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Armenia Plays Down Departure Of International Businesses

The Armenian government is downplaying the importance of recent decisions by several leading international companies to close business operations in the South Caucasus country.

Companies come and go every day, said Economy Minister Karen Chshmaritian.

“We should regard it as normal,” he said. “Different companies may work in different countries for a certain period of time and then move out.”

Among the best known companies that have already left or are going to leave the Armenian market soon are Etihad Airways, an airline based in the United Arab Emirates, South Korea’s electronics giant Samsung, and France’s Orange telecom company.

Etihad, which entered the Armenian market only a year ago, in April announced that beginning in September it will stop operating flights to Yerevan. The airline cited an “ongoing revision of flight schedules,” without elaborating.

Karen Asoyan, Samsung's public relations officer for post-Soviet countries, told RFE/RL July 29 that the company is leaving Armenia as part of an “optimization” of regional activities. “As for Samsung product sales in Armenia, the Armenian market will continue to be managed from the company’s regional office in Georgia,” Asoyan said.

France's Orange said earlier this month that it intends to sell its Armenian subsidiary. After having spent more than 460 million euros over six years on its Armenia operations, Orange said it failed to realize any profits. It said it no longer considered investments in Armenia to be expedient.

Chshmaritian said, however, that the departures are not necessarily an indication of a worsening economic situation or business environment in the country.

“One should not link the departure of one company or another [with the economic situation]. Because to this I may reply that another company, two or ten companies have arrived,” Chshmaritian said.

Armenia’s rapidly growing information technology industry has attracted a number of leading international companies in recent years.

Just this May, Microsoft Corporation pledged to step up its contribution to Armenia’s IT sector with a new regional software development center in Yerevan. Also, Oracle, the world’s second largest software developer after Microsoft, inaugurated an Armenian branch in late 2014.

Hayk Gevorkian, an economic analyst writing for the Haykakan Zhamanak daily, said he was surprised that any leading international companies have remained in Armenia.

“The departure of prestigious international brands and companies from Armenia is very natural. This is due to the overall economic and political situation, if you will,” he said, without explaining.

Armenia's economy has been hit by a deep recession in Russia, which has been attributed to a plunge in oil prices and the effect of yearlong sanctions against Russia imposed by the West after it annexed Crimea and backed a separatist war in eastern Ukraine.