Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My First Taste of Armenia

My first taste of Armenia was actually in Russia, when I spent several months with Bagrad, an Artic fellow doing business in Voronezh. Bagrad and I did a bit of business together and in 1992 he and his wife spent a few weeks at my home in the UK.

Bagrad used to tell me about the drastic situation in Armenia, how he had been forced to move to Russia to make a few bob to send to his parents, who spent freezing winters in Artic at temperatures 15 and 20 below freezing. Bagrad told me how Armenia was desperate for fuel oil to fire their power stations and town heating systems.

Early in 1993 I travelled from the UK to Voronezh to spend a bit of time with Bagrad - some business, some pleasure; and on my way home through Moscow I dropped in to the Armenian Embassy on the Starry Periuluk to speak with the Armenian Ambassador about getting some mazoot to Armenia. I had already spoken to my business associate in Washington, and he told me there was a pot of U.S. State department money we could use for fuel deliveries to Armenia.

The Ambassador put me in touch with Edward Nikolayevich Arzumanian, Deputy Minister of Energy for Armenia, based at the Armenian Embassy in Moscow. Edik was amazed to hear that the U.S. had funding for fuel deliveries to Armenia that he did not know about, explaining that the Russian Federation (as it already was) would provide mazoot for Armenia on credit. All he needed to do was to pay for the transport from the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, through Batumi and to Airum on the Georgia / Armenia border.

I decided to stay in Moscow, where I had a combined apartment and office near to the Pavaletskaya Voksal (railway station), and exchanged a couple of faxes (no E-mails at that time) with my American partner. Within a couple of days, we got confirmation that the U.S. State Department would finance delivery costs of mazout to Armenia to the value of $5 million, assuming that Russia would provide the mazout, which Edik confirmed they would.

Edik was ecstatic, he sent me to talk with Felix Pirumian, his transport man at the energy department in Moscow, and before too long we were sending a fax to Washington, asking for funds to send a first 20,000 Metric Tonne shipment of mazout from Novorossiysk to Airum. Mr. Steve Druhot of the New York based consultancy firm ‘International Services’ issued a tender, which was won by a Greek shipping company and low and behold, we sent a few less than 20,000 tonnes of mazout to Armenia.

Edik Asked - What do we need to do to send more?. Send another application, I answered - and that is how it went on. Working from my office, where Edik spent several nights through the next six months, we made application after application for funds to finance shipments of mazout to Armenia.

Stepan Tashian, Armenia’s State Minster, came to see me (at that time there were five State Ministers). Miron Constantinovich Shishmanian came to see me, Armenia’s Minister of Energy, and many others; all wanting to know who it was arranging these shipments of mazout to Armenia.

By the end of October, which I was informed was the end of delivery season for mazout to Armenia (because of the cold weather setting in) we not only used up the $5 million promised by the U.S. State Department, we had gained agreement for funding of up to $15 million, and that had all been used up in a total of 13 shipments of mazout to Armenia, each of between 18,000 and 20,000 metric tonnes, a total of more than 200 thousand tonnes.

I was absolutely thrilled to think that I had been able to help Bagrad’s people make it through what would have been another hard, cold winter.

But then I met a young lady, who changed my whole outlook on life, who explained to me that there was no mazout in Armenia. I explained – that is not possible, I’ve spent six months here in Moscow, applying for funds, preparing documents and receiving confirmation from a New York consultancy organisation that Armenia has received thirteen shipments of mazout – in total more than 200 thousand tonnes.

Sorry to disillusion you, she said, but there is no mazout in Armenia, people are queuing up for kerosene to burn in their homes because there is no electricity and the town central heating systems are all out of operation.

We started to spend time together and in June 1994 we came to Armenia; and I am glad to say that since 1995 she has been my wife.

In 1997, I was beckoned to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, to explain my involvement with the mazout shipments of 1993. Apparently the Ministry wanted to tie up a few loose ends regarding the 200 thousand tonnes of mazout that never made it to Armenia. I was asked to provide the documents that I had processed in 1993, to prove that 200 thousand tonnes of mazout should have actually been shipped to Armenia.

I contacted my old friend Steve Druhot at International Services, with whom I had spoken on numerous occasions in 1993, and with whom I had exchanged dozens of faxes, preparing tender documents and receiving confirmation that mazout had actually been delivered to Armenia. Out of the 13 deliveries I had processed in 1993, Mr Druhot could confirm only five deliveries.

I then realised why, after spending six months in Moscow with Edward Nikolayevich, processing 13 shipments of mazout, totalling more than 200 thousand tonnes, for delivery to Armenia, on one eventful evening, when we were out gadavanting, everything was completely gutted from my apartment; my furniture, my clothes, my money, my personal documents, and my fax and computer, with all the information about the mazout shipments.

But although Armenia apparently never did get those 200+ thousand tonnes of mazout, at that time, when life was at its most desperate, I still felt a certain satisfaction that I had at least made the effort to do something worthwhile for the Armenian people.

Today, the philosophy has not changed – grab what you can, while you can. The only difference is that the names have changed and the value of the pot gets ever greater. And it seems that their friends in Washington and New York are still close by their sides.

Ce’s La Vie – as they say in Armenia.

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