by Suren Deheryan
Armen Kazarian, 53, has been president of the Moscow branch of Anelik Bank for 10 years and is the founder of the Anelik money transfer system. Yet he doesn’t consider himself a banker.
Armen Kazarian has also released 11 musical CD's. Yet he does not consider himself a professional singer.
He is, then, “The Singer Banker”.
“I don’t look like a banker,” says Kazarian. Maybe he looks like “K-Armen”, the stage name by which he has released 1.2 million CD copies over the past three years—as many as successful Russian pop stars.
But don’t go looking for K-Armen in your record shop (except in Armenia). K-Armen’s CD's are free. He gives them away to promote his singing hobby and includes the Anelik logo to promote the bank.
The Singing Banker was in fact named Best Manager of the Year in Russia in 2004 in the category of “Confidence and Reliability” as part of a countrywide competition organized by the Association of Russian Banks.
The banker is proud of his banking achievements, but confesses that another title awarded to him by his friend, Armenian producer Valeri Saharian, is no less dear. It is a table on which is written in Russian “Singing Banker”.
“I cannot call myself a banker, as I seldom wear a suit and a tie, and I never wear a white shirt at all,” Kazarian says. “Perhaps some will not consider me an intelligent person; some will consider me an uneducated person. But it is impossible not to reckon with me. I have achieved a lot in banking in Russia.”
Kazarian is a native of Leninakan (now Gyumri), Armenia. In the 1970s he lived in Yerevan, where he was educated to be an engineer. He moved to Moscow in 1990 from Yerevan.
“I have always liked diversity and had different specialties in my life. Before moving to Moscow I worked as an engineer, teacher and even a moderately successful photographer,” he says.
Then, the tumultuous ‘90s created new business opportunities. Kazarian delved into buying and selling real estate on the newly established trading exchange, which prepared him as well as anyone in those days for a career in capitalist banking.
Close to mid-life, Kazarian began to get interested in banking and he again decided to sit at a student’s desk, receiving two more degrees—in law and in economics.
In 1996 he was offered the management of Anelik. The Yerevan-based corporate bank—100 percent Armenian owned—opened the Moscow branch in 1990.
“I was attracted by the offer, since it was the only Armenian bank in Moscow. Perhaps I have found what is most dear to me,” says Kazarian.
The bank’s popularity among Armenians rose sharply beginning in 1997 due to the money transfer system of Anelik.
“For Anelik’s prestige in Moscow to grow, I decided to set up a money transfer system through which Moscow’s Armenians could send money to their families and relatives living in Armenia,” says Kazarian. “And it was due to that system that Anelik’s popularity started to soar in 1997, and two years later there was no one who didn’t know about Anelik’s money transfer system.”
According to Kazarian, in the mid-‘90s people did not yet trust banks. “But our system found a positive response, because customers’ relatives in Armenia began to receive financial assistance through Anelik,” the banker says.
Kazarian says people began to trust the system, believing that their money would not be lost on the way.
According to bank data, about a billion dollars was transferred through the Anelik system in 2005 alone. Armenia was the fourth-leading user of the system, transferring some $90 million last year. (Kazarian refused to say which countries are the top three.)
The Anelik system is available in the United States, Latin America, and Africa. Kazarian, however, says that active money remittances are carried out mainly between CIS countries.
And when Anelik’s popularity reached new heights, the banker took a breath and… “I remembered in 2002 that once I was a good singer,” Kazarian says, smiling.
“I think that a person should leave to his children not only material wealth, but also some spiritual thing. And I chose the Armenian songs that I wanted to sing and issued one CD,” Kazarian says.
When the CD was ready, Kazarian liked it so much that he employed his flair of a skillful manager to his hobby.
“I decided not only to give them as gifts to my children, but release them in a greater number of copies for advertising purposes. Here you are, take them and enjoy,” Kazarian says, gladly handing out bundles, and adds: “I sing beautiful Armenian songs, here is the advertisement of the Anelik system, whose manager is me . . .”
Ten CD’s have been released so far. All of them explicitly state that they are not for sale or other commercial purposes. (In marketplaces in Yerevan, though, one can still find unscrupulous vendors selling K-Armen’s CD's.)
He says that he has recorded about 90 well-known Armenian songs. “The repertoire is very large. I sang all the songs that can cross an Armenian’s mind. I chose and performed them myself.”
In two of the 11 CD's the songs are written by K-Armen—in Russian, and in another two is music with his instrumentation.
“I had my first CD recorded in Yerevan, and the rest in Moscow. Because of my work, I find it difficult to be in Armenia often,” he says.
His CD's are given away in Anelik branches.
“I am engaged in the dissemination of Armenian music today. People take these CD's, give them to their relatives and friends and this way these songs are spread across the world. At least in the countries where there are Armenian communities, there are also my CD's,” says K-Armen.
K-Armen is now working on a DVD, “My Yerevan”, where through his performance of well-known songs about Yerevan he will simply present the sights, streets and residents of the Armenian capital.
“This DVD will be interesting for Armenians living outside Armenia as it creates a nostalgic mood. They will see Yerevan’s routine life and recognizable places where among passersby perhaps they will find familiar faces,” he says.
Many in Moscow associate the name Anelik also with Armenian concerts. Anelik has assumed the duties of the main sponsor of Armenian concerts organized in Moscow by the “Armenia” production center.
Kazarian and producer Saharian are trying to make quality Armenian music as available in Moscow as possible. There is a small kiosk in the foyer of Anelik Bank in Moscow where Armenian and Georgian music of any style is on sale.
“We want to understand what level of music is in demand in Moscow. If we compare it with a few years ago, the selection of CD's among the Armenian population has changed today,” Kazarian says.
In his turn, producer Saharian adds that they are trying to do everything in Moscow for the creative quality of Armenian singers to grow as well. “When we invite singers from Armenia, we try not to bargain over their fee in order to encourage them to perform at their best,” Saharian says.
When the matter concerns the role of Armenians in Moscow, Kazarian gives assurances that it is extensive and there is hardly a sphere in Moscow in which one cannot find an ethnic Armenian.
Kazarian speaks positively about Armenia. “It is desirable that the problem of dual citizenship be solved and the railway link is reopened for the ties of the Diaspora with Armenia to increase,” he says.
“When you want to own a house in Armenia, it turns out that they do not sell land to you because you are a foreigner. If it is allowed to have property in the homeland, and if the railway is reopened, then I am sure many Armenians, especially Russian-Armenians will relocate to Armenia with their businesses and the country’s population will increase in number sharply, and Armenia will prosper.”
Kazarian has three children, a 28-year-old son, 27-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son. David, 9, last year illustrated K-Armen’s “Legends of Armenia” CD. The Singing Banker is also a proud granddad of two and is insistent that his large family maintain their Armenian language and culture in their Moscow home.