Akis Dagazian

Akis Dagazian: Bridging Armenia and Greece

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YEREVAN / THESSALONIKI — Greek Armenian businessman and researcher Akis (Sarkis) Dagazian is active in Armenian-Greek cooperation. Born in 1975 in Komotini in northeastern Greece, he studied at Panteion University and University of Macedonia. Currently he is a partner at Maron Energy Group, export and marketing director at Dagazian Fine Jewelry as well as chairman of the Hellenic-Armenian Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Greece.

Akis, in an interview you said that Dagazian Fine Jewelry has been manufacturing and wholesaling jewelry since 1957, keeping alive a tradition of almost half a century.

It all started back in 1955 when my late father Takvor Dagazian moved to Thessaloniki from our native Komotini to obtain the centuries old Armenian art of jewelry mastering next to Onnik Hatcherian, the legendary diamond setter of the time. At Mr. Hatcherian’s workshop my father got acquainted with the art of diamond setting and jewelry creation. Armenians living in Northern Greece claim their origin mostly from the Asia Minor region where Armenians, Greeks, Turks and Jews coexisted for centuries. It is this geographical area from where they have brought their techniques and craftsmanship in Greece. They had been working using the style and artistic features of Constantinople and the wider west Asia Minor region.

What makes your family business in the Greek jewelry market unique?

Bearing a name is a heavy responsibility in all fields of society and especially in business. In our case the name “Dagazian” is not just an Armenian surname. It is also a brand name. Being loyal to the legacy of our ancestors we keep a tradition alive by providing high-end jewelry to our customers throughout the country. We have witnessed cases that grandparents, parents and their children, three consequent generations, have bought their wedding jewelry from our stores. Since 1957 this legacy has been continued with the expanding of our company from manufacturing to wholesale, retail as well as exports. We are currently one of the main jewelry suppliers in Greece and we export to 14 countries. Quality, hard work, consistency, transparency, honesty and customer care are the key factors of success in our company. Add the good reputation Armenian jewelers enjoy in Greece for more than a century already in the country and you have the recipe for what makes our business special.

Armenian jewelers were famous in Ottoman Empire. Their traditions are still alive among their heirs in Istanbul and Middle East. What about Greece?

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There are a lot of Armenian jewelers in Greece as well. If we exclude the newcomers that settled in Greece the last 40-50 years coming from Turkey and Middle East in search for better living conditions, I can name several Armenian jewelers that are very successful in Greece i.e., the Kasparians in Thessaloniki, Janikians and Danelians in Athens or the Knouni family who are considered world-famous diamond dealers. Among the manufacturers I can distinguish the Kolanians in Athens who are up to date with the latest technological developments. We should keep in mind that apart from some families — mainly in Northern Greece and Crete — the current Armenian community in Greece is relatively new, dating only 100 years and is consisted of refugees that settled here after the Minor Asia Catastrophe. Almost 80,000 Armenian refugees had found refuge in Greece that time, including some jewelry artisans who brought with them the art and the techniques of centuries old Armenian craftsmanship as foresaid. Thus, most of their traditions come from Constantinople and west Minor Asia.

 

In 2009 you visited Armenia aiming to establish relations with local jewelry manufacturers. How did that cooperation took place?

We had several meetings with a lot of local manufactures but in the first place our aim was mainly to open and operate a retail outlet. Although Armenia is still the home for a lot of skillful jewelry artisans, most of the country’s production is oriented to ex-Soviet markets. So currently we are working with a lot of Armenian jewelers from all over the world (Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Bulgaria, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Austria, US) but not from Armenia. The main reasons behind this decision are the different and diverse preferences of our clientele, difficulties in transportation, insurance as well as custom clearances and last but not least some differences in what I could name “business ethics” between the entrepreneurs of Armenia and the Western World. Unfortunately, the clash between these two worlds was also obvious during the last decade within the administrative bodies of the Armenian Jewelers Association. Finally, we also decided not to proceed with opening a store in Yerevan taking into consideration the gap between the investment required as well as the operating cost involved in relation with the expected turnovers and profits.

Who initiated the Hellenic-Armenian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and how effective is its activity?

The Hellenic Armenian Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Greece (HACCI) was founded in 1992 immediately upon the regaining of independence of Armenia, by a group of local businessmen who shared the vision of enhancing the bilateral commercial and economic relations. The man behind this endeavor was Christos Danelian, a well-known jeweler and businessman from Greece who supported by his own financial means the operation of the chamber from 1992 up to 2010 and is still serving HACCI as Honorary President. The chamber is a wholly autonomous, nonprofit organization and receives no subsidy from any governmental body.

Topics: jewelry

In its short period if its existence, HACCI has organized and got involved in a lot of successful projects for the support of the Greek – Armenian economic cooperation. Among the past indicative activities of HACCI we could name the following: (i) International Fair of Thessaloniki (1994-2021), (ii) Official visits of the Presidents of the Hellenic Republic Mr. Costis Stefanopoulos and Mr. Carolos Papoulias to Armenia (1999, 2007 & 2014), (iii) Traditional Products Exhibition – Festival (2010), (iv) Hellenic – Armenian Business Forum (2011, 2014, 2019), (v) MOU with the Armenian Development Agency (2014), Cooperation of Bilateral Chambers based in Greece Initiative (2015), Philoxenia Tourism Exhibition (2018, 2019,2021), Money Show (2019) as well as numerous meetings with businessmen, ministers and prime ministers from both countries.

The Chamber is also supporting several projects in the field of education, culture and charity. It is worth mentioning i.e., that HACCI was the organization behind the introduction of Armenian Language as a foreign language at the University of Macedonia back in 2011.

Although bilateral trade remains relatively low for several reasons which I need a special interview to analyze, we strongly believe that due to our efforts the initial era of mutual skepticism between businessmen of the two countries has given its place to a restrained optimism. Currently, due to the Chamber’s initiatives, all major companies of Armenia in the field of food and beverage are distributed in Greece, Armenian watch brands are also represented here and lately we also witness a gradually increasing flow of tourists in both countries.

Akis, we met in 2019 in Beirut, at the international conference organized by Haigazian University on Armenian communities of Greece and Cyprus, where you presented a paper “History, Revival and Future Challenges: The Armenian Community of Komotini since the 17th Century.” You also give speeches and lectures all over Greece concerning Armenian history as well as the historic Armenian presence in the region.

Indeed. I became interested in the history of the Armenian presence in Greece since the early years of my childhood. Taking into consideration the fact that our family established in Greece three centuries ago and – all these years up to now – preservation of our national identity, culture and virtues have played a very important role in shaping my own character as well. Moreover, as my late grandfather Sarkis Dagazian was a prominent member of the local Armenian community and president of the council of the Armenian Community of Komotini during the tough years of the interwar period I had the honor to inherit an important family archive and thus primary research material. Studying Political Science and International Studies at the renown Panteion University of Athens gave me the opportunity to improve my research skills as well as the ability to conduct my essays on several fields that have to do with the history of Armenians in Greece. My research is still in progress and God willing, I am aiming to publish more announcements and papers in the future in cooperation with other scholars.

Now you live between Greece and Estonia – why? For Diaspora Armenians it is unusual to live and work in a Baltic country.

Due to my business activities that cover a wide range of sectors apart from jewelry trading such as finance, capital markets and renewable energy sources, I have first visited the Baltics back in 1999. All three states had the potentials of growth because of the convergence process of their economies due to the EU enlargement. Particularly Estonia was and still is the global pioneer in digital governance and retains the friendliest corporate environment. Foreigners can obtain an e-residency status and can operate their companies literally remotely. A businessman can establish a company in Estonia within 18 minutes including the time needed for the wire transfer of the share capital!!! Right now, the only thing an individual cannot do in Estonia is get married or divorce. They have even been voting online since 2007. For all these reasons we have preferred to come and invest in Estonia.

Are you in touch with Tallinn Armenians?

Being an active part of a global nation, we already had our contacts and friendships with Estonian Armenians even before we started our business activities in the country. Thus, we kept and even expanded our contacts after our establishment in the country. Unlike Greece, all of the Estonian Armenians have settled in Estonia during the Soviet times.

How do you see further cooperation between Armenia and Greece?

Despite the common historical background and cultural similarities, for several reasons the two nations have not yet realized the full potential or even the necessity for their cooperation. We need to work on a long-term master plan between the two countries in order to enhance our bilateral collaboration in every possible field such as education, cultural exchanges, sports, economy, tourism, technology, finance, diplomacy, defense just to mention some of them.

In terms of geopolitics our interests are or should be common but we all know that Armenia is relying on a wide scale cooperation with Russia and Greece is aligned with its NATO and EU partners. At the same time both Greece and especially Armenia are facing their own diverse internal and external challenges.

Nevertheless, we can still deepen our partnership and the Armenian community in Greece with its institutions should be the starting point and cornerstone of every such endeavor.

Despite the fact that numerous agreements have been signed between the two states only a few are effectively implemented due to several reasons that have to do with the well-known large-scale bureaucracy that both countries need to work and comply with. If you want my opinion, a specific high level intergovernmental committee should be formed setting the tasks and targets of our partnership. This body should meet physically or remotely every month to observe, surveil or reset the implementation of each project in every field.

Here, at the Hellenic Armenian Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Greece, both myself and our team, we are fully devoted to our scope, we are cooperating with all ministries, organizations as well as any institution in Greece or Armenia being flexible and active enough to overcome any potential obstacle in order to bring immediate and solid results.

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