Tigran Balayan, the Ambassador of Armenia to the Netherlands and Luxembourg; Credit: Jazmin Campbell

On Tuesday 8 June 2021, Chronicle.lu got the opportunity to interview Tigran Balayan, the Ambassador of Armenia to the Netherlands, who is also accredited to Luxembourg.

The Armenian Ambassador, who is normally based in The Hague, travelled to the Grand Duchy on 7 and 8 June as part of his monthly meetings with government officials and representatives of business and the private sector. 

A career diplomat and trained historian, Tigran Balayan has served as Ambassador of Armenia to the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Armenia to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) since October 2018. He has also served as non-resident Ambassador to Luxembourg since December 2020.

During his interview with Chronicle.lu, the Armenian Ambassador discussed the current state of bilateral relations between Armenia and Luxembourg, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and regional developments in the South Caucasus in the aftermath of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war.

Bilateral Relations

Ambassador Tigran Balayan explained that his Luxembourg story began back in 2004 when he was posted to the Armenian Embassy in Belgium (Brussels). During this time, he established connections in the Benelux countries, including with Luxembourgish politician Frank Engel, who has served as Armenia's Honorary Consul in Luxembourg since 2006. 

The Armenian Ambassador particularly praised the Grand Duchy's "interest in exploring new ways of cooperation", its openness to discuss every idea brought to the table. He also commended Luxembourg's Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Jean Asselborn, for his "open" and "clear" stance on human rights issues and press freedom.

He noted that initial discussions were planned in the coming weeks on potential cooperation in areas of joint interest, such as ICT and innovative agriculture. He added that Armenia was particularly interested in attracting Luxembourg expertise in financial tools and financial legislation. In addition, he hoped that Luxembourg banks would follow the example of the Netherlands, where the Dutch Development Bank has developed an interest in Armenia, particularly with regard to women empowerment and innovation.

Regarding the Armenian population in Luxembourg, the ambassador noted that there were only a couple of Armenian families living in the Grand Duchy around fifteen years ago; now there are about 100 families. He emphasised that Armenians living abroad tend to be "exemplarily integrated" in general. In Luxembourg, highly qualified Armenians can be found in domains ranging from ICT and consulting to business management and investment.

In addition, local organisations such as the Association Luxembourg Armenie have turned their focus to bilateral projects, for instance in the fields of culture or student exchanges. The Armenian Embassy is also working closely with municipalities, notably Esch-sur-Alzette and Pétange, and there are several joint projects in the works. The ambassador was hopeful that these would yield results towards the end of this year. Similarly, the Embassy is cooperating with the University of Luxembourg in the field of research, among others. There are also various cultural events and exhibitions in the pipeline, for instance a reception or concert (pandemic permitting) in the context of Armenia's Independence Day, on 21 September, and in the framework of Esch2022 - European Capital of Culture, where there may be a performance by an Armenian rock band. 

Next year, the two countries will celebrate 30 years of diplomatic relations.

Nagorno-Karabakh War

The Armenian Ambassador described relations with Azerbaijan as non-existent. Whilst he praised the openness of certain European Union (EU) countries, including Luxembourg, on human rights issues, he lamented that Azerbaijan was still not facing punishment for war crimes. He advocated the use of individual santions, such as those envisaged in motions proposed by the Netherlands, and rejected the EU's attitude of "acting like business as usual". The ambassador confirmed that Armenia was working "consistently and decisively" on this position of individual sanctions against Azerbaijan's leadership, sanctions which are also aimed at "giving hope [...] to Azerbaijan's people who are so oppressed".

COVID-19 Pandemic

The Armenian Ambassador noted that the health situation is improving in Armenia, where everyone physically present in the country (regardless of nationality or residency) is eligible for free vaccination against COVID-19. The country currently uses three vaccines: Sputnik V, AstraZeneca and Sinovac. He noted that "collective immunity" appeared to be working, with the daily infection rate now standing at around 1.4% - compared to 60% during the second wave, which hit during the Nagorno-Karabakh War.

Since December 2020, Ambassador Tigran Balayan has been travelling to Luxembourg monthly for meetings on various issues. On Monday, he met with Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the Archbishop of Luxembourg.