By Atom Markarian
More than 900 businesspeople from Armenia and Armenian communities abroad gathered in Yerevan on Monday to explore ways of promoting the hitherto modest Diaspora investments into the country’s economy.
The three-day conference was opened by President Robert Kocharian and other high-ranking Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh officials that used the occasion to highlight potential investment opportunities.
“You can combine patriotism with successful business in Armenia,” Kocharian told the nearly 150 Diaspora entrepreneurs in a speech aimed at dispelling their concerns about serious problems with the rule of law in the country.
He complained that many wealthy Diaspora Armenians consider investments in Armenia a “heroic sacrifice” and demand privileged treatment from his administration. He said Armenian legislation creates a favorable environment for doing business.
The complaints struck a chord with some of the Diaspora participants. Haig Arslanian, a Belgian diamond manufacturer of Armenian descent, said corruption and other grave problems facing Armenia are often exaggerated by those Diaspora businesspeople who need an excuse for staying away from their historical homeland. “They say bad things about Armenia without knowing what’s going on here,” Arslanian, who runs one of the country’s largest diamond-processing factories, told RFE/RL.
In the words of U.S.-Armenian millionaire Vahakn Hovnanian, less than one percent of Diaspora entrepreneurs have ever been involved in Armenia. “The Diaspora capital is a huge iceberg, but what we see here is its small tip,” he said.
Organizers of the conference, the first of its kind, also arranged a special exhibition featuring the production of nearly 150 local and Diaspora-based companies in the hope that it will spur closer business contacts.