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Address by the Hon. Minister at the First Meeting of the Italian-Armenian Commission on Economic Cooperation

Farnesina, 7 June 2017

(The authentic text is only the one actually spoken)

I am very happy to open the First Meeting of the Italian-Armenian Commission on Economic Cooperation.

I welcome the Minister of Foreign Affairs, my colleague Eduard Nalbandyan, his deputy Nazarian and Undersecretary Della Vedova.

I would like to address a warm greeting to the whole governmental delegation of Armenia that is with us today (the Deputy Minister of Agriculture Harutyunyan, the Deputy Minister of Transports, Telecommunications and IT Khachatryan, the Deputy Minister of Culture Samuelyan).

I wold also like to greet the many dear guests – both Armenian and Italian – who dedicate their daily work to favour our political and economic relations.

This year we are celebrating an important event: the 25th anniversary of our diplomatic relations which, albeit still young, rest on centuries of affinities and agreements.

Our people have been closely related ever since the time of ancient Rome: in 66 AD, for example, Nero invited the Armenian King Tiridates I to attend his crowning in the Forum.

The history of Medieval Italy witnessed a large presence of Armenians in the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna. The city was once defended by “Armenian militias” and their headquarters was called “Armenia”.

Also the region in which I live, Sicily, counted among its governors Alessio Mussele (Mushegh), from the Mantikonian dynasty, who arrived in Sicily in 832 AD.

Thanks to Armenians, trade flourished along the northern coasts of Africa to Sicily and also all along the coast of our peninsula. Some of the most important commercial colonies settled in Venice, Bari, Taranto and Livorno.

In Venice, on the Island of Saint Lazarus, thanks to the work of Abbot Mekitar, the Monastery of Saint Lazarus of Armenians was built in 1715. It became one of the most vibrant centres of Armenian history, culture and traditions in Italy. Armenian poets and writers came to know Italian authors. We can affirm that a large part of the Armenian intelligentsia was trained on Venetian school benches.  

There is another wonderful symbolic event that binds us: more than 150 years ago, Armenian poet Mikael Nalbandian, drawing inspiration from the Italian Risorgimento and Giuseppe Garibaldi, wrote a poem entitled “Song of an Italian Girl”, which later inspired the Armenian national anthem.

Of course, we must not forget to add to the list Saint Gregory the Illuminator, the Patron Saint of Armenia, whose relics are still conserved in the Church of Saint Gregory of Armenia in Naples.

These paths that were open in the past are now marked by the stories of the people of the diaspora who, in our Country as elsewhere in the world, have been able to integrate into the social, cultural and economic life of cities like Rome, Milan, Padua, Venice and Bari, which concentrate the largest Armenian communities.  

I am really very happy to open the First Meeting of the Italian-Armenian Commission for Economic Cooperation because it is the most tangible step that we could take together to push forward our economic relations, after the visit in Armenia of my predecessor, the now Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, in November of 2016.

On my part, I intend to give a concrete response to the very strong interest shown by our companies in the Armenian market, which is now testified by the more than 250 businessmen who want to attend the Country Presentation to know more about Armenia.

We have structured the working sessions for business people according to the interest that they manifested, putting a special focus on the sectors of infrastructure, energy, construction, services, tourism, agriculture and the agro-food industry.

But there will also be room for culture: a wonderful example of this is the establishment in Armenia of a Regional Restoration Centre thanks to the financial contribution of Italy’s Development Cooperation service.

Today, I would like to remind all of you of the very great effort made by the Armenian Government to reform and diversify an economy that is already very dynamic, with GDP growth rates consistently above 3%.

The Armenian market is of strategic interest for Italy, especially in consideration of its fast-growing middle classes, consumptions and its membership in the Eurasian Economic Union, which is the gateway to more than 170 million potential consumers.

The Armenian market is a bridge between Europe and Asia but also has the advantage of reaching out to markets in the Middle East. And in order to fully tap its potential, we must understand the interconnections that span out along the route that from Central Asia, leading to Anatolia and to the Mediterranean, passing through the Caspian Sea Basin and the Black Sea.  

I expect new opportunities and economic partnerships to arise from this event. All the conditions are here for a quantum leap, thanks to the visit here in Italy of such a highly qualified delegation.

Even if the day will focus on economic relations, I cannot help but make some considerations of a political nature, the first of which on the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Italy is a member of the OSCE Minsk Group and is a staunch supporter of the actions of its tripartite co-chairs aimed at achieving peace and stability. We believe in the benefits of peace and it is important that they be perceived by Armenians and Azeris alike. We believe that the narrative of confrontation should be replaced by that of dialogue, pragmatism and a constructive approach to security.

Italy’s commitment is destined to grow during our Chairmanship of the OSCE in 2018 although we are already actively participating in the so-called Troika Chairmanship. We hope in the full and genuine cooperation of all Member States, which confided in us when they appointed us to the chairmanship, to disseminate the founding values of the OSCE to spread peace and prosperity.

A profitable multilateral cooperation will also benefit our already excellent bilateral relations at political, economic and cultural level.

Before winding up, I would like to recall that this year we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, which laid the foundations for a united Europe, which in turn has assured peace, development, growth and security.

Thanks to the founding values of the EU, which also include democratic development and market economy, over the years we have built very intense relationships with Third Countries. It is my wish to continue building strong relationships between Yerevan and Brussels on the basis of these values.

In the light of our excellent bilateral relations, Italy aims to voice the interests and expectations of Armenia in its relations with the European Union.

Renewing my thanks to all of you, I now have the pleasure to pass the floor to my colleague, Minister Eduard Nalbandyan.