Armenia Needs Both Charity and Investments, Not Only Investments!

Harut Sassounian
Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian


Throughout the years, since Armenia’s independence in 1991, I have had the unique opportunity of spending hundreds of hours with the country’s three previous Presidents, discussing privately with them Armenia’s many problems. I offered them my professional assessments and frequently my criticisms of the way they were running the country. Although the Presidents were not pleased that I was pointing out their shortcomings and mistakes, they understood that my intent was not to disparage them, but to help them improve the living conditions of the population.
Ever since the earthquake of 1988, I have been doing charitable work in Armenia and Artsakh, initially as President of the United Armenian Fund, subsequently the Armenia Artsakh Fund, and as Vice Chairman of Kirk Kerkorian’s Lincy Foundation, delivering over $800 million of humanitarian aid to Armenia and Artsakh by the UAF and AAF, and managing $242 million of infrastructure projects funded by Lincy. Despite all the corruption prevailing in Armenia during those years, I fought hard to protect the humanitarian supplies and funds, persistently bringing to the attention of the Presidents the abuses by high-rankling officials, and demanding that they be disciplined or fired.
During my 58 trips to Armenia and Artsakh, I saw firsthand the miserable conditions of most people in our homeland, deprived of money, food, medicines, clothing and other basic needs. Seeing the Presidents’ neglect of the people’s deprivations, I frequently and forcefully brought their dismal situation to the attention of the country’s leadership.
I was particularly upset when I heard government officials speaking about Armenia needing investments, not charity. I found such remarks to be callous of the people’s suffering. After each such pronouncement, I confronted these officials explaining the negative effect of their statements.
Consequently, I was surprised when Armenia’s new Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, a man of the people, during his remarks in New York on September 23, 2018, announced that in the context of Armenia-Diaspora relations, work must be encouraged, not charity: “Armenians can assist Armenia only with one option: carry out economic activity in Armenia, establish any business, and work. Today, Armenia’s understanding is the following: It is a country where it is possible to carry out economic activity, establish a business, earn profits, get rich and enrich. Our message to all of you is the following: get rich and enrich. We want Armenia to be known as such a country. Not charitable, but developmental projects must be implemented in Armenia….”
To be fair to the Prime Minister, in his speech, he also spoke about many other topics which I agree with whole-heartedly. He has tremendous support both in Armenia and around the world! He has practically eliminated corruption in Armenian society and has represented the voice of the people who had remained voiceless for more than a quarter of a century since independence. However, just as I have told the previous Presidents, I would like to provide the following explanations to the new Prime Minister:
1) I fully support the Prime Minister’s initiative that Armenia needs economic investments in order to create jobs and expand exports. By creating jobs, not only the people will have the income to pay for their daily expenses, but the government will also have the tax revenues to support the country’s and population’s multiple needs.
2)  However, the Prime Minister’s urging that “work must be encouraged, not charity,” would deprive hundreds of thousands of poor people of their basic necessities. Investments take time to trickle down to the people and produce results. In the meantime, if charitable efforts are discouraged, many poor people will not survive!
3) Not all Diaspora Armenians can invest in the Armenian Republic. There are dozens of charitable organizations which by law cannot get involved in economic activities, as they can only do charity. Since the earthquake and Armenia’s independence, Armenian and international charities have provided a large amount of aid to Armenia and Artsakh. If it were not for this humanitarian assistance, the standard of living would have been even lower, jeopardizing the survival of many Armenians. By discouraging charity, we are simply asking charitable organizations not to help the needy people of Armenia.
4) Armenian governments so far have been unable to meet the many needs of their population due to lack of money. Diaspora’s charitable organizations have provided the aid that the government could not. If there were no charitable assistance in Armenia ever since independence, the people’s many needs would not have been taken care of and Armenia would have been a poorer country!
5) Even if the Diaspora would start investing in Armenia today, that does not mean that the influx of new funds would take care of all the needs of the people overnight. Certainly, a large number of people would eventually be employed, but many others, such as the elderly, would still be left with hardly any income from their negligible pensions. Those who are unaware of the extent of appalling poverty in Armenia should read the Guardian newspaper’s Sept. 29, 2018 article by Nick Danziger, titled: “‘It’s better to die’: the struggle to survive poverty in Armenia.”
6) There is the mistaken notion that if there were many investments in Armenia, there would be no need for charity. In almost all countries, even in the most advanced ones, there are hundreds of charitable organizations that tend to the needs of the poor people. In the United States alone, billions of dollars are provided annually to needy individuals and families by charitable organizations. If the Americans require charity, Armenians would certainly need charitable assistance for a long time to come!
Paradoxically, Prime Minister Pashinyan’s wife, Anna Hakopyan, recently launched her own charitable organization “My Step Foundation” to support educational, healthcare, social and cultural projects. She is doing what’s absolutely necessary because the people of Armenia desperately need help!

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  1. Zartir Lao said:

    The diaspora already invested in Armenia and lost their tails for the past 30 years. The recourse for that is what? And what is the proof that anything will be different now?? From where I’m standing, the crooks are roaming free, and their children are waiting for the next facebook post from Pashinyan so they can go protest about something they most likely have no clue about. (Hey but it’s fun!). Armenians in their pathetic state is due to the lack of thought, not just in Armenia, but diaspora too. For one thing, Armenia’s sworn enemy is pumping oil to get rich, and at the same time acting aggressively instead of the opposite. The idiotic Armenian government can’t even see this under their own noses. How in hell does a “government” allow an enemy to pump itself with cash for 30 years while itself starves and and sees 2 million people emigrate as a result of blockade and lack of border with it’s “ally” Russia?? This is a country? No it is not, Armenia is not a country. Armenia is run by a bunch of yes-men of Russia who are there to make sure Armenia doesn’t become an independent country but remains an outpost of Russia’s military base. April 2016 proved that beyond any doubt.

    • Raffi said:

      …..”Armenia is run by a bunch of yes-men of Russia” ….. ”Otherwise will be a bunch of yes-men of US” (not much better)

      • Zartir Lao said:

        That’s true Raffi, but on the plus side, the USA isn’t broke, unlike Russia. At least the US would pay Armenia for having a base, unlike Russia which makes Armenia pay for Russia to have a base, based on the threat that Russia itself created after WWI when they armed the Turks against Armenians and gave them large plots of Armenian lands, whose damage and effects can be felt until today…

  2. Raffi said:

    It’s a moral obligation that each Armenian send monthly recurring donation.

  3. Arthur Avetisian said:

    Charity, by definition, is not a sustainable model for growing an economy. We all can see an example of Africa, where unbelievable amounts of money being pumped every year, yet we see very slow development of the region.
    While charity organizations play an important role in modern society, those organizations cannot match, in their effectiveness on the economy, the entrepreneurial and institutional investments.

  4. Արմենակ Եղիայեան said:

    Փաշինեանի նպատակը բարեգործութիւնը ջնջել չէ, այլ պարզապէս շեշտել ներդրումներու տրուած նախապատւութիւնը: Եւ ճիշդ այս ըմթռնումով է, որ իր կինը գլուխ անցած է բարեսիրական նախաձեռնութիւններու:
    Եւ բոլորին համար յստակ է, յատկապէս Փաշինեանին, որ այս երկուքը կը լրացնեն զիրար:

  5. Aravod said:

    I agree, the disabled (physical and mental), elderly, young and wounded soldiers and their families, likewise the working poor, need ongoing help for shelter, food and medical care, that business investments cannot or don’t address directly (not immediately or even ever), particularly for 1/3 of the population living in villages far from Yerevan or Gyumri. Armenia’s new gov’t doesn’t have enough monies to address the social welfare issues in the country at this point. Yes to helping those in need for their survival and well-being, yes to investment for economic development for all those who are able-bodied to work.

  6. Ari said:

    As long as the Soviet Era politicians are around and corrupt businessmen with connections have power, charity donations will not reach the people. Best would be to sponsor a family or a student or a single mother or an elderly, etc. directly. It would be great for an organization to make direct sponsorship a possibility and keep the third parties out.

  7. hye said:

    Of course both(charity and investments) are needed, but for some reason Armenia’s government since 1991 is talking about encouraging diaspora to invest in economy but hasn’t created the real system. How many Publicly Traded Companies are there in Armenia.
    In regards to #3 above, anyone could invest in Armenian economy if there were publicly traded companies. Publicly traded companies should create healthy competition and should make people rich the honest way. Armenia could also sell treasuries and bonds on government website like United States does available to public to buy, thereby reducing interest rate costs for government.