The pressing lesson that our nation needs to learn after a crushing defeat in the second Artsakh war is that accelerating the scientific and technological progress in Armenia is the only way to ensure the country’s security, independence, and prosperity. A well-developed and need-driven scientific ecosystem will change all aspects of our life — from education to economics, healthcare to justice, and the very nature of the defense. It seems that we all understand that science and technology are the cornerstones of security and economic and social development, yet the Armenian government doesn’t apprehend the urgency of the matter and continues to ignore the importance of forming R&D priorities.
Armenia’s crumbled scientific ecosystem requires long-term commitment and internationally competitive investments to revive and be able to meet the nation’s needs. For this reason, several businessmen & entrepreneurs in the leading high-tech industry and beyond came together and formed the “Gituzh” initiative, which advocates the development of the R&D ecosystem and science popularization in Armenia.
Launched on February 14, 2021, the initiative made one of its primary objectives to achieve modernization of Armenia’s scientific ecosystem and empowerment of R&D capacities for the country’s economic development and security. Sadly, the authorities in Armenia are unaware of the direct link between overcoming the internal challenges and external menaces of Armenia and the targeted development of the R&D potential. This is explicit in the unambiguous lack of clear state goals, ambitious strategic plans in various spheres, and by and large in defense.
The members of Gituzh are convinced that there can’t be a secure and developed state without powerful scientific potential. To this end the Gituzh community formulated its demand addressed to the RA Government and National Assembly and backed by representatives of over 700 companies.
- In 2021 increase the allocations in the state budget provided for scientific activities by at least 50 percent, and direct it to the financing of new programs for the Science Committee of RA
- To enshrine in the law regulating the sphere of science of the Republic of Armenia that state allocations for scientific and R&D activity should gradually increase according to the following schedule: 2022 – at least two percent of the budget, 2023 – at least three percent of the budget, starting from 2024 – at least four percent of the budget (approximately one percent of GDP).
- To instruct the authorized state body in 2021 to carry out inventory, analysis, strategy development, and start implementation only after the first and second actions are carried out.
The demand did create some reverberation among the authorities, but its gist was apparently misinterpreted, consciously or naively. What followed the demand are half-baked steps of increased funding and indistinct narratives among government representatives about “the importance of science” and verbal vague promises to develop the nation’s scientific capacities and so on. Neither of these facilitates long-term national investments in basic and applied research nor builds a well-developed system and R&D capacities that leverages the combined talents of scientists and engineers to support national needs, as Gituzh’s demand states.
Although an increase this year and an increase last year is an “unprecedented” step, and the Gituzh community has highlighted the importance of that in its statements, however, the actions that government takes lack a systemic approach and only slightly delay the complete disappearance of the scientific ecosystem.
Such inept moves of the RA government towards science and R&D, the ignorance of their importance in meeting the challenges the country faces, and the absence of clear state goals and ambitious strategic plans in this regard endanger the security of Armenia and question its economic development. Unfortunately, the situation is not new. The policies and attitudes in the past three decades ruthlessly quelled the fame of scientists and eliminated any more or less ample ground for scientific activity. As a result, the facts and figures Gituzh unfolds, reveal an increasingly bleak picture:
- Out of the 30,000 researchers in the wake of the Soviet Union, 3,600 have remained in state-funded programs: 2,500 of them hold a Ph.D. degree, and 1000 are older than 65. Given the official number of Armenia’s population – three mln, and accounting for a small number of researchers in the private sector, the researchers’ per mln population indicator is fewer than 1,500 against the 4,000 EU average in 2018.
- According to estimates, roughly 200 people leave science in Armenia every year, while the state-funded number of Ph.D. seats has remained 200 for the last two years, and the same is envisaged for 2022-2023. It is obvious that the scientific community is aging and measures are required to fill the gaps.
The scientific potential of the Diaspora could be effectively used if ambitious programs were in place. The Science Committee has launched a few new programs aimed at rejuvenating and rebooting the aging science community. The programs enable scientists living abroad to set up laboratories in Armenia and carry out research. However, the scales are way too tiny given the magnitude of the problem. Bearing in mind that in this year’s science budget of 25 billion AMD, only one billion AMD is directed to the implementation of new programs the perspective does not seem far-reaching. For scientists to relocate there need to be more or less similar conditions, the prospect of mending the right environment for doing science, and long-term commitment by the state.
One can’t help but wonder – a crisis of what magnitude is necessary for our statesmen to realize the significance of the research, innovation, and scientific progress and the bold actions and strategic approaches needed to achieve it? If our leaders go on grounding their solutions on fragmented tactical moves and their decisions on amateurish predictions instead of hard facts, the system will eventually fizzle out.
For our nation to stand the test of time and rise up as a hub that draws talents globally, there is an urgent need for the government to engage in a dialogue with all the concerned parties to create a robust and multifaceted scientific ecosystem that serves the needs of the country, boosts the economy and strengthens its security.
The 44-day war made it evident that our security is our frailty. Gituzh members have repeatedly stated that it is impossible to ensure Armenia’s security without clarifying state goals and setting up ambitious strategic R&D programs. However, even after the 44-day war the budget for targeted scientific and technical research in the field of defense is not fully appropriated. In 2021 about four billion 574 million AMD was allocated for the R&D as mentioned above, and five billion 200 million AMD in 2022. However, by late 2021, by two Government decisions, two billion 576 million AMD (~ 56 percent) was cut down. Another sizable chopping of 295 million took place in April this year. Be it a lack of desire to empower defense capabilities or inability to do so are unacceptable against the backdrop of the multi-layered existential challenges we face.
To make science internationally competitive in Armenia the potential of the Diaspora should be involved at various levels and spheres. The Diasporan scientists’ contributions to Armenia’s former scientific fame were tangible. That Armenia hit its unprecedented peak in the Soviet years was also due to the efforts of Diaspora researchers, who permanently relocated to Armenia, led global advancements, and made the country a science and technology hub. Victor Ambartsumian, one of the pioneers in theoretical astrophysics, founder of the Byurakan Observatory; Sergey Mergelian, one of the pioneers of modern complex approximation theory, and who is one of the founders of Yerevan Scientific Research Institute of Mathematical Machines, aka the Mergelyan Institute; The Orbeli brothers, whose contribution to physiology, history, and archeology pushed those disciplines to new heights; Artem Alikhanian, one of the founders and first director of the Yerevan Physics Institute( renamed to its current name A.I. Alikhanyan National Science Laboratory). Many more can be listed. We need to extort that gone fame back with unflinching strategies and combined endeavor. In the long run, ardent efforts should be made towards our society to help unravel the increasingly fragmented perceptions of science and scientists and reach a point where science will be regarded as the linchpin of development and security. It is crystal clear – modern societies do not stand a chance without the acceptance and appreciation of scientific research and R&D in general.