My Way Home
18.08.2015Armenian by Birth
From Engagement to Investment: The Story of Olivier Mouradian
“My grandfather is from Stanots village, in the suburbs of Ankara. During the Armenian genocide he was a soldier in the Turkish army, near the Syrian border. When he saw the columns of Armenian deportees, he deserted and joined the Fedayins (Freedom fighters). In Syria, he met French and English soldiers, and managed to incorporate himself into the French army. He later went to Baghdad as well. After the war, he had the famous mention of “no turning back” in his passport; French citizenship proposed and was able to rescue his family.”
“From my grandmother’s side, we come from Bursa and Tokat. But she never mentioned anything. My parents’ generation, as other Armenian families, wanted to speak French, integrate, and as they say, be more French than the French themselves. We, the representatives of the 3rd generation, including myself, we were somehow awakened by ASALA. We were devoid of a complex (uninhibited) about our past. I managed to do what my father could not and made my way back to Armenia. One of the stages of that journey was to create something here, hoping to return back one day. Thus, the loop could be looped. (French expression)”
From Engagement to Investment
Thus begins his story: Olivier Mouradian, Paris born, who lives between Barcelona, Paris and Yerevan for years; a regular representative of the diaspora, not engaged in any organization, but always present in April 24events. This is how he defines himself. “I was content in giving money, as a lot of people are in the diaspora. But each time I was disappointed – they were not led by the best representatives of the Armenian community,” he says. “Until one day when my father died. He was sick, he never visited Armenia; at that time I decided to get involved”.
After seeking to cooperate with the Armenian government and local people, Olivier decided to start his own project. He put 6 months in to start it, and more than a year to make it operational. “I experienced work in the Armenian style; this means no database, nothing at all,” Olivier smiles, citing anecdotal stories.
“The most basic things can be a nightmare here. I wanted 20 chairs of the same color, but even when you order it, it was not possible. I nevertheless continued.”
Olivier currently employs 30 individuals within his company known as ICS Performance, an international offshore call center. He comes to Armenia 2-4 times a year, for a total amount of 3 months.
ICS Performance operates round the clock, 7 days out of 7, practicing more than 25 languages. Their field of expertise includes help and information line about products, customer support, customer service, hot line, surveys, satisfaction surveys, databases management, telemarketing, telesales, and other. Among their clients: IBM, Microsoft, SISCO, Pôle emploi (French employment agency), Caisse d’assurance –maladie (health insurance fund), and many others. According to Olivier, a lot of offshore call centers also exist in Madagascar, Mauritius, India and North Africa. Armenia’s advantage is the European quality of the service. The skill and education level is higher in Armenia in general.
A Not So Blind Love
“The first time I came in Armenia, it was in 1976, during the Soviet Union, and it was the Brezhnev period, one of the toughest. Yerevan was much smaller, but I fell in love with Armenia. You get contaminated by Armenia for life; you cannot ever forget! And the hinterland is prettier than Yerevan. We see the same difference in people living there. One the best and emotional trips for me was in Karabakh.”
To those who would like to repatriate to Armenia, Olivier gives his advice on how not to make the same mistakes as he did. “I came up with romantic ideas, saying to myself that I will help the country. But in reality, people are quite reserved here; they may even seem to be a little cold. But Armenia should attract skills from the outside. We must bring new blood. For example, there are only some twenty French companies, which is very little in my opinion. There must be more brewing/mixing so that new ideas can be born.”
“I also can feel that people lack confidence in the diaspora, while this also leads to a lack in confidence for those living here – Hayastantsi – as well. There is no dialogue between Armenia and the diaspora. The diaspora has this reputation to be a ‘lessons giver’. And here, we agree, we say yes, but do not take into account any ‘lesson’. At the end of the day, we need honest dialogue!"
Paradoxes Armenian Style
“This country didn’t foresee internationalization. All the taxes, social legislation, everything is very procedural. You have to move around physically every time; nothing is done by mail or electronically. That is shocking to me as a European. There are obstacles to the development of a country like this, especially when you are coming from Europe and you are expecting things to be a little easier here. As a tourist, it’s wonderful. But one has the feeling that the best have gone away, or they managed to enter international organizations. Fortunately, there is some repatriation from the diaspora, which will add value to this country.”
“Another example; they say they want to develop tourism in Armenia, but you need to have at least a Visitors’ Bureau. While here, there is just a tourism department under the Ministry of Economy. There was this exhibition named Made in Armenia, to promote Armenian products, but only a few had business cards and almost nobody spoke English. One has the impression of amateurism at all levels. We may not know, but can learn. The problem here is that people do not seek to learn. There are many things to develop, but we only see the churches. Even our castles (berd) are not restored.”
“At the same time, the country consumes a lot; it is becoming Americanized in the sense of consumption, lifestyle, etc. I can also see a big cultural loss. Before, we used to talk about philosophy, culture, today we speak about football, fashion. Even in the days of the Soviet Union there was more culture, people were generally better educated, more curious. Today, they are curious to know which the latest in trendy jeans are. But when they begin to be a little curious about the world, they only have the desire to leave.” Unfortunately, according to Olivier, when people evolve, they wish to leave the country. “We are not able to keep these people who change and evolve.”
“Despite all this, our nation has an incredible resilience. If you look at the beginnings of the independence, without electricity, hot water, and there, where we arrived today – it’s amazing! Despite the war at the borders, despite our neighbors, the country is moving forward. And despite all the remarks we can make, every year I come, even if I come after 3 or 4 months, I can see a new building, a new café, or something else. I also noticed, that the newly rich (nouveaux riches) people that were bling-bling and flashy before, and changing their tastes. This proves, nevertheless, an ability to evolve, which is impressive. In Saudi Arabia, it would have taken 3 or 4 generations; we did it in 3-4 years!” For Olivier, things are progressing and hopefully will evolve at an even faster pace. While the negative stories are spread too quickly, we need to counter that with the positive as well, showing Armenia in a more realistic light.
Interview conducted by Bella Shakhanzaryan
Edited by Tamar Najarian
Edited by Tamar Najarian