Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (Sarkis Baharoglu photo)

Prime Minister Pashinyan Holds Town Hall Meeting in NY

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NEW YORK — Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan held a public meeting for the New York Armenian community at the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America on September 24 while in town for the United Nations General Assembly. Pashinyan was accompanied by, among others, Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, the Armenian ambassadors to the United Nations and to the United States, the environmental minister, the consul-general of Armenia in Los Angeles, and Armenia’s high commissioner for the diaspora, along with the prime minister’s wife Anna Hakobyan.

The visitors entered Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium together with Diocesan Primate Bishop Daniel Findikyan, Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Director Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Vicar of the cathedral Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan, and other clergy after praying at the cathedral.

From left, Ambassador Mher Margaryan, Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, Anna Hakobyan, wife of Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Primate Bishop Daniel Findikyan, High Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs Zareh Sinanyan, Ambassador Varuzhan Nersesyan, and Archbishop Vicken Aykazian

Unusually for such events, there was no master of ceremonies. Instead, Findikyan succinctly welcomed the guests in Armenian and in English. Pashinyan immediately afterwards briefly spoke, and then personally took questions from the audience.

Another unusual element for a New York Armenian community event was the lack of any English-language component to the main program. Even those questions asked in English were answered in Armenian, with no English summary. While the majority of the over 700 strong audience appeared to understand Armenian, and may have been natives of Armenia, a certain number of Armenian-Americans, unable to follow the discussion, appeared disgruntled, and at least a few left early.

The majority of the audience was from the New York metropolitan area, but some Armenians had come from other parts of the East Coast, such as Boston and Washington, DC, to see the prime minister. The audience in general appeared enthusiastic and supportive of the prime minister.

In his initial remarks, Pashinyan declared that the biggest challenge after coming to power was to make people realize that the government was serious in its goal of ending corruption, and the new officials did not intend to do as their predecessors did and merely enjoy the fruits of their positions. He stressed, “This is a path on which there will be no compromise.” The result, he said, was that “Armenian must be truly democratic, a truly sovereign, truly social, truly legal state.”

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Pashinyan spent the rest of the evening answering questions, often at length and at times with humor. None of the other representatives from Armenia spoke, though toward the end of the program the prime minister introduced them to the audience.

The questions were quite varied in scope, including economic, international, military, environmental and personal issues. Some were rambling and long, leading the audience to begin yelling and leading the prime minister to demand the questioner to get to the point. Only a few highlights can be mentioned.

Pashinyan stated that the most important issue facing the government is to raise the level of state governance. This does not only include corruption in the sense of attempts to illegally gain money, Pashinyan said, but also the problem of bureaucrats who now are reluctant to work quickly because they no longer have the opportunity of taking bribes on each application.

A related problem is that talented employees can earn much higher salaries working in the private sector than in government so they are leaving. The solution is to raise salaries. Pashinyan said that the government is attempting to remove the poor workers in order to use the money saved on their salaries to give higher pay to the remaining good ones. Digitalization of government services will help in improving quality and accessibility, while saving manpower.

When speaking about attempts to bring to justice corrupt officials from the prior regime, Pashinyan noted that despite some successes, he was dissatisfied with the extent of this work. This has led to changes in the cadres of law enforcement agencies. He also noted that prosecutors were overloaded, with each handling on average 30-40 criminal cases, so that the pace of prosecution was slowed. Nonetheless he promised that all stolen money, to the last kopeck, would be returned to the Armenian people.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan with Primate Bishop Daniel Findikyan (Sarkis Baharoglu photo)

The prime minister pointed out that the revenue of the state has been increased by 120 million dollars, allowing immediate actions to help the populace, such as pension increases, and raises in the salaries of officers and contract employees serving in the armed forces, teachers, and, starting on October 1, firemen and forest rangers. The international reserves of the third Armenian republic are at historic highs at the moment. Over the last year and a half, over 65,000 new workers have been registered as part of Armenia’s labor force. Some used to be working in the black market off the books, while others are actually completely new workers.

The government is also trying to connect unfilled jobs with job seekers, as there seems to be a disconnect between the two, Pashinyan said. It is also trying to prepare local specialists in fields which otherwise need to import them from abroad. He gave the example of strawberry production, in which European specialists are being paid ten times the range of Armenian salaries because no Armenian specialists are available.

However, Pashinyan also declared that some Armenians still prefer not to work and receive social assistance. He gave the example of a fire damaging a huge freezer complex and leading to hundreds of tons of meat spoiling. In order to eliminate this health hazard, the government offered relatively high payments of 5,000 or even 10,000 dram per day for this unpleasant physical labor, but no one wanted to do it. Eventually, Indians had to be hired.

The inevitable question on mining at Amulsar was asked. Pashinyan reasserted his previous statements that at present, the government has no basis on which to stop operations. It might have such a basis at the next moment, tomorrow, or in a month—or maybe it will not, he said. He said that it was wrong to demonize mining. The economy of many advanced states like the US has been built on mining. Substantial or fundamental [eakan] injury must be prevented to people’s lives, but, he added, all health issues cannot be completely eliminated. If not, he said, we must stop using cars and close factories too, since these cause health problems for some. Even buildings like that of the Armenian Diocesan complex are environmental problems, he said, because they use space that could have been a site for wildlife and flora.

Pashinyan concluded that “We must use our resources in the maximum way for the development of our country.”

There were many personal issues raised by questioners, who evidently attempted to obtain publicly solutions from the prime minister that were unattainable in their prior efforts. These issues ranged from private business and technological issues and proposals, to a recent student wanting to work longer in the US before honoring his agreement to return to work two years in Armenia immediately after graduation.

In response to a question about the youth, a perennial Armenian concern, Pashinyan recommended they live at least one month a year in Armenia, apply for Armenian (dual) citizenship, and buy a home or open a business in Armenia if possible. He said these would be bridges tying them to Armenia, along with spiritual or emotional connection. Most important, he added, would be to marry an Armenian.

In addition, when a young student who has only been studying Armenian for 5 months and went to Armenia this year for the first time asked a question in his newly acquired Armenian about infrastructure in Armenia, Pashinyan thanked him for serving as a concrete example that the Armenian revolution inspired people to become more closer to their roots.

There is a partial video of the event, starting around 8 minutes after its commencement, available on YouTube ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=382&v=G1mnCpyfvyg).

 

 

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