Francophonie Summit offers an Opportunity for the New Armenia to shine on the World Stage

Last week, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan surprised many when he addressed a delegation from the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), in perfect French. The envoys, headed by Secretary-General Michaëlle Jean, were in town ahead of the upcoming Francophonie Summit, which is scheduled to be held for the first time in Yerevan in October. The event, which has already received RSVPs from French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, among many other high ranking dignitaries, offers a unique chance for this post-Velvet Armenia to shine.

The OIF, which was initially created as a platform to promote the use of the French language and cultural affinities, has since developed its mission to include the promotion of human rights,  sustainable development, gender equality, support for entrepreneurship and so on, mostly in the form of technical, financial and political support from the North American and European Members to its African member-states.

A full fledged member of the OIF since 2008, Armenia was one of the first non-francophone countries to be granted such an honour. Still, one wonders: Why would the highest authority in the French-speaking world hold its biennial summit in Armenia, a country which has never appeared in the roster of France’s colonial territories, contains no substantial native French-speaking population, and maintains minimal economic, cultural, and political ties with the rest of the Francophone World?

As it turns out, beloved French-Armenian musician Charles Aznavour is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to warm ties between the two countries. Reasons for the modern geopolitical affiliations are partly historical and date back as far as the Crusades. Leo V, for example, the last King of Armenia, himself of partial Frankish descent, lies buried within the walls of the St-Denis Basilica in Paris.

During World War I, Armenian legionaries helped the French liberate parts of the Levant from Ottoman occupation. As the world approached the period of national awareness that characterized the 20th century, Armenia and France have maintained modern diplomatic, political, and trade channels. Today, France enjoys the wealth of cultural, economic and political contributions by a a half-a-million strong community of Armenian Diasporans.

In the context of the theme for this year’s summit, “Vivre ensemble” (Live together), member states will be presenting their experience on combating radicalisation and violent extremism, as many french-speaking africa nations are currently plagued by the arrival of groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram. Delegates will also be expected to discuss ways to promote gender equality across the francophone speaking world, by adopting a women’s empowerment strategy championed by the Quebec government. Armenia will also be assuming the presidency at the end of the summit for the next two years, giving the country a prominent role in the international affairs of the francosphere.  

Though the OIF’s mission may seem deliberately vague and self-flattering, the 58-member international group’s summits can also serve as a platform with an amplified global reach. With these summits attracting heads of state from Canada, France, Switzerland, Belgium and others, meetings on the sidelines usually involve economic cooperation, agreements between business delegations, and so forth.

Hosting the Francophonie Summit presents an opportunity that Armenia cannot afford to squander. Seldom, if ever, do international conferences of this magnitude and importance land in Yerevan.

Hosting the Francophonie Summit presents an opportunity that Armenia cannot afford to squander. Seldom, if ever, do international conferences of this magnitude and importance land in Yerevan. For the freshly inaugurated PM Pashinyan, the summit will serve to showcase the country’s progress on the international stage following the events of the Velvet Revolution. Over the course of a weekend in October, Yerevan will be transformed into the capital city of the french-speaking world. The streets will be filled with camera crews, journalists, diplomats, and representatives of major corporations looking to sign MOUs.

According to Frédéric Dufour, the Québec Government’s envoy for the Sommet de la Francophonie, who is currently in Yerevan overseeing the final preparations, Armenia should aim to “strategically position itself in the Francophone space,” which includes 84 member states and observer states across the globe. He supported the idea that the summit would present Armenia with an incredible opportunity to lift its global standing, strengthen bilateral relations with some of the most prominent member-states, develop cultural ties within the Francophone community, and highlight the many contributions by Armenians to Francophone culture.

Dufour also wishes to inform readers of the Weekly that Quebec, like New England, is home to a large Armenian community, which has greatly contributed to the province’s development. The Quebec Government maintains a representation in Boston which can also serve to enhance cooperation between the Armenian communities of New England and Quebec.

International business delegations will also be looking for opportunities to invest in the country, a fact which Mr. Pashinyan should be particularly attentive to, given the country’s dire need of Foreign Direct Investment. Armenia can also benefit from cooperation in the development of green energy production in the country. The Canadian Province of Quebec, which produces 97% of its energy through sustainable means, has expressed interest in solar and wind farms in Armenia. With plastic waste reduction featuring prominently on the OIF’s agenda, Armenia, which has recently announced its own ‘war on plastic’, may find a reliable international partner.

The forum will also serve as a chance to showcase the innovations that Armenia has to offer the World. The always-impressive TUMO centre, for instance, which is opening its first branch in Paris this week, can serve as a model for the teaching of modern creative job skills across the Francophonie.

Trust your faithful Canadian-Armenian author when he says that Armenia’s entry into the OIF is a big deal, which is why it’s worrying that Yerevan has yet to fully tap into this resource—until very recently. A pet project of former Foreign Minister, Eduard Nalbandian, a noted Francophile, the president usually chose to skip the meetings in favor of lower-ranking diplomats, a surefire way to be ignored. With the Summit being held in Yerevan, Armenia will have its chance to shine.

With less than a month before the Summit, preparations are already well under way. Come October, world leaders, businessmen, cultural representatives and more will have a chance to get acquainted with the ‘New Armenia’. The Foreign Ministry has assured the OIF that Yerevan will be ready to receive hundreds of guests from at least eighty different countries. So far, all the signs indicate that Yerevan is aware of the stakes.

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Raffi Elliott

Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-born entrepreneur and occasional journalist who likes to ramble on about socioeconomic and political issues in Armenia. He lives in Yerevan with his family. He also holds a masters degree in International Relations.

12 Comments

  1. It`s an excellent article which should be translated into Armenian asap and published in Yerevan`s local papers. The Francophonie Summit is at our doorstep, and I hope at least the main streets and cultural centers in Yerevan will raise awareness in the population about this very important event. I would have volunteered to do the translation, but I am afraid I won`t be able to do justice to the Oriental Armenian, which is the language used in Yerevan.

  2. Thank you Raffi Elliott for your article …. So proud of Armenia and the Prime Minister , Nikol Pashinian , for hosting Francophonie Summit , I wish The Prime Minister and the organizing Committee all the best and great success !
    We will be following and watching …

    • as an armenian and having visited my homeland i am certain that red carpet treatment will be afforded to all the representatives, dignitaries and visitors that will assemble for the summitt, the face of the new armenia, its progressive government, its history, its culture, its people and its spirit willbe available for all to see. may the hand of God shine upon my beloved country, its people,its continued growth and potential and upon all attend.

  3. Thank you Raffi for another very informative article. I was so happy to see PM Pashinyan give a fluent speech in French, and I am also proud to be in our “New Armenia”.
    Let us not forget though that bringing the Francophonie Summit to Armenia was initiated and achieved by the previous “Regime”. Let us also give them Kudos, just to be fair.

  4. A pedantic correction, but King Leo V does not lie buried in Saint Denis. He had been buried in a Parisian convent after his death, but his remains along with that of the French royalty at Saint Denis and elsewhere were exhumed and scattered during the French Revolution. Their monuments were not destroyed however, and after the revolution calmed down it was decided to make Saint Denis a museum of such royal monuments. Thus, Leo’s tomb monument was moved to Saint Denis as part of this and remains there today, albeit without him.

  5. OIF is a promising channel for the new Armenia opening up to the larger world. Francophone Europe, Québec/Canada, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa … stronger, long-term relations with all these places are quite essential.

  6. Maybe Raffi needs to study Armenian history a bit more more closely. Leo V was not an ethnic Armenian. He was Frenchman that ruled over Armenians, and his short lived rule was disastrous for Cilicia. I guess Armenians love their foreign rulers so much that a failed King Leo V, a Frenchman, is revered as an Armenian and presidents Serzh Sargsyan and Robert Kocharyan, Armenians, are thought to be Tatars/Turks. You people exhibit typical Armenian style self-destructive behavior that permeates the ages.

    Raffi also needs to better understand the mechanisms of geopolitics and international relations. Sorry to burst your “Francophonie” bubble but France was ‘tasked’ with maintaining good relations with Armenia, just as Germany was tasked with to maintaining good relations with Georgia and Britain was tasked with maintaining good relations with Azerbaijan. The aforementioned three Western powers were allocated the countries in question to influence around the time of the fall of the Soviet Union. Naturally, because France had a sizeable Armenian population, France was given Armenia to coax into a Westerly direction.

    What I am basically telling you people is put an end to your political illiteracy and self-destructive behavior. Armenia is suffering terribly because of it. Let’s also not forget that France is an imperial power on par with the United States and Britain. France had a direct hand in the destruction of Syria and Libya, which has in turn proliferated Islamic terrorism and killed hundred of thousands of people. France today is also an epicenter of neo-marxist and ultra-liberal degeneracy. In the big picture, the proliferation of Anglo-American and now French influences in Armenia is in fact a sign of Armenia’s civilization/cultural decline.

    Learning English/French in Armenia is a gateway to emigration, or working for Western funded NGOs that are currently destroying the country from within. English in particular is a catalyst of globalist, multicultural, liberal, feminist and homosexual propaganda.

    The most important language in Armenia, after Armenian of course, has to be Russian. Before you people begin foaming at the mouth because of what I said, just ask yourselves: Who is Armenia’s largest trading partner? The answer is, Russia. Who is Armenia’s largest financial investor? The answer is, Russia. Who is Armenia only supplier of affordable arms? The answer is, Russia. Who is Armenia’s only provider of affordable energy? The answer is, Russia. Where do most of Armenia’s tourists come from? The answer is, Russia. Where is Armenia’s largest and most affluent Diaspora located? The answer is, Russia. Who’s military and economic bloc does Armenia belong to? The answer is, Russia. As you can see, Russian is by far the most important language for Armenians to not merely learn but to master.

    In any case, I am sure no one understood anything that I said.

    • Rest assured that I understood too well what you said. There must be a reason for your deep-seated hatred for all things Armenian. I can’t be bothered to count the number of times you said “You people”. You so lack civility. I pity you.

  7. Raffi is the best
    What you are dOing may god continue to bless you in Armenia and in your endeavours
    Well done 👏👏👏

  8. Lily,
    You have to understand norserunt mentality, he is part of “mother Russia” supporters, trained to divide our unity! He acts like an Armenian Oligarch, trained in KGB garrison. Every time he hears of USA or France or… jumps out of his garrison like Rasputin!

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