Seven years after arriving as Armenia's first ambassador to Washington, Rouben Robert Shugarian is moving on to greener pastures at the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan. The former university professor, specialized in American and English literature and philosophy, said that despite the maddening tempo of diplomatic life here, every day has been a revelation and a discovery.
"There is never a second chance to make a first impression," Shugarian noted stoically about his stiff learning curve in Washington. He is completing a book on some of his recollections here titled "On the Overgrown Path," which looks at his homeland's independence since it broke away from the Soviet Union eight years ago tomorrow. It offers a conceptual look at U.S.-Armenian relations, touching on stereotypes and real perceptions of Armenia here and focusing on how best to represent Armenia abroad in its new incarnation.
"The image of a nation that is coming back home," was the way he described it. He said Armenia is a country that has suffered from extensive man-made and natural disasters, that is now trying to build its future differently. In a speech at a farewell reception at the Armenian embassy last Friday, Shugarian joked that in the first two years, he and his staff learned what not to do in Washington and the next five years they learned about what to do.
"This is a tough city. Any sign of exhausted creativity or ineffectiveness is not easily pardoned. This is an open society. Old career diplomacy tricks and buttoned up social graces don't get the job done," he said in an interview yesterday. "This is a country where you have to be engaged in a sincere dialogue to reach your objectives." A country that had no diplomatic representation, Armenia now has 15 students at Tufts' Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy who Shugarian hopes will benefit from his impressions. The book will not be a memoir as such because he will not be able to share some secrets until some time has elapsed. His most exhilarating moments in Washington came in 1993 when he celebrated Armenia's second anniversary of independence at Meridian International House.
"We did not have an embassy at the time. One felt the country becoming a reality, however, and that we were really going back home," he reminisced.
He said his first extended exposure to Turkey's ambassador, Baki Ilkin, was in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake Aug. 17 that killed more than 15,000 people. Armenia arranged to send a plane with seismologists, doctors, generators, blankets and medicine to the stricken areas. "We went through a terrible earthquake 11 years ago in which 25,000 people were killed. It was a purely moral step, not a political one and we do not expect anything in return. We went through something like that and we know what it is like," the ambassador said.
Although Turkey and Armenia do not have embassies in one another's capitals, Ilkin made a 20-minute appearance at Shugarian's farewell reception, a first in the annals of Washington diplomacy. "This is such a wonderful country where there is so much to see, to learn and to understand," Sugarian said in summing up his time here. "The most striking thing about life here is the freedom that exists, the freedom that gives you an opportunity."
Turkey Takes Stock of Quake
At the Global Reconstruction and Development Conference at the Omni Shoreham Hotel Monday, Ilkin said Turkey's losses from the earthquake amounted to $17 billion to $18 billion. He put the death toll at 15,613, with 24,941 injured according to the latest count on Sept. 17. The quake affected 23,160 square miles, and left 600,000 people homeless.
Ilkin said 87 countries and dozens of non-governmental organizations came to Turkey's aid in one way or another, with 43 countries providing a total of 2,463 search and rescue personnel. The global village is perhaps becoming a reality, especially in the face of horrific calamities.
All Dressed Up With Some Place to Go
Washington's diplomatic corps is being honored tomorrow evening at the traditional Ambassador's Ball, one of the best-attended yearly events benefiting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The event was taken over by the agency when the Carter administration decided to reduce lavish entertainment costs. The mystique surrounding ambassadors and their spouses in evening wear has served the cause of raising money for research into drugs that slow the progression of the neurological disease.
The Ambassador's Ball has raised nearly $7 million to combat the disease and is expected to bring in $600,000 this year. Richard Grasso, chairman and CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, and Frank Zarb, chairman and CEO of Nasdaq, are competitors on the job but are working together in sponsoring this year's ball.