Armenia is not only currently looking West, but also enjoys healthy diplomatic relations with some of the world’s major powers, an academic from Yerevan University in Armenia said at a recent seminar in Istanbul.
Hovhannes Hovhannisyan said there is a quite strong opinion in Armenia that the country’s future lies with Europe. “There is no talk about Asia,” he said, adding that Armenian society considers itself European and celebrates its European origins and values. He also said Armenia shares a significant history with Europe because Armenian comes from the same language family as many European languages.
Hovhannisyan, in collaboration with Heghine Manasyan, a research fellow at the Caucusus Research Center, spoke Monday at a seminar about socio-economic and political life in Armenia, organized by Istanbul Kültür University’s Global Political Trends Center, or GPOT, in cooperation with the Eurasia Partnership Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, in Istanbul.
Armenia looks West
Hovhannisyan said public debate regarding Armenia’s European future has intensified since 2001, when Armenia became a member of the Council of Europe. “There are no real plans in the nearest future [for Armenia] to become an EU member,” he said, adding this did not imply it was an impossible situation.
Hovhannisyan said Armenian public bodies paid a lot of attention to the Eastern Partnership Program with the EU, especially the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. He said the ministry, with assistance from the EU, had founded a Diplomatic Academy where EU partners and representatives gave lectures.
Manasyan said projections regarding the Armenian economy and the country’s long-term sustainable development focused on integrating with the European economy, which sounded very strange to people in the beginning. “Now it has become clear that Armenia is eager to accept all EU standards,” she said, adding that if Armenian goods meet all EU quality standards penetrating European markets would be possible.
While it is good to diversify trade partners, Armenia’s trade relations with Russia remain the primary Armenian economic concern, as Russia is the country’s biggest trade partner, she said.
“We are importing fuel and cereals from Russia and it is exporting labor to us, thus we also get remittances from there,” Manasyan said.
Manasyan said efficient cooperation with the world’s Armenian diaspora would make the country much more powerful. High levels of corruption had to be reduced to make the country more attractive to foreign direct investment from the Armenian diaspora.
Trade between Turkey and Armenia?
Although a closed border with Turkey is one of the main challenges to improving the Armenian economy, this does not necessarily imply that Armenia does not trade with Turkey, according to Manasyan. Research has revealed that trade happens through Georgia, she said.
“Businesses managed to establish third entities in Georgia and thus it is difficult to guess which was the country [to have instigated trade],” Manasyan said, adding that while the Turkish Statistical Institute, or TurkStat, records zero trade practices with Armenia, the Armenian national statistics office has recorded huge quantities of imports from Turkey, which is the sixth main trading partner, representing 5 percent of total imports. On the other hand, exports to Turkey represented only 0.2 percent of Armenia’s total exports.
Both speakers at the seminar said building closer links through non-official channels was one way to effectively improve relations between the Turkish and Armenian people. “Track-two diplomacy is as crucial as official diplomacy,” Hovhannisyan said.
Regarding Armenia’s healthy relations with the U.S., Russia and Iran, Hovhannisyan said Armenia managed to maintain such relations by a process of so-called silent diplomacy.
“We never ask questions [on issues that might be sensitive for any of the countries],” he said. This is how Armenia has managed to maintain relations with these three countries, whose conflicting interests often curtail active and simultaneous diplomatic engagements, he said.
As an example of good relations between countries, Artak Shakaryan, the Armenia-Turkey Program Manager at the Eurasia Partnership Foundation, cited Armenia and Iran. The two countries were exchanging natural gas for electricity within the scope of a barter system, he said.
“Armenia gives Iran electricity during summer in exchange for natural gas from Iran during winter,” he said. The Armenian diaspora has also done much to affect this possibility, through lobbying and maintaining good relations with Russia, Iran and the U.S., Hovhannisyan said.