Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, meets with Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in May, 2018 in Yerevan.

The French Connection

In anticipation of the 2018 Francophonie Summit in Armenia, a reminder of the special ties that bind 


The special relationship between Armenia and France, forged by centuries-old connections, shared values and mutual respect and admiration for each other’s culture, has steadily grown closer and stronger over the past quarter century. From the very first days following the declaration of independence of the Republic of Armenia, France has always proven willing to extend a hand in a show of support, becoming the first European nation to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide in 2001, and helping mediate a resolution to the conflict in Artsakh. A cornerstone of the partnership has long been the successful Armenian community in France, the largest in Europe with more than half a million French-Armenian citizens whose ancestors more than a century ago were offered refuge in France. As the two nations continue to actively pursue increased political, economic, and cultural cooperation, Armenia and France are poised to celebrate the ties that bind them together in historic fashion during this year’s Francophonie Summit in Yerevan, October 11-16th. 

While Armenia may not be considered a traditional Francophone country, language is not the basis of its membership, says Armenia’s newly-appointed Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, “The language is the medium. The values are the foundation. We embrace those values of solidarity, diversity and democracy. Indeed, the upcoming summit will provide an unprecedented opportunity to bring Armenia closer to the whole Francophone family, including France.” 

Political Cooperation

It has become an annual tradition for the Presidents and Foreign Ministers of France and Armenia to visit each other, maintaining a high-level political dialogue, well-established cultural and educational ties and supporting each other on issues of mutual concern. It was no surprise then that this past May, the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, was the first foreign minister to visit Armenia after the formation of the new government. Together the foreign ministers visited the Memorial of Musa Ler, commemorating the famed resistance of Armenians during the Genocide and their salvation by the French, a historic manifestation of the Armenian-French friendship. 

Political discourse between the two nations is reinforced through the Parliaments of each country as well as on a municipal level. Within the National Assembly of France, French Parlia-mentarians formed the Armenia-France Friendship Group, facilitating close inter-parliamentary cooperation while enriching and expanding the agenda of bilateral interstate relations. There is also an extensive degree of decentralized cooperation, with approximately twenty French local governments involved in twinning schemes and cooperation projects with Armenia on a wide range of areas including tourism and healthcare. 

In terms of regional cooperation, France serves as a key partner for Armenia’s relations with Europe, and welcomed Armenia’s participation in the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with the European Union in 2017, which aims to step up the political dialogue between Armenia and the EU in regards to their shared commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. The partnership will create new opportunities for trade and investment and also facilitate cooperation on energy, transportation and the environment.

Culture and Education

In the heart of Yerevan lies France Square, marked by the statue of the renowned French sculptor Auguste Rodin, symbolizing the unbreakable cultural bond between the two countries. “France, for so many reasons, has been a source of inspiration for Armenia, a source of engagement, and a partner with whom we have been through quite alot in our history,” notes Mnatsakanyan. Since Independence, bilateral relations beyond the political sphere were established with an intergovernmental agreement on cultural, scientific and technical cooperation signed in 1995, with both governments agreeing to foster cultural ties between French and Armenian citizens. A decade later, France officially proclaimed 2006 the Year of Armenia. There have since been several joint projects in tourism, agriculture, education, culture, healthcare and other spheres within the frameworks of numerous mutual cooperation agreements signed between the cities and regions of Armenia and France. Most recently, the opening of the National Center of Armenian Memory in Paris and the establishment of a French Cultural Center in Yerevan as part of the Maison Charles Aznavour will both serve a bridge to promote cross-cultural awareness and further strengthen the connection between Armenian and French citizens.

France, for so many reasons, has been a source of inspiration for Armenia, a source of engagement, and a partner with whom we have been through quite a lot in our history.

In the field of education, the flagship of bilateral relations is the French University in Armenia (UFAR), which accepts more than 1,000 students each year who will go on to obtain a dual French and Armenian degree in law, business or management, in partnership with Lyon III University. “Both Armenia and France are proud of the French University of Armenia, one of the most successful examples of our close cooperation,” declared Mnatsakanyan, one of whose sons graduated from the distinguished university. “It is very important that the educational institution continues to expand and this year, it is planning to add new faculty.” 

Economy

Although the political relationship and cultural ties between the two countries are highly developed, economic relations fall short in comparison. While France is the second-largest foreign investor in Armenia, behind Russia, trade amounts to just €50 million a year, lagging far behind other countries in the Caucasus. The new government in Armenia and France have pledged to redress the situation and this past May signed an agreement to establish the French Development Agency (AFD) and the Investment and Promotion Company for Economic Cooperation (Proparco) in Armenia. Recognizing that French companies have made significant investments in the economy of Armenia, particularly in the agri-food and banking sectors, Armenia is aiming to expand the scope of French entrepreneurship in the country by creating highly favorable conditions for new French investors and raising awareness about Armenia’s strategic value as a platform for entering markets of Iran and the Eurasian Economic Union. In tandem with October’s Francophonie Summit, a Francophone Business Forum will be held to help increase progress within Armenian-French economic relations. 

With files from Zara Nazarian

Banner photo by Hayk Baghdasaryan/PHOTOLURE

Originally published in the 2018-08-01​ issue of AGBU Magazine. end character

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AGBU Magazine is of the most widely circulated English language Armenian magazines in the world, available in print and digital format. Each issue delivers insights and perspective on subjects and themes relating to the Armenian world, accompanied by original photography, exclusive high-profile interviews, fun facts and more.