Interview with Anna Hakobyan the spouse of the Prime Minister of Armenia

The Velvet Revolution led by your husband and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia Nicol Pashinyan changed the course of history for this wonderful ancient country for better future. Behind every great man there is a great woman. Could you please share with our readers your love story, how it has all started.

As you may know and as everybody knows the Armenian nation is an ancient nation and it has deep roots into the old past. And unfortunately throughout this historical period, it has not always been so that our path has always been green and smooth. Constantly throughout the century we have faced the challenge and the loss of statehood and of royalties, kingdoms and throughout the history we have always faced the threat of losing our identity.

And perhaps our language and the alphabet more so have been the major prerequisites for us to preserve our identity at different crossroads of perilous threat throughout the history of Armenians. That is to say, for the mere fact that we as a nation, as a people, as Armenians have survived to the 21st century today, we largely owe this to our language, to our alphabet and to the creator of our alphabet. And in this general context, I cannot help but mention the importance of Christianity and the fact that Armenians are the first nation to have ever adopted Christianity as their state religion and Christianity has thus been the second supporting component to the survival of Armenians.

And the premises that we are in today is the primary bearer of all this tradition because the word is ‘Matenadaran’ which translates as repository of manuscripts and this is where all the manuscripts of Armenians, the first ever translated bible from other languages as well as copies of the bible from and in other languages are preserved here: so we can say that this is the bearer and this is the dock of our culture, the anchor of our culture.

Our story started at the Newspaper and at Yerevan State University. When I entered the Journalism department at Yerevan State University, the first words that we would ever hear from professors and lecturers whenever they were orienting us or telling us about the education and university, always contained the name of Nikol Pashinyan who at the time was believed to be the best student at YSU and was already a prominent journalist.

When I entered the University, he was already in his fifth year of studies and as I already said he was a very well-known journalist across the Republic though he was very young and since his name was mentioned over and over again I always asked my girlfriends: ‘We need to find out who that man is, I want to know who he is.’ And throughout this first year of studies I kept mentioning his name so often that once one of my girlfriends said: ‘Anna, you will end up marrying him.’ Back then I had not even seen him and I didn’t know him in person.’ But during the studies we had an assignment: the assignment was to write an article. I wrote the article and took deliberately this article to the newspaper where Nikol Pashinyan worked hoping that I would see him. And actually we met: I saw him, he saw me and love came afore. That was the very beginning of the story.

WOMAN MULTIPLE ROLES AND INSPIRATION

Being a wife of a Prime Minister, a mother of 4, an entrepreneur, a professional, a philanthropist and a muse, what is your source of inspiration to maintain your own well-being?

I do not think of myself as an entrepreneur from among all the titles that you have mentioned, I believe that I am primarily a professional reporter. The perception may be that I am an entrepreneur if we consider the aspect of the ownership of the daily magazine, the media outlet. But I do not believe that I am one. I believe that I am completely a beginner in philanthropy because this is not been my primary field of action. I have just stepped into this activity ex officio. But the source of inspiration for me that supports me in all my undertakings and activity is the history that we have had together with my husband: it is his past, it is his background. It is also his mission, the mission that he is currently implementing as the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia. Because I can say that I have seen and I have recognized this mission that was imbedded in him ever since we met on the first day, as this I have told you. This was quite a long way, but I believe that we are only half way through because I believe that he has still many and great undertakings to accomplish and it is this belief in him and the believe in him having a continuous mission that I get inspiration from. I do not separate my mission from his mission because we have covered this route together hand in hand and I see my mission primarily in my role as support to him. Because actually during all this period we have gone through many difficult times: prosecution, jail, underground activity. And I have believed that my mission during his imprisonment was to take care of our children, our family, our newspaper, his parents so that they would never feel that he is missing.

Besides back then the political situation in the country was very tense and different people’s moods were largely depending on my mood, on my way of looking at things so I always tried to maintain the strong look so that fewer people would lose hope. I do not separate my mission from my husband’s mission because if I did so I would have considered journalism and the newspaper and the media outlet as my primary activity whereas I am trying to adjust my way to his course so that I support him.

ARMENIA AS A GLOBAL CENTER OF PEACE

Approximately 1 million Armenians were killed during genocide. It is important to keep history alive. But at the same time Armenia is unique, as it succeeded despite a century-long suppression to survive and remain as an important contributor for the world’s sake. Armenia is relatively neutral in politics, and can become a hub for peace building and reconciliation. In the long run, every nation needs peace to flourish. Don’t you think that your country could become the World’s Peace Center teaching other countries tackling similar problems how to overcome difficulties, do not lose hope and move forward?

The Armenian people as survivors of the Genocide, largely and very profoundly value global peace and today Armenia has taken quite an important role not only in peace maintenance but also in fight against genocide. Because who else if not the Armenian people have the right to make this constant appeal not to resort to this most terrible crime against humanity. And in fact Armenia and the Armenian people already act as pioneers in the global action, prevention and fight against Genocide. Last year we held a conference in Armenia that primarily targeted the issue of Genocide and its prevention. As for being a hub and an example or model of peace, I unfortunately have to state that Armenia itself is currently in an ongoing conflict. The Karabakh Conflict is one of the most dangerous and potentially explosive conflicts in our region and the conflict is based on the fact that the Armenian people have learned lessons from the Genocide. And we shall never ever allow it to be repeated to our people again. But at the same time we see that the day will come that the conflict should be peacefully settled.

And only on that day we will be able to speak of Armenia as a peace model for the World. Because in that case we will be able to say that the Armenian people are survivors of the Genocide and at the same time they are the nation who have successfully found the peaceful solution to such an intricate conflict with a neighboring state. Unfortunately we have not seen this day coming in the near future. Because for a peaceful settlement of a conflict, it is really important to pay attention to the domestic situation of both parties to the conflict, the internal and domestic democracy in the states. And if today after the Velvet Revolution Armenia is a fully democratic state, we cannot say the same thing about Azerbaijan yet which of course entails difficulties also in relation to the conflict resolution.

But not going deep into the conflict matters, I would like to inform you that I have initiated ‘Women for Peace Campaign’ which is largely based on specifically the Karabakh Conflict. The whole idea of the campaign is that the leaders of the conflicting parties and the leadership of the mediating countries should never again go for escalation, for arms, for violence while solving an issue or a conflict but rather to resort to run tape balling and to negotiate and to find a peaceful solution. I believe that being the first lady or the wife of the leader of the Republic of Armenia I could not help but voice this appeal because there is no higher value to me as a mother or as a woman and wife than the human life, especially if we are speaking about the lives of young soldiers and given the fact that we could really preserve the lives of these young soldiers simply choosing the peaceful negotiations.

As an option, all I can do is but keep reminding people of this option too in order to prevent at least another life of the border. It is important to note here that this Campaign does not have anything to do with the possible conflict resolution scenarios or the options or the ways out. Simply this is a call, an appeal to refrain from the escalation, to refrain from the use of arms and violence at the border. This has nothing to do with politics because actually the details should be discussed by the leaders of individual countries and they need to arrive at a consensus, at a solution that is acceptable to all parties.

First of all we need to speak about it because everything starts with the dialogue. And specifically referring to this specific Campaign, because I can speak about what I do, I think that in any corner of the World, in any place of the Globe where there is a war that is ongoing and people are being hurt, the Women for Peace Campaign can also get there and can make the same call to the parties involved in the conflict. This is the most realistic step that I can think about right now and this is something that I am going to make true one day. As it is really important to me to be joined by other first ladies in this Campaign, those ladies who are really prepared to make their own call. And it would be even more influential if the first ladies of those countries who are immediately involved in conflicts would join the Campaign. Because I am convinced that the appeal of a wife, a mother, a woman cannot go unnoticed among men when they are making a decision to start a War. I have not yet expended the Women for Peace Campaign and I have not yet invited any first ladies to join in but I believe that this article is also a very good opportunity to notify them, to raise awareness and maybe they can take initiative.

WOMAN IMPACT TO ACCELERATE POSITIVE CHANGES

When we think about other examples of the countries facing similar tragedies, it is Rwanda which comes to mind. Rwanda has the post-trauma of the genocide in common. It is interesting to see how these relatively small country flourishes. And mostly it was able to make its remarkable advances thanks to its extraordinary women. Do you think women in Armenia could participate more actively in the country’s social, political and business life?

This was a very interesting example and thank you for calling the Rwanda example: this makes me recall the fact that last year within the framework of the Francophonie Days in Armenia the Foreign Affairs Minister of Rwanda was elected the General Secretary of the Francophonie International Association. And when I say that women can have an influence I definitely say this based on the examples that we just mentioned. As for Armenia we should state that women can and should be more actively engaged and involved in these peacemaking processes. And this will be beneficial of course to all, and this is true not only about Armenia but to all the countries in the World. Of course I have read a lot and there is research based evidence that states that women are more peace loving and they approach conflict solution from a more peace building perspective than men. And it would be largely beneficial for all those societies who would decide to untap the unused potential of women, it would be very useful to them. But of course we have the other side of the coin and there are a lot of stereotypes, among which is Armenia of course. But in case of Armenia, after the non-violent Velvet and Love Revolution the perceptions have largely changed.

If we look at the composition of the Armenian Government today, we can say that today we have the largest number of women since the beginning of the Independent history of Armenia: we have one woman minister, 12 deputy ministers who are women. 2 of the 3 deputy staff heads for the operators of the Prime Minister are women. The head of the Civil Aviation Committee is not only a woman but a very young woman and she has already recorded major success in her work. The mayor of Etsjmiadzin which is also our spiritual and religious capital is a young woman. We have female mayors in different smaller municipalities and in rural settlements. We have women who ran different units and departments. And we have 25% of the Parliament as women, 31 female MP’s. But apart from this statistical data, I would like to stress that the Prime Minister himself encourages more active involvement and engagement of women in social, political and other straits of activity as active agents and as an active layer of society. My husband never misses a chance in his speeches to once again call for women, to encourage them to be more active. And he also encourages and inspires me in my own personal, individual activity.

Because I would serve in that way as a role model for others. Because in Armenia we have the stereotypical thinking that if the mother of the family or the wife of the family is actively engaged in outdoors activity that perhaps the family is not strong enough or is not based on traditional values. But using the example of our own family, we show it to all that these two aspects are not conflicting to each other. Because it would be difficult to find in Armenia another family that would be stronger or would be based on more traditional values than ours. And it is difficult to find a woman who is as active as I am. Of course this is tiring for me because this takes a lot of effort. Of course I follow my husband’s word and I am trying to maintain this activity because I will serve thus as a role model to the rest of Armenia.

And in case of Armenia, the activity of women has a very important economic aspect to it because the majority of the Armenian population in Armenia are women. And during the past year we can say due to the so-called Campaign, many women have really launched their small businesses. They helped their husbands in supporting the family, they earned some income and they changed the quality of life in their family. So in this regard perhaps we are making the
first steps, we are at the initial stage but we have great potential.

ARMENIA’S COUNTRY BRAND

Armenia is The Global Nation. That is a strong brand. The brand stands for certain values, which need to be worked out. Which values are the most important for you personally when it comes to the country branding?

I think that globally Armenia has been branded as the first country that has adopted Christianity as state religion. As a country that has the most magnificent view of mount Arat, the Biblical mount Arat. But luckily I have to speak about the Velvet Revolution again after the Revolution. During these 18 months Armenia has become known to the World not only as a country who has the oldest Christian history but also a country that has gone through a Velvet Revolution where there was no sign of violence, no drop of blood was shed and that could led us to such major political change. And if we have to conduct any rebranding now then we can refer to the major political change that happened as a result of the Velvet, Love and Solidarity Revolution which was about celebration, which was about love and this goes back by its roots to Christianity again.

And if we have to speak about the rebranding opportunity then perhaps the framework would consist of these three major components: the Velvet non-violent Revolution, the Christian roots and Arat as a symbol. And also Armenia has great potential to be known as an IT hub, because it is a well-known fact that during the Soviet times Armenia was the Silicon Valley of the Soviet Empire. And today there is great opportunity to give new breath to this sector and the Government is very actively making use of this opportunity. So this is the fourth component that can be a major point in the rebranding of Armenia.

SCIENTIFIC POTENTIAL

Artem Alikhanyan (Yerevan Physics Institute) and Viktor Hambardzumyan (Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory) were prominent locomotives of the technological advancements in Soviet Armenia. Becoming a physicist back then used to be a dream; many young people even from remote mountainous areas of Armenia saw their secure future in this sphere. A huge engineering and technical potential has been formed over the decades. The Armenian young generation is quite smart, honest, talented and eager to learn and to grow. The country’s IT specialists are skillful, diligent and their abilities meet the highest standards set in the world. Don’t you see an opportunity to unleash the potential and make Armenia a provider of intellectual capital for global tech, space and other industries?

We are going to have tax exemption or tax benefits for activity in the space sector. It turns out that your question is really based on the reality on the ground. And the Government of the Republic of Armenia realizes the need and the benefit of it and is creating a conducive and favorable environment for the further thriving of constructive minds and bright minds in the sector.

So going back to the rebranding topic, it should be noted that the research aspect is really one of the untapped potential areas in Armenia and it has quite huge potential for further development. And now the Government considers this as a major direction of our economic development. Armenia is already very active from the perspective of becoming a regional hub for the IT sector. At the beginning of this month, the WCIT Congress was held in Armenia. We have global and renowned companies that have their branches and representations in Armenia, specifically Synopsys and yesterday they inaugurated Sylinks Armenia. And especially WCIT came to testify the right potential that Armenia has in this sector. In this regard specifically I would like to quote a fragment from the Speech made by the Prime Minister during the opening ceremony of WCIT. He spoke about the fact that Armenians from all over the World have come up with great innovations. For example the first ATM was created by an Armenian, the first color TV, the contemporary water tab, plastic surgery, the automatic gear box in cars; there is a long list in that speech of what Armenians have created. These were Armenians residing in different countries all over the World and now the task of the Government of Armenia is to centralize all these bright minds from all over the World in Armenia. It will be the foundation and the basis for the development of the economy given the geographical location of the country and also the closed borders. This is the road that the new Government has adopted.

HUB OR CAPSULE. LOCAL OR GLOBAL.
OR GLOCAL?

Armenia is a unique country. More people live abroad than in the country itself. At the same time most of the people living in the country are Armenians. Should it be a closed ecosystem focused saving the history and achievements of the past generations or should it attract the best brains and talents, and create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that can make Armenia a regional hub? What is the optimal Model for the Republic of Armenia? Or maybe it is possible to combine both models to accelerate country’s economic improvement and achievements? 

I think we are speaking about ‘glocal’. Because it is true that the majority of people living in Armenia are Armenians but in Armenia we also have ethnic minorities who feel very protected in our country. I cannot even recall such an instance when we would discuss the fact that certain minorities were oppressed in Armenia. That is to say: although we are a mono-ethnic state, the small number of national minorities who are again small in population, still feel very comfortable. It should be noted that the National Assembly has Members of Parliament from all minorities: this is a norm established by the constitution, so this is a constitutional reform. Especially after the Revolution, tourism is thriving in Armenia.
They are visiting Armenia, feel very comfortable and they enjoy a very warm and a very hospitable attitude from the locals. You are quite right to note that yes, we are a people who prioritize the preservation of our identity, maybe for historical reasons. But this means that identity to us is a major value and just as we respect ours, we respect others’ identities too. And perhaps that is the reason why both the minorities and our country’s guests feel very comfortable in our country. Which means that we do have the potential and we can be ‘glocal’, that has to say to keep our identity and at the same time to remain open to the World. And in this sense we can become a regional hub.

FUTURE GOALS

It seems that now Armenia is at a critical junction of its history and it needs to choose the right direction. What is the future of Armenia and the Armenian nation considering the new realities of the 21th century in terms of science, culture, education, ecology, technology, etc. What major goals (scientific, cultural, educational, philanthropic, ecological) do you see for the country to move forward? Which countries could be a source of inspiration for Armenia now to move beyond survival mode and become a competitive economy and player?

I think we will follow our own course. There are many countries in the World that are major successes. But as it was multiply mentioned throughout this interview, Armenia is a unique country with unique people. Which means that yes, we will take our own course but as for the global goals I will have to once again quote my husband. Because very recently he has again defined these global goals: not only for the Government that he is leading, but for us as a society for the upcoming years for where we are heading. And I will mention a few of those: for example to make Armenia an industrial country, to ensure fifteen times the value of the current GDP of Armenia, to have at least 5 IT Companies that would exceed the value of 10 billion and to have 10 000 functioning startups; to have one of the most efficient intelligence services, out of the best ten in the World; to ensure 15 million tourists visiting Armenia annually; to make the Armenian football team a cup winner at European or Global scale; to win 25 Olympic gold medals; and also to be worthy to win the individual title of World Champion Chess. I skipped a few but this really shows where we are heading, what is our goal.

This Interview was taken by Barbara Dietrich and Alena Kuzmenko and transcribed by Maarten Vermeir.