India-Armenia Relations

Historical Background

According to literary evidence, there existed Indian settlements in Armenia as early as 149 BC. Thomas Cana is said to be the first Armenian to have landed on the Malabar cost in 780 AD. Long before the Dutch and the English appeared in India, a few Armenian traders had come to Agra during the Mughal Empire. Emperor Akbar, highly appreciative of the commercial talents and integrity of the Armenians, granted them numerous privileges and considerable religious freedom as also an opportunity to serve in his empire in various capacities. By the Middle Ages, the Armenian towns of Artashat, Metsbin and Dvin had become important centres for barter trade with India which exported precious stones, herbs and textiles to Armenia, and obtained hides and dyes in return. The Armenian colony in India increased in size, wealth and importance throughout the 17th century. They also entered Indian trade in varying relationships to the East India Company. The Armenians made some contributions in the areas of artisanship including gun-making and printing. The high level of education among the Calcutta Armenians enabled them to perform well in the legal profession as well. One of Emperor Akbar's queens has been mentioned to be an Armenian, called Mariam Zamani Begum. Indian classical singer Gohar Jaan, the first to be recorded on gramophone in 1902 was of Armenian origin. The Armenian language journal "Azdarar" published in Madras (Chennai) in 1794 was the first ever Armenian journal published anywhere in the world. A special Armenian postage stamp was issued in 1994 to mark the 200th Anniversary of "Azdarar". In 1773, Shahamir Shahamirian, a leading Armenian nationalist in Madras published his vision of a future Armenian nation, which is acknowledged by Armenians as an attempt to draft first ever Constitution of an independent Armenia.

After India's independence, many Armenians migrated to Australia, USA and other places. The vestigial Armenian community in India is now mainly settled in Calcutta with sprinkling in Mumbai, Delhi, Agra and Chennai. There are Armenian churches and cemeteries in these places. The Holy Church of Nazareth, erected in 1707, repaired and embellished in 1734 is the biggest and the oldest Armenian Church in Calcutta; the 250th anniversary of this Church was celebrated On November 25, 1957. The Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy in Calcutta is a prestigious national institution of Armenians. Thanks to renewed people-to-people interaction in recent years, the marriages between Indians and Armenians are resulting in the emergence of a new Indo-Armenian community, albeit miniscule at the moment.

Soviet Era

During the Soviet era, President Dr. S Radhakrishnan (September 1964) and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (June 1976) visited the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Contemporary Times

After the breakup of the USSR, India recognized Armenia on December 26, 1991, three months after its declaration of independence. The Protocol on establishment of Diplomatic relations between India and Armenia was signed on 31 August 1992. India opened its Embassy in Yerevan on 01 March 1999. Armenia, which had opened its Honorary Consulate in April 1994, established its Embassy in New Delhi in October 1999.

In contemporary times, India-Armenia political relations are marked by warmth and cordiality and also understanding and convergence of views on several issues of mutual interest including those with international dimensions.

Institutional Mechanisms / High Level Exchanges

Bilateral dialogue between India and Armenia is conducted through the mechanisms of Foreign Office Consultations and Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technological, Cultural and Educational Cooperation, and periodic high-level interactions. There have been two Presidential level visits from Armenia (in 1995 and 2003) and two visits at the level of Foreign Minister (2000 and 2010). Also the Secretary, National Security Council of Armenia visited India in March 2011. The Vice President and Chairman of Rajya Sabha led a Parliamentary delegation to Armenia in October 2005.

Bilateral Agreements

India and Armenia signed a Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation on 14 December 1995 in New Delhi. In addition, there are nearly 25 Agreements/MoUs covering diverse areas of possible cooperation such as trade & commerce, culture, tourism, education, defence, science & technology, information technology, double tax avoidance, academic cooperation between institutes and Think Tanks.

India’s Developmental Assistance

India has extended assistance to Armenia in the past from time to time. Following the catastrophic earthquake in Soviet Armenia in 1988, USD 2.2 million cash and USD 1.1 million relief supplies were donated by India. An Indian medical team also visited Armenia for relief work. In 1994-95, India donated two consignments of medicines as humanitarian assistance to Armenia for the persons affected by the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Nogorno-Karabakh. Following the summer 2000 drought in Armenia, India gifted 750 MT of wheat and 250 MT of rice to Armenia in February 2002. In October 2003, India announced a grant of USD 5 million against which 300 tractors from India were supplied to Armenia in December 2006.

India's current developmental assistance to Armenia includes human resource development and capacity building; this is implemented through Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme. ITEC programme is an ongoing programme under which every year on average 30 slots are earmarked for Armenia for short and medium term courses which are extremely popular amongst Government and Public Sector officials. During 2009-2010, India contributed US $ 215,000/- for the restoration of a dilapidated school building in a relatively remote rural area. In addition, India in collaboration with Armenian authorities is in the process of establishing a Centre for Excellence in Information and Communication Technology in Yerevan; the project cost is US $ 1.67 million. India has also agreed to extend Technical as well as In-Kind assistance to Armenia for the conduct of Census 2011 in Armenia. India has also agreed to extend Technical and In-Kind support for Armenia’s Census 2011. A team of experts from Armenia’s National Statistical Service underwent a training programme in India in February 2011 to share the experience of the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India engaged with Census India 2011.

Cultural Cooperation

India-Armenia Agreement on Cooperation in Culture, Arts, Education, Tourism, Sports and Mass Media signed in December 1995 provides the framework for cultural exchanges In accordance with the MoU signed between ICCR and Yerevan State Linguistic University “Brusov” (YSLU) on 11 November 2009 in Yerevan, a Centre for Hindi Language and Literature has been established at YSLU. In view of popular interest in Hindi, the Embassy of India has made arrangements for Hindi classes in Ijevan, located at a distance of 130km from the capital in the Tavush Province, and known as another hub for educational institutes. The Indian Embassy also supports the teaching of Hindi at the Yerevan Institute of Humanities. Kendriya Hindi Sansthan, Agra, provides scholarships for Armenians to learn Hindi in India. The ICCR has earmarked Two scholarships for Armenia under General Cultural Scholarship Scheme for pursuing university education in India. These scholarships are much appreciated by Armenians many of whom have availed of them. Indian films are very popular in Armenia; so is the Indian food. There is one exclusively Indian restaurant in Yerevan, and one which has included Indian dishes in its menu.

Indian Community

The Indian community in Armenia consists largely of about 200 students pursuing medical education at Yerevan State Medical University, which currently is the only University permitted by the Ministry of Education of Armenia to teach medicine through English medium. The Indian community otherwise is miniscule comprised of about a dozen Indian/PIO professionals working for multi-national companies / UN organizations. No incident of racial, communal or ethnic violence against Indian community has come to notice.

Trade and Economic Relations

The level of bilateral trade and investments remains below potential though some growth has been registered in recent years. Indian exports consist of foodstuffs (meat), electrical equipment, cut and polished diamonds, optical equipment, plastics, pharmaceuticals and other chemical goods and cars, while Armenia’s exports include non-ferrous metals, raw-rubber, books and textiles. There has been tremendous response to “Best of India” – the periodic Exhibition-cum- Sale of Indian consumer goods being organized in Yerevan by private sector with support from the Government of India; this has been contributing to bilateral trade volumes and has also helped in popularizing Indian consumer goods. Bilateral trade grew from US $ 16.5 mn in 2005 to US $ 46.7 mn in 2010 (India’s exports: USD 46.7 mn and India’s imports: USD 5.5 mn) [Source:].

An Article in the newspaper "The Hindu" dated 2nd January 2012