The main condition for establishing long-term peace and security, extensive and mutually beneficial economic cooperation is to recognize and respect each other's territorial integrity.
Azerbaijan’s principled and consistent stance in delimitation and demarcation of borders has allowed to finally break the impasse. However, Armenian authorities still fail to demonstrate the requisite urgency in the matter. At the same time, official Yerevan tries to explain their inertia by the presence of a strong revanchist front in the country, which opposes the recognition of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. For the sake of objectivity, we should recognize that it is indeed the case. But, what if, Armenian Prime Minister’s wife herself, Anna Hakobyan, is also fuelling the revanchist forces with her actions?
Anna Hakobyan met with the local Armenian community during her recent trip to Zurich, where she received a very expensive watch as a gift from Andranik Hovhannisyan, the Armenian Ambassador to Switzerland. Some sources insist that the exorbitant watch is actually a gift from Vartan Sirmakes, a well-known Swiss businessperson of Armenian origin, whom Hakobyan met in Zurich. She left quite an entertaining post about this meeting on her Facebook page:
‘I found time to meet with Vardan Sirmakes in Zurich. We need to talk about a lot after a long and hard break’, the Armenian Prime Minister’s wife wrote.
The Armenian media lifts the mysterious veil over Hakobyan’s meeting with Sirmakes to a certain extent. They recall that it was he, who promised funding to build the Ajapnyak metro station in Yerevan after the 2018 revolution in Armenia. He even transferred a small amount, although so far the promised station has not been built. Zhoghovurd newspaper ironizes that the government probably needs some more new promises.
The ‘fast talker’ Sirmakes is not less interesting for Azerbaijani community, and even more so for our law enforcement agencies, since there are numerous curious facts about this businessperson’s ebullient ‘activity’ in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.
Born in Istanbul into a family of Armenian jewellers, Vartan Sirmakes left for Geneva at the age of 18, where he studied how to set jewels. He set up his own workshop after receiving a diploma. He established a partnership with the Franck Muller Company to produce high-quality watches and co-founded the Franck Muller Group with them in 1992.
But, the director general and co-founder of the Franck Muller Group Sirmakes gained his greatest fame as one of the most active investors in Armenia and the occupied Azerbaijani lands.
For example, Artsakhbank CJSC, established in February 1996 with its head office in Yerevan, provided banking services to structures of the separatist regime. At the same time, only 7 out of 22 branches of the bank were located in Yerevan by 2015. The other 15 were in the occupied Azerbaijani territories. The bank’s shares belong to Armenia-registered Business Fund of Armenia CJSC, where Sirmakes owns 25.6% of shares. However, the status of a 100%-shareholder and a member of the board at the Business Fund of Armenia allows him to own around 66.3% of the Artsakhbank shares. He is also the founder and 80-percent-share owner of ArmSwissBank CJSC of Armenia (the other shareholder is Netherlands-registered Beleggingsmaatschappij Jongo BV , who owns the remaining 20%).
Sirmakes also demonstrated his ‘love’ for the occupied Azerbaijani territories as the major shareholder at Artsakh HEC OJSC. It was the ArmSwissBank , who issued the equities of the latter and played a direct part in promoting foreign investments for the organization.
At the time, he also financed numerous infrastructure, including a fish hatchery built by Zolotaya Rybka , a company set up to produce black caviar near the village of Madagiz in the then occupied part of Tartar region. In 2015, he was found to become an investor at Golden Fish company that produced black caviar in occupied Karabakh.
A fancier of luxury and fine jewellery, Sirmakes could not stay indifferent to the gold deposits in the occupied Azerbaijani territories. In October 2014, Gold Star CJSC started operating a gold mine near the Vezhnali village in Zangilan region and Soyudlu village in Kalbajar region of Azerbaijan. Armenian sources report that Sirmakes financed the project, which points at direct participation in plundering of gold deposits in the occupied Azerbaijani territories.
Sirmakes was awarded the 1st degree Order of Merit for the Fatherland of Armenia for his ‘valiant’ work. Sargsyan, the president at the time, personally granted him the award during his trip to Geneva in 2017. He was also appointed the Consul General of Armenia in Marseille, France.
However, Sirmakes earned an ‘honour’ of a completely different ilk, and a well-deserved one at that, among the law enforcement agencies of Azerbaijan. Back in November 2015, the Narimanov District Court of Baku delivered a judgement on detaining Sirmakes and Azerbaijan applied to Interpol with a request for his arrest.
Prior to this court decision, the Azerbaijan General Prosecutor’s Office had appealed to Switzerland with a request to bring Sirmakes to justice for his illegal visit ‘to the occupied territories of the country and for doing business there’. In 2020 Azerbaijan Prosecutor General’s Office petitioned to the Swiss competent state authorities to provide international legal support in this matter.
Based on irrefutable evidence, Crime Investigation Department at the Azerbaijan General Prosecutor’s Office has filed a lawsuit under Articles 318.2 (illegal crossing of the border of the Republic of Azerbaijan), 281.2 (open appeals against the state) and 192.2.2 (illegal business) of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan.
It is a crucial time, when the agenda demands to normalize relations in the post-conflict period, form and enhance an environment of mutual trust between the two peoples and sign a peace agreement, which will ultimately contribute to peaceful coexistence. And the Armenian Prime Minister’s wife chose precisely this moment to defiantly meet with a businessman, who has been put on the international wanted list by the Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan for crimes committed against the statehood of Azerbaijan and who has been arrested in absentia in our country. This behaviour on the part of Anna Hakobyan calls into question the statement by the Armenian officials regarding their sympathy to the principle of the impossibility of developing the region without establishing mutual respect between the two neighbours.
So, by acting so frivolously, Hakobyan does a disservice to both Armenia and the entire region. It is the same Armenia that should first and foremost be interested in normalizing relations with not only Azerbaijan, but also all neighbouring countries.
True, Hakobyan is not an official. But such behaviour of the Armenian first lady certainly does not contribute to the establishment of an environment of mutual trust and good neighbourly relations. By the way, she gained the spotlight with another curious initiative during the war to establish women’s detachments to participate in the Second Karabakh War.
Such reverent attitude by Hakobyan towards Sirmakes, who is on Azerbaijan’s wanted list, and receiving an expensive watch from him as a gift, cast a shadow on the prime minister’s family as well. This would be the perfect time to recall the wife of the last USSR leader, who also received expensive gifts from businesspeople, who represented foreign Armenian communities. We all remember well what kind of tragedies these offerings led to, especially for the Azerbaijani and Armenian peoples.
Incidentally, Pashinyan’s political opponent, the ex-president Serzh Sargsyan also doted on Sirmakes. Therefore, before playing nice with him, Anna Hakobyan should have carefully perused the ancient wisdom about the deceit of the Danai, who bore gifts. All the more so, the modern prototypes of the Danai have already sowed seeds of enmity between the two neighbouring peoples, which led to two wars that claimed tens of thousands of lives.
We now have a chance to turn the page of enmity and start a new era not only in the relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, but also the history of the entire region. The question is, do the Armenian Prime Minister’s wife and Sirmakes himself, who sees the South Caucasus only as an opportunity for plunders, desire the same?
Sahil Isgandarov, political analyst