Friday, August 26, 2005

The Two Largest Armenian Cities Meet (L.A. and Yerevan)

Remember how we had a luggage mix-up at the airport? The suitcase with all of my business clothes never made it to Yerevan. Someone lent me a suit that, despite being a few sizes off, was sufficient for the task at hand. The Friday that we arrived was full of meetings: with the Deputy Foreign Minister, with members of the ruling coalition and of the opposition in Parliament, with a legislative friendship association, and finally with the Mayor of Yerevan, Yervand Zakharyan. The meetings were all very encouraging about establishing a Sister City agreement with Yerevan and using the Sister City relationship to promote economic, cultural, and political interaction between the two municipalities. DNC Chair and former Governor Howard Dean, whom I had invited to come to Armenia earlier this year, joined us for some of the meetings. His focus has been on American foreign policy towards Armenia, especially on the issue of the Armenian genocide.

We visited Mayor Zakharyan in the gleaming new Yerevan City Hall, one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. The mayor agreed to sign the agreement to form a Sister City relationship with Los Angeles. We spoke about emerging industries in Yerevan and throughout Armenia and about links to with Los Angeles companies. We looked at cooperation on the issues of law enforcement: a criminal wanted by the LAPD was arrested in Armenia just before we arrived. And we explored possible cooperation around seismic standards for buildings, considering we both live with fault lines in and around our cities. The State of California is establishing a trade office in Yerevan, and we are looking at possibly co-locating our Sister City initiative with them in order to enhance some of their economic projects in Armenia.

It was a very productive day, and tough too—these meetings all took place between about 11PM and 5AM Los Angeles time. We had a great meal at an outdoor restaurant alongside the river with officials and our hosts and took in some jazz in one of Yerevan's vibrant outdoor caf├ęs before calling it a night.