Crumbling ruins, machinery rusting away under a thick layer of dust… this is what we expect of old industrial areas once the factories have stopped running. At best, warehouses and small private workshops still function there. But now, the area of the former Ijevan Mechanical-Repair Factory has got the opportunity to become an innovative and educational centre in Tavush.
In recent years in Armenia, as in almost all the developed countries of the world, the IT sector has seen ever increasing demand.
Like many of his peers, a 15-year-old Mher Otaryan from Ijevan, enjoys spending his free time on the computer. Inspired by his cousin, who is a programmer, Mher decided to specialise in IT as well. While he was looking for a university in Ijevan, a branch of the secondary vocational school ‘Real School’ opened up. Here, during a four-year course, students receive training in computer programming and 3D modelling, robotics, modelling of micro- and radio electronics, design and testing of UAVs, chemistry, physics, laser technology, optics and biology.
Mher and eight other youngsters of his age, of whom only two are girls, spend every day from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm at the ‘Real School’, where they have the opportunity to apply their acquired knowledge immediately.
“It was unusual to have only eight fellow students after having about thirty classmates. However, here, compared to my previous school, everything we learn is applied on the spot and we see the result of our knowledge. After learning about 3D modelling in the engineering workshop, I fell in love with it, like with programming,” says Mher Otaryan.
Alongside their four-year education at the ‘Real School’, the students master traditional Armenian dances and participate in expedition tours.
Mher is a first-year student who has not yet decided what to do next.
After receiving further education in Yerevan, many people seek to stay in the capital, including IT specialists. The establishment of the ‘Real School’ in Ijevan aims to reverse that trend.
The ‘InnoIjevan’ project was launched in February 2022, in Ijevan. It is implemented by the Ijevan municipality, the Union of Advanced Technology Enterprises-UATE and CoWo-coworking network, with funding from the European Union in Armenia, within the ‘Enhancing economic development of Ijevan through leveraging PPP and creating local eco-system for innovative development‘ grant project. The goal of the project is to create an area in Ijevan where education, innovation and entrepreneurship will be intertwined to contribute to community development by bringing together the local government, businesses, and local community.
InnoIjevan will be the location for the ‘Real School’ for secondary vocational education, as well as CoWo’s incubation and acceleration programmes, including the operation of a community working environment /coworking space.
“The purpose of uniting the Real School and CoWo in one place is to apply the knowledge of the graduates of the ‘Real School’ to the organisations operating in the premises of InnoIjevan, as well as the beneficiary companies of the projects receiving development support here. Additionally, skills and knowledge support are provided to the SMEs operating in the fields of agriculture, food processing and tourism in Tavush region,” said Mariam Hovhannisyan, the Head of Content of the ‘InnoIjevan’ project.
Tiran Janinian is from nearby Gandzakar village. Since 2015, he has been participating in off-road races and expeditions, exploring natural monuments and cultural sites in remote and challenging locations.
“I decided to transform my hobby into a profession in Tavush. As a result, I am now the head of the ‘Around Tavush’ tourist company, which not only focuses on off-road tourism using my favorite SUVs but also plans to offer hiking, exploratory, and cultural programmes. Additionally, our future plans involve transforming our native Gandzakar village into a hub for active and passive recreation,” says Tiran, who is a veteran of the 2020 war.
To bridge the knowledge gap for implementing business ventures, he enrolled in the bootcamp, and incubation educational programmes offered by InnoIjevan. These programmes are conducted in the reconstructed and enhanced area of InnoIjevan.
Arpi Karapetyan, the founder and director of the CoWo coworking network, emphasises that when selecting the locations for each branch, preference is given to buildings with a rich history that are currently unused. An example of this is the workshop of the Ijevan Mechanical-Repair Factory, commonly known by the locals as Rembaza.
The factory was established in 1952. It produced household stoves. Later, a casting workshop was established to manufacture mechanical parts for forestry tractors. In the 1980s, the demand for spare parts for tractors and tree planting mechanisms grew significantly, both within the USSR and from other countries. This led to a decision to demolish the existing three-shift production buildings and create a large, modernised factory under one roof.
Vrezh Nersisyan serves as the executive director of ‘Ijevan Mechanical Factory’ OJSC. He joined the factory as an engineer-technologist in 1980 and gradually rose to the position of director. He recalls a meeting held on the morning of December 7, 1988, where they discussed organising work in temporary tent areas until the old buildings could be demolished and new ones constructed. However, the plans were disrupted by the devastating Spitak earthquake, which resulted in the allocated funds being redirected to the disaster zone. Subsequently, during the early years of independence, the factory experienced a sharp decline in demand for its products.
The factory, which originally employed over 300 people, underwent downsizing and continued its operations with around 50 employees, gradually becoming smaller in scale.
The mechanical-repair factory covers an area of 1,200 hectares. Only the former administrative buildings will for now be used for the purposes of InnoIjevan. One of these buildings houses the classrooms of the ‘Real School’. In the other section of the building, which previously served as an event and meeting hall, a minimalist-style coworking space will be established after necessary reinforcement works. This space will be available for hosting various events as needed. Since the inception of the project, the only part of the building that remains from the past and has been completely preserved has been transformed into a platform for conducting InnoIjevan’s incubator projects.
“Undoubtedly, the ongoing efforts primarily focus on the administrative building, but it’s worth noting that the workshop of the mechanical-repair factory boasts remarkable technical structures and outdoor spaces that also deserve revitalisation,” explains Arpi Karapetyan. “Currently, there is a lack of platforms in Ijevan that can accommodate a large audience for active participation, which can be created in this specific location.”
The EU-supported project provides funding for the ‘Real School’ and incubation project solely for the initial two years. Afterward, InnoIjevan is expected to become self-sustainable by generating income through coworking and office spaces, as well as renting them out for events.
“We aim to attract IT companies that are based in Yerevan to open branches in Ijevan, thus providing local specialists with employment opportunities in the field without having to leave their place of residence. However, we also actively seek ways to leverage the knowledge and ideas of the students from the Real School in sectors such as tourism, agriculture, and food processing, which are integral parts of our project,” says Arpi Karapetyan.
The scope of the ‘InnoIjevan’ project extends beyond the premises of the former factory. As part of the comprehensive assessment of the functions of the Ijevan municipality, a business management centre has been established to offer information support to businesses operating within the community.
This centre collects information about the public sector, NGOs, and SMEs, providing local entrepreneurs with the necessary resources to address various work-related issues. Moreover, individuals initiating new businesses or existing companies can receive information there about local or international funding sources, capacity-building opportunities, and innovative organisations.
Author: Anahit Minasyan
Article published in Armenian by Urbanista.am
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