Garen Nazarian Brings Armenia To the World at the UN


NEW YORK — The United Nations, a center of world diplomacy located in New York City, itself one of the most international cities in the world, is a plum posting for any diplomat. Naturally, many of those who ply their trade at the United Nations have had distinguished careers. Ambassador Garen A. Nazarian, Armenia’s present representative to the UN, is no exception. He rose quickly through the ranks, beginning at the end of the Soviet period, to hold a number of key positions in the Armenian Foreign Ministry in a period of post-independence rapid development and innovation. His career is worth exploring not only for its own sake, but also for understanding the development of modern Armenian diplomacy. The first anniversary of his service at the UN is an opportune occasion for such an examination.

Nazarian’s grandparents and parents were born in New Julfa, the famous Armenian suburb of Isfahan, in Iran. They immigrated with their respective families to Yerevan after World War II, like many Iranian-Armenians. Nazarian’s father was a chemical engineer, who traveled for work. Nazarian’s parents made sure their two children received a good education in Soviet Armenia. Interestingly, the younger brother, now Col. Mesrop Nazarian, also went into state service. He recently became the defense attaché of the Republic of Armenia in Washington, DC, so that the two brothers for the first time in their careers can occasionally visit each other
while at their respective postings for work.

At Yerevan State University, Nazarian pursued Near Eastern and Iranian Studies. He learned languages, geography and history. This was a period of great change in Soviet Armenia and the Soviet Union as a whole, thanks to Gorbachev’s reforms. Nazarian’s worldview began to change. Students could travel to Iran, Afghanistan and the Arab world and learn about life and politics there. During the final years of his studies, Nazarian himself also worked in his father’s company, called ArmAgroPromService. This was a Soviet-Armenian company exporting agricultural materials. Nazarian became more interested in international relations.

Nazarian was also influenced by some patriotic Armenian professors who promoted the idea of Armenia’s independence in the university. Gourgen Melikian, Georgi Nalbandian and Vardan Melikian, were among his lecturers. Nazarian soon began to take part in the demonstrations that took place in Yerevan in the late 1980s. He participated in protests, and was among the students who visited villages of Karabagh where Soviet troops were already stationed. After the Armenian earthquake of 1988, Nazarian went to help as a volunteer in Spitak, with his fellow university students.

After graduating from Yerevan State University, Nazarian studied at the Diplomatic Academy in Moscow for two years, with the expectation that he would eventually return to Armenia.

In Armenia’s Service
Indeed, in 1991 Nazarian entered the Armenian foreign service. He had gone through a qualifying commission to get his appointment. Interestingly, many of the new diplomats had studied Near Eastern Studies. There were only a few experienced Armenian Soviet diplomats from Moscow, though there were others who had garnered experience in the Soviet period and were already working in Soviet Armenia’s Foreign Ministry. In all, there were about 30 people. Their numbers increased as time went on. Some Armenians, like the first foreign minister Raffi Hovannisian, came from the Armenian Diaspora to serve the new republic.

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Nazarian first worked in the Military-Political Department of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, where they dealt with issues related to the Karabagh situation. The department sent notices abroad about Azerbaijani aggressions against the peaceful Armenian population there. Nazarian served at the Armenian Embassy in the Russian Federation from 1992 to 1994. This was a period when good relations with Russia were extremely crucial for Armenia and Karabagh, not that Russia ever has ceased to be very important for Armenia.

Nazarian was brought back to Yerevan to serve as chief of staff of the cabinet for the Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1994 to 1996. He coordinated relations between the different Armenian agencies, Foreign Ministry and Foreign Missions and helped developing the rules and procedures for the Armenian diplomatic service.

The UN in Geneva
The next posting was in Geneva, where he served as permanent representative to the United Nations and other international organizations from 1996 to 2002. The focus in Geneva, as opposed to the UN in New York, is usually on human rights, and humanitarian and economic issues. Armenia’s Geneva headquarters had only a handful of diplomats, but the great support of the Armenian community in Switzerland made up for this to some degree. For example, the offices themselves were provided through the support of Hagop Gabrielian. Many important Armenians visited, such as Charles Aznavour, Henri Verneuil, Catholicoi of All Armenians Karekin I and II, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia Aram I and Haigashen Ouzounian.

In this period, Armenia’s primary task in Geneva was to periodically report on its status concerning the important UN human rights conventions on civil and political rights, as well as on economic, social and cultural rights. Nazarian worked to make the Armenian government’s stance on the realization of these conventions in Armenia clear. He worked in various UN commissions, which in turn pointed out to Armenia what needed to be accomplished.

Nazarian became the chair of the Committee Against Torture, which is a body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the UN Convention against Torture (the CAT) by the various state-parties. The CAT is an important human rights instrument that aims to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. During Nazarian’s chairmanship, the objective was to reach a universal ratification of that UN convention.

In 2001, Nazarian was a vice president of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, presided over by Mary Robinson of Ireland. The World Conference focused on issues relating to slavery and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Nazarian felt that his years in Geneva gave him an opportunity to engage in high-level, multilateral diplomacy for the first time. These were also important years for Armenia. During the interview for this article, he pointed out: “It was the first time that we were able to present the Armenian point of view on various issues at the UN and various international bodies. Armenia joined many international and intergovernmental bodies as an active member. Various delegations from Armenia visited Geneva.”

Among other achievements during this period was the championing by Armenia in 1998 of a resolution to recognize the importance of the UN Genocide Convention upon its 50th anniversary.  Many countries joined Armenia in this effort, and the resolution led to a biannual reexamination of the Genocide Convention’s importance at the UN. During these years, Switzerland hosted a few meetings of the Armenian and Azerbaijani president to talk about Karabagh.

Back Home
From 2002 to 2004, Nazarian returned to Armenia to work as advisor to the foreign minister. He worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was closely involved with the USArmenia Task Force. Established in 2000, the US-Armenia Task Force is a bilateral intergovernmental commission that meets every six months to review the progress and maximize the benefits of the US assistance to Armenia. It provides a framework for high-level contacts and promotes economic cooperation between the two countries. As a member of the Armenian delegation of the Task Force, Nazarian was attending these meetings in Washington and Yerevan. In addition and unrelated to the USArmenia Task Force, during this period, he also represented Armenia at various international conferences, and traveled to Israel, Iran and Europe for diplomatic work.

From 2005 to 2009, Nazarian served as the Armenian ambassador to Iran, and was able to put his university studies to good use: “I never thought that Farsi [the Persian language] would be useful for me, but life proved me wrong. I was fortunate. Iran is one of the important countries for Armenia because of geography and geopolitical realities in our region.” Trade, energy and tourism were the most important issues in the bilateral relationship.

Nazarian was able to help bring to realization some important economic projects led by the Government and Ministry of Energy of Armenia. Wind stations in Armenia, with high voltage transmission and fiber optic lines connecting the two countries, the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline, and the construction of an alternative road connecting Meghri to Kapan (the path in winter through Kajaran in the original road sometimes was impassable) all were accomplished in this period.  Furthermore, agreements were reached concerning the railway, oil pipeline and two hydroelectric stations on Arax River bordering the two countries: “We wish to have an alternative supply of energy resources for Armenia. This is necessary due to blockade imposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan. Our country should not be left vulnerable.”

While there might be American pressure against cooperation with Iran, Nazarian pointed out “Armenian-Iranian relations did not develop at the expense of US-Armenian relations.” He added: “We have trustworthy relations both with Washington and Tehran. The Armenian community in Iran is an important bridge.” On some regional issues, Armenia’s interests coincide with Iran’s. In particular, Nazarian explained, “We approve of Iran’s balanced viewpoint on the Karabagh issue. Non-intervention is the best assurance for the solution of the issue.”

UN in New York
In August 2009, Nazarian came to New York as Armenia’s representative to the United Nations. The UN in New York makes political decisions on a much broader range of international issues than the Geneva office. The chief UN bodies are all located in New York and topics relating to Armenia are always coming up. For example, when the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), one of the main organs coordinating UN work on economic and social issues, deals with refugee issues, Armenia will have its concerns. When the Security Council discusses the responsibility for the protection of civilians, Armenia has to be there. The topic of human rights at the General Assembly can lead to a discussion with Azerbaijan. At the same time, Armenia does not only deal with its own issues and its regional concerns. Armenia participates in discussions on a wide range of issues, such as climate change, financing for development, human security and disarmament,
and Nazarian periodically delivers speeches on these other themes.

The UN is a convenient meeting place for diplomats to deal with bilateral and other issues with the representatives of other states. This is important especially for smaller states like Armenia, as it allows for efficient use of state resources. Thus, once a year, the Armenian president and/or foreign minister come to New York for many different meetings during the UN General Assembly. Naturally, Nazarian also participates in this work.

UN representatives generally chair or serve on a variety of commissions and committees. Nazarian quickly was able to obtain a very important post through the Eastern European Group of States of which Armenia is a member. He is serving for two years as the chairman of the 54th and 55th Sessions of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. This is an ECOSOC functional commission. As Nazarian explained, “So that you understand its importance, after the General Assembly, this is the largest conference which invites high-ranking delegations of various countries for work. This is the only intergovernmental body that examines and reformulates policies concerning the advancement and welfare of women. This is a big honor for our country and gives us great visibility.” In March 2010, the Commission worked for two weeks with more than 60 ministerial-level representatives from various countries, and delegations from 190 member states and 2,000
non-governmental organizations.

The points of view of different countries depend often on the state of their societies and their level of development as well as on their policies on gender issues. Nazarian explained, “As a developing country which has accepted European integration and European standards for its society, especially in this field, Armenia can strongly benefit from the international experiences.” He stressed further that this is a great opportunity for Armenia domestically: “Without solving women’s issues in Armenia, like anywhere else, society cannot be stable. In Armenia, the government and private sector and civil society, accept this point of view.”

Nazarian said that despite earlier UN resolutions on Karabagh, it is generally accepted that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna is the forum for a peaceful settlement of the Karabagh conflict, and not the UN. However, Armenia in the UN, as elsewhere, tries to defend the interests of the Republic of Mountainous Karabagh, especially as Azerbaijan continues to refuse the latter’s participation at the formal diplomatic negotiations mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, the United States, Russia and France. On the contemporary hot topic of Armenian-Turkish relations, Nazarian explained that the mission does not directly deal with this in New York.

At the UN, Armenia has the opportunity to help other countries and increase its role as an active member of the international community. After the devastating earthquake of 1988, the world rushed to aid Armenia. Nazarian stresses that for Armenia “as a full member of the international community, we feel a great responsibility to return that help.” Despite the current financial and economic difficulties, the Armenian government decided to provide humanitarian support to those affected by the earthquake in Haiti, given Armenia’s own experience by donating $100,000 to the UN emergency fund for Haiti.

The UN Mission and American-Armenians
In New York, Nazarian has diplomats from Yerevan working with him, along with local stuff and volunteers. There are frequently too many meetings or events that are of interest to Armenia each day for the small staff of diplomats to attend. Luckily, interns or graduate students from universities like Columbia, Stanford and NYU, who are experts in international relations or law, help with the load and supplement the Armenian Mission’s staff.

Armenian non-governmental organizations at the UN have also been helpful, especially on women’s issues and economic and environmental problems. Nazarian already cooperates with various groups and hopes to increase these interactions in the future.

Nazarian expressed his thanks for the warm receptions the Armenian community in New York had organized for him and the support many organizations and individuals provide to the Mission. As Nazarian showed me around the Mission’s elegantly decorated offices, he stressed his gratitude to the Hovnanian family for its donation of the brownstone building and for all the individuals who have helped as far back as 1993 and who are still helping today.

Nazarian is guiding the mission to play an active role in outreach to American-Armenians. He was pleased that he could co-sponsor events with local organizations like the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center of the Armenian Diocese (Eastern) for the public and for younger Armenians. The Mission recently has also co-sponsored a fundraiser for HIV clinics in Ethiopia where the artist and photographer Haik Kocharian donated the proceeds of his exhibited photographs.

Nazarian did not fail to declare that he was introduced to the Mirror-Spectator while in Geneva and continues to read it to this day.

The Future
Nazarian feels that Armenia has much to learn from other countries with hundreds of years or more of diplomatic experience. It benefits, however, from the knowledge not only of its own citizens but also that of the Diasporan Armenians. He quipped: “Our own national character is multibalanced, like our foreign policy.”
Looking back at the changes in modern Armenian diplomacy from the start of the independent Armenian state to the present, Nazarian concluded: “Armenian diplomacy is now more active and visible. This has been particularly evident during the last year or two. We are more proactive and flexible, and react appropriately to global and regional changes and challenges. This is natural. It is always the following generation that must do more than the previous one.”

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