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06 10 31- Armenian Diaspora Conference
Sara Petrosyan
We Take our Participation at the Conference Very Seriously, But They Don’t

Diaspora Armenians Comment on the 3rd Armenia-Diaspora Conference' [October 30, 2006]
The Third Armenia-Diaspora Conference, held from September 18-21, 2006, was the largest yet in terms of participation (there were 1984 registered participants). The reason for this was perhaps the theme chosen for the conference – it was dedicated to the eradication of poverty in the rural areas of Armenia. The Armenian authorities focused their attention to the regional provinces for the first time, announcing that the revival of villages near the country's borders must be prioritized by providing them with technical and strategic aid. The participants were promised the chance to discuss and debate the policy, structure and means of implementation of the program.

Hetq and the daily newspaper Azg had been publishing a series of reports on the situation in the provincial regions for six months, stressing the problems of poor villages, especially those lying near the country's borders. Although more than sixty such villages in five provincial regions had been described in the articles, only three of them were chosen to be among the fifty villages targeted in the first stage of the Government Program to Eradicate Poverty in Rural Areas, for which the state expected the financial support of those present at the conference. This may be for two reasons – first, that a large proportion of the villages in Armenia are in a state of deterioration and it is difficult to choose one over the other; and second, that in such cases preference has usually depended on personal connections or membership in a political party - these are considered to be important criteria in Armenia.

What did our compatriots from the Diaspora think? To what extent, in their view, was the government justified in expecting to implement this program with the support of the Diaspora? We present some answers to these questions through our interview with American-Armenian businessman Harutyun Bronozyan.

What set this conference apart from the ones that preceded it? To what extent did the content of information during the conference correspond to the issue of poverty eradication in villages near the border? Did the conference meet your expectations?

I was present for a part of the first conference, and hoped that this time it would be more purposeful, more practical – something where you could expect a concrete result, considering that the issue of border villages was raised, a vital issue that had been neglected for a long time. I thought that the government's intentions were very serious this time and that they had specific projects in different villages, which they expected Diaspora Armenians to finance. We would have like to fund such programs, but for that we would like to have information about the villages, to go and see the conditions they are in, clarify the program that was to be implemented, how much funding is required and how the program should be implemented.

Every problem has a solution, but it must be presented well, so that people can understand what they need to do, but this was not done. The speakers at the conference did not have any relation to those problems – there was a lot of abstract and philosophical talk. There was no clear program studied, just unnecessary talk. The speakers were not villagers, nor did they know anything about the problems in those villages. None of the discussions at the conference covered the method of implementation so that you could understand what investments the program required. There were no clear proposals, no directions – just plain conversation, and I don't think there will be results of any kind.

The organizers of the conference published a directory of the villages, prioritized by the need for investment. Did you look through that directory?

No, if such a directory existed, it should have been presented to all the participants at the conference. There should have been a discussion as well as a question-and-answer session, but there was nothing of the sort. A two-day conference cannot solve such problems – people should have gone to those villages after the conference to see everything with their own eyes, to see what needs to be financed there and to make direct contact with the villagers.

Is that only your view alone, or did other participants also think that the conference should have been more practical?

I did not meet anyone who seemed enthusiastic. It was just two days of conversation – they did not even have a poster presentation or a slideshow so that we could see what those villages were like and the purpose for the financing required. The main topic of the conference – the revival of villages near Armenia's borders – was only discussed for 2.5 hours during the two-day conference, when they said that there were 25-30 villages for which they were seeking donations. What needs to be done in those villages, how much funding it requires, how it is going to be done, who will manage the program – nothing was said about any of this.

Were you ready to invest in the program if it had been presented in the way you had expected?

Even now, I am investing in a village in Aragatsotn, sending them equipment to improve water supply, which should benefit around 2,000 villagers. People either do not consider this, or do not want to understand why we come here. We are very serious, but they do not take our presence seriously. This is not an issue of “we” or “you” – it is an issue of the government versus the people. If they are not interested in the people but pretend to be, then the people will not be interested in the government. You cannot solve problems using flowery speeches, and we are not naïve enough to think that something was achieved if all they did is speak for a couple of days. We came to achieve results, but it seems the organizers of the conference were not well selected. Perhaps the Ministry of Economy and Finance should have organized it, or those people implementing projects in the villages. There should have been representatives from the villages to present the conditions in which they live, honestly and clearly. 2,000 people were registered to participate in the conference, but only 10 of them were local Armenians.

The economic forum organized the same week was much more practical. But there needs to be people in order for business to be possible – there needs to be a market – while, on the other hand, emigration from Armenia remains at a high level. The president of the country must reinforce the idea of patriotism in the people's hearts every day. He should give the country a good reputation. If that happens, there won't be the need to invite anyone – people will come of their own accord. Swindling the people and the Diaspora is possible only on a short-term basis.

Sara Petrosyan


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