Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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Diplomatie & Défense
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  S.E.M. / H.E. Edward Nalbandian

Dialogue and Friendship

The Year of Armenia in France, which presented over 800 events in more than 150 cities across France, came to a close in September 2007. The program was a great success with the French public, testifying to the deep-rooted ties between the two countries. The Ambassador of Armenia to France, H.E. Edward Nalbandian, talks about the unique Franco-Armenian friendship and his country’s highly complex geopolitical situation.


The Diplomatic Letter: Mr. Ambassador, the Year of Armenia in France recently drew to a close. Armenia and France have a strong and long-standing friendship, as witnessed by the fact that President Robert Kocharian has visited our country more than a dozen times since taking office in 1998. Are you pleased with Armenia’s current relations with France, a country that 500,000 people of Armenian descent now call home?

H.E. Edward Nalbandian: The Year of Armenia in France was, indeed, made possible by our excellent relations with France. I would describe our current ties as exceptionally close. They are distinguished by extremely high-level political ties, intensive dialogue between our heads of state, frequent high-level visits by both parties, including state visits by our presidents, very active interparliamentary contacts, dozens of agreements and treaties signed in a wide range of areas, several million euros in investments, more than one-hundred French-held firms operating in Armenia, highly effective and dynamic decentralized cooperation, and myriad exchanges in the cultural, educational and healthcare arenas.
When Armenia and France established diplomatic relations, in February 1992, it could only be hoped that the secular ties and great friendship between our peoples would serve as the bedrock for building strong relations between our two countries. That hope has proved to be fully justified. France recognized Armenia’s independence on 26 December 1991, making it one of the very first countries to do so. We established diplomatic relations two months later, with embassies subsequently opening in both capitals. These friendly relations, built on mutual trust, have expanded tremendously since that time. They were officially sealed in 1993, with the ratification of the Treaty of Concord and Cooperation between France and Armenia.
When we think of the ties between France and Armenia, the 500,000 French of Armenian descent only naturally come to mind. They have become well integrated into French society, and have been a key factor in this bilateral rapprochement. They are a real bridge between our two peoples, and have been the driving force behind the strengthening of ties between Armenia and France. We hold this human resource in high esteem, knowing that these French-Armenians are a tremendous asset for France and Armenia alike.

T.D.L.: The program of events presented during the Year of Armenia in France drew wide media coverage and sparked wide interest among the French public. Were you pleased with how the events went? Could you give our readers a recap of some of the program highlights?

H.E.E.N.: The Year of Armenia in France, which was symbolically named “Armenia, My Friend,” was a resounding success. Several of France’s most prestigious institutions opened their doors to showcase the 850 events that were held in more than 165 cities as part of the Year of Armenia.
The decision to hold the Year of Armenia in France was taken by the Presidents of the two countries. This was a very important step, as their commitment to this wonderful initiative guaranteed its success. The Armenian government set up a governmental committee to carry out this project, chaired by the Prime Minister and comprised of several ministers and the heads of various State institutions and bodies.
We received invaluable support from a great many sources in France: the Office of the President of the Republic; the Foreign Affairs and Culture Ministries; regional, county and municipal authorities; CulturesFrance, which was the operator of the Year of Armenia in France, chosen with one accord by both Armenian and French parties and the major cultural institutions. I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks for all of their help. A Year of Armenia Honorary Committee was also created, and I am happy to say that over 50 eminent French figures accepted my invitation to serve on it, including: the Presidents of the Senate and National Assembly; the President of the Constitutional Council; the Foreign Affairs and Culture Ministers; Charles Aznavour; Patrick Devedjian; Simone Veil; Helene Carrere d’Encausse; the mayors of Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Grenoble, Issy-les-Moulineaux, Alfortville, Saint-Etienne and several other cities; the chairmans of Credit Agricole, Veolia Environnement, Pernod Ricard, Alcatel and Sanofi-Aventis; the chairmans of the France-Armenia Friendship Groups in National Assembly and the Senate; the presidents of several leading cultural institutions such as the Louvre Museum, the Orsay Museum and the Pompidou Center; and several eminent members of the artistic community, including Nana Mouskouri, Fanny Ardant, Levon Sayan, Charles Villeneuve, Alain Terzian, Michel Legrand, along with many others.
The Year of Armenia was marked by many highly important events, starting with its inauguration. Former French President Jacques Chirac paid a state visit to Armenia for the official opening. In addition to its political significance, this visit also carried great emotional weight. The Armenian and French heads of state officially inaugurated the Year of Armenia in the Armenian capital. They also inaugurated “France Square” in downtown Yerevan, as a symbol of the long-standing friendship between France and Armenia. Finally, Charles Aznavour and several French singing stars gave a concert in front of some 100,000 people in Republic Square.
Saying that the Year of Armenia program presented a rich variety of events is an understatement. A true plethora of events were held all throughout France. We were delighted to see the various French regions – or “rural France,” if I may put it that way – show such great interest in the Year of Armenia and in everything tied to Armenia and Armenians in general. Several French cities, both large and small, whose residents don’t necessarily include people of Armenian descent, took it upon themselves to hold their own events. We were deeply touched by this. In several cities, municipal officials joined forces with the Year of Armenia to present specific programs. We talk a great deal about the secular Franco-Armenian friendship, and I would contend that the Year of Armenia gave us an opportunity to fully appreciate the depth and sincerity of that friendship.
«Armenia, My Friend» was much more than a cultural event. It was an unprecedented event for Armenia, and an extremely important event for France as well. In fact, despite its very special relationship with our country, never before has France had the opportunity to take such a close-up look at Armenia, with such a wide range of high quality events. All of these events aroused great interest. Their quality greatly exceeded all expectations. We showed France and the French people our cultural heritage, from ancient times to the present day. This included material and spiritual treasures created by the Armenian people over thousands of centuries: painting, music, literature, dance, theater, visual arts, cinematography, photography, fashion, and culinary arts. It should be mentioned, by the way, that a good many artists of Armenian descent living all around the world were also represented. We also organized several high-level conferences attended by State officials, political figures, business leaders, legal experts, intellectuals, historians, and French and Armenian academics. This was another extremely important side of the Year of Armenia.

T.D.L.: Considering the great success of th Year of Armenia which were from your point of view its most significant events?
H.E.E.N.: There is a great deal of talk about the long friendship between France and Armenia. Well, it is important to keep the flame of this friendship burning, and to pass it along to future generations. In that light, I think that one of the projects organized during the Year of Armenia was particularly significant: the “1,000 Armenian Children” operation gave some 1,000 Armenian French-speaking middle-schoolers the opportunity to spend a week with a French family, in cities scattered all over France. The goal of the operation was to forge friendly ties between the young people in our two countries, since they will be the ones carrying on the Franco-Armenian friendship in years to come. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who came up positivly to my request helping make this operation possible, starting with the Presidents of the French Senate and National Assembly, the presidents of the bilateral friendship groups, and Charles Aznavour, who, along with twenty French singing stars, gave a benefit concert in support of this operation at the Garnier Opera. I would also like to offer warm thanks to all the host families and to the officials in the towns that welcomed our children, as well as the French branch of the Armenian Relief Society, which gave us invaluable support in helping carry out this project.
From 21 February to 21 May, the Louvre Museum presented an exhibition entitled “Armenia Sacra” devoted entirely to Armenian Christian art dating from the country’s conversion to Christianity in 301 up until the 19th century. Thirty khachkars – monumental medieval stone crosses of immeasurable historical and cultural value – were shipped to France for the very first time so their mysterious charms could be displayed within the walls of the Louvre. Along with the khachkars, more than 200 other exceptional works were brought together from various Armenian museums, including silver plates, relics, coins, and some of our oldest manuscripts. This exhibition drew hundreds of thousands of visitors.
In addition to the conversion to Christianity, another key event at the start of the 5th century left a deep mark on the history of the Armenian people and our national identity: the creation in 405 of the Armenian alphabet, which we still use to this day. An exhibition devoted to this invention entitled “The Magic of Writing” was held at the Old Charity Exhibition Center in Marseilles from 27 April to 22 July 2007. This collection brought together richly illuminated manuscripts, documents, ancient books, ceramics and rugs with Armenian inscriptions, that were loaned by Armenia, Venice, Vienna and Jerusalem, as well as the French National Library, the United States, Russia etc.
From 22 March to 15 July 2007, Lyon’s Fourviere Museum and the Museums of Textiles and Decorative Arts hosted another exhibition entitled “Gilded works and Treasures of Armenia” which displayed Armenian liturgical art from the 17th to the 19th century.
The Museum of Arles and Ancient Provence hosted an exhibition entitled “At the Foot of Mount Ararat, Splendors of Antique Armenia” from 13 April to 31 July. The general public knows very little about this era. The exhibition showed the splendid craftsmanship of the Bronze and Iron Ages, and laid special focus on the Urartu kingdom period.
Armenia’s tormented history was on display at another exhibition entitled “Armenia’s Twelve Capitals,” which ran from 15 December 2006 to 22 April 2007 at the La Conciergerie in Paris. It highlighted the enormous wealth of architectural works in the 12 different capitals, from the Van Citadel, built in the 9th century B.C., to the modern buildings in the current capital Yerevan, one of the world’s oldest cities, which is celebrating its 2,789th birthday this year.
Other truly remarkable exhibitions of Armenian patrimony were held all across France: «Armenian Lights» at the Museum of Art and Archeology at Cluny Abbey; «New-Djulfa, 400 years of Armenian Presence in Isphan», at the Antony Arts Center; «Armenian Manuscripts,» at the French National Library; «Armenian Illuminations,» at the Museum of Miniatures in Montelimar, and several others. The display of Armenian painting was equally as rich as our heritage in this domain. The Year of Armenia program reserved a well deserved place for Armenian paintings from a variety of periods that represented several artistic movements, including works by artists from Armenia as well as the diaspora. I will mention only the biggest collections, some of which proved to be revelations for the French public: «Aivazovsky (1817-1900), Poetry of the Sea», an exhibition of works by the famous Armenian seascape painter held at the National Marine Museum from 7 February to 4 June 2007; a «Hommage to Arshile Gorky», an exhibition of this great 20th-century American painter Armenian by birth organized at the Pompidou Center from 2 April to 4 June; «Armenian Painting 1830-1930» held at the Petit Palace Museum in Paris; exhibitions of modern and contemporary Armenian painting held at the Orangerie, the Luxembourg Palace, and the Museums of Modern Art in Nice and Saint-Etienne. Other exhibitions featuring renowned painters from Armenia or of Armenian descent, such as Sarian, Paradjanov, Carzou, Jansem and Chahine, were also held in various cities across France.
Another important event that I would like to mention was the joint issuing of France-Armenia stamps. As part of the Year of Armenia, the French and Armenian Postal Services put two identical stamps into circulation on the same day, May 22nd, 2007. One featured an Armenian 15th-century miniature of the Nativity. The other was a Gothic masterpiece entitled “The Smiling Angel” from the Reims Cathedral.
The French public was also treated to a wide variety of Armenian music, including traditional and folk music, but also jazz and contemporary music. The Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra, the Armenian Chamber Orchestra, the Komitas String Quartet, the Children’s Choir, an array of musicians, including the talented young violinist Sergei Khatchatryan, renowned international pianists Svetlana Navassardian and Vardan Mamikonian, Vienna Opera soloist Hasmik Papian, and many other musicians performed in various French cities.
A rich array of Armenian photography was also on display. An exhibition entitled «The Orient of Armenian Photographers,» held at the Institute of the Arab World in Paris, featured ten Armenian photographers from the 19th and 20th centuries who were pioneering figures in the history of Oriental photography. The Theater of Photography and Images in Nice presented an exhibition of works by photo-portraitist Yousuf Karsh, one of the most important Armenian-Canadian photographers of the 20th century. An exhibition entitled «The Boyadjian, Armenian court photo-graphers for Negus,» held at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris, displayed photographs that captured the great moments in the history of Ethiopia. An array of other remarkable photography exhibitions were also organized. The cinema branch of event featured retrospectives of films by Sergei Paradjanov, Atom Egoyan, Ruben Mamoulian, Robert Guedikian, and other great filmmakers.
We could go on and on, talking about the theater and literature events, dance concerts, and culinary and sports programs. But the Year of Armenia was much more than a cultural event. In October 2006, we held a Conference on Decentralized Cooperation at the Luxembourg Palace, organized under the patronage of the Presidents of the French Senate and National Assembly. An Armenian delegation led by the Prime Minister took part in this event. Another highly important event was the conference on joint judicial patrimony, held at the seat of the French Council of State in January 2007. It was organized under the high patronage of the Presidents of the French Constitutional Council and the Armenian Constitutional Court, and was attended by more than 80 renowned European and international legal experts. Several other conferences, colloquiums, and seminars were also held on a variety of topics. Friendly meetings between Armenian and French athletic teams were also organized.
What’s more, the Year of Armenia drew very wide media coverage. More than 5,000 articles appeared in the French and Armenian press, which goes to show the great interest aroused by these events. In fact, public interest was so great, many of these exhibitions were extended.
The Year of Armenia underscored, first and foremost, the truly exceptional nature of the ties between the French and Armenian peoples, who are so far apart geographically, and yet so close in their shared values. It opened people’s eyes to our shared sources and roots, making them aware of the depth and strength of our ties. It also enriched and widened the friendly dialogue between our intellectuals, artists, musicians, painters, business leaders, and, very simply, the citizens of our like-minded countries. It was a forward-looking initiative, and I am convinced that this great celebration of friendship will be a new starting point for relations between France and Armenia. Thank you, France, for having given us this wonderful opportunity.

T.D.L.: After President Robert Kocharian’s working visit to our country on 11-14 July 2007, can you tell us if France, as cochairman of the Minsk Group, has helped make headway towards resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? As France and Armenia work to strengthen their ties, are they focusing on any specific areas, in particular in the trade arena? What is being done to convince more French firms to follow in the footsteps of Pernod-Ricard, Veolia, Saur, Cogema Logistics and Alcatel and invest in your country?

H.E.E.N.: During his working visit to Paris in July 2007, President Kocharian discussed key bilateral relations issues with the French head of state, as well as ways of expanding bilateral ties. Economic issues were given special focus at this meeting, with both leaders in full agreement on the questions touched upon.
The dynamic growth of our economic ties has been very encouraging. France is one of the biggest investors in Armenia. 120 French-held firms are currently at work in Armenia. Several major French companies have set up successful operations there, including Pernod-Ricard, Credit Agricole, Alcatel, Veolia, Areva, Castel, Saur and Air France. The French presence in Armenia is very important, not only in terms of the volume of investments and number of jobs created, but first and foremost in the way these big French firms have fostered greater trust in the Armenian economy.
We initiated and organized several high-level conferences as part of the Year of Armenia in France, with the aim of giving Franco-Armenian economic ties a fresh boost. The Conference on Economic Cooperation between Armenia and France, for instance, held at the Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was attended by representatives from over 200 major French and Armenian companies. We also organized an International Conference on Information Technology Potential in Armenia. Armenia also participated in the International Agriculture Fair in Paris. All of these events will no doubt help foster heightened exchanges. As far as trade ties are concerned, we expect to see major developments in this arena as several cooperation projects are already in the works. After organizing for 165 French tour operators to visit Armenia in October 2006, we saw the number of tourists visiting our country rise during the Year of the Armenia. I hope to see this trend continue, and become even more pronounced. The fact that all the flights to Armenia are running constantly nearly full, on both French and Armenian airlines, makes us quite confident that it will.
With regard to Nagorno-Karabakh, France, as the co-chair of the Minsk Group, is working very constructively alongside the United States and Russia to find a lasting solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. As you know, the negotiations have been going on for several years now. Over the course of this process, we have been close to a solution on several occasions. Just look back, for instance, to early 2001, when the principles opening up a real possibility of reaching an agreement, were drawn up with the support of the French President. Unfortunately, Azerbaijan subsequently changed its stance.
France is working with great determination, along with the two other co-chairs of the Minsk Group, to help find a solution to this conflict which fully respects the interests of both parties and makes it possible to restore stability and security and spur widespread economic cooperation in this region.

T.D.L.: The Armenian people went to the polls on 12 May 2007, for the fourth parliamentary election since the country claimed independence in 1991 and the first election since the adoption of the 2005 constitutional amendments. International observers from the OSCE, the European Council and the EU deemed that the elections were conducted freely and transparently. Could you break down the results for our readers?
H.E.E.N.: Parliamentary elections were indeed held in Armenia in May 2007, after the enactment of constitutional reforms that gave the parliament a larger role. Organizing perfect elections in a young democracy is a rather complex process, in which many factors come into play: improving our electoral laws and mechanisms, guaranteeing freedom of speech, ensuring healthy competition between the various political parties, etc. The Armenian government worked very hard to strengthen democratic election traditions in our country, with the aim of organizing elections in accordance with international criteria and standards. These efforts yielded quite satisfying results, as international observers gave these elections a largely positive assessment, saying they constituted clear progress.
The party in power was in a fairly strong position when the election campaign got underway, bolstered by stable economic development that has yielded an average annual growth rate of 12% for the last few years. This is a very impressive performance by Armenia, a country that is not particularly rich in natural resources, especially not in gas or oil. Armenia managed to achieve this economic success thanks to a rigorous program of economic and social reforms. The party in power naturally underscored the positive strides made in recent years during the election campaign. It came out on top of the elections by winning a majority of seats in parliament, which enabled it to form the new government.
The latest elections in Armenia were obviously a clear step forward in the drive to guarantee respect of democratic principles in future elections.

T.D.L.: Armenia has posted an average annual growth rate between 11% and 13% for seven years in a row, thanks to a construction boom, a growing service industry, reforms in the agricultural sector, and mining of minerals and nonferrous metals. Will this boom continue in the years to come, knowing that this sharp expansion has led to a rise in foreign debt and created a dual labor market?

H.E.E.N.: If you went to Armenia, you would see clear proof of the boom of which you are speaking. The capital has been turned into one big construction site. There are cranes all over the place, with buildings, roads, landing stages and tunnels being built or renovated.
In the words of the International Monetary Fund’s deputy managing director, Armenia has been on a “promising path” since the early 2000s, with its economic indicators steadily improving.
It is true that the Armenian economy has shown strong growth over the past seven years, driven primarily by expansion in several different sectors. The construction sector has been particularly strong, posting average annual growth of 130.6%, which was equal to 26.7% of GDP in 2006 and more than double the figure for 2000 (10.3%). The agricultural sector grew 106.3% over this same period. The service and mining sectors also showed sharp growth.
With regard to the relationship between the country's strong economic growth and the rise in foreign debt, it must indeed be said that in 2006 foreign debt was $346.1 million more than the 2000 figure, rising to $1,205 billion. However, debt has increased on average 106% a year, while the economy has grown on average 112.5% a year. And finally, the foreign debt-to-GDP ratio has steadily declined in the wake of economic growth, falling to 18.8% of GDP in 2006, compared to 45% in 2000.
The results for the current year allow us to predict again double-digit economic growth in Armenia. According to the results for the first eight months of the year, GDP is growing at an average monthly rate of around 13.6%.
After careful analysis of real indicators and current economic growth trends, the Armenian government’s program for 2007-2012 forecasts annual growth between 8 to 10% of GDP, which seems entirely realistic. Armenian experts are not the only ones forecasting this, but international analysts as well.

T.D.L.: World Bank and OECD experts have said that in order to firmly anchor its economy in the globalization process, Armenia will have to improve its labor market, modernize its financial sector, build a better tax system, and stamp out corruption. Are Armenian authorities taking firm steps to that end? Are you counting on financial support from the international community to help get this done?

H.E.E.N.: These issues have long been amongst the top concerns of the Armenian government, which has always given careful thought to the recommendations put forward by the World Bank and the OECD, as well as other international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the EBRD, and all other agencies striving to help us create conditions that foster stronger investment and economic growth in our country. Armenia is cooperating very actively and effectively with international financial organizations in general, in a variety of ways: law assessment, consultations, recommendations, information exchange, and technical and financial assistance.
The government is working very hard to modernize our country’s financial sector. And while everything isn’t perfect yet, our macro-economic indicators, the steady rise in investments, and the growing number of foreign companies operating in our country, including 120 French-held firms, show that we are headed in the right direction, as has also been confirmed by various international reports. What’s more, our tax laws have been improved considerably, in order to provide a healthy business climate, more transparency, and simplified transactions. Improving our labor market also features high on the Armenian government’s list of priority actions, as it moves towards laying out an active employment policy and creating a stable and effective labor market.
Battling corruption is another high priority in the government’s program of activities. An Anti-Corruption Strategy was approved in 2003 and is being implemented by an Anti-Corruption Committee specially created to coordinate this effort. This Strategy calls for measures to be taken in a wide array of areas, from adopting and revising various laws to making the general public more aware of this evil. It should also be noted that we have been a member of the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) since January 2004. We have made specific commitments as a GRECO member, and are assisted by GRECO experts in our efforts to fight corruption. In March 2006, GRECO published an evaluation report on Armenia and put forward recommendations that the government studied very carefully and has incorporated into its anti-corruption programs.
In fact, effective reforms are the only beneficial way to ensure a country’s development. We are hence determined to push forward with these reforms.

T.D.L.: The Nagorno-Karabakh enclave has been a point of contention between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the Soviet Union collapsed. Several observers are now saying that we could see a major diplomatic breakthrough before year’s end. Do you share their optimism, given that both Armenia and Azerbaijan are set to hold presidential elections in 2008? Russia carries great weight in this region. Do you think it could help find a lasting and peaceful resolution to this conflict, prompting Turkey and Azerbaijan to lift their blockade against your country?
H.E.E.N.: The current phase of the talks to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, often referred to as the “Prague Process,” has been underway for three years now. It is being mediated by the chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, who are working with the Foreign Affairs Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan. While some rather complicated issues have yet to be resolved, preliminary agreements have been reached on a number of resolution principles. Armenia is prepared to continue the negotiations based on the proposals put on the table by the Minsk Group. It is very difficult to guess if they will come to anything, as the Azerbaijani has shown no qualms about reconsidering prior agreements from time to time. That happened for instance in 2001 when both parties were close to reach an agreement and met in Ky West after successfull negociations in Paris, Azerbaijani leaders of various levels continue to talk publicly about eventually resolving the conflict through military means. Not only does this war rhetoric do nothing to help advance the talks, it seriously damages the resolution process. We believe that diplomatic talks are the best and only way to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. With that in mind, we greatly appreciate the efforts made by the co-chairs of the Minsk Group to keep the negotiations going. The upcoming presidential elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan could slow down the negotiation process to a certain extent, but if any windows of opportunity open up, we need to take advantage of them.
As for whether Russia can help resolve this conflict, it can indeed. In fact, it is doing just that, as are the other two co-chairs of the Minsk Group: France and the United States. All three have declared that there is no alternative to the peaceful resolution of this problem, and that a rapid resolution would foster greater cooperation throughout the region along with the development of the countries in the South Caucasus. Armenia is in full agreement on this. However, we don’t seem to be making any progress. And as you yourself just noted, neither Azerbaijan nor Turkey have lifted their blockade.

T.D.L.: As a key supplier of investments and energy to your country, Russia is Armenia’s primary trading partner. Are you working to “enhance the partnership” between Armenia and Russia in any specific areas? Over 1.5 million ethnic Armenians currently live in Russia. Is this diaspora an asset for your country? What does the future hold in store for it?

H.E.E.N.: Armenian-Russian ties are built on a strong friendship that has been steadily woven over the long course of our history. More than two million Armenians are currently living in Russia, and every one has close relatives in Armenia. These factors have deeply marked the establishment and deepening of Armenian-Russian ties.
Armenia and Russia are strengthening their strategic partnership at the bilateral level and within the collective security system of the Community of Independent States (CIS). Russia is both our leading economic and trading partner.
Armenia is looking to forge strong ties with Europe and the United States, as well as Russia, with the aim of preventing the creation of new dividing lines and a climate of confrontation.

T.D.L.: Armenia is considering building a second gas pipeline linking it to Iran, to further diversify its energy sources. Is your country likely to move forward with this plan, given the current state of affairs on the global and regional stages? What are your thoughts on the diplomatic tensions sparked by Iran’s nuclear program? If the UN does decide to take a harder stance, could this affect your relations with Iran?

H.E.E.N.: Armenia and Iran have long-standing ties that date back thousands of years. Iran is our neighbor. Armenia established friendly relations with Iran after it regained independence, and started forging close economic ties.
The construction of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline is an important project in the campaign to diversify our energy resources. The first stage of the project was officially opened on 19 March 2007, by the Presidents of Armenia and Iran. That same day, government officials representing the two countries signed an agreement to build and operate hydroelectric plants on the Arax River. Other economic cooperation projects were studied during the visit to Armenia of the Iranian President Mahmood Ahmadinejad in October 2007.
As for developments tied to Iran’s nuclear program, we believe that every means available must be used to find a diplomatic solution. Otherwise, a future escalation in tensions could have a negative impact on this region – in the general sense of the word – which is already wrangling with other thorny problems.

T.D.L.: Armenia has developed strong ties with NATO, working within the Partnership for Peace program. An Armenian contingent of 46 non-combat personnel is currently deployed in Iraq. In what ways would your country like to further expand its ties with the Euro-Atlantic community?

H.E.E.N.: Armenia continues to deepen its dynamic ties with the Atlantic Alliance. It is strengthening its cooperation with NATO within the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Partnership for Peace program.
Our country is intensifying its political dialogue with the Alliance, and is also involved in the NATO Planning and Review Process (PARP). We lay great importance on the Individual Partnership Action Plan between Armenia and NATO, knowing that its implementation will help to modernize and improve our defense system.
Armenia is also training military units capable of taking part in NATO peacekeeping operations.
An Armenian contingent of 46 non-combat personnel is indeed currently deployed in Iraq. We have another contingent in Kosovo, which is already on its seventh rotation. Our participation in these two NATO operations shows that Armenia, as a contributor and partner in international efforts to maintain peace and security, considers international cooperation extremely important.

T.D.L.: In 1996 Armenia signed a partnership and cooperation agreement with the European Union, which subsequently included your country in the European Neighbor Policy (ENP) in 2004. Can you tell us how this cooperation has helped your country?

H.E.E.N.: Integrating Europe and deepening Armenia’s ties with the Union, and with all the countries of Europe, has always been a top foreign policy priority for Armenia. Our country has always considered itself an integral part of Europe, in terms of its history, culture, and values. The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement that entered into force on 1 July 1999 is the cornerstone of our relations. By signing this accord, Armenia and the EU agreed to establish a regular political dialogue and begin cooperating in the economic, commercial, financial, social and cultural arenas. We have set up institutional cooperation mechanisms – the Armenia-EU Cooperation Council, the Cooperation Committee, and the EU-Armenia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee – which meet on a regular basis. They monitor the implementation of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement and see to it that we are meeting our all commitments, especially as concerns bringing our country’s laws in line with European standards. Our political dialogue with the EU is also being deepened by the Armenian President, who has made several trips to Brussels, most recently in October 2007.
Armenia’s involvement in the European Neighbor Policy has opened up new prospects as well as new opportunities to cooperate with the European Union. On 14 November 2006, working within the ENP, Armenia signed an Action Plan with the EU that creates another platform through which our ties can be deepened in the future. Bolstering our ties with the European Union, in a wide array of areas, will no doubt have a very positive impact on our campaign to enact social and economic reforms and strengthen democracy in our country.

T.D.L.: Do you think the European Union could help Armenia find a solution to its problems with Turkey and Azerbaijan?
H.E.E.N.: These issues are already on the European Union’s agenda, in one form or another. The Armenia-EU Action Plan, laid out within the framework of the EU European Neighborhood Policy, calls for: stepping up diplomatic efforts, in order to help find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; building broader political support for the work of the OSCE Minsk Group, in order to find a solution based on international standards and principles, including the principle that all peoples have the right to self-determination; fostering wider contacts between the Armenian and Azeri peoples and deepening the dialogue with the EU with all concerned parties, to speed up the talks and find a political solution to this problem.
As you know, the European Union has appointed a Special Representative for the South Caucasus. His mandate is to support the Minsk Group’s efforts to help resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, along with addressing other issues in EU-South Caucasus relations. The Special Representative makes regular visits to the region, and draws up reports on how the negotiations are progressing.
As for normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey, the European Union is almost the only international body that has put this goal on its agenda and is continually working towards it. The European Parliament has taken various steps in this direction, most notably by including the issue in various reports on Turkey’s progress in its campaign to join the European Union. In these reports, the European Parliament “calls on Turkey to promote the process of reconciliation with the Armenian people by acknowledging the genocide,” and “requests the Turkish Government to reopen the borders with Armenia as soon as possible”.
Let me remind you that Turkey unilaterally closed its border with Armenia in 1993. Turkey did this to try and pressure Armenia into making concessions on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh. It also wanted to force us to back down on the acknowledgment of the Armenia genocide, despite the fact that several countries and international organizations, including the European Parliament, had already taken clear stances on this issue by reminding Turkey that it had a “duty to remember.”
Unfortunately, we have yet to see any practical headway towards this. Our border with Turkey is the only border in Europe that remains closed at this time. Our incessant calls to normalize our relations – without preliminary conditions – have gone unheeded, as Turkey continues its blockade against Armenia.

T.D.L.: Does Armenia receive any technical or financial assistance from the EU as part of the new European Neighborhood Policy? If so, what form does it take?

H.E.E.N.: It should be underscored that the European Union provides our country with aid since 1991, to help it carry out a variety of projects. For instance, the European Commission began giving Armenia TACIS program funds in 1996, to improve security at the Medzamor nuclear power plant. We have also taken part in regional TACIS programs, such as TRACECA, INOGATE and the Environmental Center for Caucasus. Since 1995, Armenia has also been part of the EU’s TEMPUS program, which provides funding and support for modernizing and reforming our higher education system. TEMPUS has funded 13 cooperation projects in Armenia, with a total outlay of 4 million euros.
The question of financing is extremely important to the implementation of the Armenia-EU Action Plan. Assistance to Armenia over the 2007-2013 period will principally be provided under the
new European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI).
Funding levels for Armenia under the ENPI allocation are currently estimated at roughly 100 million euros for the next five years. Armenia will also receive allocations under the ENPI regional program, which will provide 17 million euros for the three countries of the South Caucasus, and allocations under CBC (the Black Sea Program), and thematic and nuclear programs.
The better part of the funds earmarked for Armenia (80%) will be incorporated into the State budget to help finance reforms. 20% will be used for technical assistance and training Armenian specialists in various European Union countries.
21 million euros will be allocated to Armenia in 2007 for implementing the Action Plan, including 16 million euros in budgetary support and 5 million euros through the Twinning and TAIEX (Technical Assistance Information Exchange Unit) programs.
The Country Strategy Paper and the National Indicative Program 2007-2010 were adopted on 7 March 2007. EU assistance provided under the National Indicative Program will focus on three priority areas: strengthening of democratic structures and good governance; support for regulatory reform and administrative capacity building; support for poverty reduction efforts.
The Armenian government, for its part, is taking concrete steps to ensure that the Armenia-EU Action Plan is implemented effectively, drawing up an agenda of specific actions to be carried out every year.
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