Armenian News-NEWS.am, together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, continues its series of interviews entitled “Talk with Ambassador.” This week our guest is Armenia’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Indonesia, H.E. Mrs. Anna Aghadjanian.
Ms. Aghadjanian, Armenia's Embassy in Indonesia was founded not long ago. Please, present activities of the embassy and the main directions of its work.
The Embassy has been functioning since January 2014. The intention to open an embassy was formally announced during the official visit of Armenian FM Edward Nalbandian during his visit to Jakarta in August 2012. The goal is to promote relations with the most rapidly developing regional country and a country having the largest Muslim population in the world.
The first year of work coincided with parliamentary and presidential elections in Indonesia which gave us an exclusive opportunity to directly follow the political life of the country.
By announcing intention to open the embassy, the Minister stated Armenia's willingness to develop not economic relations only, but to establish broader cooperation. For this purpose, we are trying to establish links with educational institutions, research centers and public organizations.
We are starting to establish contacts with the parliament and to ultimately create a parliamentary friendship group.
The new President and the Government of Indonesia announced a new policy direction based on the development of economic relations, attraction of significant foreign investment. It is therefore important to encourage business ties between the two countries.
Like many embassies operating in Jakarta, we represent Armenia in the ASEAN, and this area is also in need of serious study. Nowadays, ASEAN is striving to become a real economic community, and in the coming years this will lead to the use of new economic and trade rules in Southeast Asia.
What are the challenges that the embassy is faced with during its work? What would you like to improve?
The main task is lack of information about Armenia due to objective reasons. There were cases when to my “Hello, I am ambassador of Armenia” remark, the opponent said: “Romania is a very good country.” But I should note that the ambassador of Romania has been recently complaining that she is told “We heard much about Armenia” in a similar situation.
New foreign policy direction based on economic interests has created a new situation for many countries. Of course, the countries with which Indonesia has established economic and trade ties and which may become major investors are in more favorable conditions.
Imports from Indonesia to Armenia in recent years made around $35 million annually, while exports from Armenia is almost zero. Both countries need to better understand each other's markets, and I am confident that as a result of some work, you can find mutually beneficial areas of economic and trade cooperation. I have already met with the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce of Indonesia, and we agreed on a meeting of businessmen of several branches.
How many Armenians live in Indonesia? What are they doing?
As you know, many Armenians lived in Indonesia mainly in Batavia (former official name of Jakarta), Surabaya, Makassar, Bandung and other major cities, since the 18th century. They were mostly merchants and traders.
The most famous hotel in Surabaya “Majapahit” was founded by representatives of the Sargis family.
There were Armenian churches, schools, clubs in Indonesia, the then Dutch East Indies. Church of St. Hovhannes in Jakarta was destroyed in 1964, as a part of the reconstruction of the city. At that time, Indonesia had only a few dozens of Armenians - the rest were mostly dispersed.
There is no Armenian community as such in Indonesia. But sometimes from elderly interlocutors you can hear the memories of Armenians.
A few months ago, a woman approached me at the International Women's Club of Java , She said: “You know, I am Armenian.” It turned out that grandfather of Ms. Evelyn was an Armenian, who settled in Batavia in late 19th century and married a Javanese woman.
We found another “Armenian trace” with the help of the Jesuit historian, about 50 years living in Indonesia. The man who founded the “Ragunan” Zoo in Jakarta and headed it for a long time was Benjamin Galustaun (Galstyan), also born in the Armenian-Javanese family.
Only a few Armenian families live in Jakarta and Bali today. They arrived to work here several years ago. Despite the fact that they are not citizens of Armenia - except for a woman working for UN – they all have contacts with an Armenian Embassy.
You are one of Armenia's few female ambassadors. Does it create specific tasks?
I do not think so. There are a few societies that can claim for a true equality between women and men. The fact that appointment of a woman to the official position is becoming the subject of attention of the press, suggests that such phenomena have not yet become common.
It is not a secret that much is decided outside the meeting room, and men always can meet in an informal atmosphere. In Jakarta, for example, many issues are solved while playing golf.
Nevertheless, 13 female ambassadors are accredited in Jakarta, and we are trying to support each other on some issues, especially taking into account that doyen of the diplomatic corps is a woman as well.
It is noteworthy that President of Indonesia Joko Widodo held his first official meeting after the election with a group of female diplomats.
What events will be held or were held in Indonesia to mark the centenary of the Armenian Genocide?
On April 24 the embassy hosted a commemoration ceremony that was attended by Armenians living in Indonesia and representatives of the Indonesian society and media.
Major media outlets published articles about the Armenian Genocide. The mass in Vatican provoked media interest, especially among Catholic community of the country.
We continue working with the media, and during the year I will continue visits to the educational institutions to speak about the Armenian Genocide.
The work of a diplomat and especially of an ambassador is very difficult and time consuming. How did you family get used to this?
Like many others, we are trying to adapt to the “wandering” life of a diplomat. Some of my female colleagues in Jakarta are not married, some have husbands working in other countries. Perhaps, for a man it is more difficult to follow his wife, a diplomat, than for a woman. In this respect, I appreciate my husband's decision to move with me to Jakarta and to perform duties expected from a husband of an ambassador, especially considering that he is not an Armenian.
Our traditional question: what is you advice to those who decided to become a diplomat?
Many of my colleagues gave interesting and important answers to this questions so it is very difficult to add something. But seriously, I want to advise our younger colleagues have respect and interest in the society and culture with which you work and where you live. It is impossible to expect development of relations between the countries and nations without it.
The previous interviews in this project: