Armenia: A country rich in history, traditions and opportunities

The Diplomat  Magaine has published an article by  Ms. Dziunik Aghajanian, Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to the Kingdom of Netherlands.

Armenian -Dutch connections go back into the depth of history. Sint Servaas, an Armenian-born bishop from 4th century, is patron saint of Maastricht and the towns of Schijndel and Grimbergen. Gent still honors the memory of St. Macarius, an Armenian thaumaturge who died there in the eleventh century. Over half a millennium Armenians were trading with the Dutch and had well-established communities around the country. A Dutch writer states in ” De Amsterdammer ” magazine of 14 August 1887 that “The story of the Armenian community is a golden page in the history of the city of Amsterdam.”

Despite the historic connections, the relationship between Armenia and the Netherlands are still in early stages of development. It started in 1992, as Armenia regained its independence after six centuries of statelessness. The cooperation then focused mainly on assistance to Armenia as part of the Dutch constituency in IMF and World Bank. It is only recently that the cooperation has shifted towards bilateral economic partnership. Yet there is an untapped potential that could easily develop given the many similarities between our peoples.

Both the Dutch and the Armenians are well-known for being trading people with big networks, both are heavily reliant on the human capital given the natural restrictions, both have relatively small countries and are focusing on innovative approaches to maximize the possibilities for advancement. Yet the geopolitical situation that Armenia faces- the continued blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan, the escalation of ceasefire violations around the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, the persistent geopolitical tensions in the South Caucasus and inoperative communication infrastructure in the region create almost insurmountable difficulties for rapid development of a landlocked country like Armenia.

The resilience of the Armenian people is more apparent now than ever. Hundred years from the day when the Armenian genocide was perpetrated in the Ottoman Turkish Empire with the purpose of wiping out Armenians and all Armenian traces from their homeland, Armenians are proud to stand with a strong and prosperous Diaspora enjoying respect in all the countries where they found refuge. About two decades after a devastating earthquake that took the lives of more than 25000 people leaving one-third of the country in total devastation and over half a million people homeless, over 400000 refugees fleeing the massacres of Armenians in Sumgait, Kirovabad and Baku, and a war unleashed by neighboring Azerbaijan to stifle the peaceful drive of Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh for self-determination, the collapse of the Soviet economic system and the blockade by the neighbors that through the economy to a total standstill, Armenia, today, presents itself as a middle-income country with diversified economy registering growth despite the world financial crisis hitting hard.

Reforms carried out in the country have created beneficial environment: Armenia ranks thirty-seven in WB’s 2014 “Doing Business” index, 2013 Index of Economic Freedom by Heritage Foundation rates Armenia thirty-eight, greater than global average. It is considered to be a good place to do business especially in the areas considered to be priority for Armenia’s development: IT, precision engineering, agriculture, especially horticulture, tourism, health and education, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. Highly-skilled labor force and emphasis on innovative technologies generate competitive advantages for all those creating partnerships in Armenia.

Armenia, blessed with nine climatic zones in a relatively small territory, with rich history, culture and traditions, diverse flora and fauna presents multiple possibilities for traditional and ecological tourism, an area which can be very attractive to the Dutch people. The recent archeological discoveries – the oldest known winemaking facility, dating back to 6100BC, and the oldest, 5000-year-old leather shoe add on to the existing historic and natural attractions in the country. Hundreds of Medieval churches dotting the Armenian landscape are of immense interest to tourists that have a fancy for the early Christian history and architecture.

Creative zeal of the Armenian people well-known for its hard-working nature can be a good basis for establishing businesses and tapping into abundant research opportunities. Unique soil and climatic conditions, the limited use of chemical fertilizers make the Armenian agricultural products much appreciated in the export markets because of their high quality. The recent years have seen surge in horticulture and aquaculture in Armenia. Vegetables, trout, sturgeon, red and black caviars are some of the products highly sought in export markets. Alcoholic beverages, world famous Armenian brandy, natural juices, grape and fruit wines are expanding their markets as well. The Armenian beer, produced in Armenia from ancient times, the oldest records of which can be found in Xenophon’s “Anabasis”, has been rediscovered and is gaining more ground, too.

Armenia’s recent joining the Eurasian Union and privileged trading status with USA and the EU creates unequaled opportunities for becoming an economic bridge between the two markets.

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