From left, Amb. Varuzhan Nersesyan, Speaker Ararat Mirzoyan, Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan (Aram Arkun photo)

Deputy Prime Minister, Parliament Speaker, Ambassador to US Address Boston Armenians

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WATERTOWN — On July 19, Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan and Speaker of the Armenian Parliament Ararat Mirzoyan, accompanied by Armenian Ambassador to the US Varuzhan Nersesyan, appeared at a public event held at the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center (ACEC) in Watertown. Dr. Ara Nazarian served as master of ceremonies. This event was part of the visit of the high-level Armenian state officials to several cities in the United States.

Dr. George Bashirians, president of the ACEC, spoke words of welcome, and was followed by Amb. Nersesyan, who explained that Mirzoyan came from participating in Washington at the House Democracy Partnership Forum. This was the first time Armenia was invited to participate in this important conference, and met with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell. Simultaneously, Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan was in Washington to participate in meetings of foreign ministers organized by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on religious freedom. Meanwhile Avinyan participated in a UN conference and held various meetings. Nersesyan concluded that Armenia’s relations with the US this year have reached a new level of strategic dialogue, and that these meetings are one indication of this.

Mirzoyan, speaking in Armenian, exclaimed that just a few minutes ago he and the other politicians visited the Hairenik archives and the documents about the first Armenian republic and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation reminded him, a historian by training, of the lessons of the past. More immediately, he said, for 20 years, he and his colleagues were striving to create a truly democratic Armenia and last year finally through a mass movement a peaceful change of regime presented the opportunity to achieve this. Among the first concrete achievements of the new regime were increases in the wages of soldiers and teachers, and pensions of retirees. Some pensions were previously lower than the minimum sum necessary not to starve.

Speaker of the Parliament Ararat Mirzoyan (Aram Arkun photo)

While he could not tell what will happen in the future, he said two things were certain. First, the political team in power today does all in its power to have a good Armenia. Secondly, possibility and hope exist now in Armenia.

Avinyan then spoke in English, declaring that after independence from the Soviet Union, Armenia mostly failed in building its new institutions, as the democratic framework was absent. In December 2018, Armenia became a democratic state, he stressed, after fair and democratic elections. Despite all the tensions of the revolution and several elections, the economy closed with 5.2 percent GDP growth, which he said was unprecedented. This year, Armenia with a 7.1 percent GDP growth is the champion of Europe. Probably, Avinyan said, by the end of the year Armenia will have double digit growth.

However, Avinyan said, the government of Armenia has other goals besides GDP. The most important is the well being of the citizens of the country. The most vulnerable groups are at the focus of the government’s attention. He said, “We have raised the salaries of the teachers, we have raised the salaries of the military.” Pensions will be raised next year. This approach of the government is called the inclusive growth mode, with a lot of input in human capital and infrastructure. Additional tax money obtained this year is mainly being spent on education, health care and infrastructure. In 284 schools we will be installing engineering labs this year. Next year they will be in all schools in Armenia. The best resource we have is human capital and that is why we place a lot of emphasis on its development.

Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan (Aram Arkun photo)

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“I have a feeling that we need a new restart…I think we need a completely new attitude towards each other,” Avinyan said concerning the relations between the diaspora and Armenia. He said, “My dream is to have an Armenian state that is so strong that it can support each and every Armenian in the world.” The only way we can achieve that is through collective effort. We need to understand how to institutionalize that collective effort.

During an extensive question and answer period, all sorts of topics were raised, including mining, transitional justice (Mirzoyan said it has not finished), relations with the US and Russia (one does not preclude the other, said Mirzoyan), high tech industry, economic progress, investing in human capital, and the algae in Lake Sevan (increasing the water level and waste management will help, said Avinyan).

The question of accumulating garbage in Yerevan was raised, and Avinyan linked this ito the issue of corruption. During the prior regime, all major businesses related somehow to the public sector, like garbage collection, needed to have high level officials involved, he said. Garbage collection was outsourced by the municipality of Yerevan to a private company, and one of its owners, a high-level politician, took his portion of investment in the company, the large garbage trucks, and sold them after the revolution. This left the private company at half capacity and there was no alternative to it. Instead, Avinyan said, the municipality is buying new trucks to organize garbage collection in places where there are issues, and in several months, he said he believes the issue will be closed.

Ambassador Varuzhan Nersesyan (Aram Arkun photo)

Perhaps the most unexpected question was by a local Armenian who produces cannabis products. He asked whether Armenian would consider legalizing farming cannabis like its neighbor Georgia, as it is said to be quite profitable, and Avinyan responded that Armenia was looking into this.

Afterwards many audience members took “selfies” and further chatted with the visiting officials during a reception.

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