The International conference and opening of the Vjosa / Aoos River Ecomuseum was completed with great success in Konitsa, Greece, on 26th and 27th January 2014. The conference was opened with an official welcome by the Mayor of Konitsa, Mr. Panagiotis Gargalas who welcomed the establishment of the cross-border Ecomuseum and stressed the crucial importance of the Vjosa / Aoos River for the region.
Opening statements were also made by the Mayor of Zagori, Mr. Gabriel Papanastasiou and the Mayors of Përmet, Mr. Gilbert Jace, and Këlcyrë, Mr Klement Ndoni. They all stressed the importance of the Ecomuseum as a tool for the preservation and promotion of the cultural and natural heritage of the region as well as its timely creation which comes to complement the efforts of institutions and the civil society of the region against the diversion of the Aoos River. A welcome address was also given by Mr. Thanasis Korakis on behalf of the Management Body of Vikos, Aoos and Northern Pindos National Park who mentioned the complementary role that can be played by the Ecomuseum to the already existing actions of the Management Body and the Vikos-Aoos Geopark , the Director of the Forest Directorate of Permet, Mr Elton Ismaili and the Metropolitan of Dryinoupolis, Pogonianis and Konitsa. The project manager of the Vjosa / Aoos River Ecomuseum, Ms Aphrodite Sorotou, explained the meaning of an ‘Ecomuseum’ and pointed out that the conference marks the beginning of an important project that can contribute to the development of the region and not the end of it. Then, under the chairmanship of Mr Thymio Papayannis, Director of the Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Anthropos (Med-INA), the Memorandum of Understanding of the Ecomuseum’s Network, tasked with its further management and development, was signed. This was followed by an official dinner to the sound of traditional music from both sides of the border.
On the second day of the conference, a series of notable presentations were made by experts from Greece, Albania and beyond. Mr. Fanis Dasoulas presented the saw-mills in the Aoos valley, Mr Charitakis Papaioannou the values of the natural environment of Northern Pindos and Mrs Kalliopi Stara the intangible cultural heritage of the Aoos River basin. On the Albanian side, Prof. Vasil Tole presented the traditional music around the Vjosa River with emphasis on the popular and UNESCO designated iso-polyphonic type of music. Mr. Bledar Mane, Director of Tourism and Culture of Përmet presented the actions taken by the Municipality of Përmet to promote cultural tourism. From Scotland and specifically from the University of Glasgow and the charity Northlight Heritage, Messrs. Alan Leslie, Chris Dalglish and Gavin McGregor presented examples of participatory approaches as tools for the protection of cultural heritage, as a contribution to the cohesion of local communities and the sustainable development of regions, by giving examples of their own country. Mr. Stamos Abatis presented the Ecomuseum’s virtual tour which was also on display, on a touchscreen, on the exterior of the conference hall. A common stance of all those who participated in the conference was their opposition to the creation of a dam on the Aoos River that will cause the destruction of an ecosystem that has, for centuries, shaped the environment and culture of this cross border region . The end of the conference was marked by the intervention of the Deputy Mayor of Konitsa, Ms Katerina Tsouvali, who applauded the commitment and quality of work of the project partners and assured that the Municipality of Konitsa will contribute to the promotion and enhancement of the Ecomuseum.