Ararat Mirzoyan (Aram Arkun photo)

Parliament Speaker Tours US, Touts Contacts with US Officials


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Ararat Mirzoyan, the speaker of the National Assembly and its leader, recently concluded a tour of the US with Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan.

On Saturday, July 20, during his stay in Boston, Mirzoyan sat down for a press conference with staff of Armenian newspapers in the Boston area, the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, Hairenik and the Armenian Weekly, at the Sheraton Commander Hotel.

During a lengthy talk, Mirzoyan, 40, spoke about his background, his goals for Armenia as well as the results of the tour of the US.

His affinity with the US goes back a long way. He is a historian whose doctorate was on the official recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the US from 1915 to 2003. He also worked for a time at the Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial, under the leadership of Lavrenti Barseghyan. His master’s degree focused on the defense of Van and Vaspurakan.

The transition from academic to member of government was fairly smooth.

While he was finishing his doctorate at Yerevan State University, he was active in student politics and in 2004, was one of the organizers of large-scale anti-government protests.

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“After that, I was active in various movement and the transition was very smooth. There was no large solution because the solutions were very complex, all focused on the government,” he said.

The protests were regarding the rules in the government for drafting those finishing university who wanted to continue their education.

Clearly, he had one foot in the past while one foot firmly in current politics.

“In 2013 it was clear to me that if you want something to be done, you have to do it yourself, meaning you have to participate in those movements,” Mirzoyan said.

He connected with current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in 2013 and eventually the two founded the political movement that toppled the government.

He was a co-founder with Pashinyan of the Civil Contract Party which was part of the Yelk (Way Out) Alliance in Parliament.

With his early introduction to and admiration for Pashinyan, it was easy to find a way into the government.

“I knew of Nikol Pashinyan’s writing and of his arrest and imprisonment, since 2008, but we were introduced in 2013,” he explained.

Mirzoyan responded to a question regarding criticism of the visit to the US from some outlets in Armenia. He replied that some of the critics were unfamiliar with the various bodies in the US and perhaps did not realize the import of the meetings.

He said during the visit, they were able to meet with Sen. Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi and many other leaders in the US.

In addition to various leaders, they met with House Democracy Partnership members, a bipartisan group of US Representatives that works directly with partner countries around the world to support the development of effective, independent, and responsive legislative institutions.  They had invited Armenian representatives for the first time. They also met with members of the Atlantic Council, a conservative  think tank, and members of the Armenian-American community. In addition, he and Avinyan met with representatives of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“If you don’t think they are important, then what is?” he asked rhetorically.

“We need dynamic ties and constant contact between the US Armenian community and Armenian government representatives,” he added.

Iran, Turkey and International Relations

The topic turned to Iran, its antagonistic relations with the US and its close ties to Armenia.

Iran is the only neighbor of Armenia which has exports to and imports from Armenia. Two other neighbors are Turkey and Azerbaijan, both of which have blockaded the country. The third, Georgia, is not officially closed but from time to time, they create problems for Armenian goods entering the country.

When asked if the US officials with whom he was meeting pressured Mirzoyan to distance his country from Iran, he replied that no pressure was exerted on him.

“We have had close relations with Iran for centuries. This is nothing new. If we only look at the economic factors, the Armenian economy has suffered much from blockades,” he said. “If we speak about gas, we need to understand how important the diversification of energy is.”

“We get gas from Russia and Iran, and we can’t allow ourselves the luxury of not buying gas from Iran. We don’t pay for our gas from them but give them electricity in return,” he said.

He added that he explained the country’s position to the Atlantic Council and told other officials at smaller meetings what the position of Armenia and that they seemed to understand it.

“I am optimistic,” he said.

“The world is not black and white. Everything in politics and the world are tied together with many small strings,” he replied, when asked about the increasingly cozy relationship between Russia and Turkey.

“We have peace, economic, etc. ties with Russia,” he said. “And maybe that might open some doors to Turkey for us, since they are blockading us.”

Armenia has frequently stated that it is ready to start relations with Turkey without preconditions.

Armenia, for its part, is now getting closer to China also. “I think all countries have something to give each other, regardless of size. Everyone is looking for collaborators around the world. Not only Russia, but Europe, United States…”

He added that Armenia is trying to expand its foreign policy focus in Asia and Africa.

“It is possible to create ties with all other countries,” he added.

In addition, he noted that his government is making overtures to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, neither of which has ties with Armenia. Though neither has yet borne fruit, he said he is optimistic.

Artsakh Relations

Since the Velvet Revolution in May 2018 which brought Pashinyan to power, there has been an underlying tension with the government of Artsakh. Two former presidents of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan and Robert Kocharyan, hail from Artsakh and were noted fighters in that country’s war against Azerbaijan.

Mirzoyan down-played disagreements between the two republics.

The republics and the people are headed in different directions, Mirzoyan said.

Certain movements started in Artsakh after the Velvet Revolution, but he said that the Armenian government was cautious not to encourage any change in the government there, since they deal with ongoing attacks  from Azerbaijan and need to be ready.

“We have great relations with the Artsakh leadership. I relish the chance to go there as often as I can,” he said. “I look at friendly relations with respect,” he said, noting that Artsakh President Bako Sahakyan is a good friend of former Armenian president Robert Kocharyan and former Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan.

“The people of Artsakh have to decide for themselves what direction they wants to go,” he said.

In a separate issue facing Artsakh, he denied that there were more attacks by Azerbaijan on Artsakh.

Mirzoyan said that he did not agree that there is an increase in firing from Azerbaijan.

“In the past year, the number has gone down sharply, as have the number of dead and wounded,” he said. “Even one is too many as we don’t want any victims.”

He said this is not enough and there is ongoing effort by the Armenian government to reach a permanent end to the war.

Azeri Efforts

A question was asked about the disappearing twinned towns in France and Artsakh, which President Macron now seeks to end.

(The French Administrative Court annulled the declaration on friendship between the French city of Arnouville and the Shekher community of Artsakh in June. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Artsakh expressed its concern that it may become a wrong political signal for Azerbaijan.)

“Azeri efforts in all fields internationally to bad mouth the Armenian government or country is not new. They need to understand that such efforts will not bear fruit and realize that they need to talk with the Armenian government to benefit them,” he said.

“Yes, they can inflict small wounds,” he said, but nothing major.

The sister cities in France, he said, were revoked by the courts by all the officials continue to keep warm relations, he explained.

“In terms of strategy, they rarely bear fruit. Yes through dirty efforts, they can have small success but they are not winning the war,” he said.

Domestic Policies

Mirzoyan said that the government is focusing on adding to the number of female parliamentarians. Currently, there is a one-fourth quota, which the elections have met.

“We would like more women to participate,” he said.

He also addressed the youth of many in power, including himself, and Avinyan, who is 30.

“It was the young people who were fighting for years. It was the youth, next to others, who fought. So why shouldn’t they participate? With no offense to the older generation, they are able to be free of the Soviet mentality and offer fresh thoughts. A new generation in politics is a good thing. The rules of the game are different now.”

He then was asked about the courts, which the government seems to target, especially after the release on bail of former president Robert Kocharyan by a judge.

“The courts still play by the old rules. We were not talking about all the judges. There were always just judges that had clear consciences. But many were part of the old regime and they had various motives. They need to go,” he said.

He said the government would like to offer early retirement to make room for new judges.

“Political and party decisions were made when that branch is supposed to be independent. We want to take back the ill-gotten gains. Those need to be returned to the people,” he said.

And finally, he was asked about the continued cases of domestic violence there.

“We recognize domestic violence. There are classes for the police and for them to approach the victims. In Armenia, from time to time, family violence takes place. We can’t stick our heads in the sand and say it does not happen in Armenia. It happens there and sadly everywhere,” he said.

He added that in 2017 a law was adopted to recognize the plight of many spouses in domestic situations.

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