Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan’s exclusive interview to Mediamax
- Prime Minister, your bio is available on the official web page of the Armenian government, but it contains points and episodes, which we do not know well or are not familiar with at all. I’d like today to “shed light” on your biography. Your first workplace was Computer Center of the Department of State Planning of Armenian SSR. What were your responsibilities?
- I worked at the Department of State Planning for 4 years. This was a great organization with real scientific ecosystem involving a number of very talented people.
We were responsible for forecasts on the Armenian economy, using interesting mathematical methods and models.
I received my PhD during my work at the center. Sectoral and regional developments of Armenian economy were very often divergent. I was trying to elaborate solutions, which would allow providing balance between the development of certain economic sectors and the regions.
- Has your experience back then somehow influenced your current activities?
- All the knowledge and experience that you gain in life are always useful regardless of the domain. When I was studying at the Faculty of Informatics and Applied Mathematics of Yerevan State University, I could not even imagine that I would be applying my knowledge at the university in the sphere of energy. For example, I used my skills in warehouse management for solving dispatcherization issues at Armenergo.
Photo: Hrayr Badalyan
Our dispatchers were considered to be among the best specialists in the Soviet Union, which was true, and they were looking down on a mathematician, who came to the sector of energy. We used warehouse management model particularly in maintaining the optimal level of water in reservoirs.
- So certain mathematical skills are desirable or even necessary for a manager?
- It is not obligatory (smiles-Mediamax). Of course, I respect and appreciate mathematicians very much, having biased attitude towards them, but I think that you need to combine various qualities and skills to be a good manager. Sometimes mathematicians can have narrow view on certain issues. Nevertheless, if a mathematician has a vision, it might be very interesting.
- You like using paper and pen discussing issues and making calculations on the spot.
- Not only mathematicians practice this habit (laughs-Mediamax).
- Does that mean deep down you do not consider yourself as a mathematician?
-No, I am a mathematician. I attach special importance to seeing cause-effect relationship when I work. I always try to understand why we are doing certain things, what results we will get and how our work influences other issues.
- Armenian mathematicians had a very good reputation during the Soviet times. How would you assess the situation today?
- We are still doing quite well, but we’re committed to implementing certain reforms to strengthen the existing traditions and move them forward. We’re considering the advance of natural sciences at Armenian schools. This does not mean that we’re going to neglect other disciplines. I also attach special importance to foreign language studies, physical education, IT, finances and business skills.
- You combined your work at the Department of State Planning with teaching at Yerevan State University. What was your subject?
- I taught practical aspects of “Linear Programming” and “Optimization Methods” for two years. I’m going to reveal a “secret” to you: Vache Gabrielyan (Armenian Vice PM-Mediamax) was among my students.
- You started teaching at YSU soon after you graduated. Being a young professor, was it easy to communicate your message to students?
-I’ll reveal yet another “secret” (laughs-Mediamax). I was teaching a group, which involved my younger brother, so there was a “connecting link” between me and the students.
- By the way, you always speak about students with warmth. Recently you have encouraged them to “to love, fall in love and rejoice”.
- I really have a special attitude towards students. Many people have only noticed that part of my speech, and some even found it “cynical”. Those are the happiest and most worriless years of your life, and yes students should benefit from the opportunity to love, be loved and rejoice.
Photo: Armenian Government
But I also called on our students to serve our country. I am convinced that life is full only when you do what you really love. If you don’t feel useful for your family, friends, society and country, you will never enjoy music, tasty food and many other things.
- We’ve already covered your first job and university years, but we missed the school years. Did you finish the school with gold medal?
-No. I was an excellent pupil, but I finished without a medal.
- What about your behavior?
-I guess it was good as well (smiles-Mediamax).
- So you weren’t a bully?
-I fought only when it was required, though that did not happen often. I escaped the classes and I made all the “sins” that other pupils did.
- If I’m not mistaken, you spent a year in Cuba during your school years, since you father worked there.
- I spent 3 years abroad. I studied a year in German Democratic Republic in the 2nd grade, then 2 years in Cuba in the 5th and 6th grade. My father worked there as Head of USSR Energy Group.
- A classmate of mine also lived in Cuba for 2 years and he still remembers those years.
- I also have bright memories from those days. I’m attached to all the countries, where I lived. This experience is very important, since you have the opportunity to communicate with people of various nationalities. It influences the way you see the world, and develops tolerance.
My classmates were not only children from USSR republics, but from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Germany, Romania, Vietnam, Mongolia. Decades had passed, when I met one of my classmates from Cuba at a gas conference in Argentina.
- Have you ever returned to Cuba?
- No, but I am going to visit Cuba one day.
- Sometimes people have childhood memories “imprinted” on mind. Do you have some?
- Memory is a discrete phenomenon; you can remember certain events in detail without understanding why your memory chose exactly those events. I also have similar memories.
Photo: Personal archive
- Prime Minister, it seems that you drew a “line” which you do not cross when it comes to your personal life, your family. Do you think you could become vulnerable speaking about such topics?
- No, there’re just certain aspects in my life that I consider to be strictly personal. I think I have the right to be silent on topics relating only to my family.
- Do you feel uncomfortable from being in the center of public’s attention?
- Yes, I do.
- What are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of your current position?
- I’ll put it this way: sometimes the lack of free time is what makes me uncomfortable. I read very little for that reason, although I always tried to read a lot. I don’t go to concerts, I don’t work out, I don’t see my granddaughter for days as she is still sleeping when I leave for work or already sleeping when I come home. (The interview was taken on November 18, when the Prime Minister’s twin grandchildren hadn’t been born yet-Mediamax). But this is typical not just for me, but for everyone who works on senior positions in the governance system.
On the other hand, this is, undoubtedly, exciting work. I said this before and I repeat that the biggest pleasure for any manager is to serve their people and country.
- You have a reputation of a lucky man, someone who always succeeds. Did you ever have difficulties?
- I did, certainly. There were plenty of difficult moments in my life. I lived the same way as everyone in the Soviet Armenia. Nothing can be smooth and simple even if it seems to be from the side.
- What role does money play in your life now?
- I consider money to be a means of ensuring financial independence, which makes a person independent. When financial independence is secured, the amount of properties isn’t important to me.
- Some people claim that you secured your financial independence by holding senior positions in the government.
- In fact, I ensured financial independence for myself long before I started working in the state governance system. I held senior positions in the system three times: I served as Deputy Minister of Energy for six months in 2001, Yerevan Mayor for 11 months in 2010, and now I’ve been Prime Minister for over a year.
When the cooperative movement began in USSR, we, a group of mathematicians, founded a company, one of the first of its kind in Armenia. In 1988, the joint venture we created in cooperation with Chinese partners was the 14th across USSR.
We started with solving math problems, gathered our best software developers. When we offered our solutions to the clients, many said they’d rather buy computers from us. We responded with a proud stance and insisted we weren’t merchants. However, it turned out later that selling computers is much more profitable than software development (laughs-Mediamax).
The company grew with time. We had offices in Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Minsk, Ashkhabad, and Beirut. It was a very diverse business. We opened a bank, an aviation company, several productions, we worked in non-ferrous metals industry, air transportation, tourism, etc.
My income sources were always clear. I have always been at peace with myself in this regard.
- We saw you with drumsticks twice. First, there was a video of you playing with a band of teenagers in Artsakh. Second, you played in one of RPA (Republican Party of Armenia) promotional videos this year. Do you play often?
- I never played professionally. I played in a band, although not for long, when I was a student. I rarely play now.
- How did you come to love rock music?
- That choice wasn’t influenced, as no one in my house listened to rock. But it isn’t my only favorite genre. I also like funk, jazz-rock, folk. I love listening to national Armenian music.
- You frequently visited Artsakh when you weren’t Prime Minister yet. You spent this summer vacation in Artsakh as well. Is it true that Artsakh has a special place in your life?
- I think Artsakh has a special meaning for any Armenian. Artsakh is the line where our national dignity and self are defined. I don’t miss an opportunity to visit Artsakh, I feel great there. I say this not because of my Artsakh roots. Of course I’m proud of them, but I grew up and lived in Yerevan, so I am a Yerevan guy.
- What is your biggest discovery in the position of Prime Minister?
- I wish pragmatism and rational thinking were more widespread in our country. It seems that all the hardships our people endured throughout centuries should have made us a pragmatic nation. We are in some areas, but we often live in illusions.
Photo: Hrayr Badalyan
In this position, I was surprised the most when I discovered that populism became a significant factor. There are many people who say one thing in front of the camera and another without a camera around, and what they really think is something else completely. I personally never said on camera something I didn’t believe. I’m not trying to get anyone to like me. I find lying unacceptable. Sometimes you can’t tell the truth, but I believe you never have to lie.
- Isn’t concealing the truth the same as lying?
- It isn’t. Lying is a bad thing, but unfortunately, we deal with lies all the time in our daily lives.
- What do you tell people when you catch them on lying?
- I say nothing, I just make conclusions about them.
- So let’s finish our today’s talk with this question: are there more evil people than good?
- Of course there are more good people. I definitely believe that. Evil people just draw more attention and speak louder, both in Armenia and the rest of the world.
Ara Tadevosyan talked to Karen Karapetyan