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Why Armenia Is a ‘Must Buy’ for Silicon Valley and Big Tech

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Flag of Armenia in foreground next to building

In the summer of 2019, Armenian students from the TUMO Center for Creative Technologies in Nagorno-Karabakh produced a 3D scanning project of the Dadivank Armenian monastery, which was built between the 9th and 13th centuries. The students wanted to leverage the power of technology to bring one of the most important sites in Armenian history to life for people around the world to see, while educating them about Armenia’s rich culture and presence in the region.

Azerbaijan destroys American historical sites

Little did they realize that their efforts would soon turn into a preservation campaign, as Azerbaijan launched an unprovoked war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh weeks after the project began.

With the region and monastery now in the hands of Azerbaijan, the students’ scan of Dadivank might be the only sign keeping Armenia’s legacy alive as Azerbaijan continues to destroy hundreds of historical sites in their attempt to erase an entire culture from existence.

The digital record that the students created highlights a profound and revealing dichotomy currently taking place in the South Caucusus, which sits at the crossroads of Asia and Europe. In many ways, Armenians are turning to technology to preserve and advance history while Azerbaijan is using technology to destroy it. This contrast in ideas can be traced to the opposing values and principles that each country exhibits and spreads to the rest of the world.

The thriving technology sector in Armenia

In Armenia, which is a representative democracy with a parliamentarian form of government based on the rule of law, there is a thriving technology sector that has experienced significant growth over the past decade with a four-fold increase in its IT workforce, and it is home to more than 500 startups today. And according to the World Bank, technology contributes to nearly 6% of Armenia’s total exports.

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Much of that development has been nurtured by a society that fosters a strong sense of community and giving back. It is one of the reasons why the TUMO Center for Creative Technologies, which is a free after-school program focused on using technology to teach students coding, robotics, 3D animation, video and music production, drawing, and creative writing, has been such a success. With three centers in Armenia, serving more than 20,000 students a year, TUMO is scheduled to open a new facility in Los Angeles, making it the first center in the United States.

It is also an industry that has been helped by a very supportive diaspora with people like Noubar Afeyan, co-founder of Moderna, who has backed such initiatives as the Foundation for Armenian Science and Technology (FAST), and Armen Aghajanyan, a principal scientist of AI research at Meta, who is developing an AI institute in Armenia.

Unconditional support

It is an ecosystem that receives unconditional support from the Armenian government, which has offered tax exemptions for startups and tax breaks for IT workers while making it an appealing environment for innovation and disruption.

Compare that with Azerbaijan, a country led by a petro-dictator, Ilham Aliyev, who has deftly used his country’s vast oil and gas resources to whitewash his dreadful human rights record and to basically buy a seat at the world’s table. Aliyev has been able to use his country’s natural resources for various geopolitical trade-offs and to skirt accountability for his mistreatment of Armenians and his own citizens.  And unlike in Armenia where children are taught the value of hard work and independence at a young age, Aliyev has enacted a state policy that hatred towards the Armenian people be taught to school children across the country.

The differences between the two countries could not be starker. That is why Silicon Valley and Big Tech have an opportunity to bet big in Armenia. It is ripe for the taking. Armenians have shown that they have the intellect and brain power to move fast and get things done. Whether it’s chip design, robotics, advanced engineering, or electronic design automation, Armenia is an untapped pipeline for human capital and talent. And while there are some companies – NVIDIA, Intel, Microsoft, Google, IBM, and Cisco – investing in Armenia, there could be more.

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Armenia offers great opportunities

Armenia also offers the world’s most powerful technology firms an opportunity to use that intelligence to develop technologies that can combat and address societal issues such as climate change. It can be a key differentiator for them in positioning themselves as good corporate citizens who are trying to make an impact as opposed to companies that are investing in fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.

While Armenia is a landlocked country with a paucity of natural resources, it is fertile ground for cultivating the talent of innovative and independent minded thinkers and promises to be the world’s next big technology hub.

And despite a history that has been marked by mass persecution and suffering, the Armenian people have shown that perseverance, determination, and devotion are the hallmarks and characteristics that define them as a people.

Those were the same qualities displayed by the students at TUMO who understood the value that technology can play in making a difference by solving an intractable problem. They saw technology as providing a window into the past for future generations to learn from.

For Silicon Valley, Armenia offers a similar lesson and is a country worth betting on.

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This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

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Stephan Pechdimaldji is a communications strategist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a first-generation Armenian American and grandson of survivors of the Armenian genocide.

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