YEREVAN (A.W.)—The Civilitas Foundation hosted a public forum called “Assessing Independence in Armenia and the Region” at Ani Hotel in Yerevan on Sept. 27 to explore Armenia’s accomplishments, missed opportunities, and regional and international relations.
Part of a series of forums to promote dialogue about democracy and development in Armenia, the panelists were John Marshall Evans, former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, and Hans-Jochen Schmidt, current Ambassador from Germany to Armenia. The conversation was moderated by Salpi Ghazarian, Director of Civilitas, and former Special Assistant to Vartan Oskanian inArmenia’s Foreign Ministry.
Ghazarian began the Forum by asking panelists whetherArmeniahas met the high expectations of the world during the past 20 years. “People ask me whyArmeniaisn’t doing as well asEstonia,” remarked German Ambassador Schmidt. “Armeniafaced lots of challenges at the beginning. There was the conflict withAzerbaijan, economic issues, and the first wave of migration.” He urged people to not underestimate the successes and said the country has excellent experts in government, though he stated that the Central Bank is the only institution inArmeniathat pays adequate salaries.
Evans, who left his post as ambassador five years ago this month, noted the importance of looking at the past 20 years against trends in the world, including the end of the Soviet Union, the rise of internet and globalization, and advancements in democracy and for women. “Armenians are already globalized,” Evans said, “a good foundation was laid during this time, but it’s not perfect.”
When asked by Ghazarian whether other decisions could have been made during that time, Ambassador Schmidt noted that former president Levon Ter-Petrossian should recognize that he is responsible for how it is today. With regard to European relations, Schmidt said that, “You have to live up to challenges if you want to be part of European Union. That means creating a competitive environment and good investment climate, improving customs, and addressing corruption. We’ll be watching the next elections closely.”
Evans stated that theU.S.is still arguing about its constitution 230 years after its creation. He continued to say that, “What’s great about elections when they’re perceived as fair is that they confer legitimacy. Democracy is a work in progress. No democracy emerges as a fully formed democracy. In the five years I’ve been away, I see great improvements, mainly in the capital, because I haven’t visited the countryside. But there are clearly shortcomings.”
The U.S.has invested inArmenia’s development since its independence from theSoviet Union. When asked what efforts have worked, Evans noted the U.S.-funded vouchers for those dislocated in the earthquake zone proved to be a good model for generating the local housing industry. Additionally, he stated the United States Department of Agriculture’s work in the countryside with goat husbandry, slaughterhouses, and developing wine production consistency was particularly successful.
Unfortunately, Evans said, “The Millennium Challenge ended [this month] becauseArmeniais falling behind on ruling justly. TheU.S.has showed much, maybe too much, tolerance, hoping [the situation] would improve.” According to the Millennium Challenge Account – Armenia website, the program was intended to refurbish major sections of the country’s main canal systems, modernize pumping stations, introduce new gravity irrigation schemes, re-build tertiary canals and restore sections of the Ararat Valley Drainage system. Evans acknowledged that the project’s cancellation has been widely criticized.
As relates to the region, Ghazarian asked whether theSouth Caucasusis considered a region or three separate countries. “Everyone sees it as a potential region. It’s a troubled region, but if the problems can be overcome, there’s tremendous potential,” Evans said, adding thatArmeniashould not lose sight of relevant changes in theMiddle EastandTurkey.
Ghazarian notedGermany’s close relationship with neighboringGeorgiaand asked whether that is a topic discussed. The Ambassador responded that they have made efforts to promote regional cooperation, but have not been able to promote economic cooperation. Additionally, “Armeniais excluded from energy cooperation. I am concerned thatArmeniawill fall more and more behind. It will be detrimental toArmenia. Opening the border withTurkeywould help economy.”
In response, Ghazarian stated, “We’ve given all we have to give. We want the border open.” Asked whether theU.S.can encourageTurkeyto open the border and place the blame onArmeniato appeaseBaku, Evans stated, “This is a problem of post-Soviet era. They’d just send the problem toMoscowbefore. There weren’t institutions of problem solving here. The Minsk Group will not impose a solution andAmericacan’t tellTurkeywhat to do.” He went on to argue that the first step should be diplomatic relations withTurkey. “No one is doing anyone a favor by having diplomatic relations – it doesn’t mean friendly. TheU.S.had diplomatic relations with Stalinist Russia with the goal of defeating Hitler.GreeceandTurkeyhave full diplomatic relations despite ongoing border issues.”
In response to patriotic comments from an audience member, who was three years of age whenArmeniacelebrated its independence from theSoviet Union, Evans noted that this may be the age of the small state, calling outSingaporeas an example of a special environment. He continued to say, “You’re the independence generation. You’ve grown up with the internet. You are creating new ways of doing things.”
– Weekly correspondent