Ambassador Deepak Vohra is looking forward
to strengthening Indian-Armenian relationship.
Enter India's embassy in Yerevan on Wednesdays
and the only language you will hear being spoken
Ambassador Deepak Vohra took just six months
after his arrival in Yerevan to become fluent.
He initiated the Armenian-only days at the embassy
to encourage his five fellow Indian diplomats
to do the same.
"Anyone who wants to talk to me on Wednesdays
can do so only in Armenian. If my colleagues have
an urgent matter to discuss, I see them asking
my secretaries 'how do I say this?'" the
Ambassador says, laughing.
"All of us are fluent in Armenian now, we
find it very useful and it opens doors to Armenian
hearts for us."
Opening doors to trade and investment is Vohra's
main task in Yerevan. President Kocharyan's state
visit to India this week accompanied by a strong
business delegation has underscored the potential
importance of the Asian giant in the economic
life of Armenia.
"We are looking forward to strengthening
our relationship in several areas," says
Vohra, outlining what he calls India's 4 plus
1 strategy towards Armenia.
"We have identified four areas where we
are strong and where Armenia wants to build up
these sectors, so the synergy is perfect. One
is Information Technology, which we are world
leaders in, the second is small and medium businesses,
where again we are world leaders with more than
5 million registered businesses.
"Number three is agriculture, and particular
sub-sectors such as dry land farming. Armenia
is water-stressed and we have done a lot of work
in India on dry land farming and rainwater harvesting.
Fourth is science and technology."
The "plus one" in the formula is encouragement
for Indian companies to invest in export-oriented
sectors of Armenia's economy.
couple with the president of Armenia Robert
Sterlite Industries of India took over Ararat
Gold Recovery Company in 1999 in a $30 million
investment. The Indian-owned Rosy Blue company
also employs 1,000 people in the diamond polishing
and cutting industry in Armenia.
"Now we are trying to encourage Indian investment
in leather because there is a large market for
leather in CIS countries."
One of the attractions of Armenia for India is
that goods produced in the republic are permitted
to enter CIS markets without customs duties, while
its companies also enjoy open access to the European
Union and the United States. Quotas restrict industries
in India such as textiles, but shifting production
to Armenia would allow them to get around these
"We can find specialist labor here without
any difficulty. The level of literacy is 99 per
cent and Armenians are very hard-working people,"
says Vohra. "That is not to say there are
One of the most frustrating is the continued
secrecy of government officials in relation to
even the simplest request for information. Economic
data that are openly available in India are treated
almost as state secrets by Yerevan bureaucrats.
"We always suggest to the Armenian Government
that there should be greater openness and transparency,
particularly on the availability of information.
That is crucial," Vohra says.
"If I need to know my trade figures with
Armenia, I must first write an official note to
the Foreign Ministry, which sends it to the Ministry
of Trade and Economic Development, which sends
it to the Statistical Service. By the time I get
the information it is out of date.
"India's trade day to day with different
countries you can see on a hundred websites. This
is a constraint in Armenia and I have said to
all concerned without mincing words that they
should make it more open."
30. Within the framework of official visit
to India President Kocharyan attended the
opening ceremony of the new building of
Armenian Embassy in Delhi.
Although present volumes remain low - bilateral
trade was a mere $4.6 million in 2002 - efforts
are being made to stimulate more business contacts.
The embassy has been exploring ways to place
Armenian IT entrepreneurs in successful Indian
companies on internships, while a visit of Indian
experts to Yerevan is planned for this year.
The first ever business delegation from India
to Armenia in April this year resulted in Indian
rice and sugar entering the local market. The
first contract for direct export of Indian cut
and polished diamonds to Armenia was also signed.
Nor is trade the only relationship. Vohra has
responsibility for assisting one of the larger
populations of foreign nationals in Armenia, thanks
to the 400 or so Indian students enrolled at Yerevan
State Medical University.
"Education in India is 100 per cent private
so we have nothing to do with this. We don't encourage
or discourage, they come because they can't get
admission in India," he says.
Less than 10 per cent of applicants to medical
schools in India are accepted and many of the
rest study abroad, in New Zealand, Australia,
Canada and CIS countries including Armenia. Vohra
says most seem very happy in Yerevan, but notes
some problems for the future.
India introduced a new certification test in
2002 for nationals qualifying as doctors abroad,
which must be passed before they can practice
medicine. Of more than 100 graduates from Yerevan
State Medical University who have taken the test
so far, just one has passed.
"In our interactions with the university,
we have said that for their Indian students they
might want to reorient the educational system
to meet the requirements of the exam," Vohra
says. The unspoken message is that the flow of
students might cease if the course isn't changed,
as word of the failure rate gets around.
One immediate result of President Kocharyan's
visit will be an increase in the flow of students
in the other direction. The Indian Government
announced today that it is increasing the number
of fully funded scholarships offered to Armenian
nationals from 10 to 40 to study in the country.