Democratic developments launched with velvet revolution highly appreciated in US – Armenian Ambassador’s interview
YEREVAN, MAY 10, ARMENPRESS. The United States is ready to provide full support to the establishment and development of viable institutions aimed at strengthening the democratic achievements registered in Armenia, Armenia’s Ambassador to the US Varuzhan Nersesyan said in an interview to ARMENPRESS, introducing the results and agenda of the recent session of the Armenian-American Strategic Dialogue held in Yerevan. The Ambassador also talked about the Armenia-US relations during the interview.
-Mr. Ambassador, the session of the Armenia-US Strategic Dialogue was held in Yerevan recently with a new format. Can you, please, introduce the results and agenda of the session?
-You are right, the session of the Armenian-American intergovernmental commission this time was held with a new format, with a format of strategic dialogue, and this new format is in accordance with our relations that are developing and expanding in the past years.
The agenda was quite comprehensive. During the meeting the sides almost managed to completely cover all issues of the Armenian-American agenda, outline the cooperation expansion directions in political and economic sectors. Special attention was paid to the issue of the establishment and development of viable institutions aimed at strengthening the unprecedented democratic achievements registered in our country as a result of the velvet revolution. The United States is ready to provide full support on this matter. The discussion of cooperation prospects in the fields such as judicial and legal reforms, higher and professional education, energy, IT, environment, was also very important. I must state that we have a reliable and principled partner on all these matters in the person of the US.
Of course, the meeting also touched upon the cooperation in commercial and investment sectors.
Agreements were signed at the session according to which the US will provide up to 16 million USD support to boost economic growth and effective governance in Armenia. In addition, USAID announced a new three-year initiative, 6 million USD assistance will be provided for the democratic reforms, engagement of citizens in these processes and ensuring tangible results during the first year of this initiative.
Of course, regional and international issues of mutual interest were also discussed. In other words, the new format discussions were held in a quite broad agenda, covering almost all issues of mutual interest, including those of strategic importance.
I also would like to mention the fact that the US delegation included four deputy assistants secretary of state which talks about the fact that the US government attaches great importance to the constant deepening and strengthening of the relations with Armenia.
-In general, how would you assess the current level of the Armenian-American relations? What achievements will you mention in the Armenia-US diplomatic ties in the recent period?
-The Armenian-US relations have been and remain in the list of Armenia’s foreign policy priorities. We highly value the US constant engagement and role in our regional processes. I am happy that the Armenian-American partnering and friendly relations are developing dynamically.
The democratic developments launched in our country with the velvet revolution have been highly appreciated in the United States, by opening new opportunities for the constant development of the bilateral ties, discovery of new prospective areas and implementation of programs. During this period a high dynamics of meetings and mutual visits at different levels and formats was typical to the relations, but here I want to note that the best appreciation for our relations is the content, and the recent session is the vivid evidence of this. There are many joint programs and initiatives which were also thoroughly discussed at the session.
This year a progress has also been registered in the inter-parliamentary relations. In particular, the delegation of the House Democracy Partnership bipartisan commission visited Armenia which announced the launch of institutional relations between the commission and the Armenian Parliament.
-How do you assess the US efforts, as an OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair country, for the settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict?
-We highly appreciate the constant efforts of the United States, together with the remaining Co-Chair countries, aimed at settling the NK conflict exclusively through peaceful means. We can state that the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship is one of the unique formats where we see such format cooperation between the Co-Chair countries.
-Recently during a reception in the Embassy you highlighted the importance of global humanitarian programs in conflict zones and the role of Armenians, who survived the Genocide, in raising awareness about them. In your opinion, what actions must be taken in this regard?
-Even with limited resources and opportunities, Armenia is making great efforts to raise awareness on and prevent the crime of genocide. I think, Armenia’s consistent actions on this direction are already vividly seen and positively assessed by the international community. Here we need to take into account that the prevention of genocides is first of all the common responsibility of the international community. This is the legal interpretation of the 1948 Convention on Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Therefore, Armenia first of all is making consistent efforts to strengthen the genocide prevention mechanisms in the UN and other international platforms. We have assumed the role of the leader in this process because we bear the moral responsibility that no one should ever face what has happened to our people, that “never again” is not just a slogan, but the concept under it should be enshrined forever.
We also should consider the holding of global forums on the prevention of genocides in Yerevan through which Armenia is presenting a consistent appeal on turning this forum into one more platform for prevention of genocides. And the global forum ‘Against the Crime of Genocide’, which was held in Yerevan last year in December, mainly emphasized the role of education in the prevention process.
-Mr. Ambassador, the new leadership of Armenia highlights the attraction of investments and the role of diplomatic structures in this process. Are there any actions for attracting the US investments to Armenia, as well as presenting our country’s economic opportunities? Are there any outlined programs, meetings? What prospects do you see for expanding the economic partnership between the two countries?
-The actions aimed at creating a respective environment for the economic revolution, that was announced by the Armenian government as a priority, relate to all of us. For us, the diplomats, ensuring a platform for boosting the economic ties, establishing ties between the economic sector representatives, informing about the ongoing reforms and programs, in addition to others, are priority issues. This is the focus of our activity in the economic sector, and we are conducting daily works on this direction.
It’s obvious that the presence of favorable environment in Armenia is an attractive factor for investors. The presence of GSP+ trade regime with the EU and the GSP with the US is important for boosting the investments, which provide additional opportunities to the Armenian exporters to enter the EU markets with privileged terms, and Armenia’s membership to the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) enables foreign exporters to have an access to the EU market worth 182 million via Armenia.
Although it’s still too early to talk about the concrete programs, but I can state that the IT and alternative energy are among the prospective sectors. The works continue, and I hope we will record tangible achievements in this regard.
-The active role of the US-Armenian community in several matters of the bilateral agenda is being emphasized. What actions do you see in this direction?
-It’s difficult to sufficiently assess the great role the community plays and will play in the intensification of the bilateral relations. American-Armenians contribute to raising awareness about Armenia both in state, business and other circles, increasing the number of friends of Armenia and investment volumes. In addition, the Armenian community, comprising 1.6 million people, is one of the largest and politically active ethnic communities who also had a great contribution to the development of this country.
Currently an importance is attached to the development of decentralized cooperation with the separate US states which makes the work with the local congressmen and politicians more effective. While developing the relations with the US we must take into account that we are dealing with a large-scale and multilayer country where the work with separate states is as much important as that with the capital. This is especially important from the perspective of investments and trade-economic relations. For instance, the economy of California is 5th largest in the world. This is the reason that many countries have dozens of consulates in different US states, and we also should adopt the same strategy, especially given the fact that we have many compatriots who are exemplary citizens of the US and are ready to contribute to the intensification of the Armenian-American relations.
-Mr. Ambassador, what cultural projects have been implemented in the US recently?
-2018 was significant especially in terms of raising awareness on Armenia. A number of unprecedented cultural programs have been carried out. The year was important with a two major events which were presenting the Armenian history and culture in the US. The first one was Armenia’s participation to the Folklife festival organized by the Smithsonian institution in Washington D.C., which hosted over 700.000 visitors and had nearly 9 million viewers in various online platforms within two weeks. The next important event was the exhibition of Armenia’s civilizational heritage in New York’s Metropolitan Museum, which hosted over 230.000 visitors.
We are working on maintaining and expanding the current dynamics. A number of major cultural events are also scheduled for 2020, the most important from which is the Armenian festival which will be held in cooperation with the PostClassical orchestra of the national cathedral of Washington D.C., during which the development of the Armenian music will be introduced. The list of events will also include a festival of Armenian films, exhibitions of works of Armenian artists and etc.
-The United States is one of the largest donors providing humanitarian and technical assistance to Armenia. Is it already clarified in what concrete directions assistance is possible for this year?
-The United States is among the leading countries providing foreign assistance to Armenia. Since the establishment of diplomatic ties the US government has provided nearly 2 billion USD humanitarian and technical assistance to Armenia. One of the goals of the US foreign assistance is to strengthen democratic institutions, improve free market economy, effective governance, rule of law, justice system and implement the formation of civil society in Armenia.
In this regard I must state that the United States has expressed its positive attitude towards the democratic processes launched in Armenia in 2018 and the government’s achievements in this direction, and we expect that this will also be reflected with the growth of US assistance volumes. At the same time I want to note that although the assistance is very important, but the mutually beneficial cooperation and the passing from assistance to intensive commercial relations is more important for us.
I would like to highlight the assistance of the Congressional Armenian Caucus which contributes to the provision of annual foreign assistance to Armenia and Artsakh.
-Mr. Ambassador, what are the programs of the Embassy for this year? Are mutual visits possible in 2019?
-The first half of 2019 was marked by a number of important mutual visits. The first one was the visit of Armenia’s defense minister Davit Tonoyan to the US. The minister visited the US Kansas state on the occasion of over 15-year cooperation program between Armenia and the Kansas National Guard.
In April deputy prime minister of Armenia Mher Grigoryan and president of the Central Bank Artur Javadyan visited Washington D.C. to take part in the spring meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during which they also met with their American partners.
Armenian Prime Minister’s spouse, chairwoman of the Board of Trustees of the City of Smile and My Step foundations, was in the United States from April 1 to 15. Although the visit mainly aimed at raising awareness about the activity of the foundations and organizing donations for assisting their programs, the agenda was quite busy with cognitive, political meetings during which the foundations’ activities were introduced. I would also highlight Mrs. Hakobyan’s meeting with a large number of US congressmen.
Interview by Anna Gziryan
Edited and translated by Aneta Harutyunyan