A diplomacy agenda for Saudi Arabia and Armenia
Ten years ago, Riyadh became my second home. When I first began my work as a social investor in the Kingdom, my family, team and I were welcomed as professional craftspeople who designed and implemented complex research-led community and nation-building interventions with measurable positive impact. One of our earliest clients and friends told me that their choice to work with us came from the confidence that as Armenians we would take our work deeply seriously and deliver with much attention to detail. Bearing an Armenian family name as I established our family business in the Kingdom became a public emblem for professionalism, trust and vested responsibility. And indeed, ever since, we have been working very hard, paying much attention to detail, to always deliver.
When then-Armenian President Armen Sarkissian surprised us with a much overdue first diplomatic mission to the Kingdom in October 2021, I was beyond ecstatic. And so were many of my Saudi friends. Our seats at the Future Investment Initiative conclave shook with historic significance.
Being Armenian is a right and a responsibility. It is a testament to survivorship. And it is deeply personal. Every Armenian and Armenian-origin citizen I know is Armenian in their own way. Armenian roots are not new to Saudi Arabia. I have a handful of Saudi friends who have Armenian blood dating back to their great-great grandmothers and grandfathers. During the Armenian genocide, many were forced into death marches toward Deir Ezzor. At the onset of these forced displacement campaigns, some Arab tribes provided refuge to Armenian families. Some of them came from the Arabian Peninsula and brought them back home. I have learned that the Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan has a black-and-white photo in its archives dating back to the 1930s showing two Armenian children dressed in tribal clothing in Hail. History teaches us that following the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz placed Armenian children under his protection. My Saudi friends today do not just have Armenian blood, they have genetic markers of genocide and survivorship. Not so different from my Saudi friends, the last member of my family who was a pure-blood Armenian was my great-great grandfather.
The special rapprochement between Armenia and Saudi Arabia should not be one of political convenience built on anti-Turkish sentiment. Rather, diplomacy must begin with a deep sense of citizenship, community and country, built on common values and joint ambitions for socioeconomic advancement. And both countries have much to inspire and offer each other.
Riyadh and Yerevan are each on a quest of rediscovery that has invigorated a deep sense of belonging.
Today, Armenia and Saudi Arabia are each on a quest of rediscovery that has invigorated a deep sense of belonging and pride between people and homeland. Saudi Arabia is experiencing this in a new awakening under the auspices of Vision 2030, where every citizen can ask: What does it mean to be Saudi? As Armenia grapples with the continuing suffering in Artsakh, citizens and members of the diaspora are also asking: What does it mean to be Armenian? Powerfully, citizens of both countries are on personal journeys of global citizenship and value creation.
There are many seeds for long-term friendship that we can plant together. Vision 2030 inspires us with a blueprint, demonstrating that both countries have so much in common. The Kingdom is on an incredible adventure for socioeconomic innovation. So is Armenia. Let us explore together opportunities for innovation in agriculture and mining. Saudi and Armenian tech entrepreneurs are investing in digital innovation to solve critical human problems for a sustainable climate, food security, health and gender equity. Let us bring them together. Our scientists are pushing new frontiers with research in artificial intelligence and space exploration. Let us join forces in scientific collaborations. At a time of critical energy insecurity, let us combine hand in hand our efforts and investments in solar and alternative energy and reduce our carbon footprint. We clearly share a mutual strategy for nation-building driven by socioeconomic enablement so that our people may thrive.
Our mutual drive for innovation extends to cultural diplomacy and humanization. Saudi Arabia is heavily investing in music, food and entertainment by both elevating local talent and welcoming musicians and performers from around the world. Let us take the stage together and invite artists from both our countries to serve as diplomats of identity, history and growth. Both Armenia and Saudi Arabia are prioritizing the preservation of heritage sites, embracing the cultural-scientific value of archaeology and history. Let us exchange learnings on intangible cultural assets and cultural governance. Let us also champion our love for design and local craftsmanship by bringing our specialized masters and mentors together in sociocultural programs.
By opening our homes to each other for exchange, innovation, tourism and trade, our diplomatic strategy can be one that is citizen-led, harnessing the excellence of each country. By co-creating sociocultural and socioeconomic value together, both Armenia and Saudi Arabia will also be able to gift the international community unique, innovative assets. It is time to uplift this much-overdue friendship.
• Lynn Zovighian is the co-founder and managing director of The Zovighian Partnership, a family-owned social investment platform that conducts community-centered research, designs and implements humanitarian and socioeconomic interventions.