The Scope of Indo-Armenian Cultural Trade is High : Rananjay Anand
Rananjay Anand, Co-Founder and President, INDO-ARMENIAN FRIENDSHIP (NGO) spoke about the growing ties between India and Armenia and the immense potential that it holds for mutual Cultural Trade.
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Armenia is considered the Silicon Valley of the CIS, and is a member of the Eurasian Economic Community and also has a partnership agreement with the European Union. Sitting on the threshold of Europe, in the heart of the Caucuses, and having a border with Iran, Armenia’s geo-political location is significant.
In this interview with Everything Experiential, Rananjay Anand, Co-Founder and President, INDO-ARMENIAN FRIENDSHIP (NGO) spoke about the growing ties between India and Armenia and the immense potential that it holds for mutual Cultural Trade.
What is the scope of Indian Armenian cultural trade, how big is this market?
Armenia, which in the fourth century (301 AD) became the first country in the world to officially embrace Christianity, is an ancient biblical land where the Book of Genesis says Noah's Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat after the Great Deluge. Now inside Turkey, Mount Ararat is regarded by Armenians as a national symbol and features on the country's coat of arms and banknotes. The historical nation offers a lot of pre-Christianity culture & traditions as well, that's being practiced by its people in continuity. They still have a Sun-Temple in Garni.
Given these facts, Armenia is mainly a tourism-centric country and it has quite rich cultural and religious history and heritage enshrined in the lap of enchanting nature all around. The tiny nation is amply rich with arts, crafts, and cuisine. It was in the year 2007 that a group of archeologists discovered the oldest traces of winemaking in Armenia and changed the widespread belief that the homeland of wine is the Roman Empire and Egypt. Winemaking is the identity of Armenian people and their beliefs. The icing on the cake is the world famous hospitality of Armenian People.
India-Armenia relations have been age old and time tested on many counts. There are plenty of historical and literary sources available to suggest the presence of Hindu settlements in Armenia as early as 149 BC. Even before the Dutch and British put their foot on Indian shores, many Armenian traders are believed to have been involved in business in Agra during the reign of Mughals. Armenia, which is located on the threshold of several caravan routes between East and West, had developed economic, trade and cultural connections with India. So, there is a huge scope already there to be untapped in the field of cultural trade.
Coming back to present times, it would be a gross mistake to consider a tiny nation of 3 million people as a big market individually. However, in the current scenario, India’s prospect of enhancing cooperation with Armenia is quite high considering the fact that India is in talks with Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) for signing a Free Trade Agreement wherein Armenia is also a member country along with Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan. Being an economical market with its trade-route strategic location advantage, Armenia can serve as the "hub market" to redistribute India's products into CIS and European countries. Culture continues to cement the ties between the two countries with a great emphasis on people-to-people connection.
In a nutshell, Armenia is the perfect amalgamation of tradition with modernity. A smooth confluence of western lifestyle with eastern values & warmth of their people. Considering the fact that both India & Armenia are ancient civilizations with close civilizational connections, it has quite promising connotations as long as cultural trade is concerned. That's precisely the reason, the scope of Indian Armenian cultural trade is quite high with immense potential that's yet to be untapped.
What initiatives are you undertaking to ensure greater synergy between the two countries?
For ensuring any synergy between two nations, the first and foremost requirement is to have visible people-to-people connections backed by business association. This is possible only when we have a cross-cultural and inter-cultural communication among the people from both countries. When I started engaging with Armenia in 2009, Armenia didn't have any tourist-visa regime for Indians. It was quite shocking for me and I thought there was a huge need to do something to bring out the synergy between the two nations. To ensure this, I along with my would-be wife then, Ruzanna Ashughyan, who happens to be an Armenian, started a Facebook group INDIA-ARMENIA FRIENDSHIP in the year 2009, in order to explore the interest of people by providing a platform where they could join, connect and discuss about each other's culture and other aspects. It was an effort to fathom and regain the hidden potential of our people's desire to know more and connect with each other. We started connecting to like-minded people. In the meantime, we raised and followed-up the tourist visa-issue with respective embassies in respective countries. After 2 years in 2011, Armenia announced the beginning of a tourism-visa regime with India and I was probably among the first ones to visit Armenia on a tourist visa back then.
Due to having a tremendous response from the FB group, within two years we co-founded and officially registered an organization called Indo-Armenian Friendship NGO (Ref: https://www.india-armenia.com/) during my first-ever visit to Armenia in June-July 2011. Since then, this organization has continuously dedicated itself to bring out the best of India-Armenia Relations while acting as a bridge between the two nations and engaging with various governmental and non-governmental stakeholders. We created a pool of volunteers and to our pleasant surprise 99% of our volunteers in Armenia are Armenians and almost all of them are female. We started engaging with the local populace through our cultural activities presented by Armenian lovers of India in close cooperation with the Embassy of India to Armenia. We started doing round-table talks, conferences, business & trade discussion on various topics. Likewise, we kept organizing such initiatives in India too in close cooperation with the Embassy of Armenia. It created a huge synergy among people to connect with each other. In the year 2017 we established a dedicated Indian Cultural Centre in Armenia, which is conducting a lot of projects including Yoga Classes, Indian Classical and Contemporary Dance Classes, Hindi Classes, Workshops etc. This Indian Cultural Centre has now applied to ICCR to be a Govt. recognized Indian Cultural Centre running on a PPP Model.
This year we completed a decade of our continuously dedicated service towards bringing out the best of the India-Armenian bilateral relations and we are planning to celebrate it under the theme "IAF IN ACTION-10 YEARS TOGETHER"! It will be a year long activity consisting of cultural programs, academic and business webinars, and many other activities. As a curtain-raiser a 50-minute documentary titled "INDIA REMEMBERS ME" is being made on "Frunzik Mkrtchyan'', one of the greatest actors of Soviet Union, who was an Armenian born in Gyumri, the Cultural City of Armenia. He acted in two Hindi Movies "Ali Baba Chalis Chor" with Dharmendra & Hema Malini and "Sohni Mahiwal" with Sunny Deol & Poonam Dhillon. Both movies were Indo-Soviet joint ventures.
This documentary film will premiere thanks to the joint efforts of the Indo-Armenian Friendship NGO and the Chamber of Cultural Relationships of Georgia and India (NPLE). The project is supported by Embassy of India to Armenia & Georgia and Indus Aurora Holidays. The documentary film is co-produced by me and my good friend David Bejitashvili, a noted Georgian Film Producer having a great relation with Bollywood. He is also the founder of the Chamber of Cultural Relationships of Georgia and India (NPLE).
The premiere of the documentary will serve as the curtain-raiser for the year-long 10th Anniversary Celebration of Indo-Armenian Friendship NGO (established in 2011) and will be dedicated to the upcoming celebrations of the 75th Anniversary of India’s Independence.
Given the huge popularity of Frunzik Mkrtchyan and Bollywood in Armenia, this particular project is definitely going to create a great synergy among the people of both countries.
Which sectors are focusing on? What are the perks that they can expect by doing business in Armenia?
We have identified potential areas of cooperation, especially in tourism, agriculture, information technology, science & technology, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals. There is a huge scope of trade engagement for Indian companies doing business in Armenia due to various factors. Armenia ranks 47, a quite good ranking on the "Ease of Doing Business" due to business-friendly taxation for running a company. India & Armenia have signed a double-taxation treaty as well, so it will save a lot of taxes for the businesses.
To focus on the tourism sector, we've identified unique sub-sectors under the DMC category. Due to its wonderful scenic landscapes, and easily available high quality local subject experts and specialists, Armenia is a perfect destination for regional and Bollywood movie shootings. Likewise, we're also focusing on promoting Armenia as a Wedding Destination location. Because we've a decade of experience of working with Governmental & Non-Governmental organizations in Armenia, we can offer these services to interested parties at ease. Precisely the reason why I decided to offer a one-stop shop for all parties interested in movie shootings and destination weddings in Armenia through my company Indus Aurora Holidays, a destination management company. Interested parties can contact us as the trusted and reliable partner for having such services. Once we take the project on our shoulders, we arrange everything as per requirements and clients can have a great peace of mind without thinking about any local intricacies.
Armenia as a destination is quite economical in itself compared to other European destinations. However, we are also engaging with the relevant stakeholders towards a policy adaptation through the Govt. of Armenia to offer movie-shooting incentives like cash-backs and subsidies to be refunded on the total cost spent in the country while doing the shooting. I believe we are in the right direction and Armenia is going to offer the same pretty soon.
Armenia's human-resource is quite resourceful in the field of IT and S&T. A lot can be done together to raise a Start-Up ecosystem. Healthcare & Pharma is already in huge demand here and EAEU as a larger market, Armenia is a lucrative destination to invest in. Likewise, Agriculture too offers a huge opportunity in Armenia. Armenia's liquor industry consisting of wine, brandy, vodka, beer etc. can benefit a lot through exporting to India.
To offer a reliable platform to businesses from both countries, we planned to establish the Armenia-India Business Council in the year 2019. Through this organization, we had planned to organize a 2-day Business Summit in September 2020 in partnership with BW-Group from India, but due to the pandemic, the plan was taken off the shelves for the time being. However, we are going to revive this project very soon, once the pandemic situation improves. If the situation allows, we will hold the first Bilateral Business Summit in 2022.
What are the big challenges that you are facing to make it happen?
The cultural aspect remains fruitful when they are duly backed by the businesses from the relevant countries. This requirement needs conducive facilitation. Despite of having a continuous progress between the two countries in recent years, there are of course some challenges that's been proving to be a hindrance:
Currently, the biggest challenge is the flight-connectivity. There is no direct flight connectivity between the two countries so far, although we've always raised this issue with the relevant authorities of both the countries through our various channels. Quite fortunately, this has been addressed by both the countries to initiate direct flight connectivity as soon as possible. However, even this plan got derailed temporarily due to the onslaught of the pandemic. We believe, once the situation improves and direct flight connectivity gets operationalized, it will definitely increase the bilateral cooperation in the tourism sector and would bolster businesses and commercial exchanges.
Secondly, for promoting Armenia as a Movie-Shooting Destination, the biggest challenge is the absence of incentive-based policies from the Govt. Although, things are moving into the right direction and I hope this challenge is met with the right solution asap.
Another challenge is about public awareness. Media plays a very critical role in forging public awareness. It's generally observed that Indian media hardly do coverage on Armenia. This is precisely the reason why Indian media too shall be taken into consideration by the relevant stakeholders for the promotion campaign. Indian media can play a positive role in creating awareness among people and businesses about Armenian culture, society, and politics. Media can also help in forging valuable information about business opportunities in Armenia so that Indian small and medium scale industries can look towards Armenia for doing business.
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