Insights and answers from Ambassador Christian Ter Stepanian, Representative of the Republic of Armenia to the International Organization of La Francophonie
Interview by Zara Nazarian
Q. Armenia is the second country in the region of Central and Eastern Europe (after Romania in 2006) to host a Summit of La Francophonie, having only become a full member in 2012. Why was Armenia selected to host this year’s summit?
A. Several factors can account for the choice of Armenia to host the XVII Summit of La Francophonie in 2018. First, I would say that the Heads of State and Government of La Francophonie wanted to highlight the strength of Armenia’s commitment to the Francophonie, since we are a very young member of the organization. Armenia’s candidacy revealed all the merits of its contribution, dynamism and creative spirit in the service of La Francophonie, as well as its desire to make La Francophonie shine in a region where it has little presence.
Q. What is the significance of this year’s theme of “Living Together” in relation to Armenia?
A. Located at the crossroads of civilizations, Armenia is strongly committed to cultural exchange and the desire to promote tolerance, respect for human dignity and diversity—the same values promoted by Francophonie. For the Armenian people who survived the Genocide—massacres, deportation, exile—the notion of “living together” has special significance.
These values and principles are also fully in tune with the citizen-led democratic movement at the root of the political changes in Armenia; a peaceful movement, carried by the youth but shared with all the people of the country as part of a collective aspiration to “live together” in a free, just and united society.
The choice of this theme is also based on an assessment of the international environment, marked by a resurgence of intolerance and discrimination, and the worrisome proliferation of hate speech and extremism. Therefore, this theme will form the basis of the Yerevan Summit Declaration; it emphasizes this set of common values—peace, democracy, respect for the rule of law and human rights, equality between men and women—which are the foundation of living together in the Francophonie.
With this theme in mind, we proposed the development of a Francophonie reference document “A Francophone Pact for Living Together”, which will aim to underscore the Francophone vision of “Living Together” and the principles that underlie it. As we are very committed to the participation of youth in the work of our organizations, we wanted the Francophonie youth network to be involved in the development of this document, based on a broad consultation of Francophone youth. It is very important for us that this “Francophone Pact for Living Together” be adopted by the Heads of State and Government of La Francophonie at the Yerevan Summit.
Q. How will Armenia’s role within the Francophonie change as a result of hosting this year’s summit?
A. At the 17th Francophonie Summit, Armenia will take over the presidency of the Conference of Heads of State and Government of La Francophonie for a period of two years. During the two years of presidency, Armenia will take initiatives based on the priorities adopted during the Yerevan Summit. To this end, Armenia intends to work in close liaison with the International Organization of La Francophonie, to give visibility to La Francophonie at the international level and to strengthen, as part of its presidency, cooperation of la Francophonie with our regional and international partners on joint projects.
Q. What does La Francophonie represent for Armenia and vice versa?
A. La Francophonie represents, first of all, a vast area of cooperation and exchange. Armenia clearly has its place here and must invest in it to promote cooperation in the political, economic, cultural and commercial fields with member countries. Armenia has a number of strengths to assert in order to deepen these relationships, such as in the field of digital technology and new technologies.
La Francophonie also opens Armenia to the world, with opportunities for contacts with countries with whom relations can only be fortified, such as the French-speaking countries of Africa, which constitute a majority of the Francophonie’s member states and governments. The attraction of La Francophonie for many new observer states is also largely due to this opening that the organization provides to the African world. As far as we are concerned, important work has already been done to strengthen our ties with the African member countries. Since Armenia became a full member of La Francophonie in 2012, diplomatic relations have been established with almost all these countries and a number of agreements and memoranda have been signed. The perception of Armenia among African delegations has changed considerably. The organization in Yerevan of the Ministerial Conference in 2015 and the Summit of La Francophonie in 2018 certainly contributed to this.
The dynamism that we deploy in the service of La Francophonie and its values, the efforts we are taking to promote La Francophonie for greater visibility are recognized. This is obviously a long-term plan which will lead to a more sustained presence of Armenia in some of these countries.
Q. As part of the Summit, there will be other important events such as the Economic Forum and a number of cultural concerts and exhibits. What can we expect?
A. We wanted the economic dimension of La Francophonie to be fully taken into account during the Yerevan Summit and this is why we are holding the Economic Forum on October 10th. It will bring together about 300 representatives of the business community and employers’ organizations from the various countries of La Francophonie. The forum will place particular emphasis on digital and new technologies which is a particularly developed sector of the Armenian economy. A network of French-speaking digital ministers will be established in which Armenia intends to fully engage during the years of his presidency of the Summit.
We will also unveil the “Village of La Francophonie” where a public gala concert will take place on October 11th, featuring internationally recognized artists including Charles Aznavour, Angélique Kidjo and Garou, that will highlight the rich cultural diversity of La Francophonie.
Q. Since being designated to host the Summit, a revolution took place that changed Armenia considerably. Do these changes impact the Summit, and if so, how?
A. It is clear that Nikol Pachinyan, the prime minister of the Republic of Armenia, has made several declarations on this subject, and has made a very clear commitment to organize the Summit under the best conditions. An Intergovernmental Committee chaired by the Prime Minister meets regularly; all organizational arrangements are made at the senior governmental level to coordinate preparations for the Summit. It can build on the work completed by the National Organizing Committee at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, which operates in close cooperation with the Steering Committee of the International Organization of La Francophonie. Less than three months before the Summit, all energies are mobilized to ensure the success of this event.
Q. What will change for Armenia as a result of hosting this Summit?
A. By organizing this Summit, Armenia will be, for a few days, at the center of the international diplomatic world with increased global visibility. Its stature at the international level will certainly be enhanced. I have no doubt that there are positive effects of this event for the domestic economy, both economically and culturally while the French language and the francophone culture will certainly be bolstered.
We also hope that the success of this Summit marks for a long time the spirit of the delegations that will have participated. We will be keen to ensure that, at the end of the Yerevan Summit, the place and role of La Francophonie as a player in international relations is reaffirmed and that the decisions taken contribute to giving a new impetus to La Francophonie. By taking over the presidency of the Summit for the next two years, Armenia will work to achieve these goals.