Ten Questions to Zareh Sinanyan
The first working visit to Diaspora Zareh Sinanyan paid to the capital of Russia. During his busy five-day visit (18-23 July) Zareh SInanyan tried his best to manage meeting with all the community structures: he had briefing meetings with a wide range of Armenian organizations in Moscow; tried to draw an overall picture of the community; tried to understand what kind of problems and difficulties the compatriots living in Russia have and what kind of institutional arrangements are necessary for the consolidation and the coordination of their activity.
The format of the meetings and communication with Zareh Sinanyan were also different: the talk was was very sincere, courageous and inspiring.
Surely, to understand everything as it is, one visit is not enough, however, as the well-known Chinese proverb says, “To go a long way, make a step forward.”
On July 19, High Commissioner of Diaspora Affairs of Armenia, serving under Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan gave an interview to Anna Givargizyan, the chief-editor of the Zham Magazine.
A.G. — At the meeting with the representatives of the Armenian community of Russia you mentioned that you perceive the Armenians of Diaspora as partners and hope for collavorative work with them, as you don’t imagine how we can achieve something progressive without collaborative work. However, the communities of Diaspora, including those who had supported the popular movement in 2018, still haven’t found a mechanism through which they could cooperate with New Armenia.
The only communication channels are the ambassadors and embassies of the Republic of Armenia, many of whom in those days openly fought against the supporters of the revolution. How will the Diaspora communicate with New Armenia, when and what mechanisms will be found for the joint collaboration?
Z.S.— We will work with compassion so that the results live up to expectations. I really can’t imagine how we can achieve something without joint efforts. An Armenian living in the Diaspora has not only obligations, but also rights. Any Armenian living in the Diaspora will be directly connected with Armenia. At the moment, we haven’t yet started working, as we are still at the stage of formation, and it is natural that we must rely on existing structures.
In general, the role of the embassy in such visits is natural, however, no matter what the problem is, the office of the High Commissioner of Diaspora Affairs of Armenia must become the main means of communication. Any problem concerned with the Diaspora and Armenia, must be discussed at this office. Even issues related to education, science, sports, which are now under the jurisdiction of another ministry, nevertheless, must somehow intersect with our office. Maybe you have noticed that for the last two days people contact us to discuss such issues. The programs, surely, will be implemented by other ministries, and that is logical: if people turn to us, then they will ultimately expect a report from us, so we should be able to make monitoring in the context of the implementation of programs, organize the solution of the issue and monitor its implementation. If you turn to us, but someone else is engaged in the implementation process, this means that something went wrong, since it will be they who will consider us responsible.Therefore, we should not only know how all the processes between Armenia and the Diaspora proceed, but also coordinate these processes.
A.G. — Different representatives from the Republic of Armenia have been communicating with the Diaspora and discussing the same problematic issues. Several months ago Vagharshak Hakobyan met with representatives of different organizations, listened to them and answered questions of their concern, then Babken Ter-Grigoryan had a conversation with the representatives of Media from different countries in online format and answered their concerns… We don’t know what was done before you have come. It’s not clear if there is enough foundation to continue the construction.
Having lived in California in a heterogeneous community, you already have a general idea of the cultural, psychological, economic and party models that exist in the Diaspora and the complex mosaic of realities. Are you going to turn to professional and experienced experts for information about the difficult situation in the Diaspora and the existing great opportunities so that the activity has institutional nature and the whole job doesn’t start from scratch in case of changes of the commissioner or the minister.
Z.S. — I have returned to Armenia to create a really functioning and institutionally organized establishment. It will function anytime, no matter who will be its head. All the government authorities must be institutionalized. I definitely agree with you that a person should have the opportunity for personal direct interaction with his homeland, and this should not be through others.
We will have a lot of advisers. There are a lot of people in the Diaspora who in theory and in practice are well-aware of different communities of the Diaspora. It will be effective to use their knowledge and practice. At the moment, our potential is not strong: the existing body we inherited from the previous ministry, where people work, but don’t realize what they do and how they appeared there. Unfortunately, we still don’t have an expert on Russia. In our office we would like to see more young and enthusiastic people, people who are open-minded and deal with new technologies. For now, we face with fundamental problems, such as the lack of experience, the absolute absence of statistic information.
At the moment, our job has become much more easier as we have good advisers and a lot of volunteers. We bring together Armenians from the Diaspora, and each of them works instead of fifteen people. When you entrust them to do only one thing, they do three times more: they think creatively. We need such people who will become our colleagues so that we pay them for their job. I would like to see one or two such people from Russia, who would become members of our team in the future.
A.G. — Yesterday, during one of the meetings, you also said that the Armenia - Diaspora conferences held earlier should be restarted, but in a different format, since the former one did not give any results. In his interview to the Zham Magazine, Mkhitar Hayrapetyan also expressed his dissatisfaction with the former format and promised that the new Ministry of Diaspora would hold pan-Armenian forums of journalists of a completely new level and a different format. However, on July 2-4, 2019 it was held under the auspices and direct participation of the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, moreover, it was held in Antilias, and not in Armenia. You didn’t take part in the forum… A number of independent media organizations that had unconditionally supported the revolution did not openly participate in the so-called Pan-Armenian Journalists Forum; some of them were not even formally invited, and the forum was called “The Disguised Assembly.” How would you comment on all this, why didn’t you take part in any of the formats, and do you think it is logical that the media forums were organized under the auspices of the church?
Z.S. — Frankly speaking, I didn’t even know about that. I think it was confidential before the start and, apparently, remained so even after. Even if I had known, I would definitely not go, but not intentionally: the reason is that my first visit I would like to make to Russia. I didn’t deliver a speech as nobody invited my and nobody sent a request to me. I just say it’s like that. At that time, the Ministry was engaged in the process, while now it is not. His Eminence Aram I is a very intelligent man, but I don’t know what he was thinking and why he organized such an event.
A.G. — After the victory of the Revolution it was announced that the “Hayastan All-Armenian Fund” will work in a different format and will become an important factor in strengthening Armenia-Diaspora relations. More than a year has passed, but we still do not see structural or programmatic changes in the fund: as in the past, and after the revolution, they promised the same miserable support of $ 10-11 million, of which some percentage was allotted. The same is expected in 2019. At the same time, other charitable funds were launched (“My Step”, etc.), in which the Diaspora also does not fully participate.
Will the structure you manage have any relations with the “Hayastan All-Armenian Fund”, and can the foundation, in your opinion, contribute to pro-Armenian thinking?
Z.S. — In fact, the “Hayastan All-Armenian Fund” is the only functioning pan-Armenian structure today. During the period when Armenia needed assistance, the foundation played a historical role. Naturally, before the revolution, the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund experienced a serious lack of trust, as did the entire state and the statehood. After the revolution, our task is to restore confidence in the fund. I consider this a matter of time, since confidence in the state is gradually being restored, and therefore, trust in the fund will also be restored. As a pan-Armenian body, the foundation is a truly important consolidating organization. I think that our compatriots, wherever they live, will provide support over time. I am not very familiar with the activities of the “My Step Foundation”, and the problem is that the Diaspora is not yet familiar with this fund: it is new and not yet very well presented, but this will change.
I’m not saying that the “Hayastan All-Armenian Fund” is an important factor, but it was an important part of the implementation of pan-Armenian programs linking Armenia and the Diaspora, and at the moment, if we want to restore the trust, the foundation needs to be supported.
A.G. — Over the past 20 years, numerous representatives of the business community of the Diaspora have been subjected to lawlessness in Armenia in various investment matters, found themselves involved in legal proceedings, and the courts have also issued unfair decisions.
Does your office intend to take on the protection of the rights of investors from the Diaspora in such cases? Can investors who are not familiar with Armenian law expect that your structure will protect their rights in the future?
Z.S. — This will be one of the most important functions of our office. It is easy to tell people to come and invest, but this must be done with responsibility. It is necessary to create such appropriate structures that people make investments and at the same time feel protected. In general, they should from the very beginning understand how everything will develop. I believe that it is necessary to create one or several bodies that can accompany foreign investors throughout the process: explain the Armenian legislation, mandatory administrative steps, tax system, rights and obligations. People need to invest, well aware of what they are doing and what they are getting into.
A.G. — Were you familiar with Nikol Pashinyan before the Revolution? Where did you get to know about protests?
Z.S. — Yes, I have been familiar with Nikol Pashinyan since the movement “Electric Yerevan”. I met him during those protests, when the deputies of the National Assembly lined up in a human shield between the Police and the protesters. It was that day that we met and have been friends since then. I have been aware of the protest movement since February 2017.
A.G. — How did you choose the head of your office? Did you know her previously or was she chosen from different candidates? And why her?
Z.S. — Together with the head of the office I studied at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). We were classmates: we studied together, but in different specialties. We have been in touch since University times, were friends both before and after moving to Armenia. I had a lot of candidates, but, fortunately, various rumors began to appear in the press about my appointment, and when she found out about this, she contacted me and said that she would definitely want to work in my team. So I made this decision and am very pleased with it.
A.G. — Why have you started your visit from the Russian Federation?
Z.S. — The largest Armenian community is located in the Russian Federation. However, this formulation, perhaps, is not true, since there is no formed community in Russia: there are numerous communities scattered over a vast geographical territory. The Armenian community of Moscow, consisting of 2.5 million people, is physically and psychologically very close to Armenia and has very strong ties with it. The community has great potential, but also has problems that have always been ignored by Armenia. That is why I wanted to get to know them, their problems, present our vision of relations with the Diaspora and offer cooperation between Armenia, in particular, the office of the Chief Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs and the Russian community. This time my visit was limited to Moscow solely because of the lack of time, but the idea was to start my visit precisely with the community of Armenians in Russia.
A.G. — These days I witnessed how the attitude of people towards you has radically changed. If earlier some spoke with caution, after the meeting they began to communicate closely. What was your first impression of seeing the Armenian reality of Moscow?
Z.S. — This may sound strange, but what I saw, whom I met, what conversations I had, their tone and character - everything was expected for me. Once again, I was convinced that the Armenians, regardless of the conditions and society they live in, the language they speak - they are all Armenians by their very nature. They are so similar, but at the same time so different from each other. I did not feel alienation at all. Naturally, I often talked to a large number of people, because I received more than 10 thousand votes during my election as mayor of Glendale. You might think that dealing with the Armenian community of the United States is a common thing for me, but yesterday I felt as comfortable here as at home. The atmosphere was completely Armenian.
A.G. — Which countries are you planning to visit the next?
Z.S. — On September 22, togehther with the Prime Minister, we will visit the United States, but before that I will visit Russia again, this time — not only Moscow. It is possible that at the end of August I will go to Cyprus in the framework of coordination of all Cyprus-Greece-Armenia problems. Now we are moving to this format, you probably followed, you know.
A.G. — Thank you for the interview and Good luck.
Zareh Sinanyan was born on December 4, 1973 in Yerevan.
His father, Nuran Sinanyan, was born in Constantinople; his mother, Ersile Sinanyan, was born in Yerevan.
He studied in Yerevan, at secondary school No. 172 and at the music school named after Sayat-Nowy. On May 10, 1988, the family moved to the United States and settled in Burbank (California - approx.). In one of his interviews about the reasons for the move, Zareh Sinanyan said the following: “My parents thought that it was impossible to live freely in the Soviet Union and that children could not have a good future there.”
He studied at high school after John Muir, in 1992 he graduated from high school in Burbank, and from 1992-1997 studied at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with a degree in History and Political Science. Then he continued his education at the University of Southern California (USC), which he graduated in 2000.
He was twice elected mayor of Glendale. Before becoming mayor, he worked in various law firms.
His wife, Lori Sinanyan, is an Armenian, born in the USA, where her parents moved from Bulgaria. The spouses have four children: a daughter and three sons.
Since 2019, by the decision of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia, he has been appointed the High Commissioner of Diaspora Affairs of Armenia
Interviewed by Anna Givargizyan
Moscow, July 19, 2019
Source: Zham Magazine
Translation from Armenian: Armat National Platforms