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

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.”

 


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RIYADH: Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis received the secretary-general of the Muslim World League on Tuesday in Athens, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
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It will also organize a dialogue session on the sidelines of the forum in preparation for the Kingdom’s hosting of the 11th session of the World Water Forum in 2027 in Riyadh, under the slogan “Action for a Better Tomorrow.”
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Tears of joy as American reunites with Saudi family after 40 years

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Updated 18 May 2024
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Tears of joy as American reunites with Saudi family after 40 years

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  • Relatives in Saudi Arabia say they ‘never lost hope’ they would one day find Eid Alsumani
  • Eid and his older brother grew up in Alabama estranged from their father and other family members

JEDDAH: A four-decade long search has finally led to the heartwarming reunion of an US citizen with his Saudi family, putting an end to a painful era full of longing and searches that had long promised to end in disappointment.

Two-year-old Eid Alsumani, now 42, and his older brother’s American mother cut ties with the family for reasons that have not been revealed to the public.

She had met Saud Alsumani when he was a student in the US, after which they married and had two sons.

Eid Alsumani and his family were finally reunited on May 9, with many of them meeting their 42-year old relative for the first time. (Supplied)

Following her return to Alabama with the boys, Eid’s mother cut all communication between them and their father, who returned to Saudi Arabia.

“Throughout that period of time, which lasted 40 years, members of the family were searching for their sons through the American Embassy ... (they) tried to search for the family several times, but no leads helped,” said Bander Alsumani, Eid’s cousin.

HIGHLIGHTS

• A video of Eid Alsumani’s reunion with his family at King Abdulaziz International Airport after 40 years of separation went viral on social media.

• For decades, the family had tried everything including seeking the help of the Saudi Embassy in Washington.

An English teacher at Abdullah Al-Thagafi High School in Jeddah, Bander told Arab News that his family did not lose hope in finding the lost brothers. “We just hoped they were alive.”

After decades of searches that yielded no results, their father died, never having reconnected with his sons. Their uncle, Khalid Alsumani, went to the US, determined to find his estranged nephews.

Eid Alsumani and his family were finally reunited on May 9, with many of them meeting their 42-year old relative for the first time. (Supplied)

According to Bander, while the uncle sought the help of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, the perseverence of another member of the family paid off as they found Eid on Instagram.

“It was the happiest day for the family ... we all were in joy and happiness when we heard Eid is alive and coming back home with his uncle,” said Bander. The joy also came with the sad news that Eid’s older brother had already died.

Eid and his family were finally reunited on May 9, with many of them meeting their 42-year old relative for the first time.

I believe I will visit again in maybe six months. Inshallah, I will continue to learn more about my religion, Arabic, and my family.

Eid Alsumani, Found after 40 years

“It was the most wonderful feeling in the world … just couldn’t believe that the family had been reunited with (their) son after so many years,” said Bander.

A heartwarming video of Eid’s reunion with his family at King Abdulaziz International Airport after 40 years of separation went viral on social media.

When Eid appeared from passport control with his uncle, his cousins and relatives hugged him one after another tightly, shedding tears of joy.

The family hosted a gathering with various members of the family who came from all corners to meet the long lost son and celebrate the joyous occasion.

During the emotional reunion, Eid, dressed in traditional Saudi attire, expressed his immense happiness and relief at being reunited with his extended family.

A US citizen, Eid was raised in Alabama and currently resides in Florida having graduated with bachelor’s of science degree in history and nuclear engineering technology.

Speaking to Arab News after performing Umrah in Makkah, Eid described the scene at the airport as “unbelievable.”

He said: “It was surreal. It was the first time I had been in my fatherland.

“I was extremely excited about the blessings of seeing four family members who greeted me with the legendary hospitality of Saudi fame. It felt like a scene from a movie.”

Eid, who was raised by his mother with Christian values, has reconnected with Islam with the help of his Saudi relatives.

He described praying in the Grand Mosque in Makkah as an unforgettable moment in his life. “When I was in Makkah, I was amazed to see so many people from all over the world who were walking and praying together as one for the sake of Allah,” he said.

Speaking about his future in the Kingdom, he added: “Alhamdulillah, my stay has been extended for a few days … I believe I will visit again in maybe six months. Inshallah, I will continue to learn more about my religion, Arabic, and my family.”