The centuries-long history between the Armenians and the Dutch includes many remarkable chapters. In the fourth century, an Armenian missionary—later canonized as Saint Servatius—became one of the first bishops of the Low Countries and the patron saint of the Dutch city of Maastricht, still revered across the Netherlands to this day. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the bustling port of Amsterdam was an important hub for Armenian merchants who came to trade textiles, gems and diamonds, transforming the city into a major center of Armenian commercial and cultural life.
The most recent development in this history was the establishment of diplomatic relations between Armenia and the Netherlands twenty-five years ago and the founding of an Armenian embassy in the country six years ago. As the very first Armenian ambassador to the Netherlands, Dziunik Aghajanian lives and works in The Hague—the seat of the Dutch government—and is responsible for the development of political, economic and cultural ties between the two countries.
Ambassador Aghajanian is also responsible for a young, vibrant Dutch Armenian diaspora community of over 20,000, composed largely of immigrants from Turkey, Iran and the former Soviet republics as well as asylum-seekers from Iraq and Syria. “Our modern Armenian community in the Netherlands is barely 30 years old, but the diverse groups that form it have the same hopes and dreams as every other diaspora community. We have smart, hardworking, ambitious young people who are eager to make both the Netherlands and Armenia proud.”
Twenty-five years ago, as Armenia was emerging from decades of Soviet rule as an independent state, Aghajanian was one of these young people endowed with a drive to strengthen her country. Her graduation from Yerevan State University with a degree in English language and literature coincided with the devastating earthquake in Spitak in December 1988 and a flow of international aid workers into Armenia. Putting her degree to use, Aghajanian interpreted for these Americans and Europeans in Armenia, which gave her a taste for working in the foreign service and imbued her with a desire to serve her country. “The early 1990s were a tremendously exciting time to be in politics in Armenia. We had a new state and a new government that represented so much potential and possibility. My background in languages and interest in international relations made the foreign service a perfect fit for me, especially in a period of such promise.”
In 1993, Aghajanian was posted to the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia in Washington D.C., only a few months after the embassy was established. Seeing the day-to-day world of international diplomacy in action as an information and legal officer brought her to the realization that she needed an advanced degree to better understand the intricacies of world politics at both the theoretical and practical levels. She found this combination through a master’s program in international affairs at Columbia University in the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), for which she received an AGBU scholarship. “My proudest moment was graduating from Columbia—a seemingly farfetched, unimaginable dream for an Armenian growing up in Soviet times. The training I received in diplomacy and conflict resolution at SIPA allowed me to see exactly how policymaking works, how it is implemented and what the driving forces are behind it. These were essential lessons that I immediately drew on upon my return to Armenia in 1998.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Yerevan was where Aghajanian put her new knowledge to the test in various positions, including as the division head of the Policy Planning and Analysis Department (1999-2001), the ministry spokesperson (2001-2003) and the director of the International Organizations Department (2007-2010). By 2011, when the time came to appoint an Armenian ambassador to the Netherlands, Aghajanian’s expertise, language skills and years of experience in various dimensions of foreign policy made her the perfect choice.
Given that political relations between Armenia and the Netherlands are strong, Ambassador Aghajanian has focused her attention on expanding economic relations and turning the Netherlands into an economic partner and investor in Armenia, especially in the fields of agriculture, IT and infrastructure. “In the past six years, we have had many successful examples of Dutch cooperation in Armenia. For example, Dutch experts were drawn on to establish the Center for Agribusiness and Rural Development Foundation (CARD) in Yerevan, which carries out projects aimed at increasing knowledge and disseminating new technologies in the sphere of agriculture. There have also been plant and vegetable greenhouses established in Armenia with Dutch guidance as well as a pig farm and a leather factory. We are seeing a lot of interest recently because the economic landscape in Armenia is changing and its liberal economic laws, combined with its position as a hub connecting the European Union to the Eurasian Economic Union and Iran provide opportunities and sustainable ground for investment.”
In the Netherlands, the embassy is a helping hand in the lives of all Dutch Armenians and its ambassador is fully committed to strengthening the ties between the two peoples—both in the spotlight and behind the scenes: “The foreign service requires total devotion and hard work that is often not visible from the outside. I am honored to be able to represent my country, grateful to be learning all the time and proud to contribute to making the historic connection between Armenia and the Netherlands even stronger.”
Banner photo by Jeroen Bouman