Launching of South West Asian Regional Office of Astronomy for Development

Your excellencies, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen

I stand here humbly, having travelled from the Southern tip of the great continent of Africa. Such long flights are always emotional for me as I pass over country after country without being able to see from the sky where one nation ends and another begins. Each country with their own stories – stories of achievement, of challenges, of hopes, of suffering. Some countries who believe they are above another. Some countries who choose to aspire towards another. Every country claiming ownership of their citizens – individuals with aspirations and regrets, love and fears, joy and pain – individuals who claim ownership of their countries of birth, wherever they may be located on the planet.

Flying is about as close to the stars as I can physically get to.

I paint this picture because the exploration of our universe is not just about looking up. As we stretch our minds into the cosmos and conceive of its incredible beauty and unimaginable scales, we do so with our feet firmly on the ground. This is the spirit of the International Astronomical Union’s strategic plan and purpose of 10 coordinating offices established globally.

The South West Asian Regional Office of Astronomy for Development joins other efforts across the world – in China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Jordan, Nigeria, Portugual, South Africa, Thailand and Zambia – to jointly embrace one of humanity’s greatest endeavours (the exploration of our universe) and use everything about that exploration in order to tackle some of humanity’s greatest challenges.

But how do we do this? What use is it to look at the stars when we face so many challenges on the ground? The approach of the astronomy community, in building this global astronomy-for-development network with hundreds of volunteers and project ideas, is to tap into one of the single most important of resources on this planet – a resource that can and has, shaped the course of life as we know it – I’m talking about the human mind! The ability of people to think, reason, influence, innovate, inspire – it is the human mind wherein our hopes for the future of humanity resides. Stretching and developing this mind to its limits will empower people to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow. This is what astronomy hopes to do.

Through its highly technological requirements, astronomy pushes the boundaries of precision engineering, big data, and large scale infrastructure. Through its interdisciplinary foundations, astronomy influences, stimulates and requires all other sciences and the expertise that comes with it. Through its immense cultural connections, astronomy provides the essential link to our own humanity – feeding and demonstrating the common human curiosity that has pervaded all our cultures through our appreciation of the heavens and providing the perspective of the ultimate oneness of human beings. It is our collective ambition to maximise on these strengths of the field and in so doing, positively stimulate a trajectory of sustainable development globally.

The South West Asian Regional Office of Astronomy for Development is located in a very special part of the world. And I stand here in a very special time of the world, and of Armenia. On Sunday I arrived to discover that it was the 2797th anniversary celebration of the city of Yerevan in the centennial year remembering the atrocities of 1915. I spoke of the challenges of today and tomorrow, but what has become of the challenges of yesterday?

One of the greatest leaders that humanity has produced, and who I am proud to have once called my president, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, once said “the purpose of studying history is not to deride human action, nor to weep over it or to hate it, but to understand it. And hopefully then to learn from it as we contemplate our future.”

The importance of learning from our past cannot be emphasised enough. All throughout our collective human history we have seen the best of us and the worst of us. Sadly, we do not always learn from the experiences of those who came before us. Armenia, and particularly Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory, serves as a key bridge between the past, present and future. With its rich history, impressive international standing, and incredible future potential, particularly in the astronomy field, but more generally in society, Armenia can drive the vision of the strategic plan and the aspiration of all of humanity – that of a peaceful and prosperous future.

I am extremely excited by the launch of this office and I look forward to working with everyone here in Armenia and in the region.

Inauguration of the South West Asian regional office in Armenia. credits: SWA ROAD

Transcript of the speech by Kevin Govender, Director of OAD at the inauguration of the South West Asian Regional Office of Astronomy for Development