Two Different Islands

Armenian International Magazine Volume 10, Number 10, October 1999, p. 10

[Editorial by Hratch Tchilingirian]

Two Different Islands
Cooperation among state officials, policy makers and businesses benefits all

In the last few years, Great Britain, a huge and important island in Europe, has gone through a process of reassessing its foreign policy in the South Caucasus, Central Asia and Armenia in particular.

A few years ago, no one would have believed that Armenia, a regionally isolated "island" would attract the attention of Great Britain, whose sole interests seemed to lie under the Caspian Sea off Azerbaijan. But, as one British diplomat in London put it, bilateral trade volume is one of the most important factors of British foreign policy.

Indeed, in recent years the British Embassy in Yerevan, which has increased its staff, has paid more attention to “the commercial front.” Today, Great Britain is the third largest exporter to Armenia (after Russia and the US). In 1998 exports increased by over 500 percent, totaling some $70 million. (See interview with UK Ambassador on page 31).
Armenia’s progressively stabilizing economy (albeit with a long way still to go) and continuing economic reforms are among the factors considered by policy makers. Meanwhile, there is increased political dialogue and cooperation between the two countries and Britain is providing some £500,000 assistance to Armenia this year.

In an ever-expanding global politics, economic position and viability has become the ultimate bottom line of diplomacy and interstate relations. While conflicts, wars and poverty draw attention, and sometimes sympathy, trade and business relations have become the political and diplomatic glues that connect states and sustain long-term, mutually beneficial relations even among far apart “islands.”

The current vigor of British-Armenian relations underscores another important factor: the role of Diaspora businessmen. Citizens of Armenian origin, in whatever country they may be, can play a significant role in enhancing interstate trade relations and investments, contributing not only to Armenia’s economy, but also its diplomacy and international relations.

British-Armenians are heavily involved in more than a dozen British companies set up in Armenia.They are helping Armenia and Armenians, enhancing interstate relations with their country of residence, and at the end of the day, they are making money.

One of the most successful trade and business bridge-builders is Vatche Manoukian, who not only has invested millions of dollars himself, but has helped British and other foreign companies see Armenia as an opportunity instead of a zone of conflict. Indeed, he says that financial returns for the companies he has set up in Armenia are higher than other companies would get in the West for similar projects. In addition to expanding his businesses in Armenia, Manoukian sees his role, as well as that of other businessmen in the Diaspora, as facilitating trade partnerships between Armenia and foreign companies.

The involvement and investments of Diasporans in Armenia’s economy has inspired confidence in large foreign firms to take calculated risks in Armenia and succeed. While many in the Diaspora continue to complain about the million and one problems as reasons not to invest in the republic, a number of creative, patient and serious Diaspora and foreign investors have established some of the most successful businesses in Armenia.

The British-Armenian economic "experiment" makes at least one point clear: Those who are able to build trade and economic bridges benefit from the traffic and partnership they provide on both sides of the bridge.

Hratch Tchilingirian
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