By Linda Thomson From the Desert News
SALT LAKE CITY–Utah business magnate Jon Huntsman plans to provide an interest-free $10 million loan to the Armenian government to build homes in part of the country that was devastated by a 1988 earthquake.
Huntsman is host to Armenian President Robert Kocharian for two days as Kocharian tours the United States addressing civic groups–private individuals–US government officials and the United Nations.
At a Tuesday press conference–Huntsman’said he and Kocharian also discussed plans to build a concrete tile factory that would be finished in March 1999. This would complement an existing concrete plant Huntsman built there that produces concrete slabs. That factory has been instrumental in supplying materials to build as many as 8,000 homes per year.
Other business proposals also are under discussion.
"This is a great man of peace–a man of great love and great gentility," Huntsman’said of his visitor–who with his wife–Bella–an epidemiologist–and Vartan Oskanian–Armenia’s minister of foreign affairs–are staying with the Huntsman family in their Deer Valley home.
Kocharian–the second democratically elected president in Armenia’since the republic became independent from the former USSR in 1991–was equally complimentary. He particularly praised Huntsman’s long-standing generosity to the country.
During the past 10 years–the Huntsman family has given $18 million in food–clothing–eyeglasses–kerosene heaters–medical supplies and other assistance to Armenia. Family members have made 50 visits there.
"It is impossible to find a family in Armenia who doesn’t know Mr. Huntsman or the charitable work he has done for the people of Armenia," Kocharian said through an interpreter.
Although he is reported to have been studying English for only a short time–Kocharian often interrupted his interpreter–Nara Sarkissian–to apparently change or add commen’s–and when he spoke in English–he did so fluently.
Among other things–Kocharian said it is significant that Huntsman’s charity didn’t end after the initial earthquake-relief efforts but has continued for the past decade.
The country is rebuilding the infrastructure that the earthquake flattened–but Armenia has a "long way to go," Kocharian said–although Huntsman quickly added that the capital city of Yerevan looks "beautiful" compared to a decade ago.
Kocharian said the country first had to clean up after the earthquake–then Soviet leaders made sweeping promises about quick repairs–then the former Soviet Union collapsed–and all these things slowed the goal of rebuilding the country.
In addition–Armenia’still is undergoing the transition from its former Soviet-type "planned economy" to a free market economy–he said. Huntsman also added that Armenia is making greater strides than any of the other 14 former Soviet republics.
Questioned at one point about Mafia networks in Armenia–Kocharian said many people have old-fashioned ideas about the country that aren’t necessarily true.
"As to the world statistics–the crime rate is the lowest in the world. Armenia is the safest of places," he said.
Nearly all foreign capital investmen’s are protected by law. "Find one single person–a businessman–who has had problems investing in Armenia," he said.
Kocharian also said that Armenia is an independent country that ensures such individual freedoms as speech and religion. His Utah trip includes a meeting with the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–which has provided substantial humanitarian aid to that country.