BERLIN — When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Armenia in August 2018, she was impressed by the innovative spirit pervading the country. Not long before her arrival, Armenia had gone through a “velvet revolution,” which reminded many Germans of their own peaceful revolution that replaced the East German Communist regime in 1989. It was not only in the political and social realm that fresh winds were blowing; also in technology, Merkel encountered creative new approaches.
The German chancellor was fascinated by the TUMO Center she visited in Gyumri. A physicist by training, Merkel marveled at the effectiveness of the original concept developed there to educate young people in computer sciences. Accompanied by the Minister for Science and Education Arayik Harutyunyan, Merkel said at the time that she “saw teenagers develop innovations while holding fast to the roots of Armenian culture. I just realized what a knowledgeable society exists in Armenia.” Due to her keen interest in the project, she discussed the possibility of opening such a center one day in Germany.
That day is now on the agenda. On February 13, during a joint press conference with Merkel in Berlin, visiting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced the opening of the first TUMO Center in Germany. He and Merkel praised their growing bilateral economic and technological cooperation, of which the TUMO project is the impressive centerpiece. Pashinyan said he was “very happy with the agreement” to set up the facility. “It is a great honor,” he said, “for us to share our advanced experience with a technology-intensive country like Germany.”
The TUMO Center for Creative Technologies, named after poet Hovhannes Tumanyan, is the brainchild of Sam and Silva Simonian, Armenian Americans originally from Beirut. The first center in Armenia appeared in the capital in 2011 and now there are three more, in Gyumri, Dilijan and Stepanakert, capital of Karabakh (Artsakh). The Simonians’ foundation has generated similar institutions in Paris and Beirut as well.
Berlin will host the first German center, which is slated to open by autumn of 2020. The contract for license and franchise was signed on January 21 between TUMO and the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW), a financial institution that sponsors education as well as development projects here and abroad. Dorothee Bär, the State Minister for Digitalisation in the Chancellor’s Office, Armenian Ambassador Ashot Smbatyan, KfW Board Member Ingrid Hengster and (connected by videostream) TUMO Chariman Pegor Papazian signed the cooperation agreement in a festive ceremony.