Armenia: Navigating the Black Sea

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and BSEC secretary general Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos pose for photographers prior to a BSEC meeting in Istanbul, on November 24.

On November 1, the Republic of Armenia assumed the chairmanship of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization. The six month rotating chairmanship, set to end in April 2009, will see Armenia focusing on several issues, primarily dealing with energy cooperation between the BSEC member countries.

In that capacity, the Armenian Chairmanship will draft a BSEC-EU Policy on energy cooperation in the Black Sea region and development of legal mechanisms to facilitate purpose-oriented activities to that end. Also on the agenda is a thorough reworking of the bureaucratic and practical difficulties met in the projects undertaken by the BSEC.

As the BSEC Chairman-in-Office Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian will work to promote interaction between the regional organization and international bodies such as the United Nations regional offices for economic development, the World Health Organization, the European Union, etc.

Nalbandian has committed to improving the efficiency and credibility of the BSEC by raising the effectiveness of its decision-making mechanisms to ensure the successful and rapid implementation of its Action Plans. He has also set out to strengthen communication between member-states, one of which is Turkey.

Asbarez’s Thora Giallouri interviewed the Secretary General of the BSEC, Ambassador Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos, to discuss the BSEC, the Armenian Chairmanship, and the challenges facing the Black Sea region.

Amb. Chrysanthopoulos was the first Greek ambassador to post-soviet Armenia, serving from 1993-1994–the final year of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Armenian Diaspora first got to know more about the Ambassador with the publication the English and Armenian translations of his book “The Caucasus Chronicles,” which was a vivid and exciting account of his experiences in Armenia and Karabakh. In the book, Amb. Chrysanthopoulos discussed the challenges he faced and painted an eloquent picture of the social and political condition in the newly independent Republic of Armenia. In 2006, Amb. Chrysanthopoulos assumed the position of General Secretary of BSEC and moved from Athens, Greece to Istanbul where he resides and works ever since.

Thora Giallouri: How do you envision Armenia’s future within the BSEC framework? What initiatives has the Armenian state taken so far?

Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos: Armenia is very experienced in chairing BSEC since this is the third Armenian Chairmanship of the Organization. The priority Agenda of the Armenian Chairmanship in Office includes enhancement of cooperation in the energy sector, development of transport cooperation in the region, cooperation on environmental issues, improving the efficiency and credibility of BSEC as well as enhancing relations with the EU and the UN. Meetings at Ministerial level are anticipated for Energy, Transport, Agriculture and Environment. The Armenian Chairmanship will end with the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs that will be held in Yerevan on April 29. Until today (Nov.21) Armenia organized a meeting between BSEC senior officials and the EU on Nov.12 in Brussels as well as six meetings of BSEC working groups. The working group on banking and finance met extraordinarily on November 18, upon instructions of the BSEC Council of Ministers to assess the impacts of the global financial crisis in the BSEC area. On November 24, the Chairman in Office, the Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian will visit us at BSEC headquarters in Istanbul to present the priorities of the BSEC Chairmanship to representatives of the BSEC member-states and observers. The event is going to be widely covered by the Turkish media and he will also hold bilateral discussions with his Turkish counterpart Ali Babacan. We are proud that BSEC can facilitate such discussions that are beneficial for the maintenance of peace and stability in the area.

T.G.: What do you want to accomplish through a BSEC-EU partnership? How will this affect the Black Sea states? How will it affect Armenia in particular?

L.C.: As far as BSEC-EU relations are concerned, we are currently in the phase of implementing the Black Sea Synergy that was officially launched in Kiev on February 14, 2008, when a meeting was held for the first time between the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the EU member states with their counterparts of the BSEC member states. Prior to that meeting an informal meeting of the BSEC Council of Ministers was held with the participation of the EU troika. A joint communication was adopted that outlined our future cooperation. We are currently working with the EU to establish partnerships in the areas of transport and environment. A transport partnership would facilitate the completion of the Black Sea Ring Highway and the Motorways of the Sea in the BSEC area. The first is a 7100klm highway that will go around the Black Sea, facilitate transport of goods and will also link the European road network to that of Asia. The second project anticipates to upgrade the port facilities of the Black Sea Ports and establish ro-ro ferries and scheduled passenger shipping. The Highway will also facilitate Armenia to transport its goods by truck to European or Asian markets.

T.G.: Talk about your experience so far as the General Secretary of BSEC.

L.C.: It is a very challenging work that finds me most of the time on an airplane in order to coordinate activities and promote BSEC internationally. My basic aim was and is to have the BSEC projects reach the BSEC people and make a positive difference in their everyday life. The Black Sea Ring Highway provides such an opportunity. BSEC has also adopted recently a project oriented policy.

T.G.: You mentioned specific projects and the Black Sea Ring Highway, to which Armenia is a partner. Such a transport corridor requires support structures in the areas through which it will pass. From this perspective, does the Black Sea Ring Highway promote the development of communities along its route?

L.C.: The Black Sea Ring Highway is basically going to upgrade existing road infrastructures. We do not yet know how many kilometers of new road construction will be necessary. The further development of communities will take place as a result of the highway, indirectly.

T.G.: What are your thoughts on Armenia’s progress since the time you were there? In what terms is it satisfying and what has there been lack of?

L.C.: Recent visits to Armenia have shown me the enormous progress and development of Yerevan which is now a wonderful, prosperous and almost European city. But Yerevan is not Armenia. The situation in the countryside is still very similar to how I had left it in 1994.So much has to be done there.

T.G.: In your perspective, which do you think are the most serious “threats” for Armenia today?

L.C.: The most serious threat that Armenia faces today is the global financial crisis and its possible destabilizing effects in the region. The global financial crisis will affect Armenia through Russia, since the economy of Armenia is based on that of Russia. If Russia is heavily affected by the crisis the same might happen to Armenia, but to a lesser extent.

T.G.: As General Secretary of the BSEC, how would you describe your cooperation with Armenian delegates today?

L.C.: My cooperation with the Armenian authorities is excellent and I have developed a wonderful working relationship with Minister Nalbandian.

T.G.: With all that is happening in the Caucasus today (in terms of regional conflicts, struggle for influence from the outside, the global economic momentum, etc.) what do you think the future holds for the Caucasus states? What is it that you are most afraid of and what is it that makes you hopeful? What do you consider will affect the Caucasus states relations the most?

L.C.: The Caucasus throughout its history has always been turbulent with the exception of the period of the Soviet Union. What is important for the Caucasus states is their economic development. Once that is achieved, then stability can prevail through prosperity. This is what BSEC is trying to do. It is also important for them to try to resist outside influences and become masters of their own destiny. The negative effects of the global financial crisis are my greatest concern while I am hoping for a post crisis economic development of the region that will stabilize the area.

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About the BSEC

On June 25 1992, the Heads of State and Government of eleven countries: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine signed in Istanbul the Summit Declaration and the Bosporus Statement giving birth to the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC).

It came into existence as a unique and promising model for a multilateral political and economic initiative aimed at fostering interaction and harmony among the Member States, as well as to ensure peace, stability and prosperity, and encourage friendly and good-neighborly relations in the Black Sea Region.

The BSEC Headquarters – the Permanent International Secretariat of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC PERMIS) – was established in March 1994 in Istanbul. With the entry into force of its Charter on 1 May 1999, BSEC acquired international legal identity and was transformed into a full-fledged regional economic organization: Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. With the accession of Serbia and Montenegro in April 2004, the Organization’s Member States increased to twelve.

About the BSEC Region

– BSEC covers a geography encompassing the territories of the Black Sea littoral States, the Balkans and the Caucasus with an area of nearly 20 million square kilometers. The BSEC region is located on two continents;

– BSEC represents a region of some 350 million people with a foreign trade capacity of over USD 300 billion annually;

– After the Persian Gulf region, it is the second-largest source of oil and natural gas along with its rich proven reserves of minerals and metals;

– It is becoming Europe’s major transport and energy transfer corridor.
From the BSEC website: www.bsec-organization.org

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