Interview with H.E. Mr. Hamlet GASPARIAN,
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Armenia in Romania
Vasile SIMILEANU: Your Excellency, I had the chance to perceive part of Armenia, as long as you can perceive in a documentation visit. Behold this visit to the region was materialized in this edition of GeoPolitica magazine. Do you find helpful such civil society initiatives? Are they necessary for the development of the bilateral relations?
Hamlet GASPARIAN: I think that such visits are useful and can contribute to knowing one another better. We have a lot of historic and cultural commonalities and we generally state that Armenians and Romanians are close nations but we need to be better informed of the today’s realities in the two countries: how people think and how they live across the different shores of the Black Sea. I think that there is a lot to be done with this respect by the mass media and the civil societies of the both countries.
V.S.: Excellence, Romania has demonstrated that it is an important geopolitical, geostrategic and regional economic actor. What can you tell us, in the above context, about the Romanian-Armenian relations and regional common projects?
Hamlet GASPARIAN: The agenda of the inter-state relations is rather broad and versatile but there is always a need for enhancement. The developments are so speedy today that often the diplomatic and human capabilities prove unable to catch up with them; hence there is always a need for regular contacts and consultations to check and verify our approaches with regard to specific issues.
V.S.: Mister Ambassador, Diplomatic relations with the countries in the region have developed differently. How do you perceive from Bucharest the relations with the Russian Federation, the EU and NATO? In this context how do you foresee the development of common regional projects?
Hamlet GASPARIAN: The main directions in Armenia’s foreign policy are the balanced and constructive relations with Russia, the Eurasian Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) on the one hand, and USA, EU and NATO on the other, taking into consideration the mutual interests and possibilities. While being a member to the Eurasian Union, on March 21 this year we initialed the Armenia – EU Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) which I hope will be signed by the end of the year. Also, being a founding member of CSTO we closely cooperate with NATO within the IPAP (Individual Partnership Action Plan) program and within the framework of international peacekeeping operations. Thus, Armenia wants to be a trustworthy and reliable partner, and this will render us ample opportunity to cooperate with our European partners and with Romania, in particular, within different European and regional projects.
V.S.: Your Excellency, How do you foresee the development of the relations with Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey in the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? It is possible an harmonization of the peace plans? What do you think would be necessary to achieve in the opening of a dialogue?
Hamlet GASPARIAN: We have very close relations both with Russia, Georgia and neighboring Iran and it is our wish to normalize relations with other our neighbors – Azerbaijan and Turkey. It goes without saying, the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will have a most positive impact on the regional political climate. I think, to achieve that goal, there is a need for political will by the parties to the conflict – Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia as the guarantor of the security of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh, a need for their wisdom and foresight. Russia is an important mediator in this issue alongside with other mediators – USA and France which exert significant efforts under the mediatory mission of the OSCE Minsk group toward the peaceful and negotiated resolution of the conflict.
V.S.: Excellency, Romanian-Armenian relations know positive developments. Specialists (diplomats, analysts, businessmen) have an important role. We discuss joint projects from various fields, but the conclusions of some of them are not on schedule, or worse, they are no longer ”topical”. What can you tell us about the work of Your Excellency, in these areas? There is a dynamic or we ”get stuck” because of the mutual ignorance? How is used Armenian community in Romania?
Hamlet GASPARIAN: Historically, the Armenian-Romanian relationship is unique within the entire European area; the co-existence of our nations dates back to the Middle Ages. Steps toward the establishment of interstate relations were made in early 1920s; however, the fall of the first Republic of Armenia disrupted the process. Romania once again recognized Armenia’s independence on December 11, 1991, being, by the way, among the first states to do so. During the past quarter of a century we succeeded in shaping of a broad bilateral legal framework, and accumulating vast experience in cooperating both on bilateral and international platforms. Today’s agenda includes almost all spheres. I would single out, in particular, the EU-initiated Eastern Partnership (EaP), the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), la Francophonie, as well as other European and international projects and programs encompassing the South Caucasus region. On the bilateral level, the scientific, educational and cultural cooperation has been marked by a most dynamic development, and the recent years also saw much bilateral activity in strengthening of the decentralized ties, i.e. connections between sister-cities. It suffices to say that since 2012, such ties have been established between 10 Armenian and Romanian cities and one province from both sides, and there are upcoming new projects. The Embassy’s activities are oriented to the realization of current arrangements and projects in this sphere. In this regard when people say that some projects are lagging behind (which is of course not desirable) they have to have in mind that in interstate and diplomatic routine it does have an explanation; governments and officials come and go. However, when it comes to the Romanian-Armenia community, it of course represents an added value to the Armenian-Romanian relations with its significant historical input and capabilities in all spheres of Romanian life. In this regard the Embassy closely cooperates with the Armenian Union and the Armenian Diocese in Romania, the community being under the leadership of such visible figures in Romania as Varujan Vosganian and Varujan Pambuccian, both deputies of the Romanian Parliament.
V.S.: Excellency, Recent international developments have caused paradigm shifts in international politics. What effects have upon the foreign policy of Armenia and how they will be reflected in the Romanian-Armenian relation?
Hamlet GASPARIAN: In connection with the shifts in the paradigm of the international politics, they are still in process and hopefully will not end up in a global catastrophe. At this point Armenia is especially concerned with the events evolving across the lines of our immediate neighborhood – Middle East and especially Syria. Our interests are directly at stake here given the around 20,000 refugees having found shelter in Armenia and issues surfacing with this regard. That is why Armenia is consistent in raising at the international organizations and fora issues related to the situation in the Middle East, combating terrorism, protection of the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, and the like. The security of the Syrian Armenians, the protection of Armenian historical and cultural heritage in Syria, assistance for Syrian Armenians are therefore issues of paramount importance for us.
V.S.: Can we talk about an increase in the economic exchanges? What areas and what fields would be of interest for Armenia? But for Romania?
Hamlet GASPARIAN: In terms of trade and economic exchanges the turnover between Armenia and Romania is currently yet small and does not reflect the real potentiality. This issue is constantly being discussed on the political level, as well as during the meetings of the Armenian-Romanian Intergovernmental Mixed Commission on Trade and Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation. However, things aren’t going forward the simple reason being that the decision-makers are the Armenian and Romanian business circles. As of the present moment, the greatest obstacle to develop economic cooperation is the absence of direct transport communication which affects the tariffs of the goods. However, some spheres of economy, namely, communication and high technologies, tourism and healthcare, may afford the opportunity to ‘by-pass’ that obstacle. At least there is a willingness with this regard from both sides. In our region Romania is currently interested in the energy resources of the Caspian basin and Georgia as a transit hub. However, the global and regional developments may create new opportunities making Armenia as a lucrative transit corridor as well. To elaborate on and find solutions to these issues the 3rd and 4th sessions of the Intergovernmental Commissions were convened during the recent years and the 5th Session is being planned to be organized in Bucharest. I think there are all necessary prerequisites to achieve more encouraging results in this area with Free economic zones being already operational in Armenia and the support rendered by the Government of my country in attracting foreign investments and setting up joint businesses. Armenia, as stated in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2017 Report, has improved its ranking with 5 points as compared to the same indicator of the last year and now stands as the 38th country among 190 world economies (Georgia – 16, Azerbaijan – 66, Turkey – 69, Iran – 129). Armenia has considerably eased its starting and doing business indicators in providing business loans and implementation of business agreements. Armenia is among the 26 countries of the world which have come up with three or more business environment reforms. Also, according to the Global Competitiveness Report 2016-17, issued by the World Economic Forum, Armenia has improve its standing with three points and now is the 79th among 138 countries. We are fully determined to further improve these and other important indicators each year. For instance, setting up a business in Armenia takes only 3 days (this indicator is compatible with that of Denmark), and to register ownership – 7 days whereas the average world indicator is 48 days.
V.S.: Mister Ambassador, What are the deficient areas in the bilateral relations with Romania? Also in this register, with permission of Your Excellency, I would like to do an analysis of the level of cultural, religious and academic exchanges! What can we do to relaunch these relations?
Hamlet GASPARIAN: An intergovernmental Program of Cooperation in the fields of culture, education and science signed between the two countries is being renewed every five years. Based on that legal framework the Embassy facilitated the signing of cooperation agreements between the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia and the Romanian Academy, Yerevan State University, the University of Bucharest and the University of Cluj. The main area of cooperation is Armenology. Of course, there are strong traditions in Romania in the field of Armenian studies (it suffices to name Nicolae Iorga, Agop Siruni, Vlad Bănăţeanu and others), however, there is a need to grow up a new generation of young researchers in Armenian studies which may become possible only through joint efforts and consistent steps.
Based on the above Program and the scholarships granted by Romania as stipulated by the Program, Armenian students specialize in various areas at different higher education institutions of Romania. Given the existence of an enormous Armenian cultural heritage in Romania it would only be desirable that one or two scholarships were offered in the fields of History and Philology. I think this area can also be of interest for the Romanian students, so we also attach importance on the teaching of the Armenian language at the Bucharest University (reciprocally, the Romanian language courses are successfully taught at the Brusov Linguistic University in Yerevan). We have in principle also reached an agreement to run courses of Armenian at the University of Cluj. This city, as you know, is the traditional center of Transylvania, with lots of Armenian traces.
Not accidentally, (University of) Cluj became home for an Institute of Armenology and we encourage the young researchers of this Institute to attend further in-depth training in Armenia. By the way, 30 km away from Cluj located is Gherla, former Armenopolis, founded and ruled by Armenians in the past and where is still great interest toward Armenia and Armenians. Presently, an Armenian young researcher from Gherla – Laszlo Borbely-Daibucat, is working on his doctoral thesis in Yerevan, at the Institute of Ancient Manuscripts Matenadaran.
Paralelly, the publishing houses Ararat and Zamka, as well as other Romanian publishers annually issue dozens of books and monographies on Armenians and their historical and cultural heritage. Additionally, the Romanian TV and radio channels, theaters and concert halls very often touch on Armenian themes and issues. There is one more program underway. We are organizing a major exhibition to be launched at the National Museum of History of Romania and we hope to successfully accomplish this venture.
V.S.: Mister Ambassador, As usual, at the end, I would like that Your Excellency send a message to the GeoPolitica magazine readers and for those who are interested in geopolitics, diplomacy and international relations!
Hamlet GASPARIAN: In our turbulent times I wish everybody peace and prosperity. To achieve those desirable and ultimate targets, I also wish fruitful activity to those devotees and especially the implementers of geopolitics, diplomacy and international relations.
Thank you very much for granting this interview and we assure you of our full support!
We wish Your Excellency good luck in fulfilling your diplomatic mission in Romania!
March 2017, Bucharest
Interview by Vasile SIMILEANU
Ioan Constantin STAN