U.N. official: Armenia needs financial help

A United Nations official based in Armenia said Tuesday that the national economy needs help from its Diaspora as it emerges from a painful recession.

Dafina Gercheva, the U.N.’s resident coordinator in Armenia, is expected to deliver that message Thursday in a speech sponsored by the Armenian American Chamber of Commerce at the Glendale Hilton.

In an interview Tuesday, Gercheva and fellow U.N. official Armen Baibourtian said support from the 8 million Armenians living outside the country is critical to economic expansion and democratic reforms in Armenia.

“Most of the Diaspora are extremely prominent, well-off individuals who deeply care about their homeland,” Gercheva said. “What I’d like to see more is for people to help Armenia tap the knowledge, the experience and the know-how the Diaspora possesses.”

Gercheva said Armenia was experiencing annual economic growth of 12% before the global financial crisis struck in 2008. The nation’s gross domestic product tumbled, and key industries, such as gold and copper mining, slowed. Families began to send relatives abroad, and one-third of the country’s estimated 3.1 million people fell below the poverty line, she said.

Last year, Gercheva said, the Armenian economy began to rebound with a growth rate of roughly 2.5%. This year it is expected to grow by 4.6%.

“I’m pretty optimistic in terms of the medium- and long-term future,” she said.

Baibourtian — who in 1995 was named the first consul general for Armenia based in Los Angeles and later served as a deputy foreign minister for Armenia — emphasized that Armenians here have the experience to improve Armenia’s economic and political institutions.

“Glendale in particular is the heart of the Diaspora community, and is very much involved in business interests in Armenia,” he said. “The knowledge is very much needed in Armenia. The knowledge is much more valuable than the money itself.”

Armenians outside the country remitted more than $1 billion to Armenia in 2008, but that figure fell to $769 million in 2009 and was $824 million in 2010, according to the World Bank.

Gercheva said she asks that Armenians here and elsewhere — roughly 75% of Armenians outside the country live in Russia — coordinate their aid efforts. While many businesspeople may see opportunity in Armenia, she said, “My recommendation would be to listen to what fellow Armenians really need in terms of support.”

Armenian American Chamber board member Zaven Kazazian, who attended a meeting Tuesday with Gercheva, Baibourtian, chamber President Alissa Asmarian and other local business leaders, said people here are invested in Armenia in different ways.

Whether forging stronger business ties, sending money or contributing to charitable organizations, Kazazian said “we can open doors to invest and change some of the dialogue in Armenia.”

For more information on Thursday’s speech, visit www.armenianchamber.com.

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