Introduction to the Bilateral Relations between Republic of Armenia and United Kingdom

Formal diplomatic relations were established between Republic of Armenia (RoA) and the United Kingdom (UK) in the early 1990s, when the UK recognised the independence of the RoA on December 31, 1991. Within six months, both countries opened embassies in Yerevan and London.

The first official intergovernmental visit took place on March 15-18th, 1999, by Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vardan Oskanyan, which was recorded as the first contact of its kind between the new Armenian government and the newly elected UK Labour government. Since that time, various Armenian-British official visits have taken place, the most significant of which was the official visit of President Mr. Sargsyan to the UK on February 9-11, 2010. The Armenian President met with Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, David Miliband. Key discussions focused on the development of Armenian-British relations, European integration of Armenia, and the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations, as well as on negotiations related to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The British-Armenian All Party Parliamentary Group (BAAPPG) was founded in 1992 by Earl of Shannon and Mrs. Odette Bazil to promote inter-parliamentary links between Armenia and Britain. Since its establishment, the Group has been at the forefront of British Armenian relations by enhancing the mutual understanding between parliamentarians and people of the UK and Armenia. Over the past 18 years, the group has organized various British-Armenian visits and events. On May 8, 2009, the British-Armenian All-Party Parliamentary Group and the Embassy of Armenia in the UK organised a conference titled, “The Armenian Genocide: International Recognition and Current Challenges”. The event, chaired by Baroness Cox, took place in the House of Lords. Representatives from government offices, various foreign embassies, non-governmental organisations and the UK Armenian community took part.

More than 20 companies and joint ventures with British capital investment presently operate in Armenia, including: HSBC Bank, BMI, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, Technochem CJSC, Britannia Coating and Chemicals, and more. Since 2001, Armenia has regularly participated in the London-based annual World Travel Market (WTM) travel trade show.

In 2010, the Armenian British Business Chamber was established in Armenia to promote economic, commercial and business ties between Armenia and the UK. Member base of the Chamber comprised of 19 British and Armenian businesses consists of the above mentioned businesses as well.

The UK Ministry of International Development (DFID) implemented activities in Armenia from 1997 through 2008. DFID assistance focused on public sector reform projects, poverty reduction, and local governance initiatives, among others. The UK share of international development funding in Armenia amounted to approximately 19% of total donor assistance. Although DFID ceased its activities in Armenia, UK assistance will be sustained through World Bank, European Union and other international organisations’ technical assistance programs. Further, political dialogue and international development projects are complemented by active cultural and educational relationships, and cooperation of the military sector between the two countries.

Cultural and educational projects are carried out by the British Council, which was officially launched in Yerevan in 2001. A number of important cooperative cultural events have been held in the UK. Among them are the “Treasures of the Arc” exhibition at British Library (March 3rd 2001), and the art exhibition featuring the renowned Armenian-American painter Arshile Gorky in the Tate Museum of Modern Art. In February 2001, The Chiltern-Armenian organisation and the Library of High Wycombe, in cooperation with the Armenian Embassy in the UK, presented the “Aspects of Heritage of Armenian Culture” program, including the exhibitions “Tree of Life” and “Illuminated Manuscripts”. Photographs of more than 115 Armenian miniature paintings were featured in the exhibit.

British Council helps students and professionals gain experience of the UK through scholarships. These programmes help students gain widely expected professional and academic qualifications; they also give opportunity to experience UK’s dynamic and modern culture. Two main scholarships that exist in Armenia are Chevening Scholarshsip and John Smith Fellowship programme.

The Chevening programme, has, over 26 years, provided more than 30,000 Scholarships at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the UK for postgraduate students or researchers from countries across the world. Funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Scholarship scheme also receives significant contributions from HEIs and other organisations in the UK, and from a wide range of overseas sponsors including governmental and private sector bodies.

John Smith Fellowship programme aims to strengthen and deepen awareness of good governance through a four week programme in the UK. Selection is based on a combination of the leadership potential of the applicant and the quality of the action plan they propose. Action plans are pieces of work or policy problems which the Fellows want to explore while in the UK.

As a result of the flow of British Alumni into the country the British Alumni Association was established in 2001. It served as a network for British educated professionals in Armenia until 2007.

In 2008, the Armenian British Connect NGO was founded, which is a membership-based, non-profit and non-governmental organization that primarily focuses on developing and strengthening relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Armenia. The membership base is comprised mainly of alumni and current students of UK educational institutions.

In the military sector (the) cooperation between the two countries has evolved in the fields of military education ,military justice, development of strategic documents, English language training and peacekeeping. Over the past 10 years dozens of bilateral visits have taken place, including visits of Armenian Deputy Defence Ministers and over 100 servicemen were trained and educated in UK educational establishments.

Regional cooperation is also an important link between the two countries. In 1988 the Lord Byron School was built in Gyumri /then Leninakan/ by the funds provided from the British Government and donations raised by the British people. The school was opened by the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on 10 June 1990. One of the original benefactors of the school this year attended the opening of the Robert Burns centre created by Armenian British Connect.

On December 15, 2006, High Wycombe city was declared as sister city to the Armenian towns of Ijevan and Dilijan. Since 2006, a series of cultural events presenting Armenian culture have been organised in High Wycomb.

On 3rd of November, 2007 at Cardiff, Wales, a Monument to the victims of Armenian Genocide was unveiled with the support of Robert Burns Youth Center project of Armenian British Connect.

Armenian communities in the UK were created in the first half of the 19th century by several Armenian businessmen from Constantinople in London and Manchester as a result of the creation of trading bridges and the establishment of the latter on the British soil. The amount of Armenians residing in the UK has dramatically increased after the First and Second World Wars. During the former the majority of immigrants were mainly the people who managed to escape from genocide, whereas during the latter the stream of immigrants was also coming from Cyprus, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, India, Egypt and other countries.

There are currently around 16 thousand Armenians living in the UK, the majority residing in London (12 thousand) and Manchester (around 2000). The representatives of Armenian communities are mainly civil servants, small businessmen, craftsmen, employees at the service sector. However, there are also big businessmen, well-known artists, doctors, engineers among them. The Armenian community is considered to be successful and well-off, even though there is yet no specific data and calculations regarding the economic potential of the Armenian Community in the UK. In the sense of social layering, the majority of the Armenian community is comprised of the middle class: doctors, lawyers, architects, teachers, journalists, small civil servants, craftsmen and businessmen.

A portion of Armenians in the UK are big businessmen, for instance, oil tycoon Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955). One of the well-known businessmen in the UK in 1970s was the founder of “Brentford Nylon” Kaye Metrebian. Some of the notable businessmen of today in the UK are H. Mutafian, S. Kyurkchian, H. Caloustian, Asatour Gyuzalian, Vache Manoukian and others. Armenians of the UK also have a significant contribution in the cultural life of the country. Michael Arlen (Dikran Kouyoumdjian: 1895-1956) is a remarkable person in English modern literature, who gained worldwide recognition especially due to the novel ‘The Green Hat’ and the short story ‘May Fair’.

A special mention is to be given to architect and engineer Haro Bedelian when reviewing the input of Armenians in architecture of the UK. One of his most famous works is the ‘Eurotunnel’ project that connects France and England. Famous violinist Manuk Barikian (1920-1987) has played a significant role in the area of music. The latter headed the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1949-1957, combining that responsibility with the one of a soloist. In 1971, well-known musician Levon Chilingirian founded «The Chilingirian Quartet» that quickly gained world recognition. The Quartet has performed with tours in over 30 countries, playing in the best concert halls of the world. In 2001, Levon Chilingirian was awarded with a medal of the British Empire. In 2002,the famous Armenian surgeon Ara Darzi was created a life peer on 12 July 2007 as Baron Darzi of Denham as well as being granted a medal of the British Empire. Armenian-British scientist Zareh Soghomonian has been included in the list of the 500 greatest men of the century for innovations in the area of creating electromagnetic and magnetic devices.

The Armenian Church plays a crucial role in the unification and organisation within the Armenian Community of the UK. Three apostolic churches operate in the UK:

  • St. Eghishe church in London (previously St. Peter, the building of which has been rented by Armenians of London and has been bought in 1975 by the charity of Vache Manoukian and blessed by the Armenian Catholicos Garegin B. in 2001)
  • St. Sargis chirch (was built in 1923 by the charity of Calouste Gulbenkian)
  • The oldest Armenian church in the UK – St. Trinity church of Manchester (built in 1870)

There is no full-time Armenian school in the UK, however, Sunday schools have been operating in the UK since 1960s. The Armenian schools currently operating in the UK are:

  • Gevorg Tahtaian Sunday national college, which is located in London. The school was founded in 1978 by the charity of Gevorg Tahtaian. Every year around 190-220 students are studying at the school, where 25 teachers are teaching. The school includes primary 4-year and secondary 7-year teaching periods. Some of the subjects taught are Armenian language (Eastern Armenian, Western Armenian), Armenian History, Singing.
  • London Saturday school has been operating since 1984. 150 children from 3 to 17 years’ of age are studying at the school. The curriculum includes Armenian language, Armenian History, Culture and other subjects. Teaching is conducted in both Eastern and Western Armenian.
  • The Sunday school of Manchester has been operating since 1984, adjacent to St. Trinity church. Over 130 students are being educated at Manchester Sunday school.