Ruben Vardanyan. The past, present, and future. Armenia 2020.Ruben Vardanyan
Hayk Hovakimyan: Good day, dear subscribers! Exactly a year ago, we started collecting donations in Patreon. Now we're at a figure of approximately two thousand dollars. I want to thank all those who make the work of our team possible. We promised to launch the format with an interview and our first guest is Ruben Vardanyan, billionaire, philanthropist, businessman, social entrepreneur, a person engaged in educational, investment, cultural and investment projects in Armenia. Good afternoon, Ruben!
Ruben Vardanyan: Good evening, Hayk!
Hayk: Let's get straight to the questions. In 2001, you, together with Noubar Afeyan and a number of other people interested in Armenian processes, united around the "Armenia-2020" initiative. In 2003, research papers were published which gave ongoing assessments and forecasts across a wide range of areas, including public-private cooperation, education, the diaspora, oligarchs, corruption and so on. Four possible scenarios for Armenia's development up to 2020 were considered: the Syrian scenario, the Singapore scenario, integration with Russia and European integration. It's already 2020, we've reached the time. After 19 years, where are we at the moment? Is it possible to identify two or three fundamental elements that the Armenian people lacked in order to avoid the threats that are obviously overhanging us?
Ruben: Well, first of all, before I start answering your question, Ike, I wanted to say that I'm very pleased to be your first guest in this format, I understand that all this is not easy, it's a live broadcast, we have an online interview, but I thought it was right to talk to you today, because you are one of the few people who, especially over the past few months, have spoken very honestly, openly and, most importantly, positively. Through all the difficulties of those moments that we were going through, you always maintained a positive agenda, that, despite all the difficulties and challenges that the entire Armenian people face, we can move forward and should look forward, not back.
And in this sense, it's the same as our project, that, guys, let's look at our future and not look backwards all the time. Today is an amazing day. Unfortunately, it's very tragic for the Armenian people – today is the 32nd anniversary of the Spitak earthquake. I served for two years in Leninakan I finished my service in May 1988 and left one city and returned to a completely different one. I've seen how things can change overnight. When we met with our friends and partners and discussed the future of Armenia, we realized that we couldn't predict what would happen unambiguously. We understood that by identifying the main trends, the main challenges and the main tasks we were facing and, most importantly, by choosing a certain path, we would be able to at least find, in uncertain times, some key reference points that would allow us to move forward.
I have to say that I am very grateful to this project, because thanks to this project I met a huge number of people. We have a fantastic group of people, with completely different outlooks. It was vital that in this scenario exercise there were people from very different diaspora circles, with very different views on the future of Armenia. And there were some shared views on the future of Armenia and not just 4 scenarios, there were others, We selected 4 key ones, but in fact, there were more of them.
What did we fail in and what did we succeed in? I would say that, firstly, we managed to achieve a very high-quality standard of work. Looking 17 years back, you can see a lot of today's problems were identified back then. A lot of challenges were identified, a lot of predictions and some forecasts were correct, some were wrong. But most importantly, we saw that this mechanism worked.
What we failed to do – this was in 2004, and in 2005 we tried to explain the importance of this work...to the authorities, to the opposition. We presented it to all the opposition parties, we said: this is what we've done, we spent more than $200 million on this research, and it's high quality. Global organisations such as McKinsey, Michael Porter, Armenian, American universities and researchers were involved. It was very diverse research. You are free to use it as the basis for your policies, and key points of reference for your activities. But we were ignored. We thought that we would be criticized, that we would be shouted at, you forgot this, you forgot that, but we didn't expect to be simply ignored.
And the project, unfortunately, didn't lead to any discussions. These were supposed to be very important discussions, what kind of Armenia we want to see, what kind of future we will see in 17 years and how we see our role in it. Including not only those people who were in power at that time, but we also talked to the youth. We went to Vanadzor and Gyumri and to Dilijan and Yerevan to speak to students. Guys, this is your future, if you believe in one scenario, you have to join the military, if you believe in another scenario, you have to learn some languages. It's not just that you like or dislike a scenario, it's also an opportunity for you to make some decisions.
So we did a really fantastic job. We proved that Armenians can work together, that we did not quarrel, being very different people, national-conservatives, liberals, from people who thought that Armenia's future is only with Russia, to people who thought that Armenia has a future only without Russia.
But we continued this dialogue. It was a collective effort, which has become a good basis for many of our projects. When IDeA, FAST, Scholae Mundi and Aurora came about - everything was from there. "Yerevan" magazine and many of our projects came from there, and also the projects of our friends and partners. The coming together, the opportunity to work together, was borne out and helped many projects to develop. But, unfortunately, it wasn't possible to make the discussion of the future of Armenia, and how we see the future of our country, a priority with the elite of Armenia and with society in general.
Hayk: So, one of the problems, when you launched this initiative, was communication, the problem that we have in the Armenian society that often arises, that we can't discuss fundamental issues that have diverse views, we can't find any common ground. And so, if you united a certain number of people around this initiative. who were able to work on this initiative, then you failed to unite society and the elite around this initiative.
Ruben: Well, there are objective and subjective reasons for this. Objectively, we were just coming out of the very difficult 90s, life was just getting back to normal and people were thinking more short-term. The second is when you are just surviving...
Hayk: Well, people are still thinking just for the short-term.
Ruben: Well, this has changed again now...
Hayk: People aren't likely to think 20 years in advance.
Ruben: That's true, but then, in general, the model when you are just surviving doesn't involve ambitious plans or ambitious projects. It's about living until tomorrow, and then we'll see what happens. In this sense, we should have understood that as we have lived in this model for a large part of our lives, it is very difficult for us to reorientate ourselves and think about any long-term projects.
In principle, you can verify this, how many long-term projects have the elite got in the country in which they live. And in this sense, it is a very important element in verifying the country's future.
Secondly, we used the wrong language. And not only within Armenia but also with the Diaspora, it was very difficult. The language we spoke, that we tried to convey information, was very professional. It was right in terms of the professional environment, but we couldn't deliver the key messages clearly.
The third was, in general, such romanticism, the naivety of the fact that in one effort you will be able to plough this mental field, which has dried up, which has not been watered for a long time, and there wasn't a culture of discussing things at all. And it's not just an Armenian problem. It's a problem of the entire post-Soviet space... thinking for the long term, having debates. This is a very complicated culture, which we completely lack.
So Yes, of course, we could have done some things differently. But overall, I think the result was still there, because now, after 17 years, we see that we have started some processes. This includes the projects that we did together with Noubar, Pierre, Gor, and many other guys who started this path together with us.
Hayk: And, where do you think we are now? That is, we are in "Armenia-2020", it's 2020 now, what happens to us if we go back?
Ruben: Well, if you look at the scenarios, it is clear that we have a scenario between the Syrian one.. the Syrian scenario isn't today's one, that's when there is power in one person, when there are separate groups who have influence. And in this "Syrian" scenario, there was a closed country, not open to the world, which doesn't welcome the arrival of foreigners or even investments from the Diaspora. In this sense, we found ourselves between this and the "From Russia with Love" scenario, when we were part of a process that took place external to us. Over the past 17 years, a huge number of assets have become the property of Russian companies, integration processes have intensified, including the creation of the CSTO and the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union.
But importantly, I want to say that there was no such thing as a good scenario and a bad one. I want to say to everyone who is listening to us now: look at what has happened to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and more to Lithuania and Latvia, which have become part of European integration, but they haven't created sustainable and competitive industry in their republics. They haven't created an infrastructure that lets young people develop at home. And what about the migration from Latvia and Lithuania, if I'm not mistaken about 15-20% a year. It's much higher than Armenia, where the situation is much more serious and economically worse. So in this sense, I want to say frankly that there wasn't really a case where this was a bad scenario, and this one was a good one. We said that in any scenario, if we believe in it, we must make it as strong, effective and successful as possible.
Hayk: Take advantage of every possible scenario.
Ruben: Yes, even though we each had our own preferences, someone liked the "Hub" better. Someone liked the "periphery of the empire" better, it doesn't matter if it was a European or Russian empire. And the "capsule" of a closed country called Syria also has its advantages, where, for example, in a closed format, your identity is preserved much stronger, you will be much better able to preserve yourself. And there will be no blurring of all the values that cause so much debate – for example, about European values that have been or are being imposed, or Russian values that also have their pros and cons. In this sense, of course, the "capsule" allowed and allows you to preserver yourself, but at the expense of this, you lose dynamism, integration into world processes, the ability to mobilize the best personnel, and so on. So it was a matter of making a conscious choice – which model do we want to live by.
Hayk: I suggest we return to the models that were discussed in the book "At the Crossroads" a bit later. I would now like to discuss one of the most important issues facing our nation, which is about helping the refugees, the wounded, the families of the victims, and solving the other humanitarian challenges facing us. I know that you are familiar with the topic firsthand. "Aurora" supports various projects, and your other foundations are working on these issues. What are the problems in this area right now? Why have people stopped sending money to Himnadram, and how should humanitarian aid work be organised after this disaster?
Ruben: First of all, I would like to express once again my deepest condolences to the families of those who died on the battlefield and in the rear, and to those who were injured and those who are suffering psychologically. We are going through a really difficult period. I think one of the main challenges is understanding the depth of the crisis in which we are now. After all, the humanitarian crisis is not only about those refugees who have now been forced to leave the Hadrut region, or Artsakh, and who have to return now... it is very difficult for them to do so psychologically.
For example, the same military guys who returned after the war, and we know that there is the so-called "Vietnam-Afghan-Chechen post-war syndrome" that awaits us. A very serious challenge awaits us to help the sick, especially those who have lost their arms or legs, immediately, because the longer we postpone the prosthetic work, the faster both ligaments and muscles atrophy. And these are the challenges that we face today.
And this is a humanitarian disaster for people who are now beginning to panic, they are simply afraid to return to their homes. Today I had a phone conversation with a woman, the wife of one of the heroes of Artsakh, who is simply afraid to return after what happened. And it's a question of how much psychological help is needed.
The key challenge is the loss of trust in society, in broken institutions, including public, diaspora and private ones. There are very few successful examples. They exist, but there are very few of them. I think we have several very profound challenges right now. The first is the lack of a transparent and honest information network. The second is a lack of trust in the institutions, that need to undertake the work that must be done right away. Third – there is a lack of managerial personnel and people who can make decisions in the format of public-private partnership, to build processes, including simply having a record of people who need help in the first place.
The proper organization of information is a huge logistical and informational job, it's using a proper CRM database, usual things that seem self-evident, but are lacking right now. And in this sense, the combination of undermining trust, inefficient work or working in a non-crisis mode, lack of personnel and lack of interaction lead to the fact that this humanitarian agenda is very difficult. It will require titanic efforts and interaction from us.
And "Aurora" has announced that it will cooperate with all the foundations. We are currently implementing dozens of projects with other foundations in order to try to get away from very dangerous narcissism in our Armenian world or concentration of egocentricity when you only do your own projects. And it is very important that we interact, participate collectively and help each other. We are very happy to work with various foundations – the VIVA Foundation and many other small foundations that are trying to do something because this is the only way we will solve this problem.
Right now, we have a burning problem – Artsakh. And today we need to build a normal life there so that people can return and feel that they can live again in their region, which, unfortunately, has suffered huge losses, not only territorial, but also infrastructural, psychological, and most importantly – human. The second is to understand what to do about the wounded and dead. This is about returning prisoners of war, returning the bodies of the dead, and it requires a concentrated effort. And we must admit that we live in a country where we do not fully understand the depth of the management crisis that we have at every level. This crisis, unfortunately, is much more profound than we realize.
Hayk: On September 27th – at least what I noticed, and I think many of our audience noticed it – we saw the huge potential of uniting Armenians around a specific threat that we are facing. Now that the [peace agreement] has been signed, I can see that the potential is dissipating. And to be honest, I'm a bit worried about that, because I think that after 9 [November] this unifying potential, especially around humanitarian issues, should have, on the contrary, developed. And maybe there are some tools or mechanisms to unite people because, in a global sense, everyone understands that this issue needs to be resolved very soon, and this issue is urgent. In any case, we can't abandon the refugees, we can't abandon the wounded. We must address these issues. How can we unite people and actually create a positive dynamic in the consolidation of society, at least around this most important issue for our people?
Ruben: Very hard question Hayk, because we're all human, we have a lot of emotions, we have a very hard time understanding what happened to us. And when you are going through different stages of grief, when the first is denial, then anger, in general, different stages...I don't want to go into psychology now..it's very difficult to hear each other. Especially as a nation, we do not hear each other very well either. But I think the first and most important thing is to have an honest conversation about where we are now.
While preparing for the conversation with you, I once again summed up everything that is happening in Armenia, what challenges we have in Armenia and in the Diaspora. I counted 43 crises going on simultaneously in Armenia. This means that if we are not aware of this, that if we have the illusion that we can use a band-aid to fix them, then this is a great danger. First, we must completely honest. We are in the worst, deepest social, economic, psychological, cultural, military crises (among others) that require immediate solutions. And understanding the depth and scale of this crisis will allow us, without panicking, to realize that only together can something be done. As long as there is an illusion that if we fix something here, change someone there, it will be solved. I must say that neither the current government nor the opposition has a chance to solve these problems alone, because the problems are of such a scale and size, not only in terms of quantity but also in terms of size and complexity. Only when you realize this will you be able to take the first step.
Secondly, having realised this, we must propose a new mechanism for cooperation. After all, let's be honest, we lived according to a model where there was a government that said: "We won the war", or "we won the revolution, and we are ready to accept your advice or some of your help, or some of your charity projects, but please leave us alone. We know what to do". This has been the case for the last 30 years, a model that in principle suited the Diaspora, which came and said, "Of course, we'll gaze adoringly at Ararat, we'll help, we'll do charity projects." But by and large, the people here came to power in 1990 and 1991, when there was the Karabakh Movement, and then they won the war in 1994. They have the moral right to run the country as they see fit, and we can give advice, we may or may not like something, but in the end this is an internal matter for Armenia.
It is very important to realize that this model will not work anymore. I would say even more: the authorities and the Diaspora will not be able to cope with these problems together, because it is difficult to solve these problems without involving international specialists, international humanitarian institutions, and Russia on a huge scale. This awareness is also very important because we are a mononational country, very self-contained, difficult to adapt. Look at the small number of projects with foreign investments in Armenia! And not because we are such a small country, but because we, in principle, with all our ability to be friends and communicate with people of different nationalities, a phenomenal quality of Armenians, nevertheless, the country is quite closed in its world outlook, world outlook positioning.
Fourthly, it is very important to understand that this crisis is long-term and that it will not be resolved in a few weeks. As with the pandemic, we are faced with not only post-war crises, not only a pandemic crisis, but also an economic crisis, a social crisis, a crisis of Diaspora institutions, a crisis of power, and a managerial crisis. The war exposed everything that many people may have understood but did not fully realize: for example, the depth of the managerial crisis that we have in our country. This is a major challenge at all levels, and it is not solved by changing one last name to another. Because neither name, unfortunately, is ready to work on the challenges facing the country today. And this is a very difficult thing to do - to realise that your entire management elite requires serious re-certification, training and so on. This is a long process, and you can't replace the entire management team in one day. In this sense, the challenge is how to make sure that this management crisis, which the war has exposed, is resolved, including by attracting institutions and specialists who could help speed up this process, although it will still take a long time.
And we will talk about education separately, because the key challenge facing Armenia is education and changes to the education system. There needs to be a revolution in education as quickly as possible.
And the last thing I would like to say from the point of view of this situation is, in my opinion, to start doing small projects every day, restore trust and understand that, as Martin Luther King said, "Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars". In other words, you must give hope. No matter what, keep moving. And the little victories, the little projects help people see that despite the complexity of the situation, life is not over, we continue to live. And we have the opportunity, after taking a cold shower and drawing serious conclusions, to move forward and use all our resources to make people see that it is in our hands to ensure security, preserve identity, and achieve prosperity in Armenia. And we must do everything to get other people, organizations, and countries to join us and take an interest in this.
It is very important for us to avoid a relapse into collective victimhood. Unfortunately, we very quickly fell back into the model of the victimhood that we lived in after the genocide of 1915-23. We got rid of it in 1988, partly due to the Artsakh movement. But unfortunately, we are now having a relapse, and this is a very dangerous thing. Therefore, in addition to the humanitarian disaster, we still have a serious mental crisis. And when you're in the victim model, it's easier for you to focus on yourself, you look at everyone and say, "no one understands me, no one is going to save us, no one is helping us." It's easier for you to go to France, Canada, Russia, New Zealand, because "I have nothing to do here, I'm a victim, I need help." And overcoming the feeling that we are a collective victim is one of the key challenges for today's elite, not only in Armenia but also abroad. We need to show that together we can turn this terrible page in our history, we can really revamp many of the basic things that we need to revamp, including our attitude to ourselves.
Hayk: So it's important for us to understand that we have to take responsibility, not live in this victim paradigm. In other words, we must understand that we have responsibility for everything that happens to us. And the second thing I understood from what you said was that a unifying factor can be some specific projects, small victories. Accordingly, if we are talking about the stars, about the light at the end of the tunnel, then we must unite through action, work. And maybe this is the light at the end of the tunnel by which you need to navigate.
Ruben: This is definitely true. You just need to understand that when we do projects, we have limited resources. I have an important thing to say: we have limited resources - human, financial and managerial - everything, I will not list them all again now. Therefore, the concentration, the correct choice is important: Which ones are most important, because we have a lot of problems, they are different and at the same time they are all acute And they influence the decision-making of a large number of people. For example, if we can't provide people with a solid sense of security of the country, the security of Artsakh – not only physical in the form of military forces, but also long-term security – if we can't provide confidence that there is a future, then many will decide to leave.
Hayk: Yes, this is a threat.
Ruben: We will get an outflow of people. And since people take a long time to make the decision to leave, and it takes a long time to change their mind about the decision, then if we postpone these things for 3-6 months or a year, by the time we are able to do something, a large number of people, especially the most active ones, will have left, already sold their flats, or the first of a group will have found work and then will call their relatives to leave. So not only should there be specific projects that will help us, Hayk, but they should be focused on the areas that are currently key.
First of all, we must clearly say: we, as the elite, understand what needs to be done. We are working and will continue to work on these areas. And we are doing it together. Because one of the key challenges is the illusion that someone alone or one part of society will be able to solve problems, even the state, including the government, today or in the future. It doesn't matter which party is in power, who the leader is and what his name is. The illusion that an individual is capable of solving something – the people won't believe it. People see the scale of the disaster and understand that if those in power build mechanisms to unite, create joint teams, and quick [response] teams, as was the case, for example, during the war, when surgeons from all over the world came and helped the military surgeons in the hospital to perform operations, because, understandably, there were not enough hands... Here it was very important that instead of a lack of coordination or lack of cooperation in solving the problem, we started to work differently, we started to cooperate differently even on small projects.
What do I want to say, going back to my thesis? Yes, we have to do small projects now, we have to start responding to the key challenges facing the Armenian society, first of all those related to prisoners of war, dead and wounded, we have to talk about border security, but it has to be done on a different level in terms of quality. If we do the same thing again as we did... You know, I was in Yerevan. It so happened that I was in Armenia on September 27, I was on the border with Karabakh, just as the hostilities started. In 44 days, I was in Artsakh for eight days four times, 15 days in Armenia and the last days in Moscow. And I saw the panic that started when the mobilization began in Yerevan when the drones were flying. There are no bomb shelters, nobody understands who is running to where, and this level of unpreparedness doesn't just extend to military [issues], but simply elementary ones as well.
During the 30 years of the military situation, the country has not built a system of civil security, that is, what should have been done, as in any country – in Israel or in South Korea. We are now giving examples of countries with aggressive neighbours. There is civil security and everything related to making sure that people know which bomb shelter they should go to – just self-evident things that ought to be understood. In other words, people should also feel that [they are being solved] systematically, that we have a large number of problems, we have started to solve them, and they are being solved professionally, with proper interaction between various participants in the process. To hope that the head of the Ministry of Social Security will be able to provide for people is an illusion. It doesn't matter what kind of genius guy or girl is sitting in this position now – it's not solved like this.
Hayk: Okay, I hear you. Let's move on. While collecting materials for interviews, I encountered two extremes about Ruben Vardanyan. First – you are a philanthropist, a social entrepreneur, a billionaire who has earned his fortune with his mind, who doesn't just distribute gifts to please someone, but who makes projects that have their own life, whether it's for the Tatev monastery, Aurora Foundation, IDeA Foundation, FAST, or your other projects. We can't ignore how society has recognized the implementation of these projects in Armenia.
But there is a second side, related to very specific issues that people who do not accept you talk about. This includes the OCCRP investigation into money laundering through Troika Dialog offshore companies, questions about your participation in "Amulsar", your relations with former Armenian leaders, and your hypothetical dependence on the Russian authorities. The question I want to ask is about trust. Many people say that there is a catastrophic crisis of trust in Armenian society, and in many ways this is what prevents us from developing and waking up from the coma that we are currently in, according to my personal assessment. Tell me, which is the real Ruben Vardanyan and how can we overcome this crisis of trust in the Armenian world?
Ruben: Two good questions, but they are two different questions, Hayk. I think there is a specific question for me and a general question. Let me start with the general one and then go back to the specific one, because I think it's important to talk openly and honestly. Trust is a topic that I pay a lot of attention to in my speeches. I believe that the radius of trust is one of the mechanisms for measuring important processes taking place in the country. Both from the social and economic point of view. I always give the example that in Russia, where I live and work, there are 2 million security guards. Two million men aged 35-60 work as security guards. If they were engaged in any productive activity, what would this do to Russia's GDP... And it would have a different effect on the whole society at the same time. Therefore, the radius of trust is very important: it's hard to make deals, how many documents you have to sign, who you trust, who you don't trust. We have a problem that we only trust our family.
Our model is Armenian – at the level of the family, at the level of the apartment, and when I throw garbage out of the apartment or out of the car – it's not mine anymore. And this hard border between "ours – not ours", who I trust, who I don't trust – this is an important element, I agree 100%. And this is one of the key challenges at the moment because undermining trust is a terrible thing. This isn't solved by posting on Facebook, it's solved by many elements: transparency, openness, and not from the point of view of talking live on air, but that you are really ready to answer any questions, disclose information, and make decisions in a different format. For example, as is done in Switzerland or Sweden, where a large number of issues are decided by referendum. And this is not an easy thing, sometimes the referendum goes against the person who raised the issue.
I offer examples of countries that provoke a reaction in order to explain what we are talking about when we talk about trust. I am deeply convinced that nothing can be achieved without trust in society. And trust is built on the fact that there are no ideal people. I have a favourite parable about the Roman Emperor Caesar, whom the people loved so much that they deified. And when he went to Rome, people were screaming that he was a god. And he had a slave who stood behind him and every 15 minutes leaned over and whispered in his ear: Caesar, you are human. Even if this is not true, I like this parable very much, because it tells us all that we are human.
Well, first of all, I am a person who has really built a successful business, and I have served a large number of clients. It was an investment banking business, a financial business that involved a huge number of people, clients – Western, Russian, international, and I am very proud of it. I believe that Troika Dialog was one of the key financial institutions in Russia in the 90-2000s for attracting huge investments to make a large number of interesting deals. For clarity: for example, in 2007, the turnover of our clients was 1.2 trillion dollars. Is it possible that there were some transactions that do not meet today's standards? You never know. I certainly don't consider myself an angel, I always said that. But I firmly believe that everything we did, we did for the benefit of our clients and Russia based on the standards and rules that were in place at the time. An interesting effect of all this, related to me, is that these are just accusations made in public, and remain so.
The second thing to understand is that we live in a world of fake news, fake reality. You know, it turns out there is a program on the Darknet that anyone can take for free. If you have some programming skills and have 15 minutes of a person speaking on YouTube and 10-15 photos, you can make any type of fake. In the same way, the story with "Amulsar" was fabricated, I don't know who thought it up and promoted it, because people really didn't want Ruben Vardanian to look like a respectable person in Armenia, and they had to come up with a story to make some dirt on him. "Amulsar was, in fact, a project that went through many stages, including one where there were major international investors. Some parties were not there, and they were very unhappy that they were not participating. It seems to me that there were many different undercurrents, and one day the truth will come out. The good thing is that we live in a world where many things become clear, transparent and are revealed. Many things that we do, and not just the good ones, we find out about in 10-20 years. In this sense, I react calmly to all these things, because I know for sure that I am not perfect, I know for sure that I am a person who in this life could have done something stupid in some matters, and there are no ideal people.
Hayk: Let's be clear, you didn't take part in the Amulsar project in any way.
Ruben: No, no. This is a very good and very important question. The bank in which I am a shareholder, in which I do not make decisions in any way, because it is a built-up corporate structure, issued a loan, as far as I know, for $7 million or something for the purchase of some equipment. But from the point of view of my personal participation, I have never, in any way, participated in the Amulsar project. Not in any way at all. Never. And the bank is the largest Bank in Armenia, which lends to a huge number of businesses. Then I must be associated with all the companies that the bank lends to because I am a shareholder. We have a strict relationship between shareholders and the bank's management. The bank operates as an independent institution with a full set of appropriate mechanisms. That's why Amulsar became a story...
But I don't want to go back to the subject of excuses and explanations. The question is that even if I had participated in Amulsar, which is actually a European project, and this is a very controversial issue... I would not be surprised, let's say, if any government that came to power would somehow look at launching Amulsar, maybe with stricter environmental requirements. The question is different: what are the environmental requirements for all fields in Armenia? Are the standards uniform or not? How deep are they, and how are they tracked? I think this is a very good question for discussion in society. Just like New Zealand. New Zealand said: we will not have nuclear power. None at all. We understand the threats, we voted, and even ships with a nuclear reactor are not allowed to enter new Zealand ports. This decision was made, and so any energy projects will cost much more. I think it's a very good conversation about what energy security should be in Armenia, what the environmental standard should be, for example, for food, water – everything. And then, if you spend money to meet these standards, you won't be able to say selectively: you can break them, but you can't.
Once again, I have nothing to do with Amulsar, but I believe that a selective approach, an individual approach, is wrong. And as the conversation has turned to ecology – we are the second country in the world in terms of cancer incidence, in part because we have a nuclear power plant, and because we have problems with the environment, we have big problems with the city of Yerevan, and much more. We are a country where every second or third woman can't have children. We have very serious challenges in terms of the nation's health. I remember, Hayk, when three years ago, before the revolution, we tested dairy products in an Armenian store, out of 28 dairy products that were sold there, all 28 failed to meet Armenian production standards. This means that every day our children eat dairy products that do not meet even Armenian standards. This is a very serious question about trust and transparency.
What decisions are being made? Sometimes painful decisions are made. We know of examples, including Charles de Gaulle, who resigned because his people did not support him. The referendum he held did not give him a mandate for any municipal reform. But there's no other option. If you want to work in a climate of trust, these conversations have to be, sometimes painful, sometimes not very pleasant, sometimes concerning ambiguous issues. Especially since you can't always say everything today, there are some things that you can only talk about later, there are some things that are confidential. It's a difficult dividing line. But what is good is that people know where the truth is, where it isn't. People, by and large, can definitely feel deception. In my opinion, people understand very well where there's deception and where people are speaking sincerely. And even if they are wrong, they say: I was wrong.
Admitting mistakes is an important element of what I understood, analyzed, and I won't make these same mistakes. This is an important element of trust. Because guilt and shame are two different feelings. Feeling guilty is you saying: I made a mistake, I'm guilty, I'll make it right. The feeling of shame is when you start hiding all your problems under some beautiful tablecloth or trying to create an imitation of something. This is very dangerous. The feeling of shame is a dangerous feeling, but the feeling of guilt is a normal feeling. It has to be overcome, but it's normal, it has to be understood in order to move on. I have no problem saying that it was my fault that I hurt people. There were situations where I was wrong, including in business. But at the end of the day, I believe that what I did in Russia, in the world, and in Armenia is just hundreds of times beyond the mistakes I made.
Hayk: I would like to ask again, because it is quite difficult to go further in the Armenian society without this question, do you have any relationships with the former leaders of Armenia, which may have been kept from the time when they were officials? And what relationship do you have with the Russian authorities? Is there any dependence on them or on the decisions they make, maybe in your projects?
Ruben: Hayk, let's answer separately. First of all, I want to say that I had a direct conversation with Serzh Sargsyan when he became President in 2008, when we first met, and the same conversation with Nikol Pashinyan in 2018. I also met him after the revolution. I said: I have two pieces of news for you – one good, the other – I don't know. I'm going to carry on doing the things I've been doing. Whether you help me or not, I do it for the Armenian people. I respect any government that the Armenian people have chosen, and I will smooth relations as much as possible, but you should know that I will not be offended if you do not thank me, I will not be offended if you did not help, I will not be offended even if you interfere with me. I'll do as much as I can. Because my wife and I made the decision to spend most of our fortune on charity projects, and that's what we did. Over the past 17 years, a huge amount of money has already been spent on Armenian projects. In this sense, there has always been an honest conversation that we will do this regardless of any support.
Second – I said that we are not doing this for the authorities, we're doing this for the people, so if you will help – thank you, if you will interfere – it's your decision, we will do it anyway, my apologies! And I have to say that we certainly had a difficult model of cooperation because we hadn't come and asked for anything. We had a respectful relationship. I believe that as a person who is not a citizen of Armenia, I must respect the power that exists in Armenia. I have no business projects with anyone and have never had any, except Ameriabank, which is a key institution for the development of the Armenian economy, where my share is declining, and where I am increasingly becoming a minority shareholder. I no longer have a controlling stake, and it will be even smaller in the future because this project is being done by the guys who run the bank headed by Andrey Mkrtchyan. I am very proud of their success because they built the largest bank, competing with Russian and Western banks. It is an example of how you can build a very successful Bank in Armenia without being associated with any international organizations.
From this point of view, all my relations with the authorities have been maintained in this format. I respect any government that the Armenian people consider acceptable in the format in which it was elected at that time. As for dependencies, everyone has them. There is no person who is not dependent on anyone. Maybe only a hermit living in the desert doesn't have any dependencies. What does a dependency mean? It means that you have relationships with people. We depend on each other, we depend on our nearest and dearest, we depend on the institutions with which we cooperate and work. What does dependence on Russian institutions mean? I also do charity work in Russia, I undertake a huge number of projects connected to heritage and education, and in this sense, I interact with a huge number of people and institutions.
Hayk: But many people in Armenia are afraid of soft power, which is used in Armenia through entrepreneurs, some Russian billionaires.
Ruben: Again, this is a question: real myths or...
Ike: Yes, are these myths real or unreal?
Ruben: Actually, it's not influence that you should be afraid of. Let's talk frankly about security, prosperity, and identity – the three key elements [discussed] in the book "At the Crossroads," which I wrote with my partner, Nuné Alekyan. We've never published it, but it's on the Internet, and anyone can read it. There is this same triangle, and it says that we have a difficult choice. Security, prosperity and identity are three elements that are interconnected. And the question is, what are we afraid of? Are we afraid that Russia will buy up everything? So it's already bought up the biggest assets. Are we afraid of a military presence? There's a Russian military base in Armenia, the military budget and military dependence on Russia is very large. Are we afraid of what will happen? Some Armenian companies will not be able to compete with Russian companies because there will be no favours? What are we afraid of from this point of view?
Hayk: I think the idea is in people's heads that Russia will prevent us from developing.
Ruben: Why shouldn't Russia let us develop? It seems to me it's a very good question. I can give you another example. I understand that it will also cause a reaction, that it's another country, but here is an example – Japan before World War II. It gave 55% of its total budget to the military. After the war – 1%. They lost World War II, and lost brutally. And the winners, the Americans, did some, I would say, quite ugly things. That is, they made it clear that the Emperor is no longer a deity, the deployment of military bases, many American soldiers were involved in scandals over the rape of Japanese girls, there were stories of drunkenness, and so on. Nevertheless, they had a certain process that led to the fact that security was practically guaranteed by the American military presence and military bases, the Japanese maintained their identity and made their Islands the most mononational country in the world. And due to their hard work and efforts, they became a prosperous country, and also because the Americans correctly transformed their pre-war structures into such houses that became forces for economic change.
So when we talk about dependency, about safety, about the economy, it seems to me very important to say: there are no independent countries. Now, even America depends on what is happening in China, and China depends on America. Even the largest countries in the world are dependent on each other. The world's largest countries, which have fantastic military capabilities, cannot do as they see fit. Therefore, we need to look calmly and understand: there is a question of security – who provides it, there is a question of prosperity – whether we can enjoy the benefits of being part of the Eurasian Economic Union and an associate member of the European community. Can we take advantage of the fact that our borders with Iran are open? Can we benefit from having a strong diaspora? This is in our hands.
The main thing is that we always hope that there's some kind of older brother who will let us or stop us developing, an older brother who interferes or leaves us alone. Let's make a prosperous country ourselves, let's make competitive companies that do not sell knock-off whiskey or cigarettes, or make low-quality products and then try to sell them like cognac. For example, when we import Spanish alcohol, pour it into Armenian bottles, sell it in Russia, and we are proud that Armenian cognac is the best. Let's try doing all these things ourselves, so that it is genuinely competitive and high-quality, and I am certain that no one will prevent us.
I think that Russia is interested in a strong Armenia. Russia is certainly interested in Armenia being competitive, and at the same time being the right ally to ensure security. Japan would have concluded a peaceful Alliance with Russia long ago, but I am sure that the Americans don't always green light it, including Trump. And Trump's behaviour towards Germany is another example. Trump says: we provide security for you, and you want to do the Nord Stream with our competitor. Do you understand what arm twisting is happening to a country that is developed and economically strong? Nevertheless, Trump allows himself in such a cynical, hard form, as a businessman, more so than as a politically correct president, to say, where are you jumping, Germany? You are dependent on us and must behave as we wish. Let's speak openly about these things, too. There is no need to engage in self-deception and creating illusions.
Hayk: And shifting responsibility away from yourself.
Ruben: Yes, on an older friend who has to decide everything for us. I think these are also myths that we need to fight and understand: our happiness is in our hands. And respect for us depends on how we regard ourselves. If we allow ourselves, once again, being proud of Armenian cognac, to sell Spanish alcohol and think that this is a normal business, and don't stop ourselves – then what are we talking about! Why complain about someone else? And I can give many examples, not only about cognac.
Hayk: Let me ask a final question about Ruben Vardanyan, and then we'll move on to issues that are really crucial for Armenia
Ruben: Hayk, we've been talking for an hour, I suppose?
Hayk: People seem to be watching us. I hope we'll be through in another 20-30 minutes.
Ruben: Okay, that's fine.
Hayk: When I announced this interview, a large part of the audience thought that my channel will host the election of the country's Prime Minister. Some see you as a varchapet (Prime Minister), others express negativity for just talking to you. Such a polarized society. What do you think is the reason for this? I am just curious about your opinion on this.
Ruben: Well, look, I have to say it's good, because people should have different points of view. Some people might like me, others might not. I must say that I am a little surprised by this race for the Prime Minister's position. It seems to me that this is a very hot seat these days, and is one of the most complicated and difficult. Especially since Serzh Sargsyan made it so disproportionate from the point of view of the level of empowerment and responsibility that it is full of imbalance. I think we should return to the conversation... someone likes Vardanyan, someone doesn't like him, someone likes the look of him – this is the right of any person, it's normal. I can't imagine a person that everyone would like. The question is different: whether we can build institutions. It doesn't matter who works in them – either Vardanyan or Ivanov, Petrov, Khachataryan, Inasyan, and so on, a woman or a man – the main thing is that these institutions work.
I have great respect for the Armenian banking system, not because there is an Ameriabank, but because the banking system really has institutions. Tigran Sargsyan, Javadyan, now Martin Galstyan arrived and it feels like there is a system that works regardless of what the person's last name is. It provides an element of distinction, but what was built by [Edward] Sandoyan and then [Armenak] Darbinyan is how the institutionalisation of the banking system was built. Probably, we must admit that this is one of the few institutions in Armenia that works. And God forbid it continues, so that the crisis doesn't kill the only working institution. I think we should move away from the theme of "like" and "dislike". These are normal things, normal processes, [but the question] is what is the program, who does is.
I have spoken about it a thousand times and I can say it again. We have done and are doing a lot of projects in Armenia with my wife and my friends and partners, and this also raised questions: why are you doing this? Why are you spending so much money if you don't have any ambitions to become Prime Minister? I answer: because we decided to do it for ourselves because it is important for us to do it for our homeland. For Veronika, Armenia is not her homeland. And this is also a subject of constant speculation, about her roots and so on. And it again demonstrates the level of unpreparedness of our society for some basic human things. Although she has been baptized since 1997 in the Armenian Church and together with my children, we never advertised it, and it doesn't matter what her nationality is. If she was a Jew and accepted herself as a Jew and had this faith, it doesn't make any difference. We must understand: do people do good deeds or not; do they do it for the good of Armenia or for the harm; is what they do is really done from the heart?
But the question is different: we made a conscious decision that we want Armenia to have a good life, to have the opportunity for the country to flourish, and we are doing everything we can for this. We have a very simple choice: we decided for ourselves that the priority in what we do is the happiness and prosperity of the Armenian people. Not because we are such philanthropists, but because I want my eldest son, who served in the army in Karabakh voluntarily, and my youngest, who is 11 years old, and two daughters – the eldest, who works or Aurora, helping to provide new year gifts for the children of Artsakh, and the youngest, who is 15 years old and still in school – all of them would like to be Armenians, would be proud of being Armenians. I want them to have no obligations because their father is Armenian. I want them to feel an inner desire to be part of the roots, traditions, and values that their father carried on and that their mother accepted, preserving her own culture, Russian civilization, but at the same time accepting the Armenian one. For me, it has always been very important that it should not be through obligation or force, but through the realization that this is the right, the only possible moment when you consciously want to be an Armenian. Not because Tigran the Great was an Armenian or Kasparov is an Armenian, but because you want to be part of a nation that gives good to the world, that does something good, happy and healthy, and can be an example that others will observe with interest. This has always been very important to me, so when I talk about it, I have a completely relaxed attitude. And all this speculation is just the fear of people who think that the position is more important than who you are. I think the most important thing is who you are, and the position is all tinsel.
Hayk: Let's talk more about the role of the Diaspora in Armenia. Until now, we have lived in the paradigm of charity, where money has been sent and local decisions have been made with various financial losses. So, in fact, Artsakh was rebuilt after the first war, and many other things were done in Armenia. More could have been done. In addition, there are a significant number of people who receive transfers from abroad. Now I hear more and more often that the role of the Diaspora should be changed, that is, we should leave this model of charity and enter some other model – it will be investments in Armenian companies or some kind of social entrepreneurship, something else. The question is: how to involve the Diaspora in Armenia as effectively as possible? What kind of mechanisms, tools are needed and are there any models and examples that we could use?
Ruben: Well, this is a conversation for two hours, Hayk, because it's very serious and very important. I am absolutely convinced that this is our main competitive advantage, which we can't find a way to use properly. And this is not an easy thing, because it requires serious changes both in the Diaspora and in our country [Armenia]. We are used to living in a ghetto model. This means that you are closed off, and not only within some communities, for example, in Iran, Iraq, where there was a Muslim environment, they were in an enclave in which they were preserved. The mentality of such closed communities had the advantage that they kept their identity – language, religion, connections – and this helped us. On the other hand, it prevented us from understanding the advantages that arose when in the XXI century, with a Diaspora of 7 million people outside of Armenia, you do not use it at all, having such a person as Lord Darzi, former Health Minister of England, one of the best surgeons in England, who is now an adviser to two Arab countries on health reform.
He has come to Armenia for our events seven or eight times already, and each time I think: well, Ruben Vardanyan, of course, it causes some concern, because perhaps he has some ambitions, he's hiding something. But this man certainly has no ambitions, he has no plans to seize power and become Prime Minister. Why is he not asked how to implement medical reform in Armenia? It's a phenomenon that I still can't understand. How we waste the opportunity to of so many different people working around the world with unique qualifications! And it's not a simple challenge, because it's our closed mentality, our "capsule" mentality, that we can manage by oursleves, don't disturb us, don't teach us how to live, better to just help us financially – it's a very dangerous thing.
But then I realized that some problems also need to be looked at objectively. You have to face the truth. Over the past 30 years, 85% of Armenians, if I am not mistaken, didn't leave Armenia, except for Kobuleti or seasonal work, and that's a small percentage. In the Soviet Union, people went to Kiev, Minsk, and Moscow – there were business trips and work projects in different cities. We have an entrenched society, despite the fact that a very large number of people come to Armenia, don't venture out, don't see the world.
Second – when you are living day-to-day, you can't build long term projects, for many people getting help from abroad… I want to remind the audience: 2 billion dollars – 60% of the Armenian budget – came in the form of aid, which was simply wasted, this is money being flushed down the toilet. I am always amazed when I see 300-400 people at these weddings, christenings, funerals, excuse me. A huge number of people just spend this money on food instead of investing it. In general, there is a category of "grant eaters" that have learned how to receive international grants and not to steal them, but simply to eat. In the tourism industry alone, I have seen about seven or eight three-volume [projects] written. I think most of the money, of course, remained in America, but some of it was spent in Armenia.
So in this model, there is no need for a Diaspora, no need for competition between people. There are very good personnel in Armenia. They are the top guys in the village, why even compete with the guys from Goldman Sachs, or Merrill Lynch, or GE, and so on?
Hayk: So this is an individual moment for specific people, right?
Ruben: No, the model that was built is a very closed model. And the fact that you are not integrated into the international process, you have no revitalization. A small percentage of children went abroad to study, but the bulk still sat inside, stewing in their own juices. You know, when a person has not seen what a Mercedes is, but he has a model 6 Lada, he thinks that with shaded Windows, a body-kit and a musical horn, that this is the best car. Of course, the Mercedes is better, but until he has ridden in one, he won't understand this. In this sense, of course, it is not an easy thing to break a norm, so that there can be better ones. What kind of country are we building, how do we integrate the processes of changing attitudes to what needs to be done into society?
And the Diaspora, returning to the Diaspora, this also suited them. I don't want to offend only the Armenians in Armenia, but also the Diaspora Armenians. You know, when in the 1990s they brought a box of Marlboro or chewing gum and handed over $10, everyone thanked them – what great benefactors! And they thought that you can dictate from above how to behave. It was such arrogance, that you have corruption here. I really like how Diaspora Armenians say: how awful, there is corruption in Armenia! Wait, what country are you from, Lebanon? Do you really have no corruption there? You have no government there, either. And it's such arrogance that there is some indigenous ethnic group who needs basic things to be explained. It was a two-way process: understanding what relationships are, the interaction of people with different mentalities.
The second very important problem is that diaspora Armenians – I was in Los Angeles – from Iran, for example, Lebanon or the Soviet Union do not communicate with each other. That is, they live in the same space, but each in their own community. So, it's a problem not only for people in Armenia but also for Diaspora Armenians. Look at this, AGBU Armenians do not communicate with Dashnak Armenians. It's kind of unbelievable…
Hayk: There's a big Armenian universe.
Ruben: Yes, Yes, three churches, some don't go to another church, and God forbid if you go to this one. Therefore, I believe that the XXI century gives us the opportunity to wake up to this crisis. Moreover, a very serious and tough conversation is about the fact that we need to go through the path of denial, self-awareness, consolidation and interaction. We need to learn from each other. Perhaps our example with Noubar is unique. Noubar Afeyan and I have been together for almost 20 years, since 2001, being different Armenians, not being relatives, not being acquaintances before we met at Harvard. Our families have done all these projects together. His wife is Swedish, my wife is not Armenian, but Russian. Our children are involved in the projects, and we have seen how the complex process of interaction between completely different cultures has a fantastic effect of strengthening us, through being united. We need to change these serious elements both in Armenia and in the Diaspora first of all: there should be interaction and partnership, not help and advice, there should be not charity, but investment. This is the most important question. As long as we look at Armenia as a charity, as if we give it some kind of help, this spells the end of everything, because it corrupts, it creates the wrong mechanisms, it doesn't allow us to create effective production, an effective economy, which Armenia sorely needs.
Hayk: In terms of tools, sorry to interrupt, for example, in Russia you were a participant and one of the founders of the stock exchange. There is also the Yerevan Stock Exchange in Armenia, but I have not heard of any companies floating or conducting an IPO there. Is there any chance that the Diaspora will be given this tool? This exchange more or less reliably shows the reports of companies, you can invest using this exchange? Is there such a theoretical, hypothetical probability?
Ruben: This is a very good specific question related to the stock market, which still needs more dimensions. For example, in order for you to enter the capital market, you must have liquidity, and securities must be traded. If you are worth less than $500 million, it makes no sense for you to enter the stock market, because at least $100 million you have to put aside for the sale, offers to investors, so that they can trade. So scale is important. In many countries, for example, there is no stock market, there is no stock exchange – it's nothing terrible. Their best companies list on the securities market. Listen, the best Chinese companies list in new York and so on. Again, this idea of "everything is our own" is also wrong.
Another question is that we do not have a stock market culture, there is no capitalization. We must be honest, as in all post-Soviet countries, the main thing is cash flow, not profit or capitalization, and this is a very important issue that we can discuss separately. But, going back to whether there can be companies in Armenia that will be traded on the stock exchanges in London, Warsaw, New York or Moscow? Yes, absolutely. There won't be many of them. And the culture of collective ownership is also very important. In Armenia, after all, there are more family and private businesses, and this is also normal, there is nothing wrong with this. It has its limitations, its pros and cons. But I don't think it's worth talking about today, because it's a totally different situation today, and it's not worth talking about the stock market.
Right now we have an unemployment problem. There are several key challenges in Armenia, for example, unemployment is officially 20%, but in reality it is twice as high. If you look at what was happening in terms of jobs, there are official civil servants who were hired just to reduce unemployment. Our labour productivity is 2.5 times lower than in Romania or Bulgaria. Of course, this is due to agriculture, where there is a lot of incorrect or inaccurate information. But it is a reality nonetheless. We live in a country that prided itself on being the [Silicon] valley of the Soviet Union. But now, we don't have any normal technological production, we have very few IT companies, and we are mainly a commercial and agricultural country that sells raw materials: molybdenum, copper and gold. Before resolving the issue of the stock market, we need a deeper restructuring of the entire economy, which is currently distorted and completely uncompetitive even within the post-Soviet space. I am not talking about if we became part of the European community now, we would not have a single business left. Or if our neighbour Turkey opened the border with us, then, as is happening now in Georgia, most businesses would be bought up through shell companies or directly by aggressive and successful Turkish investors.
Hayk: To say that there is a political crisis in Armenia is saying nothing at all. At the same time, the rallies that the opposition gathers do not receive the support of a broad segment of the population, largely because they are associated with the former government. My subjective assessment is that this is close to the truth. How can the Armenian society get out of this political crisis without further polarizing and developing the "all against all" model?
Ruben: it's a very difficult question. The process taking place in Armenia is, unfortunately, a process of division into "ours" and "not ours", black and white. Back to the thesis with which I started the conversation. We have so many crises, so many challenges, so many problems that need to be solved now that any division into "former" and "current" simply does not work. This is suicide. I want to say to all those who are actively involved in this right now: you just don't realize how deep the crisis is. What you are doing and what you are trying to solve through changing political structures is very dangerous, because the longer we postpone solving the problems and the longer this crisis continues, the harder it will be to rebuild what we have to rebuild later.
And I want to encourage both sides to understand that we don't have much time. And time, unfortunately, is running out very quickly. If we don't stop and understand that the fate of the entire nation is in your hands – in the hands of the people in power or those who used to have power, who have intelligence and money, and who are followed by people, the threat that we will have the most severe crisis not only in Artsakh but also in Armenia is very serious. God forbid if there is any more violence, if there are any more processes that will lead to peacetime deaths, and not during war. I want to say as a person for whom Armenia is a country for which I am ready to sacrifice everything, my son even joined the army and volunteered when these events took place: we have no right to do this to the next generation. I mean, we don't have the right to do this, not because someone is better and someone is worse, not because someone is right and someone is wrong, but because today we don't have the right to do this.
I can be wrong, I don't know a lot of things, I don't understand a lot of things, and there's a lot of politics and geopolitics. Thank God, as an uninvolved person, this is much easier to look at. But the challenges that we face as a nation today, more than ever, require us to understand that only together, only by forgiving each other, only by overcoming hatred, can we get out of this situation.
Hayk: we talked today about how there are, as you said, 43 major crises that need to be addressed. There is some question that hangs over us and which occupies 90% of the media landscape. And somewhere here are these 43 crisis issues that society does not pay much attention to. I wanted this interview to help us somehow, so that we could in some way shift our attention to the real problems, and still try to explain to people that this ordinary power struggle that is taking place in Armenia – it's definitely not the time to do this. Now is the time to reach agreements and unite. If there is an understanding that this one should stay or this one should go, or something should happen, then it should happen now, without delay. Because if we put it off or if there is some political instability, then we will really be eaten up by our problems. For my part, I would also like to send this message to our audience. I suggest we go further. We talked a little about government institutions…
Ruben: I wanted to share some very important information for our conversation. We're doing our first interview. It so happened that I lived in Stepanakert in the basement with former managers. I talked to the current head, then came to Armenia, to Yerevan, then flew to Moscow and back. I realized one very important thing. We have been living in the matrix for a very long time. Only this matrix is information. I did not expect that there would be such an information gap between Stepanakert, Yerevan and Moscow on the same event. I understand when we live in different places, then events play a greater or lesser role for us. But I saw that the information space is no less important than the material and technical base and military actions. This information noise, an information field that is filled with a certain flow, plays a very important role.
Unfortunately or fortunately, we have an information waterfall, especially on the Internet and social networks. This is a waterfall where you can drown without drinking water. We have an information crisis, including in the fact that we are currently discussing what topics are being discussed and debated, what we are attacking – a traitor or not a traitor, who lost and what was lost. In other words, we are not talking about whether we can or cannot solve these problems now, who can solve them and how best to do it. So that, the question is about the quality and quantity of discussions that people need today to believe that, despite all the difficulties, we have a future, that we will overcome this step and go further. It's just ridiculous and very dangerous – what's going on.
I'm very grateful to you, I wanted to tell you again, Hayk. We didn't know each other, so I called you as a listener. I was just pleased to see a person who properly and intelligently talks about some things within their capabilities, their horizons. It's not that I'm a hundred percent in agreement with everything you've said, but I've seen that people are trying to convey a positive agenda, that let's do what we can do within the possibilities that we each have. And your analysis of many things was so sane. This is why it is very important to create information spaces where this information can be properly used. Information warfare, the information matrix, is no less dangerous than the technological one.
Hayk: We talked a bit about public institutions. I think that we are already approaching the end of our interview.
Hayk: But I would like, for us to define for ourselves, that the solution to the question of how our institutions work is probably the cornerstone of building a state. On the other hand, we understand that institutions will not start working so quickly. I would like to provide an objective assessment of what stage we are at now and what actions should be taken to make institutions, not individuals, work in Armenia, and we did not discuss any names, but said that there is such an institution – and there is a requirement for it. And it works.
Ruben: I will start from a little further away now, because we must understand that, unfortunately, we have what we have. We don't realize that there were only 74 States in the world in 1945. Now there are 200 states. And government is a very difficult thing. And we must admit, analyzing what is happening in the post-Soviet space, that most countries are failed States. It's not just naming a position and even holding elections, the creation of an institute, it requires serious and precise work.
You know, someone said that when patience runs out, endurance begins. It is very important to build institutions patiently, overcoming huge resistance. So, in our book "At the Crossroads" we say that Armenians didn't have institutions for 800 years, but there was a church, which was also a spiritual place, and where, among other things, all marriages, births and deaths were registered, meetings were held there. The Persian and Ottoman Empires used the institution of the Church as a mechanism for creating quasi-state administration, so as not to create a bureaucratic culture. In China, for example, a bureaucratic culture has been created over thousands of years. Confucianism, seventh century BC, and so on.
The difficulty is that we have a big gap in terms of institutions, and it's difficult to understand what an institution is. Usually, an institute has always been someone else's, not ours. Everyone tried to deceive it, and this was seen as a skill – to extra benefits. Respect for institutions was very low and our own institutions were very weak. That's why I think that building institutions will be a difficult process. And in the post-Soviet space, there are not many who have succeeded. I don't want to say that no one has succeeded, but this is a very big challenge.
An institute is created, among other things, through breaking the mentality of "my own – not my own", "I can do what others can't", through the creation of mechanisms for transparency of work, inventory and certification of who does what. It all has to be built up over decades, and people have to make a real effort to get it to work. Because very often there is a temptation to make an exception today and then return to normal tomorrow. This is a long and thorny road, but we have no other option if we want – and we do want – to see Armenia as an independent state, having relations with its neighbours, its military, economic and political alliances – this is a normal thing, it has always been so – but still having its own independence and institutions. And we have to build them ourselves. In this sense, we need to take the best global practice, understanding its features and specifics, and not just shuffle names and change the Constitution. The Constitution is a very important document, and you can't change it on a whim.
Hayk: Ruben, thank you so much for your time. I took half an hour more than we agreed. In any case, the audience will be the judges. I think it was very interesting to talk to you, there were many questions that I didn't ask. I hope there will be another opportunity for us to talk to you about education, the army and other important topics where it would be interesting to hear your opinion. I would like to thank our viewers for their patience.
Ruben: Yes, an hour and a half is not easy to endure.
Hayk: Write in the comments whether you agree with the theses that Ruben voiced today, and the theses I said, as well as who you would like to see as a guest in our next episode in this format. This is where we say goodbye to you. Bless you! All the best to you!