Investors shore up country

Investors shore up country
By Naush Boghossian, Staff Writer

Los Angeles Daily News, CA
June 20 2004

GLENDALE — Foreign investors, many with roots in Armenia, are pumping
millions of dollars into their homeland to build housing, hotels,
roads and businesses.

American-Armenian billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, CEO of MGM Grand, has
committed $172 million to renovate 275 miles of highways, tunnels and
bridges in Armenia and streets in the capital of Yerevan, as well as
museums and theaters, through his Lincy Foundation.

Argentinian-Armenian Eduardo Eurnekian, who operates 33 airports
across South America, owns a company that took over the country’s only
airport in 2002. Construction of a new terminal began this month and
the airport will meet international standards by the completion of
the $42 million project.

New Jersey developer Vahak Hovnanian has bought 62 acres of land
20 minutes outside Yerevan to build an $80 million mini-city of 500
single-family homes, including time shares, a shopping mall, school,
sports complex and golf course — the only one in the Caucasus.

Foreign investment in Armenia grew 21.7 percent in the first quarter
of this year compared with the same period last year, according to
the National Statistics Service.

Part of the attraction is wanting to help the country, said Glendale
resident Savey Tufenkian, who along with husband Ralph and brother
Kosti Shirvanian is investing $12 million to purchase and renovate
the Ani Hotel.

“We had investments here, the stock market was high, we knew nothing
about hotels and we had no motive other than helping our country,”
she said. “They need us badly.”

Tufenkian’s Ani Hotel now employs 200 Armenians, and it is that type
of investment that the country needs more of, she said.

Owners of a successful local waste company, Shirvanian and her brother
were aware they would not make a profit for a while, and that if they
did, the money would be re-invested in building schools in Armenia.

“I believe in education, and I believe education is the most important
thing in Armenia — if we don’t educate our children, we are not
going to get ahead,” Tufenkian said.

Tufenkian is right, according to international trade specialist Ellen
House, who said Armenia is different from other former Soviet countries
because it has an educated population.

“Armenia does have things that some of the other developing countries
stuck in the cycle of debt don’t have: a literate, educated population
and some industries — the hallmarks of developed, industrialized
countries,” House said.

Tufenkian recounted how U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Harry Gilmore
once told her that Armenia, unlike other former Soviet countries,
is blessed with its diaspora — its scattered foreign population —
that continues to donate, invest and vacation in the country.

Armenians who have become successful in countries outside Armenia
not only invest in the new country but also have demonstrated strong
lobbying power — all essential to the country’s future.

“If they can get a start with investments from the diaspora community
and they have greater stability there and the economy gets better,
other companies will follow,” House said.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress