In 2022, it is hard to imagine Armenia's parliament without young professionals in the corridors, rushing into a committee session, a parliamentary hearing, or patiently taking notes while talking to citizens at the reception center. You may even run into a group of young professionals sitting at the cafeteria preparing for important national and international events. Many of these young professionals are NDI Parliamentary interns and fellows.
Armenia’s youth were a driving force in the 2018 Revolution, and their motivation to help shape their country’s democratic future has only grown, despite a lack of traditional avenues to do so. 1,000 young people from across the country have applied for the internship and fellowship programs that began in 2020, and every year, 27 youth are selected to participate. It provides an opportunity for young Armenians to get acquainted with parliamentary democracy, apply their knowledge and skills in daily work, participate in professional development training, and create a solid foundation for public service careers.
Parliamentary interns and fellows have worked with more than 40 deputies from the three parliamentary factions, as well as 10 committees. They conduct media monitoring, run social media platforms for the deputies, work with constituents, conduct research and legal analyses, and more.
Interns and fellows have helped their government weather a turbulent few years, defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Nagorno Karabakh war and frequent flare ups of cross-border attacks by an emboldened Azerbaijan, as well as multiple political crises. Interns continued Parliament’s important work by responding to constituent requests, creating a new member handbook on the resources Members of Parliament (MPs) have access to when in parliament, and assisting MPs in engaging in nationwide events that engage regions across Armenia.
However, the internship and fellowship programs have not only improved the functioning of Parliament. The programs have profoundly affected the lives of the young people doing the hard work to engage with democracy and push for a brighter future.
Karen is an alumni of both the parliamentary internship and fellowship programs who is currently working as a junior specialist at the Foreign Relations Department of the National Assembly. He interned at the same department and studied inter-parliamentary assemblies.
Karen’s internship and fellowship at the foreign relations department broadened his knowledge about foreign policy, parliamentary diplomacy, diplomatic relations, and inter-parliamentary assemblies. He now successfully utilizes these skills and knowledge in his everyday work at the National Assembly.
“I wrote a speech for the President of the National Assembly when I was an intern after attending an online training organized by NDI on speech writing,” Karen said. “Coming out of COVID-19, it was the first face-to-face meeting between the speakers of more than 100 countries in Madrid, Spain, within the framework of Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU). It’s very hard, because every word, every sentence is very important. You need to choose the most correct words for the speech, because the speech is the opinion of the country on certain issues. Since then, I have been writing many speeches throughout the past year both for the President of the National Assembly as well as for the deputies participating in different inter-parliamentary assemblies.”
The experience and skills acquired during the program helped the interns and fellows become capable professionals who can effectively engage in Armenia’s democratic project. Today, the network of alumni spans the Armenian government and international organizations, bringing the youth’s perspective to Armenia’s most challenging issues.
Another assistant, Syuzanna, worked in the office of Deputy Sos Avetisyan. She researched regional infrastructure projects in the South Caucasus and Armenia’s involvement. Her research was shared among the faction deputies, relevant committees, departments of the National Assembly, as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Before that [the internship program], I had a dream to work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but this dream was kind of unachievable. I didn’t imagine how I could get there, but now I am an attache, I started a diplomatic career, which is a dream that came true for me. The internship program really helped me achieve that goal” Syuzanna said.
Olya is another former intern who currently works as a Deputy’s assistant. “I have always been inspired by the hard work and input that women deputies do in the parliament and I wished I could be able to have my participation and contribution in the processes. All of a sudden, receiving a job offer from a ruling faction deputy, Zaruhi Batoyan, who is working very actively in the protection of rights of the people with disabilities, was very exciting for me and I decided to take the chance” Olya Shahinyan said.
The current cohort of parliamentary interns and fellows will be graduating from the program this winter and moving into a variety of new and exciting roles. NDI will recruit for its next cohort through an open call in December 2022.
This program is implemented with support from Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) which is a program from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.