From Zurich Protocols to Nagorno-Karabakh – parliament official sums up Armenian delegation’s visit to US

11:35 • 13.03.18

In an interview with, the chairman of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Relations, summed up the parliamentary delegation's recent visit to the United States, describing it as unprecedented.

According to Armen Ashotyan, the parliamentary diplomacy's engagement in the developing cooperation, as well as in the current process of Armenia's constitutional transition to a parliamentary government, was an important step towards raising the parliament's role, including the development of a political agenda and the promotion of a future progress. Ashotyan said he doesn't think that the US-Armenia cooperation agenda should be restricted only to coalition-related issues or an anti-corruption strategy. 

Mr Ashotyan, how would you evaluate the Armenian delegation's visit to the United States? We already hear opinions branding it as 'historic'. What agreements were reached and what were the frameworks of the meetings conducted?

The visit was really discussed a lot, which is absolutely logical given the United States' status a major superpower on the international arena. Hence I consider parliamentary diplomacy's engagement very  important in the current efforts towards stepping up the US-Armenia relations. 

The [parliamentary] friendship group, led by [Vice Speaker] Arpine Hovhannisyan, managed to properly upgrade the US-Armenia cooperation agenda in the parliamentary format. The meetings had a saturated agenda, and were really presentable. Several media outlets have the misperception that the level of those meetings wasn't very high, but that's largely due the poor knowledge of the US political structure in Armenia.

The opening meeting with the Armenian friendship group was naturally held in US Congress, where both the Republican and Democratic [factions] have a representations. We separately held a meeting – a very meaningful one – also with [representatives of] the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Besides, Arpine Hpovhannisyan had talks with the USAID; we later held meetings with the Helsinki Committee and the Carnegie Center.  

The issues raised covered a very broad agenda – from global geopolitical developments to regional security issues, the Armenia-Turkey protocols to the Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) conflict settlement, the US-Armenia bilateral relations (including economic cooperation) to the reforms in Armenia, and certain information about the transitional provisions [in the amended Constitution]. It is important for our US partners to get first-hand information about the the different processes in our country. As for the historic evaluation, I would rather avoid making haste to consider the visit historic. But it was definitely unprecedented. An notable moment in my view is especially fact that the Armenian institutions in the US are very actively engaged in the political processes in the country. So it is virtually possible to embark on more effective work after finalizing the Armenian authorities’ agenda.

What is the US partners' overall evaluation of the reforms in Armenia? Did they express concerns over failures to properly implement the commitments in specific areas?

Very detailed discussions were held over the policy changes in Armenia. We put a special emphasis on the fact that despite all the problems still awaiting a solution, Armenia's records in democracy building and free trade development are among the best on the post-Soviet area and very often - even better compared to many Europeanized countries. Obviously, political efforts have yet to be invested, and many paths – still paved for resolving the existing problems. But the general opinion is that the awareness was all in all low among our American partners. So it was important to properly inform them of [the developments in our country] – from the anti-corruption strategy to the transformation phase underlying the transition to a parliamentary republic. We have covered the entire specter of issues.

Mr Ashotyan, while you were in the United States, the US ambassador to Armenia, Ruchard Mills, voiced his concerns over corruption and abuse of power in Armenia, describing them as the greatest challenges to the country. Were the same concerns observed also among the US partners you conducted meetings with?

As the head of a foreign relations committee, I can only affirm that the agenda of the US ambassador – and our relations in general - is very full indeed as we maintain a warm working dialogue. At the same time, I emphasized at the meetings that the US-Armenia agenda cannot be restricted only to corruption-related issues or an anti-corruption strategy. It is common knowledge that the United States are intensively collaborating with countries facing more corruption-related challenges; I don't think there is any need to enumerate them now. Corruption is obviously a very important issue on Armenia's agenda, but it is not the only problem. Hence, I don't think it is right or promising to narrow down the Armenia-US cooperation to anti-corruption issues alone.

Investments expected from the United States are always of importance for Armenia. Did the meetings address issues of the kind to consider what can be attractive to major US investors?

We discussed also the Armenian-American economic agenda. Though the parliament has no immediate engagement there, it can nonetheless have it say when it comes to legislative solutions, especially with respect to the possible Double Tax Treaty, etc. With its market of just 3 million, Armenia's economy may not really be attractive to major US investors. But considering Armenia's unique geopolitical position – its membership in the Eurasian Economic Union with all its advantages on the one hand, and the [privilege] to use the GSP+ system [in the trade relations] with the EU on the other – there are chances of an expanded cooperation in case of a new agreement. So Armenia's economic prospects must not be measured in terms of the domestic market alone.




Nelly Lazaryan


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