Armenia-India defense cooperation is going very well, we are working to expand it further. Indian Ambassador’s interview

Politics

YEREVAN, MAY 20, ARTSAKHPRESS. The defense cooperation between Armenia and India is proceeding very well. It is not only a defense technical cooperation; the two sides are also looking at capacity building.

In an interview with Armenpress, Nilakshi Saha Sinha, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of India to Armenia expressed such an opinion addressing the high-level relations between Armenia and India in recent years, the active defense and military cooperation between the two countries, as well as the security situation in the South Caucasus, the possible opening of infrastructure in the region, the permanent closeness of the Armenian and Indian peoples and other issues.

– Madam Ambassador, there has been significant activity in the relations between Armenia and India recently. Last year, Foreign Minister of Armenia Ararat Mirzoyan visited India. This was followed by a visit of the Secretary of the RA Security Council, Armen Grigoryan. How would you assess the political level of relations between Armenia and India and what important points would you highlight?

– First of all, Namaste and Barev dzez! Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to come and talk to you and talk about relations between India and Armenia. You are very right when you say that our political relations are very warm, and they have always been historically. But in the recent past, and I can say surely since the visit of our Foreign Minister in 2021, Dr. Jaishankar, since then, we can see renewed vigour․ There is a lot of dynamism in our political contacts. As you mentioned, we have had visits by Foreign Minister Mr. Mirzoyan in 2022, then in 2023. And if you look at 2023, practically every month, we have had visits between the two countries. Different ministers visited India. You mentioned the visit of your Secretary of the Security Council. The relations are on an upward trajectory. They are warm, and there are frequent contacts.

– Armenia is interested in developing defense ties and cooperation with India. We know that back in 2022, Armenian Defense Minister Suren Papikyan paid a working visit to India. Recently it was also reported by the Indian news agencies that India aims to create an air corridor to Armenia for exports of strategic importance. Tell us, please, what prospects do you see for cooperation in the military area?

– Yes, indeed, our defense cooperation is proceeding very well. Defense cooperation is not only defense technical cooperation, but also we are looking at capacity building. On both fronts, whether it is military technical cooperation or on training and capacity building, both those fronts are proceeding very well. You are absolutely right. In 2022, Defense Minister Mr. Papikyan visited India, and since then we have seen that a lot has happened in the field of defense. We are still working on this to enhance it further. As far as the air corridor is concerned, I think those reports were not correct. Indeed, we are looking at how to get the equipment here to Armenia. But as far as this air corridor is concerned, that was just, I think, some kind of misinformation. So, I would like to put the record straight. I think the prospects for our military cooperation are indeed very good and we are working to further strengthen it.

Armenia-India defense cooperation is going very well, we are working to expand it further. 
Indian Ambassador's interview

– In February, the Minister of National Defense of Greece, Nikos Dendias, was in Armenia. During a joint press conference with the Defense Minister of Armenia, Suren Papikyan, the Greece Minister spoke about the possibility of Armenia-Greece-France and India quadrilateral cooperation in defense area. How likely do you consider the cooperation in this kind of format, and what will thementioned countries gain from this?

– Well, you know, all the four countries that you have mentioned have very good relations, very warm ties, close ties, whether it is India-Armenia, India-France or India-Greece. We are now celebrating the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the strategic partnership between India and France. With Greece also, we have established a strategic partnership. I do find that all the four countries are like-minded, very close partners. At the moment, I think it is still a little premature to talk about the quadrilateral format. But yes, there are convergences. And I’m sure that in case this kind of cooperation happens, then all the countries will benefit. They will be able to cooperate what they are doing on the bilateral sphere which will then be extended to the four countries. At this juncture, I can only see a positive agenda if this happens.

– Recently, several Indian news agencies also reported that India is going to post Defense Attachés to African, Asian countries, including Armenia, in order to strengthen the military links with the mentioned countries. So, what could you tell about this?

– This government, the government of Prime Minister Modi, we have a very clear-cut policy and initiative of “Make in India”. So, we have “Make in India” in the defense sphere as well. We find that our defense industry, whether they are in the public sector or the private sector, they are indeed producing world-class defense equipment. And we are now seeing that many countries in the world are buying our defense equipment․ In fact, to make that process smooth and to be able to coordinate better, that is why Defense Attachés are being posted to the places that you mentioned. And yes, indeed, for Armenia as well, we will have a Defense Attaché.

– Yes, thank you. And any specific types of equipment or weapons?

– Well, you know, both the Ministries of Defense are in touch and they keep discussing and they are looking at various options.

– Madam Ambassador, since 2020 Azerbaijan continues to take destabilizing steps in the region of the South Caucasus. We all know that more than 100,000 of Armenians, ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh were forcibly displaced from their historical homeland due to ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Azerbaijan in September And besides, today Azerbaijan even refuses to withdraw its troops from the sovereign territory of Armenia. So, what do you think, how do these actions affect the peace agenda in the region of the South Caucasus?

– India has always been in favor of achieving long-term peace through dialogue and diplomacy. And we are encouraged to see the recent steps that have been taken by the two countries. Both Foreign Ministers, Foreign Minister Mirzoyan and Foreign Minister Bayramov have had a meeting in Almaty. So, I think the fact that both the countries are now speaking to each other across the table, they are taking forward the peace agenda. India always feels that through discussions only there can be long-term peace in the region. And that is what we would ardently wish for.

– Let’s talk about the economic relations and cooperation between Armenia and India. What was the volume of trade between the two countries last year – in 2023? And what trends are seen in the bilateral export and import markets?

– As far as our trade and economic cooperation is concerned, I think it is definitely much below the potential. If you look at the trade figures last year, it was below USD 200 million bilateral. So, the aim of our Embassy is to make sure that we can work towards getting business people from both the countries together. We organized three business forums last year. Already this year, we have organized a business forum where we did it in a hybrid format so that more business persons could join in from India and not necessarily travel. We would thus, have a greater outreach to business people. Our endeavor has been to increase bilateral trade. And there are certain areas where we see good potential. You know that India is known as the “Pharmacy of the World”. Our pharmaceutical products are world leaders. In fact, more than 60% of the vaccines worldwide come from India, including those supplied through the WHO and other mechanisms like GAVI. So, this is one area where I see more potential. Both sides are working towards increasing the import of Indian medicines and vaccines into Armenia. Also, both countries have a good high-tech sector. This is one area where I feel that given the strength of this particular sector, we can look at ramping up cooperation to the mutual benefit of both the countries.

– Last year, at an expert conference in Yerevan, you emphasized that India is ready to participate in infrastructure development programs in Armenia. Which are the fields of India’s interests?

– You know, in our discussions with the Armenian side, they have been telling us about infrastructure development, in particular about the North-South highway project. Given that Indian infrastructure companies have world-class expertise, as you know, in India we are undertaking major infrastructure development, whether it’s roads, railways, highways, waterways, airports, bridges etc. There is a very big thrust on infrastructure development. Our companies have gathered a lot of expertise and experience, not just in our country, which is very big and there are a lot of projects, but also worldwide. Across the world, Indian infrastructure companies are building bridges, roads, railways, ports, airports. In this connection, your Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure, Mr. Sanosyan, along with the Deputy Foreign Minister, visited India in October last year for the Global Indian Maritime Summit. At that time, they were able to meet many Indian infrastructure companies. Those discussions are ongoing and we hope that Indian infrastructure companies will be able to participate and contribute in the development of infrastructure in this country.

Armenia-India defense cooperation is going very well, we are working to expand it further. 
Indian Ambassador's interview

– Last year, the Government of the Republic of Armenia published the “Crossroads of Peace” project. There were opinions that “Crossroad of Peace” project matches with India’s vision in the South Caucasus. What is India’s opinion on this initiative?

– You know, when countries need to prosper, connectivity is the key. And connectivity is something that we, in our own region, have been working very closely with our neighboring countries. Connectivity projects linking India and India’s neighbors, this is something that we have developed in a very big way in the last decade or so. So similarly, we find that for any region, if you want to move to the next level of prosperity, you need to have connectivity projects. And naturally, we see this “Crossroads of Peace” project of the Armenian government in that light, that it would be a win-win situation for all the regional partners. So indeed for us there is no other way than having more connections between countries, whether it is in terms of roads, railways etc. We look at it positively and enthusiastically.

– India plays an important role in the development of Chabahar port, as we know. You mentioned that the prospects of facilitating the use of Chabahar port for Armenia are being considered as well. Which are those possibilities?

– You know that the Chabahar Port is jointly developed by India and Iran. In our discussions with the Armenian side, they have manifested an interest in using the Chabahar port. Your Minister of Territorial Administration visited the Chabahar port in December last year. We are waiting for the details from the Armenian side and definitely, we would consider it once we receive concrete proposals from them.

– What role can Armenia play in the development of communication route from India to Chabahar port and then to the Black Sea?

– Actually, this goes back to my comment about connectivity. Armenia being a landlocked country definitely needs more connectivity projects. If it materializes, I think it would help Armenia to overcome the fact that it is a landlocked country.

– Madam Ambassador, what do the two countries have to do to develop bilateral relations in the cultural and educational spheres? And what expectations could we have in this area?

– I am very happy to see over here in Armenia the extent to which the Armenian people know about Indian culture. And when I say know, it means in-depth knowledge. I am happy to share with you that I was at a book release. This was the re-print of a translation of our Sanskrit poet, Kalidas. He lived in the 4th/5th century AD. This was a re-print of the Armenian translation of his seminal work, “Abhigyan Shakuntalam”. I was quite pleasantly surprised to see the level of knowledge that Armenians had about Kalidas’ works. This is just an indication of the kind of interest that I see here for Hindi, Sanskrit, yoga, literature, dance, music, films etc. For us as an Embassy, we would like to promote that even further. We find that there is a thirst for more authentic Indian cultural dissemination. As far as education is concerned, we have here in Armenia around 3,000 medical students. India also actively promotes scholarships. We have 40 slots in our ITEC (Indian Technical & Economic Cooperation) program. And we offer these to not only civil servants, but also people from across sectors in Armenia. We advertise this very widely as we would like Armenians to avail of these courses because everything is paid for – airfare, stay in India etc. Plus, our diplomatic training institute also invites Armenian diplomats to take part in different kinds of courses. Last year, there was a specific tailor-made course that was organized for Armenian diplomats. We had 15 diplomats, not only from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but also from the Prime Minister’s office, President’s office, National Security Council. They were in India for 15 days, and everything was paid for. This helps getting the people-to-people contacts more solid. Those are the areas where we are looking to further strengthen and deepen cooperation.

– So, we spoke about the students, but also I would like to ask you about the tourists that come here and many of them come here to work in Armenia. How can this contribute to further strengthening and deepening the relations between the two nations?

– Well, actually, as I just mentioned, people who travel and work here are the living bridge between our two countries. We have already talked about our students. We have also noticed since last year, a large number of Indian workers who have come here and are working. It is our endeavor to see that they are working in the right conditions that their rights are respected and they are looked after. Their medical cover and all those other factors are taken care of. But definitely with more and more people traveling between the two countries, I can only see that these very warm relations that we already enjoy can only become warmer. It can only help in solidifying the relations between our countries.

– And the last question, Madam Ambassador, is there any planned high-level visit from India to Armenia in the near future?

– As you know, the biggest exercise in democracy in the world is taking place currently in India. We have our general elections which are going on. They started on the 19th of April and will conclude on the 1st of June. Elections are being held in seven phases. We have around 970 million eligible voters. It’s a big country, very diverse, very hot at this juncture. So, once the elections are over and the results are declared on the 4th of June, we will have a new government. It is our endeavor, the Government of India and the Government of Armenia, to look at high-level, VVIP visits. And we will work towards that once the new government is in place.

– Is there anything that you would like to add?

– I think I would just like to add that the Armenians are very warm as a people, very hospitable. And I think that is something that I find very similar with Indians because we are also very warm and very hospitable. It’s the same kind of culture that I find in both countries. And I think that has been very nice to discover.

Thank you very much and thank you for this opportunity. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

– Thank you so much! And I would like to thank Armenpress. I think you are doing a very good job. And as they say in French, Bonne continuation!

Interview by Davit Mamyan


ARTSAKHPRESS
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