the Armenian side and the director of Research on Armenian Architecture Foundation Mr. Samvel Karapetyan outlines the primary goals of the project, which are self-knowledge and knowledge of the rich cultural heritage of the region. “Passing the knowledge to the local population, particularly the youth, we are able to reduce spoliation, resulting from ignorance. Indirectly, the project also reduces emigration, because when you know your motherland, you come to love it and get attached to it”, says Samvel Karapetyan.