Ambassador of Armenia
By Reaven D’Souza
Soft-spoken, affable and easygoing, H.E. Sarmen Baghdasarian, Ambassador of Armenia is quite well-versed and knowledgeable on the region, and the Arab world. In a recent exclusive interview afforded to Managing Editor of The Times Kuwait, Ambassador Baghdasarian hailed Kuwait’s efforts in helping bring about peace and stability in the region and reconciling differences among neighboring states through dialogue and discussion. He also detailed the strong bilateral ties between Armenia and Kuwait in the political, diplomatic, economic, cultural and other domains, all of which he said have been growing in breadth and depth over the years.
The ambassador began the interview on a personal note by revealing what led him to choose a career in the diplomatic field, despite knowing about the work pressures involved and how taxing it could be on family life. “My first encounter with diplomacy was via orientalism. I was passionate about the Arab world, the Arabic language and the rich variety of cultures in the Middle East.
This passion led me to choose oriental studies in university. My studies coincided with the last few years of the Soviet Union, and as a youth active in student councils and committees, I was very involved in the political developments taking place back then. After Armenia’s independence, it became obvious to me that negotiating, reaching out to others and representing my country are things that I enjoy doing. That is when becoming a diplomat became an obvious choice. I am happy to say that this year is symbolic for me, because it marks the 30th anniversary of my service in the Armenian Foreign Ministry. I have the great privilege and honor of representing my country abroad, because representing a country implies responsibility, prudence, building trust and the ability to make effective decisions.
“The last three decades have been both challenging and interesting; but then, being a diplomat is a challenge in itself. After all, states, institutions, and their representatives are all human, ever changing and evolving people and organisms.
This includes myself, diplomat colleagues as well as the countries we represent. The challenge is to be able to navigate those changing realities. Just to give you a few examples, one of my first postings was as a Vice Consul in Aleppo, Syria in the mid-1990’s. Back then, our country had just gained its independence and all the legal aspects of our Ministry were not yet completed. I can say that I have witnessed the phases of growth and development of our statehood mechanisms especially at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We grew together.
“As to the latest of those challenges, I can definitely mention the COVID-19 situation. Our main challenge at the Armenian Embassy was to keep operating, providing services to our citizens and keep things moving forward as much as possible, given all the lockdowns and restrictions. Despite the difficulties, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, we felt that everything was under control by the authorities in Kuwait and that there would be no reason to worry about other major disturbances.”
Delving into memories of his experiences in Kuwait, and with the people of this country since assuming office, the envoy noted: “I presented my credentials to the late Amir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, on 17 December, 2018. It was a memorable day, and I truly enjoyed meeting and talking to His Highness. He impressed me with his knowledge of Armenia and his praise of the local Armenian community. Also, since my arrival in this country, my contacts with ministers and senior Kuwaiti officials in the Foreign Ministry and across the system continue to be warm, practical, and constructive. Among them, I gained many partners and great friends for Armenia and the Armenian people.
“As far as Kuwaiti people are concerned, they are very friendly. I will tell you one small story that has impressed me a lot. One evening, while strolling down the street with my son near our home a passing car stopped and the driver, a local Kuwaiti, inquired if we needed anything and offered to take us to our destination. This is just one example of various acts of hospitality and kindness I have witnessed during my stay here in Kuwait.
Elaborating on political and diplomatic ties between Armenia and Kuwait, the ambassador underlined the robustness of relations, and added: “Political and diplomatic relations between Armenia and Kuwait are based on mutual trust and respect. Since the day of my arrival, we have tried to give new impetus to the bilateral agenda. We are currently working on expanding the scope of relations, in the economic, cultural, educational, tourism and humanitarian fields.
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, agreements were reached with several public and private institutions in Kuwait to put this cooperation into practice. The lifting of the pandemic-related restrictions creates an excellent opportunity to fulfill those agreements.
And we are currently working assiduously to kick off some of those agreements. By the way, you can follow us on Instagram @armenianembassykw for the latest developments in cooperation areas between Armenia and Kuwait.”
Turning to economic relations and the scope for Kuwaiti businesses and individuals to invest in Armenia, Ambassador Baghdasarian explained: “Armenia is known for its safe and stable business environment. It is also considered as a reliable partner to start business with. Over the past few years, different groups of Kuwaiti businessmen have visited Armenia to get acquainted with the favorable, simplified and friendly business conditions.
“In fact, the Embassy receives multiple inquiries from individuals or companies interested in investing in real estate, hotels, agriculture, and solar energy fields. In all these areas, Armenia has great potential for investment for the Kuwaiti business community, which could be further explored. We are currently focusing on these areas of cooperation, taking into consideration the willingness and readiness of potential Kuwaiti investors.
“I would like to take this opportunity and invite all businessmen to consider Armenia as their next destination for doing business. There are a lot of chances in the fields of high-tech industry, information technologies, pharmaceutical manufacturing, agriculture, infrastructure, and tourism.
Elaborating on the attractions in his country that make Armenia a destination of choice for international travelers, Ambassador Baghdasarian noted:”In recent years, Armenia has become an attractive destination for tourists especially from the Gulf region. Diverse experiences, picturesque landscapes, and delicious cuisine bring people to Armenia from all corners of the globe. Indeed, it is a great country to explore and offers an excellent environment in terms of family recreation, traditional tourism, historical and cultural sites, and stunning nature. Gastro, extreme, adventurous, music and medical tourism are the new directions for tourism in Armenia.
“Kuwaitis love to travel, and recently they have been selecting non-traditional destinations that provide excitement and challenges. Armenia is a destination that will satisfy all Kuwaiti tourists. My personal suggestions would be to visit the longest ropeway in the world, Tatev, in the South of Armenia, as well as Dilijan city and Yell Extreme Park in the north of Armenia. Of course a visitor can also simply stay in Yerevan, the capital, which offers a week worth of European-style city life experiences and activities.
“Increasingly Armenia is also attracting entertainment tourism. For example, this June and July, Armenia will host the French singer-songwriter Zaz and the rap artist 50 cent. Both will perform live concerts there. This is a unique opportunity for Kuwaiti fans of music to visit Armenia.
“We are pleased to announce that, just a few days ago, the Government of Armenia has exempted Kuwaiti citizens from visa requirements while traveling to Armenia. Kuwaiti citizens can now enter Armenia, without visa, and stay there for 180 days in a year. We are confident that this decision will attract large numbers of visitors and increase the tourism flow from Kuwait to Armenia.
“The visa exemption process will hopefully be followed by the launch of a direct flight between Armenia and Kuwait. Currently, we are exploring this opportunity with a few air carriers. The flight will be less than 2 hours and therefore will offer Kuwaitis a short and convenient way to arrive in Armenia and spend time there. We hope that this positive step taken by Armenian authorities will be reciprocated by granting Armenian citizens electronic visa issuance regime or other facilitations to enter Kuwait.
“To provide a snapshot of tourism in Armenia, the Embassy is organizing a trip for a group of Kuwaiti social media bloggers and influencers to visit Armenia this June for a full week. They will present Armenia to Kuwaiti society through their own eyes.”
Shifting from tourism to cultural exchanges between the two countries and plans to increase them in future, the envoy explained: “Activities on deepening cultural diplomacy with Kuwait were quite productive, especially prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In September 2018, the Armenian National Academic Theater Orchestra of Opera and Ballet presented an evening of classical music at Jaber Al-Ahmad Cultural Center (JACC). We also had two successful exhibitions held in Ahmed Al-Adwani Hall of Abdullah Al-Salem in 2019 under the auspices of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters titled ‘Armenian Fine Art’ Exhibition.
“Perhaps the most remarkable event was the visit of Sheikha Hessah Salem Al-Sabah to Armenia in September 2019, which was followed by the visit of Nune Sarkissian, the wife of the former President of Armenia, to Kuwait in January 2020. The purpose of the bilateral visits was to discuss ways of enhancing cultural relations and, in particular, to lay foundations for cooperation between the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah Museum and Cultural Center and ‘Matenadaran’ — The Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts in Armenia.
“As an example of cultural diplomacy, I would also like to mention the photography competition exhibition titled ‘Kuwait between the past and the present’, which the Embassy of Armenia in Kuwait organized in March 2022 in partnership with NCCAL and the Kuwait Society for Photographic Arts. The Embassy has offered a free one-week trip to Armenia to all three winners in the competition so they can tour, experience and capture our country through their camera lenses.
“In addition, I would like to mention the ongoing inter-university cooperation between Kuwait University (KU) and Yerevan State University since 2010, that gives Armenian students the opportunity to pass a one-year-course in Arabic language and culture at KU annually.
And, on the level of Kuwaiti private institutions, we have projects with the Abdulaziz Saud Al-Babtain Cultural Foundation, in the field of translation. There is also a center for Arabic studies named after Abdulaziz Saud Al-Babtain at Yerevan University, Department of Oriental Studies.
“Armenia and Kuwait also have a good record of cooperation in the humanitarian field. Here, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Kuwait for donating $200,000 in 2013-2014 and $100,000 in 2019-2020 to support about 20,000 Syrian refugees in Armenia through a cooperation between the Kuwait Red Crescent Society and Armenian Red Cross Society. Through this support many of the refugees were able to get access to necessary healthcare and education.
“I would also like to mention Kuwait’s role in building and sponsoring a Retirement House in Yerevan to provide access to medical, clinical, and logistical needs for elderly patients, at a cost of nearly $1.5 million.”
Concluding the interview with his thoughts on Kuwait and its future, Ambassador Baghdasarian said: “On the Foreign Policy front, Kuwait is famous for its peace-building foreign policy and its unique problem-solving orientation; hence it is in a constant search for balanced and justice-oriented solutions, which makes Kuwait internationally recognized and appreciated as one of the world’s leading peace diplomacy countries.
“As for the internal front, Kuwait’s biggest asset is its vibrant and entrepreneurial youth. There are great young people who drive the engine of the country, look forward and think innovatively. This youth should be encouraged and supported. And I am more than confident that they will continue the work of building this country further towards excellence, following the footsteps laid down by the previous generations.”