India is much more than Bollywood, elephants, tea and yoga: Ambassador Dewal’s exclusive interview to ARMENPRESS
YEREVAN, JUNE 15, ARMENPRESS. The close historical-political ties and contacts between the Armenian and Indian nations have a history of millennia, which have started back in ancient times and have reached to the present day. And as there are many similarities in culture, language, historical connections between the Armenian and Indian peoples, it’s very natural that the inter-state relations between Armenia and India are very friendly today, H.E. Kishan Dan Dewal, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Republic of India to the Republic of Armenia, said in an exclusive interview to ARMENPRESS on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
During the interview the Ambassador talked about almost all issues relating to the main aspects of the Armenian-Indian mutual relations, assessing both the current level of the inter-state ties and the further development prospects with the results of these 30-year diplomatic contacts.
ARMENPRESS presents the 1st part of the interview with the Indian Ambassador below:
- Hello, Mr. Ambassador. How are you?
- Hello, Mr. Aram. Good to see you. I’m good, how are you?
- I’m fine. Thank you for hosting us in the Indian Embassy.
- It’s my pleasure.
- It is very exciting for me. There is so much Indian culture in here.
- I’m happy to hear that.
- As you know, sir, Armenia and India, two friendly and partner countries, are celebrating the 30th anniversary of establishment of official diplomatic relations. Actually, the Protocol was signed on August 31, 1992. In this respect, we’d like to hear how the things are going on in Armenian-Indian relations, how would you assess this 30-year road the two countries passed together as independent states?
- Thank you for the question. This is a very important milestone, 30 years of our diplomatic relations after independence of Armenia. As you know, India was one of the first countries to recognize the independence of Armenia and also to establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Armenia. Since 1999 we have a full-fledged resident mission in Armenia. Before that we were covering Armenia with some neighboring countries, but since 1999 we are here as full-time embassy.
As regards our last 30 years, I would say that we’ve gone very close to each other, our relations have improved to a great extent. I remember two visits by Armenia’s previous Foreign Ministers to India. One was in 2003, if I’m not mistaken, and the second one was in 2010.
I would say that last three years have seen tremendous upward trend in our bilateral relations in all spheres, particularly in the political context. Our Foreign Minister visited Armenia in October 2021. It was the first ever visit of Indian foreign minister to Armenia, historical visit. And I'm happy to share with you that while we are talking, just few days back Armenia’s Foreign Minister Mirzoyan has returned from a very successful visit from India. This is the political part of it.
Secondly, we have made very good progress in our trade relations: it has grown to significant number but there is still a potential to increase it further. In the last three years the trade between the two countries have increased three times, which is a very good sign. Also, tourist inflow from India to Armenia has grown. Before pandemic the numbers were somewhere around 50,000 which unfortunately during COVID-19 pandemic has gone down but now they are picking it up very fast and I also look forward more Armenian tourists going to India as well.
- The history says that the first references on Armenian-Indian contacts were recorded in 5-4 centuries B.C. in Xenophon’s “Cyropaedia”. Friendly relations between Armenia and India have been established centuries ago, based on mutual respect and trust, and have been developing steadily.
- Yes, you are right. There are written evidences in the form of some written memoirs and books of those times. You know, two princes came from Kannauj, India. They left that part because of some local internal disturbances or something and they came all the way up to Armenia and they took refuge in Armenia. It was around 50 B.C. At that time Armenia wasn’t even a Christian country. And the two princes along with entourage came to Armenia and settled in the Western Armenia. It is said that at that time there was a community of almost 10,000 Indians in this area and they were graciously received at by Armenian people that time. Though with time, with the advent of Christianity this Indian community gradually vanished perhaps because they got absorbed in the Armenian society. These were the earliest connections, but if you talk about more recent connections between India and Armenia, Armenians went to the Mughal Empire in 16th century as traders and also as military men, as advisers.
- And they came from Persia, didn’t they?
- They came from Western Armenia, and also some of them perhaps came from Armenian community living in Persia. They moved to India for trading purposes. They were very educated, they were absorbed in the Administration of that time, and many of them settled in Agra, the capital of Mughal Empire at that time.
- There are a lot of speculations about the links between Armenian and Indian languages, including Sanskrit. In fact, all of them are part of Indo-European language family.
- That’s right. As you know, Sanskrit is perhaps the ancient language of the world, and from Sanskrit many languages have originated. I don't know from which language Armenia got originated but we do have a lot of similar words between our two languages, even in Hindi and today’s Armenian language. Most of these words are actually because of some commonality with the Persian language. Armenians have adopted a lot of Persian words. It is also true for Hindi. That’s why we see lots of commonalities here.
- Can you mention any Indian words that we use in Armenian? I know we have lot of similar words.
- I have to count them: “paneer”, “darwaza”, “kun”, “ha”… We say “haa”, you also say “haa”. I need to see the dictionary, there are many many words.
- How much the history and the culture, especially the common things we have in those areas, have impact on the present relations of India and Armenia, how much do they strengthen the basis of bilateral relations and help developing them?
- See, the commonality in any field, be it language, culture or history, certainly plays big role in people-to-people contacts and in the relations between the countries. So, in terms of, if we talk about history and historical facts I just mentioned about the presence of Armenians in Agra, but beyond that I’ll now give you small details how deeply involved and assimilated Armenians were in the Indian society. They built the first western educational institution in Kolkata. That was one. Even before the Britishers did. Then they built one of the oldest Armenian Churches in India is in Kolkata and also in Chennai, in these two cities. And in Kolkata, - that time it was called Calcutta, now we call Kolkata, - it was a trade hub of India that time, that's why you see more and more Armenians concentrating around Kolkata because it was a trade hub that time, it was the main center of economic activity. And so a big number of Armenian community settled in Kolkata, they started this educational institution and I'm happy to share with you that one Armenian college is being run by the Armenian Church which is more than 200 years old. We have very few such old institutions which are still functioning, 200-year-old institution, it’s great. Similarly, in Chennai we have functioning Armenian Church and they're being taken care. We have cemetery in Surat, Gujarat. So all these shows our very strong Armenian-Indian bond. Though the Armenian community in today’s India is very small. I must admit it’s very small because of various reasons, but you see that there are very strong roots between our people. Since we have so much common historical connections it is but natural that our relations are very friendly.
- How many Armenians live in India now?
- We unfortunately don't have the exact figures but I can guess how much it is. In today's India there would be around 1,000 Armenians, which is very less if you compare with the total number of India’s population 1,3 billion people. We have mostly this Armenian community based in Kolkata, who are living there for generations. Those are one. Then a lot of Armenian citizens are married to Indians, husband or wife, they are living in India, they are also quite big number. And a lot of Armenians are now working in India. So, the total population is small I’d say.
- I see. To the present-day Armenian and Indians are in close cultural and people-to-people contacts, as we have thousands of Indian students, tourists and also immigrants studying, living and working in Armenia. Indian movies are still very popular among the Armenian population. And a lot of similarities we already mentioned. So, what do you think unites the Indian and Armenian peoples and makes our relations so special?
- As I said, similarities in culture, language and our historical connections and historical bond - these are natural factors for which any two countries or two peoples will be friendly. And this is true. Secondly, I would say that Armenian people are very intelligent people. They were in India during the time when we were still emerging, we were in a state of emergence of new India after the long struggle for Independence. Before that Armenian people were very prosperous community, they were very well-educated and they were very well incorporated in the Administration of that time. So, it shows the potential of Armenian people. Thirdly, a lot of Indian students are now coming for various factors. One of them is affordable medical education in Armenia.
- What are the most important facts and things we should know about India?
- I want to say that, you know, Armenians know about India mostly through Bollywood movies and through their impression from the old Indian movies. In fact, during the Soviet era Armenia was one of the countries which was also very much fond of the Indian movies. This Raj Kapoor era has created an impression of India among Armenian people. Today a lot of Armenians are going to explore new modern India. But I want to stress that India is not only Bollywood, elephants, tea and Goa, it is much more than that, and to see real India one should visit the country. I mean if I can point to some of these pictures, you'll see you have the monuments of Rajasthan, you have temples of Kerala, you have temples from Southern India, you have mountains of Himalayas. India is a big country and to understand India one should visit and see it from his or her own eyes to really understand what India is.
- You mean the movies and kind of stuff aren’t deep knowledge about India.
- Yes, I mean, movie, tea and yoga – these three things are not describing India totally, they are very important, but still very small part of India. But if you go to the modern-day India, today’s India is 6th largest world economy with 2.63 trillion US dollar GDP, which is quite big, and top 7 CEO’s of top 10 companies of the world are Indians. It’s not a joke, it’s a big thing, that means you have the most talented people coming out of India and going in the world global level, global affairs. Thirdly, today’s India is very strong in defense technology and the space technology.
- Therefore, it would be correct to say, I guess, that India now in modern world is one of the dynamic developing countries and economics, isn’t it?
- Exactly. I’d say that today’s India is one of the fastest developing economies in the world. India is a new emerging country which we wish and which we are hopeful and we are confident that will be one of the superpowers in the world.
- There are many Indian students studying in the High Educational Institutions of Armenia, particularly in the State Medical University, which has been conducive not only to international exchanges, but also for development Armenia's educational system. What could be done to foster more exchange and cooperation in the sphere of education?
- As I mentioned to you, mostly Indian students that we see here are medical students and they are coming here for two reasons. One is affordable medical education, which is to some extent cheaper than otherwise what they’d get in India. Secondly, easy admission procedures and also easy visa procedures. And of course, friendly country, friendly people. They are coming mostly for these three-four reasons. But I must say that there’s a huge potential in the sphere of education in Armenia. If you know, for example, Australian economy is very, very much dependent on education and they are inviting a lot of foreign students. But in Armenia I think that there's limitation in terms of numbers that you can actually absorb in your society and your educational institutions. So, if numbers could be increased by increasing more infrastructure, by increasing more educational institutions, but with a very very strong regulation which could control and ensure quality of education. That's very important. These two things can be done. Thirdly, Armenia could be sold more in India in terms of their potential educational destination.
- In international relations an important role belongs also to cultural relations and people to people contacts. Last year with the help of your Embassy and India-Armenia Friendship NGO hase been shot and screened the documentary movie "Frunzik Mkrtchyan: India Remembers Me". That is also one example of the connection between Armenians and Indians. What is your plan for this year and for the future in general in the views of organizing cultural events?
- I wish to add that we did this documentary "Frunzik Mkrtchyan: India Remembers Me" last year and the movie was very well received here. We did one show here in Yerevan and one show we did in Gyumri.
This year to celebrate our 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations we plan to do more cultural events. One of such events we’ve already done: we did a Fusion concert of Indian and Armenian music and dance where one sitar player of Armenian origin, Peter Davidian, came and he was the star artist. Along with him we did a Fusion musical concert in Yerevan that was the beginning of it, but this year we want to do some more events such as we will organize one Gala concert inviting some well-known artists from India. Also, we are inviting Armenian troupe to go to India to perform symbolizing our 30th anniversary. I’d like to see well-known Armenian Artist group going to India for performance.
- You mean actors or musicians?
- Dance and musicians. We are looking at some groups which can represent Armenia in India.
- And how much is the Armenian culture accepted in India?
- It is accepted. I can inform you that during pandemic we could not send anybody but before that two of your Armenian groups had gone to India. One is called “Masunq” and another is called “Kayt”. They went to India to perform and were very well received in India. And this year we plan to send one more Armenian group who will go and perform and we will host them. Also, we will issue postage stamp commemorating our 30th anniversary. So these three-four items are in plan in terms of celebration of diplomatic relations.
- Ambassador Dewal, as you mentioned we have a good dynamic first of all on the political level, including the recent high-level visits. Last year the Minister of Foreign Affairs of India Mr. Jaishankar paid an official visit to Armenia, which was a historic event, as it was the first visit of Foreign Minister of India to Armenia. Mr. Jaishankar met with Prime Minister Pashinyan and Foreign Minister Mirzoyan, and they have discussed wide range of global, international and bilateral issues. On April 25-27, Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ararat Mirzoyan made a return visit to India, having meeting with his Indian counterpart and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also participating in Indian-Armenian business forum, stressing that: “We open a new page in the history of Armenian-Indian economic cooperation.” What important results could you mention regarding these two key visits?
- As I mentioned to you, the visit of our Foreign Minister on October 2021 was the first ever visit of India’s Foreign Minister to Armenia after our diplomatic relations started, so it says a great deal about it. That is one.
Now I'm happy to see that almost immediately after this we have very important visit of Armenia’s Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan to India. You mentioned the dates: in fact, it was on April 25-28 in fact he was there, on 29th he came back. So, I must emphasize that this was a visit of Armenian Foreign Minister to India after a gap of 12 years, which is a very good sign that we are exchanging high-level political visits. That is one.
Secondly, Minister Mirzoyan attended very important strategic dialogue which we call “Raisina Dialogue”. Indian Foreign Ministry is hosting that dialogue. It’s a strategic dialogue where we are inviting world leaders and the brightest people from think tanks. Foreign Ministers of 20 countries were there including Foreign Minister Mirzoyan. And he spoke in this dialogue, he conveyed Armenia’s positions on many issues including on security. Apart from this he also had the opportunity to briefly have interaction with our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. He was also hosted for a dinner by our Foreign Minister. Next day they had a business event organized by Confederation of Indian Industries and FICCI in Delhi, where the representatives of Indian and Armenian business communities had a meeting, exchanged contacts and discussed about future roadmap of our bilateral trade relations.
Apart from this Minister Mirzoyan also had some spiritual experience: he went to Akshardham Temple in Delhi and he was very much impressed with the architecture of this temple. Besides that, he happened to get some time to visit Agra which is very important. There are some remnants of the Armenian Church in Agra and cemetery as well. He didn’t have enough time but I wish he could have visited that place. Maybe next time. Apart from this he went to Mumbai where he had very fruitful business introduction and meetings.
- I know that there is an Armenian church in old Delhi. Is it true?
- Yes, there is an Armenian church in old Delhi, but the church is not in a very good condition unfortunately and some part of it is not free from encroachment. There are families who have been living there for many years and your Embassy was making efforts to restore the church.
Interviewed by Aram Sargsyan
Cameraman: Hovhannes Mkrtchyan
Photographer: Gevorg Perkuperkyan
The 2nd part of the interview will be published soon.