Thank you for your warm welcome. And thank you to the American University of Armenia for inviting me here to speak with all of you.
Today, I’d like to talk about the bilateral relationship between Armenia and the United States. And then I’d like to hear from you, so I’ll leave plenty of time to answer questions.
I’m also interested in hearing about your hopes and your concerns. About your plans, not only for your own future, but also for how you will contribute to the future of this great country.
Let me start by sharing with you something that I’ve come to appreciate during my two years in Armenia. I used to date our bilateral relationship back to 1991 and the founding of the Second Republic, or perhaps 1988, when Armenians and Americans worked together to aid the victims of the earthquake.
But of course the relationship between Armenians and the United States is much longer and much deeper than those dates suggest. From Martin the Armenian, one of the first American settlers who helped to establish the Jamestown colony, to William Saroyan, Arshile Gorky, Kirk Kerkorian and George Deukmejian, Armenians have made a profound impact on our history, our culture, our politics and our economy.
Our relationship also includes many Americans who supported and defended Armenians during their darkest hours — people such as Clara Barton, who through the American Red Cross distributed aid to Armenians in distress in the 1890s, Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, and of course President Woodrow Wilson.
I recently visited Lukashin in Armavir Marz, a village founded in 1925 when an American orphanage in Dilijan sent 125 orphans to settle there. Today, we are working with the descendants of those first citizens as they build their future with energy and vision. Lukashin reflects our shared history of struggle and compassion, triumph over tragedy.
But we don’t just have a shared history, we also have a shared future. And as the U.S. Ambassdor here, I want to ensure that our partnership is as strong as possible, as we move forward together.
For Armenia to develop democratically, advance economically, and build a sovereign state that is strong and secure is not only in Armenia’s best interest, but also in America’s. A democratic, prosperous Armenia, secure and at peace with its neighbors, makes a better partner for the United States. This is the foundation of the modern U.S.-Armenia relationship.
Both our countries understand that market economy and democracy – while imperfect systems – are still better than the alternatives. The fall of communism allowed Armenia to tap its thousands of years of experience in trade and enterprise, law and learning, and skilled Armenian entrepreneurs quickly emerged to form the basis of a market economy.
The U.S. is proud to have supported Armenia in this effort with over $1.8 billion in total assistance. Big numbers such as this one grab our attention, but they don’t mean much unless we can show that all this money has made a difference in people’s lives. So I would like to offer you some examples of how cooperation between Armenia and America has brought about concrete change for the better.
First, let’s look at the building of democracy. In any country, this labor requires time and patience. But demands in Armenia for governmental accountability and transparency are growing. The American people are ready to support Armenia’s democratic development, but it’s up to the Armenian people to create the democracy that works best here in Armenia.
To help encourage and meet demands for democracy, the U.S. Government has focused on bolstering political participation at all levels, helping to empower civil society by, for example, promoting a greater role for women in society, and providing access to diverse information and opinion through both traditional and new media.
The most successful efforts to strengthen democracy often begin from modest roots, working at the local level to solve small problems. Success in these first steps can build the experience and confidence of individuals, organizations and communities, and create a culture where good government is expected and corruption is not tolerated.
It was to launch such a positive cycle that we have funded 11 Advocacy and Assistance Centers throughout Armenia. Nearly 4,000 individuals have contacted the centers for help and legal assistance. These centers have aided in over 100 court cases, but more often citizens are able to fight corruption and abuse – and win – simply by having the center back them up.
We see these centers as working for the people – and in the best case scenario, partnering with the government. The centers have successfully cooperated with government institutions such as the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Human Rights Defender to more effectively address corruption cases.
We also work with the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative to provide expert recommendations on legislation governing Armenia’s judicial system and to help bring these laws in line with the best international standards. This program also delivers training and education on Armenian and European case law to judges, prosecutors and defense advocates.
We support independent media and enhanced access to the internet to create a better informed citizenry. Whether through grants to investigative journalists or funding of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, we help Armenians express and hear independent views that are often excluded from the airwaves.
Recently we have worked with NGOs, journalists, media companies, and international partners to spur public discussion of new laws affecting NGOs and television broadcasting. We hope to help Armenians not only craft the best possible legislation, but also build a habit of public input into national decisions, so that civil society can constructively influence, and if necessary challenge, government policies.
And when the U.S. Government sees corruption, human rights abuses or failures of democracy, we speak out about it, for instance through our annual Human Rights Report or our election monitoring.
The United States is compelled to speak out in these cases not because we think our own record is spotless – just the reverse. Because we have struggled for over 200 years against grievous oppression and injustice, because we have fought to build a real democracy, we know what a difficult battle it is.
We also know that the first step in ending injustice is to expose it. As we say in America, sunlight is the best disinfectant.
The growth of democracy and prosperity reinforce each other, and our two countries cooperate in a number of ways to strengthen the economic side of the equation as well.
Even as the national and global economies show signs of improvement, Armenia faces great economic challenges. After many years of surging growth, 2009 saw Armenia’s GDP shrink by 14 percent. Most alarming to me, the World Bank estimated that last year 172,000 more Armenians fell into poverty. So far in 2010, Armenia’s GDP has increased by 7.2%, and there are other encouraging indicators that the economy may be recovering.
But the country has some way to go to return to 2008 levels, and not everybody is sharing in these recent gains. It often takes ordinary households a long time to feel the effects of a recovering economy. I’m sure we all know at least one family who is struggling as a result of the crisis. I can see the challenges households face, especially when I travel to the regions.
As the largest donor to international financial institutions, the U.S. has backed Armenia’s loan requests, and will continue to support loans to meet Armenia’s needs. However, those loans must eventually be repaid, and while borrowing to combat a financial crisis is a well-established approach, too much debt could also strangle Armenia’s economic development. Like other countries, the Armenian government will have to maintain a delicate balance as it counters the effects of the economic crisis.
In any crisis there is opportunity, and this recession should encourage the Armenian government to pursue fundamental reforms to promote long-term economic growth and investment. A transparent legal system; efficient, predictable and impartial customs and tax systems; enforcement of intellectual property rights; competition in every sector of the economy; and modernized infrastructure are all necessary elements to promote investment — both foreign and domestic. We are cooperating with the Armenian Government in each of these areas and more.
U.S. assistance is helping bring to life a more competitive and diversified private sector through assistance to targeted business clusters – tourism, information technology and pharmaceuticals.
These programs are already helping to produce results: 11,000 new jobs and an 81 percent increase in sales in these three sectors, as well as 21 percent annual growth in tourism from 2004 to 2008. In cooperation with Sun Microsystems, we have established “JAVA teaching laboratories” at three Armenian universities. These labs produced nearly 50 IT products and services, including e-education, e-statistics and the archiving of the Matenadaran’s ancient manuscripts.
USAID is expanding support to small and medium enterprises in sectors with growth potential in both domestic and export markets. This assistance will help to raise the competitiveness of selected industries by enhancing management skills, knowledge of end markets, and access to finance. This program also engages regulatory authorities to streamline business registration and licensing requirements.
By September 2011, the Millennium Challenge Corporation will complete investments of nearly $180 million, supporting agriculture through irrigation infrastructure and technical assistance to over 45,000 Armenian farmers. One of the perks of being Ambassador is the opportunity to tour these projects, talk to the farmers, and find out how these programs — designed and implemented by Armenians – are delivering results that increase crop yields, raise farmers’ income, and reduce poverty.
And the U.S. Department of Agriculture is cooperating with farmers, food processors, retailers, restaurants and consumers on everything from farm credit to food safety to marketing “grown in Armenia” products.
The U.S. Government continues to help Armenia strengthen its energy security. We are assisting Armenia to replace the nuclear power plant at Metsamor; to introduce renewable energy; and to integrate Armenia into the electricity grids of the Caucasus so that Armenia can trade electricity more widely, ensuring greater security of Armenia’s own power supply and generating export earnings.
While most of our programs seek long-term impact, we also responded directly to the financial crisis by allocating $3.5 million for a small infrastructure program that is generating 60,000 labor days in the regions on roughly 60 projects chosen by communities throughout Armenia.
Education and Visas
Nothing, however, will better ensure Armenia’s long-term prosperity than education. I am happy to note that since 1999, the U.S. Government has supported the students of AUA through an endowment of nearly $10 million and annual contributions for everything from laboratories to library books. We are proud of this collaboration, which provides the financial stability the University needs in order to plan and manage its curriculum and staff.
Exchange programs are among the best ways our two countries can partner to build a prosperous and democratic future. Over the years, the U.S. Government has sent about 3,400 Armenians to the United States, ranging from high school students and professors to members of parliament, business people, journalists and government officials. We hope that all of these colleagues are enriched by both their studies and their daily experiences in the U.S.
Last year our Embassy issued over 400 visas to students and exchange visitors. I know that applying for a U.S. visa, for study or for any other purpose, can seem daunting. The careful scrutiny we give each application reflects the realities we face around the world today, from concerns about terrorism to supposed tourists who stay in the U.S. permanently. And speaking frankly, Armenians often do overstay their visas.
Our role is to facilitate legitimate travel to the U.S., and we urge those of you who want to go to the U.S. to study or for vacation to do so and then come back and share your experiences with others in Armenia. We encourage those of you who want to live and work in the U.S., to do so through one of our legal immigration programs.
Security, like democracy and prosperity, is essential to Armenia’s long-term future.
The United States cooperates bilaterally and multilaterally with Armenia to reform and modernize the nation’s military, support Armenia’s interaction with NATO, remove landmines, and train and equip the Peace Keeping Brigade that served in Iraq and continues to serve in Kosovo and Afghanistan.
The U.S. and Armenian governments also collaborate in export control and border security. In the past year the U.S. has provided over $800,000 in border security equipment to Armenia, and our legal experts have worked closely with yours to strengthen Armenia’s export control laws so that they fully meet international standards. As President Sargsian’s participation in the Nuclear Security Summit underlines, Armenia is increasingly seen as a reliable, secure trading partner committed to stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
The U.S. also strongly supports Armenia’s efforts to normalize relations with Turkey, open the border, and resume commercial and other activities. President Sargsian’s recent announcement makes clear that Armenia has not ended the process, but has suspended it until the Turkish side is ready to move forward.
We applaud President Sargsian’s decision to keep the normalization process alive and to continue to work towards a vision of peace, stability, and reconciliation. We believe that the normalization process carries important benefits for Turkey and Armenia as well as the wider Caucasus region. And we continue to urge both sides to keep the door open to further efforts at reconciliation and normalization.
Normalization has not proceeded as far or as fast as we had hoped a few months ago, but consider how far we have come. Two years ago, no one was talking about normalization of relations with Turkey. Now it is one of the top issues of the day, not just in Armenia, but in Turkey.
I think all of us remember the “I Apologize” campaign of last year, and this year on April 24, for the first time there were events in Istanbul marking Armenian Remembrance Day. A growing number of influential Turks are engaged in a discussion about the challenges of Turkish-Armenian normalization – including the most difficult issues related to your shared and tragic history. I think this demonstrates the beginning of a shift in public opinion in Turkey.
As some of you know, because you have participated in them, there are many exchanges back and forth – students, teachers, film directors, tour operators, way too many for me to keep track of. And slowly, Armenians and Turks at all levels are getting to know each other; seeing opportunities, whether it is for dialogue or business; and breaking down the barriers that have kept the two peoples, the two countries apart.
You have a role in this process. If you’re skeptical – and even if you’re not — you should ask the tough questions and demand answers from your government about the process. But in my opinion you should also support the normalization process, because it is the only way forward for Armenia.
Normalization would offer huge economic benefits for Armenia. The direct economic impact is hard to estimate, but studies indicate that it would add a few percentage points a year to Armenia’s GDP growth. Open borders with Turkey, and eventually, we hope, Azerbaijan, would open a regional market of 80 million people to Armenia. Through Turkey’s membership in the European Customs Union, Armenia would gain entry to the entire European market.
Increased trade would stimulate development of road networks, rail lines, energy pipelines and electrical grids, which would enhance Armenia’s economic and energy security.
Armenia would be freed from dependence on expensive and vulnerable supply routes. Political risk would lessen, encouraging domestic and foreign investment. Costs would fall for both consumers and importers.
For Armenia to live up to its full potential, it must reintegrate with the region. It is an anomaly that in the 21st century there is a closed border in Europe. The U.S. Government believes success is worth striving for, and we continue to support normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia without preconditions.
Separate from the Turkey-Armenia normalization process, we believe that it is important to achieve a peaceful, just and lasting settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Minsk Group Co-Chairs – France, Russia and the U.S. – remain fully committed to helping Armenia and Azerbaijan work toward a solution based on the Helsinki Final Act principles of non-use of force, territorial integrity and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples.
At the L’Aquila Summit of the Eight last, July Presidents Obama, Medvedev and Sarkozy outlined the elements they believe should be included in a final peace settlement. At the OSCE Ministerial in Athens last December, Foreign Minister Nalbandian and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Mammadyarov endorsed those elements, which include;
- a return of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control;
- an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh providing guarantees for security and self-governance;
- a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh;
- further determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will;
- the right of internally displaced persons and refugees to return to their former places of residence;
- and international security guarantees that would include a peacekeeping operation.
There is still a long way to go to secure such an agreement and the U.S. is committed to negotiating a lasting peace. But the decision to move forward toward a lasting peace lies with the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The status quo of hostility and tension is destabilizing and does not serve the interests of any of the parties to the conflict.
Naturally, a resolution to the conflict would require compromises from both sides.
But a peace agreement would greatly enhance security in the region, in NK, in Armenia, and in Azerbaijan. Open borders, working lines of communication, and free trade would bring economic and political benefits. A lasting peace, with all its benefits, is worth realizing — and bequeathing to your children.
During my time in Armenia, Armenians have opened not only their country, but even their homes and their hearts to me, a gift that has deepened my appreciation of Armenia’s rich culture and unique people.
The resilience of Armenians in the face of a hard history has touched and inspired me. It has made me more convinced than ever that we need to work together to ensure that Armenia is secure, and that Armenians have the opportunity to build a country that will prosper and flourish.
As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has often said, we cannot change the past, but we can change the future. And if there is anyone with the power to change Armenia’s future for the better, it is you, the students pursuing an international education here at AUA.
Over the last two decades we have seen dramatic development in all spheres. Much has been accomplished, but much more remains to be done. This is where all of you come in. You can change Armenia’s future; you can make Armenia free, prosperous and secure – if you will.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today. I welcome your questions, and I hope you will share with me your vision of Armenia’s future and your role in making it come to pass.