In an interview to NEWS.am, ArtakApitonian, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Armenia to Sweden and Finland, talks about Armenia-Sweden and Armenia-Finland bilateral relations, Armenian Embassy’s daily routine.
Mr. Ambassador, the Embassy of Armenia to Sweden started its operationonly two years ago. It would be interesting for readersto learn about the essential conditions of building bilateral relations from the perspective of a newly opened embassy. How would you describe the current relations between Armenia and Sweden?
The establishment and advancement of bilateral relations is generally along-term, consistent and multi-layered process. In order to have good relations,it’s important to have deep knowledge of all processes in the country,understand the underlying causes and possible consequences for the interests of Armenia. When it comes to the relations withSweden, I should note thatour bilateral tiesembraced extensive development alreadyduring the first years of Armenia’s independence. Swedish diplomats had an active role in the international efforts of settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,Sweden has been a long-time donor of development projects in Armenia up to 2010, and we hadextensive bilateral exchanges.
As between persons, likewise between states, the good relations cannotendurefor a long time without corresponding efforts. In that sense, the establishment of our Embassy has without doubt raised our cooperation to a new level.
Currently, the relations between our countries have sustainable dynamics of development, with a high level of political dialogue characterized by mutual trust and confidence. Sweden is a key country of northern Europe,the development of close cooperation with which has a great importance also for Armenia’s relations with the EU. Sweden is one of the initiators of the EU Eastern Partnership program, isplaying an active rolewithin EU and UN, and is a member of the OSCE Minsk Group.Last but not least, every success in the “Capital of Scandinavia” always has a multiplicative effect.
I think Iwon’t be mistaken to say that such interest is mutual between our countries taking into account the establishment of the Swedish Embassy in Armenia duringthe same period of time. Is there anycooperation between the two embassies?
It’s obvious that Sweden also attaches great importance to strengthening the relations with our country. We have wonderful relations with my all Swedishcolleagues accredited to Yerevan and meet regularly either in Armenia or during their visits to Stockholm. Of course,the priorities of both embassies are different, however I’m glad that we have managed to establish similar approachesto the issues on the agenda, which allows us to solve problems more effectively.
Which are currently the main prioritiesofthe Embassy?
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries, the bilateral agenda in political, economic and humanitarian areas has gradually expanded, bringing new substance into our long-term ties.
Our bilateral political agenda is characterizedby an active dialogue and high-level visits and contacts. During the previous year three meetings were held between the President of Armenia and the Prime Minister of Swedenwithin various international forums. TheArmenian Minister of Health and the Ministerof Diaspora Affairs visited Sweden during this year. Swedish Minister for Higher Education and Research also visited Yerevan in May, combining participation to the 4thPolitical Forum of Bologna process with bilateral visit. Thesevisitshighlighted thepotential projects of cooperation in corresponding sectors. This year the political dialogue will be even moreintensive.
We have taken steps for the establishment ofdecentralized cooperation between the municipalities of our countries. The prospects of cooperation between the Uppsala county and the Lori region have been already markedduring the visit of the Governor of Uppsala Mr. Peter Egardt to Armenia in May 2015. Efforts are also being taken to establish such relations with other major cities and provinces of Sweden.
I am happy to point out that there are also very positive developments in the field of inter-parliamentary cooperation. This year the Swedish-Armenian Parliamentary Friendship Group was reestablishedat the Swedish Riksdag, which is chaired by the Deputy-Speaker of the parliament, our compatriot Mrs. EsabelleDingizian. The Friendship Group is planning to visit Armenia in the nearest future.
In which manner has the bilateral politic dialogue affected the trade and economic relations?
When it comes to bilateral trade and economic relations, there is still plenty of work to do. Currently, there are number of famous Swedish IT, mining, and cosmetics companies established in Armenia. There is a growing interest within the Swedish companies to expand their presence in the Armenian market. With that understanding, in the past few years almost all high-level visits were accompanied by arrangement of meetings with the Swedish companies interested in the Armenian market. It is not less important to have the presence of Armenian products in the Swedish market. That is why the Embassy’s priorities in the field of economic relations will be focused on the arrangement of various business-forums during this year. We are also working on the formation of an appropriate legal framework.
It’s gratifying that the Swedish government has resumed its assistance to reform projects in Armenia. In that framework projects will be implemented in the spheres of environmental protection and sustainable development, energy security and promotion of women entrepreneurship. Already this year, through the channels of the Eastern Europe Energy Efficiency and Environmental Partnership Foundation (E5P), where Sweden is the biggest donor, around 1.9 million Euros were granted for the construction of energy-efficient and secure outdoor lightning network in Yerevan.
There are numerous evidences confirming that our people had contacts with each other already in early middle ages. In the 16-17th centuries, the trade route connecting Sweden to the Middle East due to the activity of Armenian merchants was usually called “The Armenian Route”. There have been many diplomats and scientists of Armenian descent throughout the Swedish history. This kind of historical ties bear valuable material for the Embassy’s activities in the field of culture. What projects are being implemented in that field?
I agree that the historical ties between the Armenians and the Swedes have many interesting episodes with an extensive research material. This is a subject that we have begun to investigate with the joint efforts of both Swedish and Armenian researchers. Armenians played a significant role in the establishment and strengthening of ties between Sweden and the Middle Eastern countries. In the late 17th century, the Armenian merchants from New Julfa played an important role in the establishment of diplomatic and commercial relations between Sweden and Persia. The Armenian dragomans and diplomats made a significant contribution to the development of relations between Sweden and the Ottoman Empire. There we have family Mouradgead’Ohssonwhich was granted Swedish noble title for the merits before the Kingdom. Their coat of arms is still kept in Stockholm House of Nobility occupying its rightful place among 600 Swedish noble families. One of the most valuable European studies of the Ottoman Empire was carried out by Ignatius Mouradgead’Ohsson.Unfortunately, his name is undeservedly forgotten within us.
On these days at the Stockholm’s Royal Armoury, which is located in the Royal Palace and is anattractive place for locals and tourists, there is an ongoing exhibition dedicated to the Armenian-Swedish connections during the medieval ages. One of the main artefacts of the exhibition is thetrade agreement signed between the Armenian merchants of New Julfa and the Swedish King Carl XI at the end of 17th century, which was stipulating number of privileges for the Armenian merchantsin Sweden. The exhibition will be kept open during the entire 2016 and there will also be several seminars about the Armenian history, culture as well as about the Armenian-Swedish connections. There will also be storytelling of Armenian fairy tales in Swedish for the children and youth.
In general, the embassy had a comprehensive cultural and educational activities. Numerous concertsof classic music, lectures, academic exchanges, exhibitions and publishing of books.However it should be kept in mind that most of the activities during the last year were dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
Bearing in mind the important role of books in the Swedish society, we highly prioritize the publicationof Armenian classical and contemporary literature in Swedish. I am pleased to inform that Swedish publishers have a great interest in Armenian literature, and next year we hope to have several publications. We are also planning to organizejoint concerts of classical music andwork towards the enhancement of educational exchanges.
The Swedish side also takes active steps to increase bilateral exchanges in the cultural and educational fields.It is almost one year since Armenia was included in the Swedish Institute’s“Creative Force”program, which provides good opportunities for the arrangement of joint Armenian-Swedish projects in the cultural field. Besides this, Armenian studentsare again giventhe opportunity to receive scholarships from the same Swedish Institute for studies at the leading universities in Sweden.
As you mentioned, during this year,the majority oforganized cultural events were dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Please provide us with information about the different arrangements in that area and how you assess Sweden’s participation in the organized memorial events in Armenia?
This year, the Embassy, the Armenian communities in Sweden and various Swedish organizations together organized around fifty events dedicated to the Centennial of Armenian Genocide. I will only mention the biggest and most important ones among them.
One of the unforgettable events was the ecumenical commemoration ceremony at the StorkyrkaCathedral of Stockholm, which was attended by the leaders of all Christian denominations of Sweden including thePrimate of the Swedish Church Archbishop Antje Jackelén. The Swedish Government was also officially represented during the ceremony.
On the same day, the Armenian community organizes a demonstration in one of the central squares of Stockholm, attended by thousands of people and marchto the Embassy of Turkey. Thousands of Armenians from all over Sweden came to Stockholm to participate in the commemoration events of April 24th.
In April, there were two commemoration events organized at the Swedish parliament attended by many parliamentarians, ambassadors accredited to Sweden, political and public figures.
On the initiative of the municipal authorities of Örebro and the Armenian and Assyrian communities living there, the first memorial monument dedicated to the victims of the 1915 Genocide was consecrated in May.
In August,the Armemuseumof Stockholm hosted thephoto exhibition “Armen T. Wegner- eyewitness of the Armenian Genocide”. The three-month long exhibition received an overwhelming coverage from leading Swedish press and attracted thousands of visitors.
This year, Armenia for the first time participated in Scandinavia’s largest International book fair in Gothenburg. The Armenian pavilion was dedicated to the Armenian Genocide showcasingSwedish, Finnish, Turkish, English and German books on the issue. Within the framework of the fair,the Embassy and different Swedish organizations held number of discussions, seminars and book presentations on the Armenian Genocide.
Sweden was represented in the memorial events in Armenia by the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, the Swedish Church was also represented. Swedish genocide scholars attended the Global Forum Againstthe Crime of Genocide, held in Yerevan.Saying that,we must take into account the bilateral relations between Sweden and Turkey and the fact that Sweden actively advocates Turkeys membership in the EU, the two countries have strong economic and cultural ties. Every year around 7% of the Swedish population or every 14th Swedespend their vacation in Turkey.
How would you assess the coverage of the Centennial commemorationsby the Swedish media?
There have been more than hundred publications in the central and local press,numerous radio and TV-programs throughout the year. On 23-24 of April,Swedish Radio held round-the-clock broadcasting of programs about the Genocide. And not a single publication putting under question the term Genocide. I think, this fact speaks for itself. Today we can undoubtedly say that the Swedishsociety has extensive knowledge about the Armenian Genocide, which, I think is a major achievement. Moreover, as the most striking case of discrimination, ithas an important place in the political discourse.
How did the memorial events affect the Armenian community in Sweden?
The Coordinating Committee of the Centennial commemoration events in Sweden deserves only praising. The arrangements involved greatorganizational work, which were carried out in Stockholm and in other major cities of Sweden. In my opinion, all this had a dual effect. On the one hand,it united the community-based organizations, institutions and individuals around the organizational work throughout Sweden and brought new vital energy into community life. On the other hand,they showed the Swedish society that the relatively small Armenian community in its unity and hard work canundertakeinitiatives that even the largest communities are not able to shoulder. In that sense,the philosophy of the Centenary commemoration, which briefly can be characterizedas remembrance and rebirth, was completely vitalized in the Armenian community of Sweden.
For the Armenian community,last year was remarkable also by the consecration of the first ArmenianChurch in Sweden and whole Scandinavia in November 2015, which surely will become one of the most important cradles for the unity of local community.
Finally, I would like to ask you to present the current state of the Armenian-Finnish relations, given that since November 2014 you are also accreditation as the Ambassador of Armenia to Finland?
The Armenian-Finish relations are also developing in the atmosphere of friendship and partnership established during the previous years. Ever since, the accreditation of the Embassy, we are putting active efforts to enhance our bilateral relations in all possible areas. I try to go to Finland once a month or once every two months for visits and meetings.
We have an active political dialogue between the countries. In the comingyearswe are going to organize high-level visits, parliamentary and public exchanges. There are active contacts between the Foreign Ministers of our countries. Last November, we had political consultations between the Foreign Ministriesin Helsinki. I am pleased to note that the parliamentary cooperation between our countries is gaining a new momentum, which was even more vitalized by the establishment of the Finland-Armenia Friendship Group at the Finnish Parliament on December 2, 2015. We will soon organize visits of the Friendship Groups to Yerevan and Helsinki.
The Armenian community in Finland is quite small but notable by its unity and presence of significant number of intellectuals which allows to successfully implement any program. On April 11, 2015,the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra gave a concert at the Tampereconcert hall, the largest classic hall in Scandinavia. With this concert, the APO launched its international tour dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The concert had a great success with a full hall, won high appraisal of the Finnish public and attention in the press and media. Within the framework of the concert, an exhibition “Armenian Genocide and the Nordic Response”was showcased in the hallway. The exhibition was dedicated to the Scandinavian missionaries who saved thousands of Armenian refugees during the Genocide. The support and active participation of the local Armenian community during the organization of the concert was invaluable.
Mr. Ambassador,allow me to ask our final traditional question. What would you advise to thoseyoung people who have chosen or would like to choose theprofession ofdiplomat?
The history will judge our times and contemporary Armenian diplomacy depending on how we have strengthened the security of our statehood and reinforced its vitality, how we have solved the issue of Artsakh.The rest is derived from these main tasks and therefore it is extremely important to properly highlight the priorities. If not each step is directed towards the achievement of these goals, at least each step must prepare necessary grounds for achieving them. Having limited human and material resources, we can’t allow ourselves their residual waste.
I must also add that I admire theyoung generation of independent Armenia, that harmonious cohabitation of commitment and pragmatism within them. I am confident that their arrival intoour diplomacy as well as other areasof life will bring completely new qualities.
H.E. Mr. ArtakAPITONIAN
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
of the Republic of Armenia to Sweden and Finland
Was born on August 26, 1971 in the village of Alashkert, Armavir Region, Armenia
1987 – graduated from the School No. 1 of Armavir (formerly Hoktemberyan) with merits.
1992–graduated from the Faculty of Oriental Studies, Yerevan State University (Arabic Studies) with honours degree.
1991-1992 – Advanced training at theInstitute Bourguibades LanguesVivantes, Tunisia
1993– graduated from theInstitute for Diplomatic Studies, Cairo (special diplomatic courses)
Since 1993, has been working within the apparatus of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Yerevan and abroad
1995-1997- Third Secretary, Embassy of Armenia in the Arab Republic of Egypt, Cairo
1997-1998 - Third Secretary, Middle East Department, Ministryof ForeignAffairs,Yerevan
1998- Advisor, Permanent Mission of Armenia to the UN, New York
1999-2002–Second Secretary, Embassy of Armenia in Lebanon, Beirut
2002-2005- Headof the UN Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yerevan
2005-2008– Counsellor,Permanent MissionofArmeniatotheUNOffices inGeneva
2008-2009- Counsellor,AnalyticalDepartment,Ministryof ForeignAffairs,Yerevan
2009-2013-Head of the Department of External Relations, Office to the President, Yerevan
2013,November26 –appointedasAmbassadoroftheRepublicofArmeniato Sweden.Presented his credentialsto the King Gustaf XVI of Sweden onJanuary22,2014, becoming the first Armenian residentAmbassador to Sweden.
2014, November 6 – appointedasAmbassadoroftheRepublicofArmeniato Finland.Presentedcredentialsto the President of Finland SauliNiinistö onNovember13,2014.
English, Russian, Arabic
Married, with two daughters and one son