We have signed three agreements with the Russian Federation, which specify that the Russian armed forces must intervene in the event of an attack on Armenia. But Russia has done nothing to keep its promises, says Wahagan Khachaturian.
TVP WEEKLY: We were supposed to talk about the economy and business, but after I landed in Armenia, it turned out that seven soldiers had just died on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. And during the opening gala of the European Weightlifting Championships in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, the flag of Azerbaijan was burned. The war has been going on for 30 years and does not allow either of the two sides to develop. What role, as the president, should you play in this situation?
WAHAGN KHACHATURIAN: You have to be aware that we are a country with a parliamentary system, and the role of a president is more about representing the country than managing it. However, the president has an important task within the constitution: monitoring it, mediating, and supporting valuable ideas. And it is particularly important – in the era of fierce political battle – to balance the power.
It may seem that it is not so important, but during my one-year presidency, I have already realised that it is one of my key responsibilities. In the age of war with Azerbaijan, looking for allies for Armenia worldwide is essential. The role of presidential diplomacy in the international arena cannot be underestimated.
According to what I’ve been told, you live in Suwałki – several dozen kilometres away from the Lithuanian border. And just after our meeting, I am flying to Vilnius to sign a memorandum of cooperation in the field of technology and innovation.
I want to expose our country to the European Union and show it at its best; That we are implementing democratic reforms; That we are strongly committed to cooperation with the West; That Armenia today is a completely different country than it used to be in the 1990s.
What I mostly focus on today is supporting the elementary values: human rights, freedom of speech and the rule of law. And that the president is the guarantor of these values and their implementation.
The president must also be the guarantor of public trust in state institutions. Equally for all – citizens living in Armenia and our diaspora, as well as the people coming to our country.
Our diaspora, which I mentioned, is three times more numerous than its inhabitants living in Armenia today. So I must be a leader who inspires the confidence of all Armenians. Our emigrants invested over 5 billion dollars in our country only last year.
The Armenian diaspora is strongly connected to its homeland. Only in 1991-2001, every third of its citizens left Armenia. It is a phenomenon on a global scale. How does it affect the economy and development of the country? And most importantly, how do you encourage these people to come back when you’re still at war?
If we were to realistically assess the scale of emigration you are asking about, it would be even higher. The collapse of the USSR and the 1990s were – as in Poland – an extremely difficult time for our emerging statehood. The total transformation of the economy has resulted in massive unemployment. In addition, there was a massive energy crisis, for which we were also unprepared. This caused a domino effect in the entire business sector.
If we enclose the real and tragic war to all of this, I am not surprised that hundreds of thousands of citizens want to change their destiny to live in peace and on a higher level. The Armenian diaspora today is gigantic. There are more Armenians in Russia alone than in Armenia. The Armenian community in the United States is also powerful.
But in this respect, our countries have a similar history. Do you remember the political changes in Poland? After the borders were opened, millions of Poles sought better life opportunities abroad to provide means of subsistence for their families. And very often, Poles and Armenians met on this emigration route. Besides, many of my compatriots came to Poland looking for a job.
Fortunately, this trend has reversed in recent years. We’ve learned an important lesson. Today, international investments are changing the face of our economy. I will not hide that the success of people who went abroad at that time also had a powerful influence on it. Because today they come back with their money and invest in their homeland. The patriotism of Armenians living abroad is a huge driving force in our country.
What exactly could Armenia offer to the European Union, Poland, or even entrepreneurs from Poland in terms of business? You are in a state of a permanent dispute with Azerbaijan. And this country is an attractive partner for Europe; it offers us oil and gas, thus independence from Russia. And mediation in the supply of raw materials from Kazakhstan.
You have a very straightforward and concrete approach to business.
Because international relations are based on the game of business and economic interests. If you want to reach the European elites, the world of EU finance – influential people – then you have to talk to them in the language of benefits. Ideas and lofty values disappear when real cash becomes visible. Why has the world failed to help the North Koreans for decades? Because there are no valuable deposits there. Who cares that Poland was morally right during World War II if we ended up with ruined Warsaw, and the Germans, who were the aggressors, with the Marshall Plan?
Armenia has learned this lesson as well. We are aware of our strengths and weaknesses. We know what we can offer to other partners. We will not extract oil and deliver it to Orlen because we do not have it. We focused on what we can win and what we can deliver to modern economies. Since this could not be the mineral deposits, let it be the assets of knowledge and human potential.
Today, we are already a powerful basin of the IT sector throughout Asia. We are much better, more professional and higher-educated than our competitors. And at the same time still relatively cheaper when compared to Western economies. Our IT specialists are highly valued all over the world. We also have companies that have achieved global success. Besides, Polish agencies and headhunting companies are eager to penetrate our market.
Our other advantage is the developed industry and agricultural processing. Our cuisine is one of the best in the world. Delivering high-quality food from Armenia to the West can be a real goldmine for our and your entrepreneurs.
The premium brand spirits and the tobacco industry production sectors have also developed strongly in Poland. I must admit that we focus firmly on developing our financial sector. And it’s also no secret that our economy benefits from Russia’s problems.
The size and scale of the market may be a problem – Armenia has only 3 million inhabitants. It’s like Warsaw with its suburban area.
Let us remember the 10 million Armenians living abroad. As I said before, these people are extremely emotionally attached to our country. It is, in practice, another “outlet market”, as you would probably put it in your business jargon. But they are also our best ambassadors. If you come to California, you will find Armenian products and Armenian flavours everywhere. These people are incredibly committed to promoting all that comes from their homeland and promoting companies which cooperate with us. By entering the Armenian market, you are practically entering the global diaspora market.
Let’s also not forget that in the Soviet Union, it was Armenia that produced goods of the highest possible quality at that time. After all, the entire industry of the Soviet bloc was based on our electronics, machines and know-how, as we would put it today.
Although, and I will say it once again, I am most proud of our human resources and the Armenian intellectual potential – these are our best high-end export products.
Recently, these minds have had some serious competition. Armenia, along with Georgia, has become the main destination for the migration of Russian programmers and IT specialists who try to escape the army recruitment.
I’ll tell you more. Many experts from the IT sector flew to us from Ukraine and found shelter here. We are open to people who want to find their second home with us and, at the same time, bring to this home something valuable.
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By Karol Wasilewski
Translated by: Katarzyna Chocian