Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a press conference

Pashinyan Visits Germany

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COLOGNE, Germany — When Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his wife Annas Hakobyan paid an official visit to Germany last week, their first stop was not the capital city but Cologne. This may have come as a surprise to some, but there were good reasons for it. As Pashinyan explained to a gathering of members of the Armenian community on January 31, “Cologne is the capital of the Armenians of Germany, and it was not accidental that we started the official visit here.” The meeting took place at the Prelacy Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which is the seat of the church in Germany.

Prof. Dr. Stefan Herzig, Rector of the Technological University of Cologne, welcomes Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia (Photo: Michael Bause / TH Köln)Köln
31.01.2019
copyright by Michael Bause
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In his address that evening, in Armenian, Pashinyan touched on themes he was to develop in greater depth in other meetings. First was the new role Armenia has come to play since the revolution; it has become “more visible and more audible for the civilized world,” he said. Sometimes the new situation creates embarrassment, he said, “when representatives of different powerful civilized countries … tell us straight away … that they have much to learn from us.” One should take due note of such statements, when they are repeated again and again, he said. “Yes, we have problems in many areas, but there is a sphere in which we are truly considered a leader in the world today. I mean the building of a society free of violence without resorting to violence. For this very reason,” he added, “we can say yes, we are a country of great importance in the world.” Citing poet Paruyr Sevak, he said Armenians do not put themselves above anyone else. However, “we should understand what we have, what we say and do in the modern world. These tasks are positive, they are endowed with universal logic, and they are interesting to the world and civilization.”

The revolution that took place, he said, was the result of a collective effort, an example of nationwide cooperation. Now that free and fair elections have been held, and acknowledged at home and abroad, these “political transformations need to be translated into economic changes.” This, the central message of his visit, means moving from a political to an economic revolution, to improve living standards for all, and eliminate poverty. To achieve this requires the contribution of all, citizens and compatriots abroad. He stressed the role of the single individual: “Who can change the world? Who can change reality? Individuals are the ones to do that. The 21st century belongs to those who believe in their strength. The time has come for us and our people to believe in our own strength.”

Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia, during his lecture at the Technological University of Cologne. (Photo: Michael Bause / TH Köln)

In dialogue with the community, Pashinyan addressed a question related to the elimination of the Diaspora Ministry, explaining that his staff would have an ambassador tasked with special responsibilities for the diaspora. The ministry itself should be reorganized, he said, with redistribution of functions, and “only one agency should be involved in each function.” He cited the example in education, where one ministry would provide textbooks to Armenian schools abroad, while another would provide teacher training. Now, he said, “the Ministry of Education and Science should take care of education,” and the aim should be to bring educational policies and culture within Armenia and among the Diaspora into harmony.

Khachkars and Computers in Cologne

Earlier in the day, Cologne’s Mayor Henriette Reker had received the prime minister at City Hall, with words of admiration and praise for the accomplishments of the peaceful Armenian revolution. “You are raising hopes in all those who stand for the promotion of democracy in the world,” she said. Thanking her, Pashinyan voiced his commitment to following up the political evolution with economic improvements, and hoped that Germany investments would contribute to the process. Pashinyan also expressed his appreciation for the German Bundestag’s recognition of the genocide in 2016. As Reker emphasized, the city of Cologne had contributed to the commemoration of the victims with a khachkar, an important step in the “process of recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide,” which must be continued, “in a bid to develop a global memory policy.” In response, Pashinyan said recognition was “crucial in terms of preventing future genocides,” and that this constituted a key aspect of Armenian foreign policy.

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In addition to economic cooperation, especially in the IT sector, Pashinyan proposed establishing collaboration between Cologne and Gyumri, the earthquake-stricken city which shares with Cologne a rich cultural heritage. Reker responded positively to the suggestion and was ready to discuss details.

Prior to his talks with the mayor, Pashinyan had witnessed the signing of a memorandum of cooperation between the Technical University of Cologne and Armenia’s National Polytechnic University. The Rector of the university Stefan Herzig and Armenian Ambassador to Germany Ashot Smbatyan signed the document, which provides for cooperation in the field of information and high technologies.

“Internationalism is one of the fundamental values for us at the Cologne Technological University,” said Herzig, in welcoming the Armenian prime minister. “We want to encourage our students to acquire intercultural competencies, which are increasingly important in the global world of work.” Scientific networks have always extended beyond national borders, he added, and his institution is eager to contribute to this further with international partners. In this regard, he considered it “an extraordinary honor” that the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia should be a guest of the university during his state visit.

Pashinyan then delivered a lecture, entitled “Armenia after the Velvet Revolution: Fulfilling the Promise of the Digital and Technological Age.” Speaking in English, he focused on the role of the ongoing technological revolution, which is transforming “everything we do, say and produce.” Not only has the digital revolution introduced new forms of communication, it has “empowered citizens to amplify their voices and hold governments responsible,” as was manifest in Armenia’s revolution. Among the positive transformation made possible by the information technology (IT) age, are “transparency, accountability and better protection of human rights,” as achieved in Armenia. If, after snap parliamentary elections, this political process has been completed, new challenges face the country. “Now we have a task,” he said, “not less important. We desperately need an economic revolution. To this end, we are going to widely utilize all the opportunities that digital age promises.”

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan with German Bundestag President Wolfgang Schoeble

Armenia has prioritized the IT sector, also because it provides opportunities for all players, large and small. Armenia’s special expertise in the sector is of particular value; Pashinyan explained that in the Soviet Union, Armenia was considered its equivalent of Silicon Valley, because that is “where Nairi-2, the Soviet-era first semiconductor computer and one of the first in the world, was manufactured.” Armenia is also the place where most “computing systems and electronics for submarines and spacecraft of the USSR” were invented and produced. Armenia hosted the most advanced facilities for research, design, production and testing of antennas and semiconductors.

Pashinyan gave an impressive overview of the five-fold growth of the IT sector in Armenia over the past seven years, and the increasing number of multinational companies that have set up facilities there for research and development. Furthermore, he mentioned “exciting startup projects to create ecosystems, incubators, including sustainable development laboratories. Artificial intelligence, cyber security, block-chain and semiconductor technologies are among our priorities,” he told the students of technology. He described the TUMO Center for Creative Technologies and its educational program, as well as the ARMAT laboratories, where schoolchildren are given access to robotics. Finally, he noted the National Academy of Sciences and the National Polytechnic University of Armenia, which latter had just signed the cooperation memorandum with Cologne.

“And, last, but not least,” he concluded, “Armenia’s main asset is its bright-minded and talented people with cutting-edge education.” Pashinyan said that the fact that the World Congress on Information Technologies will hold its congress in Armenia this year signals recognition of the country’s potential. He ended by extending an open invitation to all the students to attend the congress, which is expected to draw over 2000 delegates from 60 countries, and to see for themselves, not only what Armenia offers in IT, but also to “enjoy our ancient culture, hospitality, art and food.”Rounding out his visit to Cologne, Pashinyan had also met with Olaf Zimelka, who is the Eastern Europe Regional Director of the German Development Bank (KfW). This development institution is already a partner of Armenia, having signed a grant agreement for more than 23 million euros in November 2018 under the Armenia Biodiversity and Sustainable Local Development Program. During their talks, the two discussed perspectives for new initiatives.

 

Lunch with the Chancellor in Berlin

In the state capital, the Prime Minister and his wife were received by Chancellor Angela Merkel, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble. He delivered a speech at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and met with representatives of the Germany-South Caucasus Parliamentary Friendship Group.

After an official welcoming ceremony, Pashinyan joined Chancellor Merkel for a working lunch at the Chancellery. Later, in an exchange with the press the two reported on the substance of their discussions. Merkel referred to her official visit to Armenia last summer, saying she was “glad to visit” and to “see the dominant mood in the country.” She expressed her confidence in the new leadership that has been confirmed by elections. She had discussed with her guest the ways that Germany may contribute especially to economic development in Armenia, and mentioned in this context the contacts with leading research institutions. Trade between the two increased last year by 40 percent, she reported, adding that this could increase. She thought rapid economic progress would be crucial for Pashinyan’s government, to halt the economic downturn. The two had also discussed geostrategic issues, including the Karabakh conflict; expressing support for Pashinyan’s repeated contacts with Azerbaijan, she stressed that to find a solution, both sides must demonstrate willingness to compromise.

In expressing his gratitude for the official invitation, Pashinyan noted that Germany is especially important as Armenia’s biggest economic and trade partner in the European Union, and second in the world. He too recalled Merkel’s visit as “an important milestone” in bilateral cooperation, adding that he was happy and proud to be able to return the visit just five months later. Declaring that the democratic process in Armenia was irreversible, Pashinyan said that the recent parliamentary elections had demonstrated his government’s commitment to the rule of law, human rights, an independent judiciary and a continuing fight against corruption.

Under such conditions, the government, he said, was “set to implement an economic revolution in a bid to improve the well-being of Armenian citizens.” In this, assistance from Germany and the EU would be crucial. He placed special emphasis on his appreciation of the fact that Armenia’s European partners, “especially Germany,” have placed no geopolitical preconditions on relations with his country. This refers to the fact that Armenia, which is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), can enjoy productive relations with the EU at the same time. Indeed, it has a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with the EU. They had discussed bilateral and multilateral cooperation, especially economic projects, and Pashinyan encouraged German companies to invest. Joint programs in IT, environmental protection and other areas were on the agenda.

In response to questions about the Karabakh conflict, Merkel remarked that Pashinyan had “taken courageous steps, but it still remains to be seen if the other side will take such brave steps as well.” She urged Pashinyan to continue; at the same time, she repeated that actions have to follow, and on both sides. Pashinyan said he was waiting for a response from Azerbaijan, which is a precondition for any progress. Referencing a statement he had made in Parliament, he said any settlement would have to be acceptable to the peoples of Armenia, Karabakh and Azerbaijan. To date he has not heard a comparable viewpoint from Azerbaijan. Committed to a peaceful settlement, he pointed out that he can negotiate only in the name of the Republic of Armenia, and not on behalf of the people of Karabakh. “They have their own president, their parliament and government, who are supposed to negotiate on their behalf as the authorized representatives of the people of Karabakh.” As for a possible mediating role of the EU in this process, Pashinyan drew attention to the Minsk Group in the OSCE Co-Chairs, who have provided the necessary platform for negotiations. But “it is up to the three sides involved in the conflict to solve it,” he said. “The international community cannot solve the conflict for the three sides to the conflict; it can just provide a platform.”

Touching on the issue of visa liberalization with the EU, Pashinyan ended on an optimistic note. He announced that in 2018, for the first time in decades, the number of Armenians returning to the country had increased. “We need to carry out institutional reforms in our country,” he said, “so that Armenia is not considered a country producing refugees.”

(Sources for this article include the official website, www.primeminister.am, the Cologne university press office, German wires)