By Atom Markarian
Armenia’s burgeoning diamond industry seems on course to meet its 50 percent growth target this year following large-scale supplies of uncut diamonds from Russia, Some 300,000 carats of the precious stone were delivered last month and have already been distributed to more than 40 big and small diamond-cutting companies operating in Armenia.
The deal was part of an agreement between the Armenian government and the Alrosa corporation which manages Russia’s vast diamond reserves. Signed in 1998, the agreement formally took effect only earlier this year when it was ratified by the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament.
The move paved the way for the resumption of Russian diamond imports suspended in the mid-1990s. The South African monopoly De Beers has since been the principal supplier of the Armenian companies. The biggest of them are owned by some of the world’s leading diamond dealers, including Israel’s Lev Leviev and Haik Arslanian of Belgium.
Exports of refined diamonds from Armenia reached $100 million last year and will reach $150 million this year, according to industry officials. A government program on the development of the sector, which already employs more than 2,000 people, envisages creation of a thousand new jobs in the next three years.
Sustained supplies from Alrosa will be essential for the sector’s further expansion. Some analysts note that the 1998 deal with the Armenian government got off the ground amid the growing influence of one of the company’s board members, Ara Abrahamian. The Moscow-based businessman is now one of the richest ethnic Armenians of Russia, heading and financing their largest community organization. His Union of Armenians in Russia founded last year increasingly acts as a lobbying group, sponsoring visits to Armenia by Russian officials, journalists and other dignitaries.
Abrahamian’s brother, Gagik, is the chief executive of the British-owned Diamond Company of Armenia.