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US-Armenia Local Democracy Forum Kicks Off in Yerevan

US-Armenia Local Democracy Forum in Yerevan

The US-Armenia Local Democracy Forum has begun in Yerevan, marking a milestone in building democratic values at the local level. This event, organized by the US State Department, is the first of its kind, bringing together mayors and regional leaders from both the US and Armenia for a two-day exchange on local leadership in a democratic society.

The forum was inaugurated by Armenian President Vahagn Khachaturyan and US Deputy Secretary of State Richard R. Verma. In his opening remarks, Verma emphasized the importance of local, state, and provincial engagement in democratic processes. He highlighted the role of regional governments in tackling issues such as climate change and wildfires.

During the opening session, local leaders announced the formation of new city and regional partnerships. These include collaborations between Helena, Montana, and the Stepanavan community, Scranton, Pennsylvania, and the Armavir community, as well as the state of Michigan and Tavush Province of Armenia. These partnerships aim to foster mutual support and development.

Following the opening session, participants discussed various aspects of democracy building at the local level. Topics included cooperation with civil society, transparency and accountability, election integrity, and constituent engagement. The forum seeks to strengthen democratic practices through these exchanges.

Ambassador (ret.) Nina Hachigian, the US Department of State Special Representative for City and State Diplomacy, led the US delegation. She was accompanied by Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs Sarah Morgenthau. The delegation included Mayor Elen Asatryan of Glendale, California; Director Samuel Assefa for the Office of Planning and Research of the State of California; Mayor Paige Cognetti of Scranton, Pennsylvania; Mayor Wilmot Collins of Helena, Montana; Mayor Victor Gordo of Pasadena, California; Deputy Secretary Kelsey Olson at the Department of Agriculture of the State of Kansas; and Chief Information Officer Ted Ross of Los Angeles, California.

Armenian participants included Lilya Davtyan, Vanadzor Head of Development Programmes, Foreign Relations, and IT; Davit Gevorgyan, Head of Foreign Affairs Department, Yerevan; Governor Hayk Ghalumyan of the Tavush Province; Mayor Armen Grigoryan of Stepanavan; Arman Khojoyan, Deputy Minister of Economy; Edgar Martirosyan, General Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Syunik Province; and Mayor Vardges Samsonyan of Gyumri, as well as several other Armenian local and national officials.

Deputy Secretary Verma, in his address, noted the significant presence of the Armenian community in the US, with 1.5 million Armenians contributing to American society. He praised the cultural contributions of Armenians, including traditional foods like dolma and lavash bread. Verma also shared a personal connection, mentioning his Armenian American wife and their multicultural family.

Ambassador Nina Hachigian, the US Department of State Special Representative for City and State Diplomacy, highlighted the US's effort to connect local leaders from both countries. She expressed hope that these relationships would be lasting and that people would become more connected through these exchanges.

When asked about future Armenian-American projects, Hachigian emphasized that local leaders would decide on the projects themselves, with support from the US State Department. The focus is on building business collaborations and supporting local initiatives without direct intervention from the US.

Paige Cognetti, the mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania, shared her enthusiasm for the partnership with Armavir. She highlighted the ongoing discussions on building trust in government and looked forward to implementing projects within this framework.

Addressing recent clashes between police and opposition activists in Yerevan, Hachigian emphasized the importance of the right to peaceful assembly in a democracy. She emphasized that established democracies rely on democratic systems for political change.

Deputy Secretary Verma, along with other US representatives, visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial and Museum in Yerevan. They paid their respects to the victims of the Armenian Genocide, reaffirming the US's recognition of this tragic chapter in history.

The US-Armenia Local Democracy Forum represents a significant step in strengthening democratic values and fostering collaborative relationships between local leaders in the US and Armenia. The event underscores the shared commitment to building a better future through democratic engagement and mutual support.


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