Interview to S.E. Tsovinar HAMBARDZUMYAN, Ambassador of Armenia in Italy

interview H.E. Tsovinar HAMBARDZUMYAN, Ambassador Armenia and Italy, economy, prtnerships, bilateral agreements, made in Italy export, Armenia import

Photo: H.E.S.E. Tsovinar HAMBARDZUMYAN, Ambassador of Armenia in Italy

By Ivan De Stefano

His future predictions of women in diplomacy and in international relations?

In many societies women are traditionally considered as an embodiment of life, the guardians of a family and the guarantors of intergenerational continuity. On the other hand, women and girls have been more vulnerable to gender-based aggression - especially in armed conflicts, discrimination and social harassment. Therefore, among innate characteristics of women there is flexibility, tendency to avoid any kind of aggression, and striving for calm, peace and security.  Women are often amongst the first to speak out against war, insecurity and inequality issues. So, if the primary mission of a diplomat is to maintain peace, which is prerequisite for the development of all other relations between the states, then what I described is among the characteristics that do make women good diplomats. In April-May 2018 Armenia experienced dramatic events and changes in its political system through a peaceful, non-violent Velvet Revolution. It brought drastic transformations in the fields of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, created a favorable atmosphere and gave fresh impetus to reform agenda in the country. The success of Armenia’s non-violent Revolution has been secured to a considerable extent by the strong involvement and active political participation of our women.

Armenia, as a member of the Human Rights Council, has highlighted, among its commitments the implementation of the National Action Plan under the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 Women, Peace and Security agenda, considering it instrumental in terms of protecting the women living in conflict zones and ensuring their active contribution to peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation. Taking into account that the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms, gender equality, as well as ensuring the active role of women in all phases of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are among Armenian’s priorities, the Government of Armenia approved the first National Action Plan for 2019-2021 and implementation timetable for fulfilment of provisions of the UNSCR Women, Peace and Security in February 2019, which envisages coherent and coordinated policies for enhancing the role of women in the security sector governance and reform, in particular their participation in peacekeeping, as well as in peacebuilding activities. Amongst other objectives, and for the purpose of increasing political representation of women in Armenia’s public life, more effective quota for women representation has been prescribed by Electoral Code (25 percent representation of women in elective bodies instead of the previous 20 percent). At the same time, a gradual approach has been stipulated, and higher quota has been prescribed for next elections bringing it up to a level 30 percent.

And it gives me comfort to state that the recent years saw a drastic rise in the number of women not only recruited in the foreign service but also promoted Ambassadors in Armenia. With a new tendency of opening up even in traditionally patriarchal societies, I hope the 21st century diplomacy will be represented equally by men and women. On the other hand, I think that being a woman should not be an advantage in itself. I strongly believe that appointment of women high-ranking officials, including Ambassadors should be merit-based and not gender-based.

How important is the collaboration of women in diplomacy and foreign policy to the new global challenges?

Unfortunately, we Armenians know first-hand the terrific consequences for women from   natural and man-made catastrophes. Last year aggression against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh perpetrated by Azerbaijan not only put the lives of 150 thousand people of Artsakh, including many women and girls, under existential threat but also resulted in humanitarian catastrophe. Perpetrated amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Azerbaijan’s indiscriminate and disproportionate military attacks, shelling and bombardment have heavily affected the region’s critical civilian infrastructure, including the healthcare facilities and maternity hospitals. On our own example I believe that female diplomats are better positioned to bring issues such as sexual violence, trafficking and other gender-specific crimes, problems with family structures, health care, individual socio-economic and rehabilitation programs, including socio-psychological rehabilitation for women and girls residing in the conflict affected settlements into international discussions, which might otherwise have been underrated in the global agenda. So women diplomats representing states which are responsible members of the international community have a major responsibility for ensuring the universal respect and protection of women’s rights and fulfilling this responsibility by ensuring the implementation of fundamental international documents on women's rights, so including the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, Global Objectives for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other key instruments.

 Which strategies your government adopting to intensify bilateral investments and partnerships with Italy?

Armenia is a small country with big opportunities for Investors. Armenia is a member of Eurasian Economic Union, which gives the country an access to its single market with around 200 million citizens and a free movement of goods, services, capital and labor force. On the other hand, Armenia continuously develops its partnership with the European Union, relations with which are based on the EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement. Given its strategic location Armenia has the potential to become a unique bridge between the member states of the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union. It opens new avenues for multifaceted cooperation between Armenia and Italy. If registered in Armenia, Italian companies can get outreach to Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus. Moreover, there is also a window towards the Gulf countries market. Armenia has also very developed banking system, which is probably the best in the post-Soviet countries. The European Union has confirmed its readiness to provide Armenia with a financial package of 2.6 billion euros to promote Armenia’s priorities. This creates opportunities for the Italian companies inter alia in the spheres of energy, new technologies, artificial intelligence, agriculture and food. Armenia also benefits from the generalized GSP + system of EU benefits. The process of reforms aimed at increasing the efficiency of the Armenian economy with the support of EU partner countries opens new perspectives for the Armenian-Italian economic cooperation. IT, in particular digital technology is the fastest growing sector of our economy. There are about 1300 companies operating in this sphere in Armenia, the number of employees reaches 19 000, on average we register a 20-25% increase in turnover annually. Large Italian investments have been made in Armenia in the fields of construction, energy - by "RENCO" company, clothing production - by "LOVABLE ITALIANA", "La Perla" and "Sartis" companies. Italian Stoneware Holding is involved in the production of ceramic tableware. There is also an initiative of the President of Armenia, which is called ATOM. Its purpose is to set up joint ventures with the world's technology giants, and a number of giants such as Thales, Leonardo, Electronics, Siemens, IBM and Google have already shown interest in this initiative. The government of Armenia welcomes foreign investments and constantly introduces comprehensive reforms that support the development of business environment and enhance the investment climate.

Which investments are planned by your government to increase the educational tools and cultural exchanges of the Armenians?

The field of education and science is very important for both Italy and Armenia.In one of the most picturesque corners of Armenia, since 2014 there functions a United World College (UWC Dilijan). This international boarding school in Dilijan became the 14th UWC of the 18 schools and colleges now established in the global education movement and has 220 students from 80 countries. It makes education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future. So, all the Italian students interested in continuing their education abroad, are cordially invited to Armenia. This year Venice Biennale hosted the TUMO Center for Creative Technologies from Armenia. Outside of Armenia, TUMO has Hubs in Paris, Beirut, Moscow, Tirana and Berlin. Some Italian companies as well expressed their interest towards opening of TUMO Box. Yerevan Brusov State University of Languages and Social Sciences has Dante Alighieri Italian Language and Culture Center, which offers Italian language courses. The Italian government sends two Italian language teachers a year to teach Italian in one of the schools in Yerevan. Most recently, within the framework of the Armenian President's state visit to Italy, a memorandum of understanding was signed on cooperation between the Sapienza University and the Ministry of Education and Science of Armenia, which will serve as a basis for the opening of the Chair of Armenology at Sapienza University. Armenology is also taught at the universities of Venice, Pisa and Bologna. On March 4, the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, Matenadaran and the Department of History, Archeology, Geography, Fine and Performing Arts (SAGAS) of the University of Florence signed a memorandum. This cooperation will open new opportunities for the researchers of the two institutions to carry out joint research in the fields of medieval Armenian history, philology and culture, to jointly publish works, organize conferences, seminars as well as exchange students and researchers. The memorandum will also contribute to the implementation of joint projects within the framework of the European Research Council (ERC) Horizon 2020 and other European programs (Erasmus +, etc.). As countries with rich cultural heritage deeply rooted in the ancient civilizations, Armenia and Italy over the past 29 years have developed the most active cooperation in the cultural sphere, especially in the field of preservation and restoration of cultural heritage. An example of the most efficient cooperation in this sphere is the ROCHEMP - Regional Office for Cultural Heritage Enhancement, Management and Protection, which is the result of a project developed by the University of Bologna and the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport of the Republic of Armenia, with the support of AICS – Italian Agency for Development Cooperation. The project is aimed at establishing in Armenia, a “competence Center” able to provide assistance and support in future activities related to management, conservation and enhancement of cultural heritage in Armenia and the surrounding Region. And we attach great importance to the readiness of the Italian government to continue this program. I am glad that there is interest among tourists of the two countries in each other's historical and cultural heritage. In terms of intensifying contacts between Armenia and Italy, we also emphasize the need for decentralized cooperation between communities. It gives me comfort to realize that in many regions in Italy the life has much in common with that in Armenia’s communities, especially when it comes to good food, hospitality, authenticity of products, rich craft traditions, shops, cafés, restaurants, places of the spirit and unspoiled landscapes, abundance of religious rites and respect of traditions, festivals, fascinating nature, rich historical and cultural heritage. And last but not least, we hope that the direct flights between our countries, which were interrupted last year due to the pandemic, will resume, and the presence of Italian tourists in Armenia will increase.