Saudi Arabia and Armenia to forge ‘road map’ for diplomatic ties, FM Ararat Mirzoyan tells Arab News

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Updated 19 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia and Armenia to forge ‘road map’ for diplomatic ties, FM Ararat Mirzoyan tells Arab News

  • ‘No limit’ to opportunities for Saudi-Armenian cooperation, says Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan on ‘historic’ Riyadh visit
  • Says Armenian government supports a ceasefire in Gaza and the two-state solution for Israel-Palestine
  • Discusses ‘Crossroads of Peace’ project, which offers ‘window of opportunity’ for lasting peace in South Caucasus

RIYADH: Armenia is committed to drafting a “road map” for the development of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, Ararat Mirzoyan, Armenia’s minister for foreign affairs, told Arab News on Thursday in an exclusive interview during a visit to the Kingdom.

In a wide-ranging discussion, in which he explored the development of ties, the peace process in the South Caucasus, and the war in Gaza, Mirzoyan said the establishment of official diplomatic relations in November last year was only the start.




Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan says there's ‘no limit’ to opportunities for Saudi-Armenian cooperation. (AN photo)

“Historically, we have enjoyed friendly relations with the Arab world, with all the Arab countries, and these relations have been based on traditionally historically friendly relations between our peoples, between Arab people and the people of Armenia,” he said.

“And we also should remember that many Arab countries became home for Armenian refugees, the survivors of the Armenian genocide. But of course, the cultural ties, the relations — they were there even before that.”

Mirzoyan met his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan in Riyadh on Wednesday, and was also received at the Saudi Ministry of Education and Ministry of Economy.

“We don’t want to stop here. There are so many areas, there are so many fields where we can deepen our cooperation. And there are so many spheres where we can explore what we can do jointly. And hopefully, after this visit, the road map will emerge — a road map of development of relations,” he said.




Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan (R) receives Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan ahead of their meeting Riyadh on April 17, 2024. (SPA photo)

The past few years have seen gradually warming ties between the two countries. In October 2021, Armenia’s then-President Armen Sarkissian visited Saudi Arabia. This visit marked the beginning of a new diplomatic future for Armenia.

Although formal diplomatic relations are new, Mirzoyan is highly optimistic about the mutual benefits of developing ties.

“Frankly, there is no limit here,” he said. “Education, sciences, advanced technologies, urban development, agriculture, tourism, people-to-people contacts, trade, investment, and infrastructure. There are so many things going on on the ground here in Saudi Arabia, but also in Armenia.”




Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan also met with Saudi Economy and Planning Minister Faisal F. Al-Ibrahim (R) in Riyadh on April 17, 2024. (SPA photo)

Mirzoyan praised the launch of commercial flights between Riyadh and the Armenian capital Yerevan by Saudi airline Flynas, which began in June last year, saying he expects the development to increase tourism between both nations.

The foreign minister also congratulated Saudi Arabia on winning its bid for Expo 2030 — a bid for which Armenia expressed its support in 2022.

“Our vision is that we should build a very good and close cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including when it comes to regional affairs, but also international fora,” he said.

“I see possible close cooperation on international fora as well. Again, I would like to mention that when Saudi Arabia came up with the bid for Expo 2030, Armenia was among the countries who supported this.”




The Saudi and Armenian foreign affairs ministers, along with their respective delegations, meeting in Riyadh on April 17, 2024. (SPA photo)

Mirzoyan also expressed his support for a two-state solution and ceasefire in Palestine. In December last year, Armenia joined Saudi Arabia and more than 150 other countries in the UN General Assembly in voting for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. If necessary, and if asked, he said Armenia would be ready to act as a potential facilitator between the two sides.

“Armenia has always supported the two-state solution for Palestine and Israel, and Armenia is strongly against the violence and targeting civilian populations,” Mirzoyan said, adding that Armenia had very recently been on the receiving end of such violence.

“So we are really strongly against violence against civilian populations,” said Mirzoyan.

Armenia’s commitment to helping war-affected civilian populations has gone beyond mere words and condemnation. Last month it sent 30 tonnes of food and medicine to displaced Palestinian civilians sheltering in Rafah.

“Armenia regrets tens of thousands of innocent victims of the escalation of hostilities in Gaza. We ourselves have experienced the horror of attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, and we join calls of the international community for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said at a press briefing during a visit to Egypt to discuss aid deliveries.




Palestinians inspect a house destroyed in an Israeli strike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 17, 2024. (Reuters)

Mirzoyan said he hoped the aid “could help a little bit (to) ease the situation and the suffering of these people.”

Closer to home, Mirzoyan expressed his desire to see peace between Armenia and other nations in the South Caucasus, although he acknowledged that lasting peace would require efforts to overcome any obstacles.

“We truly believe that there is a window of opportunity, quite realistic momentum, to establish lasting peace and stability in the South Caucasus,” he said. “My government is committed to this peace agenda, and we are engaged in negotiations in good faith in quite a constructive manner.

“Although to tell the truth, there are still a couple of crucial issues regarding which the positions of the sides are far from each other. The first issue is, of course, the issue of the borders and mutual recognition of territorial integrity.”

The South Caucasus has been the site of frequent territorial disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, who have quarreled over their respective borders since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

To normalize the relationship, Mirzoyan said all parties had to respect the principles of sovereignty, jurisdiction, equality and reciprocity.

“We believe that everything can be unblocked, including the railways, and we believe that everything that is going to be unblocked should remain under the sovereignty of the respective countries,” he said.

“The infrastructure on Armenian territory should remain under Armenian sovereignty and, respectively, the Azerbaijan infrastructure under its sovereignty. And also this infrastructure should function according to our national legislations, and everything should be done in accordance with the principles of equality and reciprocity.”

Armenia can ensure the security of people and cargo passing through its territory without the need of any third country presence, he added.

Mirzoyan explained that his country had launched an initiative to improve prospects for stability and peace by unblocking transport infrastructure across the region.

“We came up with an initiative. We gave a title to it — Crossroads of Peace — because we truly believe that if the whole transport infrastructure is unblocked in the South Caucasus, including the Armenian, Azerbaijani and Turkish roads and railways, that will be not only beneficial in terms of economy, but also it will become a significant factor of peace and stability in our region.”




Illustration map showing Armenia's proposed “Crossroads of Peace”.

Even beyond Armenia and the South Caucasus, the initiative could have global repercussions, said Mirzoyan.

“Several countries are interested in this implementation of this project of peace, the Crossroads of Peace, because the benefits are obvious and I spoke about this in terms of east-west connections, but also we should remember south-north or north-south connections. And that’s why it’s called a crossroads.”

He added: “It could be useful for connecting, for instance, the Arab world, Saudi Arabia, with the Black Sea region and beyond.”




German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (C) hosts Armenia's FM Ararat Mirzoyan (L) and Azerbaijan's FM Jeyhun Bayramov (R) for peace talks in Berlin on February 28, 2024. (AFP/File)

Armenia is embarking on diplomatic ties with several nations and multilateral bodies, including the EU, as it shifts away from its historically strongest ally, Russia.

“It’s fair to note that the relations between Armenia and the Russian Federation are not at their brightest point, I would say,” said Mirzoyan. “Of course, there are complications, and we don’t … want to hide these complications.




This photo taken on Nov. 17, 2020, shows Russian peacekeepers' vehicles parked at a checkpoint on the road to Shusha in Nagorno-Karabakh. President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said on April 17, 2024 that Russian forces are being withdrawn from the Karabakh region, where they have been stationed as peacekeepers since the end of a war in 2020. (AP Photo/File)

“There are issues, there are questions within Armenian society, for instance, regarding the behavior of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, but also regarding the behavior of our Russian allies when our sovereign territories were being attacked in 2022, 2023, and before that. So indeed, there are some issues there. But we work on it.”

Armenia has had frozen relations with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) since autumn last year. Formed in 2002, the CSTO is a military alliance which consists of six post-Soviet states: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan.

Mirzoyan stated in an interview in March with Turkiye’s TRT World that Armenia’s application for EU candidacy was under discussion.




Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan, who was on a visit to the Kingdom this week, sat for an exclusive interview with Arab News' Deputy Editor in Chief Noor Nugali. (AN photo)

Addressing the issue with Arab News, Mirzoyan said: “The people of the Republic of Armenia do have European aspirations and it is becoming more and more strong on the background of the frustration that Armenian people had in terms of Armenian-Russian relations, but not limited to that.

“I mean, Armenia is really deepening, significantly deepening, its relations with the US, with the EU. They are our main partners in our democratic reform agenda. Now they show a strong willingness to support Armenia, to strengthen Armenia’s economic resilience.

“We are starting with the EU a new path of close partnership and, so far, none can say for sure where this path will lead the two sides.”

 


KSrelief sends aid to Sudan and Pakistan

Updated 21 May 2024
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KSrelief sends aid to Sudan and Pakistan

  • Agency provided 956 food parcels, benefitting nearly 5,500 people in Sudan
  • Nearly 600 shelter kits distributed in Pakistan's Gwadar to 4,000 people

Saudi Arabian aid agency KSrelief distributed hundreds of food aid packages and shelter kits to thousands most in need in Sudan and Pakistan, state news agency SPA reported on Tuesday.

The agency provided 956 food parcels, benefitting nearly 5,500 people in Sudan, while nearly 600 shelter kits were distributed in the Gwadar district of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, benefitting more than 4,000 people.

The assistance is part of a series of relief and humanitarian projects implemented by KSrelief across the world.


Saudi, Japan discuss ties at Vision 2030 business forum in Tokyo

Updated 30 min 27 sec ago
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Saudi, Japan discuss ties at Vision 2030 business forum in Tokyo

  • Focus on mutual investment growth, says Saudi official
  • Manufacturing, entertainment and health are key areas

TOKYO: The Saudi Arabia-Japan Vision 2030 Business Forum took place in Tokyo on Tuesday with over 300 industry officials and leaders discussing ways to boost trade, investment and cultural ties.

In her keynote speech, Sara Al-Sayed, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister of international partnerships at the Ministry of Investment, outlined plans for further collaboration between the two nations.

“Under the Saudi-Japan Vision 2030, we aim to take this partnership to a new level,” she said. “We want to leverage our mutual strengths, drive sustainable mutual economic growth, enhance technological innovation, and promote cultural exchange. We will be able to unlock the potential to expand the Japan partnership to be a key driver of growth.”

She added: “We have noticed in the last decade the strength of the partnership between Saudi Arabia and Japan. Over the last decade alone, the number of companies that have been established in Saudi Arabia by the Japanese has doubled and we have over 50 headquarters that have been established in Saudi Arabia. This forum will act as a catalyst to accelerate this growth and translate interest into investment.”

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih, Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud and Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry SAITO Ken attended the forum, each giving a speech commemorating the relationship between the two nations. 

Saito said the Japanese government will extend its maximum support to expand business with Saudi Arabia, while Prince Abdulaziz said the Kingdom “will bring collaborations to the forefront and will make sure that in all of the forums, we advocate the same aspirations in the national transition process attending to energy requirements.”

Al-Falih said in his closing remarks that the Kingdom’s non-oil income has “doubled and is looking for an accumulated investment of over $3 trillion that offers big chances to Japanese.”

He added that Saudi Arabia has a “bubble of projects as it will host expo 2030 in Riyadh.”

Saudi Arabia will also host the Winter Olympics in NEOM, and the World Cup 2034, that offers investment chances for the Japanese companies to participate, he explained.

Sessions at the forum included “Forging stronger manufacturing collaboration between KSA and Japan,” “Collaboration in the new era of sustainability and circular economy,” “Reinventing entertainment and gaming industries across borders,” and “Expanding the area of cooperation in healthcare.”

Additionally, the forum hosted a “Digital Entertainment Roundtable,” to discuss Saudi Arabia’s efforts to build a local gaming industry, which includes localizing Japanese games for the Saudi market, collaborating with esports tournament organizers, and investing in the digital entertainment sector. 

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Communications and Information, Abdallah Alswaha, and Minister of Investment attended the roundtable, with the former giving a short speech during the opening. 

Saudi Arabia’s gaming sector is expected to grow to 1.3 billion dollars in the next two years, with 58 gaming companies operating in the Kingdom. 67% of Saudi Arabia’s population (around 24.8 million people) are active video game players.  

The Kingdom will be hosting this year’s Esports World Cup in July and will be giving away approximately $60 million in prize money to further grow the gaming sector.

Saudi Arabia has previously collaborated with Japanese companies, which have provided the Kingdom with expertise, knowledge, and cutting-edge technologies to improve the overall quality of projects and elevate the reputation of the digital entertainment industry.     


KSrelief sends aid to Sudan and Pakistan

Updated 21 May 2024
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KSrelief sends aid to Sudan and Pakistan

Saudi Arabian aid agency KSrelief distributed hundreds of food aid packages and shelter kits to thousands most in need in Sudan and Pakistan, state news agency SPA reported on Tuesday.

The agency provided 956 food parcels, benefitting nearly 5,500 people in Sudan, while nearly 600 shelter kits were distributed in the Gwadar district of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, benefitting more than 4,000 people.

The assistance is part of a series of relief and humanitarian projects implemented by KSrelief across the world.


KSrelief to install water desalination plant at Mogadishu hospital

Updated 21 May 2024
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KSrelief to install water desalination plant at Mogadishu hospital

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s aid organization KSrelief on Monday signed an agreement to install a water desalination plant at the kidney dialysis center of Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu.

The initiative in Somalia’s capital will benefit 270 individuals.

KSrelief’s Assistant Supervisor-General of Operations and Programs Ahmed bin Ali Al-Baiz signed the agreement at the center’s headquarters in Riyadh.

Elsewhere, KSrelief on Saturday distributed 585 shelter bags in Gwadar district in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, benefiting 4,095 families in the flood-affected areas.

The program is a part of KSrelief’s third phase of support for vulnerable people in Pakistan.

Also, KSrelief on Saturday distributed 956 food baskets to displaced families in the north of Sudan, benefiting 5,497 individuals. This is a part of the second phase of KSrelief’s food-security project in the country.


Digital wellbeing summit at Ithra to confront technology’s dangers, advantages

Updated 20 May 2024
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Digital wellbeing summit at Ithra to confront technology’s dangers, advantages

  • Event at Ithra will have over 110 digital experts, 70 speakers from 20 countries

DHAHRAN: After a two-year hiatus, the second Sync Digital Wellbeing Summit 2024 returns to the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, or Ithra, this week for discussions and debates by world-leading experts.

Scheduled for May 22 and 23, Ithra will be buzzing with all things that merge technology and wellness, and will feature 110 digital experts and 70 speakers from 20 countries.

The second Sync Summit is scheduled for may 22 and 23, and Ithra will be buzzing with all things that merge technology and wellness. (Supplied)

“The Sync Summit 2024 is not just another conference. It’s a platform for meaningful discussions, critical reflections, and collective actions for a better digital future,” said Wadha Al-Nafjan, head of digital wellbeing at Sync. “As we navigate the digital paradox, it is vital to recognize our responsibility in shaping the world we want to live in.”

Topics including algorithmic homogenization and identity loss, AI’s impact on the creative industries, and misinformation will be tackled under the theme “Confronting the Digital Paradox.”

The second Sync Summit is scheduled for may 22 and 23, and Ithra will be buzzing with all things that merge technology and wellness. (Supplied)

The summit will be held at the Ithra headquarters in Dhahran, with a live stream available.

Day one, organized around the sub-theme “Cuts Both Ways: Wrestling with the Tensions of the Digital Era,” includes seven panels, two fireside chats and two keynote talks.

It’s a platform for meaningful discussions, critical reflections, and collective actions for a better digital future.

Wadha Al-Nafjan, Head of digital wellbeing at Sync

Day two, centering on the sub-theme “A Digital Renaissance: Shaping Our Relationship with Digital for a Better Future,” will have eight panels and three keynotes. In addition, it will have the Sync Spotlight series finale, for which creative influencer Omar Farooq will screen his new documentary, “The Dark Side of Japan.”

Although there was no summit last year at Ithra, the Sync team conducted extensive research globally that led to some compelling findings.

Wadha Al-Nafjan, Head of digital wellbeing at Sync

According to their research, 81 percent of those surveyed are concerned about the unsolicited collection of their personal data, 53 percent struggle to maintain boundaries between their work and personal lives, while 66 percent believe that the internet needs more regulation. About 73 percent of participants think social media was designed to be addictive.

Furthermore, the average time spent online daily has gone down, compared with 2021. About 68 percent claim to understand AI, 87 percent think technology is allowing people to work and study more flexibly, and 91 percent use digital devices to access resources including books and tutorials.

The second Sync Summit is scheduled for may 22 and 23, and Ithra will be buzzing with all things that merge technology and wellness. (Supplied)

“Never before has the world been so connected to everything and everyone. We know technology has improved our lives, but it also has the painful potential to distract and harm,” Ithra said in a statement to Arab News. The summit’s activities are geared toward “ensuring that we as humans come together to keep digital technology in check and working towards the greater good, safeguarding its future, and our own.”

The event will bridge the gap between academic research, industry practices, and end-users regarding digital wellbeing through a variety of sessions.

Sync Spotlight

A series of sessions will run in parallel to the two-day Sync Summit stage program, offering greater interaction between speakers and audience members.

Sync Action Forum

The worldwide Gen Alpha Forum, an initiative developed by Sync Research with McCann Worldgroup, will see the community expand to include Saudi Arabia parents of Gen Alpha children, as well as educators, and other Gen Alpha stakeholders.

Majlis

In partnership with Johns Hopkins, which has a local hospital at Aramco, the Majlis will host three sessions exploring digital wellbeing with educators, researchers and students.

The Plaza

The gamified experience will dive into the findings compiled by the Sync Research team through the lens of three projects which were developed with partners Horizon Group, PSB and McCann Worldgroup.

Sync Immersive

In this interactive journey, the organizers promise to provide a three-step experience designed to impact participants’ emotions and understanding, while guiding them into navigating the complexities of digital ethics.

Podcast

The booth experience will serve both as a studio to record live podcast episodes hosted by Mo Gawdat, formerly of Google, and as a multi-functional space for hosting media interviews. Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Islam, host of the English-language podcast, The Mo Show, will also be present.

Other notable speakers this year include US data scientist and AI specialist Rumman Chowdhury; Saudi Arabia athlete, FIFA World Champion and owner of an esports team, Abdulaziz Alshehri; and Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak.

One May 21, Ithra will host the Global Digital Wellbeing Assembly, a gathering of experts from across the Kingdom and the globe to discuss the guiding objectives and roadmap for a new digital wellbeing society.

Registration is now open and attendance is free.