Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier-designate Francois Legault are set to depart for Armenia Tuesday evening to attend the XVII Francophonie Summit in the Armenian capital of Yerevan.
The three-day summit of heads of state and government in Armenia’s 2,800-year-old capital brings together leaders from 84 member states and governments from five continents from Oct. 11 to 13.
Canada has four seats on the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF): the federal government and the provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec are full members, while Ontario has observer status.
The Canadian delegation in Yerevan will also include Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie Mélanie Joly who is already in Armenia to participate in the 35th Ministerial Conference of La Francophonie, which is wrapping up Tuesday.
Joly, whose riding in northern Montreal has a large and active Armenian community, will then join Trudeau to take part in the leader’s summit.
A new day begins at #SommetEVN18. I am proud to represent 🇨🇦 at this important forum to defend, strengthen and promote the values of the Charter of La #Francophonie and the use of French, including in the digital sphere. @OIFfrancophonie pic.twitter.com/o0jb9mXQr6
— Mélanie Joly (@melaniejoly) October 9, 2018
Lobbying effort for Michaelle Jean
The theme of this year’s summit is “Living together in solidarity, shared humanistic values, and respect for diversity: a source of peace and prosperity in La Francophonie.”
Trudeau will highlight the importance of working together to address shared challenges, inclusive economic growth, and promoting diversity and inclusion, said a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
He is also expected to lobby world leaders on behalf of outgoing IOF secretary general Michaelle Jean, who is facing a stiff challenge from Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo.
Jean, Canada’s former governor general, is fighting for her political future at the helm of the organization dedicated to the promotion of French language and culture.
Armenia joined La Francophonie in 2004 as an observer and obtained full member status in 2012.
The summit in Yerevan comes as Armenia mourns the passing of French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour.
French President Emmanuel Macron had invited Aznavour to participate in the summit and the 94-year-old was even expected to perform at a gala concert, which will also feature Canadian diva Celine Dion, according to Armenpress news agency.
Trudeau’s second visit to Armenia, but first official
Following the summit, Trudeau will stay on for a bilateral visit to the country.
This will be Trudeau’s second visit to Armenia but his first official visit as prime minister.
Trudeau told Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan during a brief introductory encounter at the NATO summit in Brussels in July that he visited Armenia in 1988 together with his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and has good memories of his visit.
Armenia declared independence from the Soviet Union on Sept. 21, 1991. Diplomatic relations between Canada and Armenia were formally established the following year.
“Canada enjoys an excellent relationship with Armenia, and I look forward to further deepening that friendship,” Trudeau said in a statement, issued on Sept. 21, officially confirming his participation at the summit and the bilateral visit.
“Together, we will discuss ways to create more economic opportunities for businesses and people in both our countries.”
Canada is host to an Armenian community of more than 60,000 people, with vibrant communities in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
Many Canadian Armenians are the descendants of refugees and survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire, which forced nearly the entire Armenian population of Turkey to flee their historic homeland and set up diaspora communities all over the world.
In 2006, despite strong objections by its NATO ally Turkey, Canada became one the 28 countries to officially recognize the slaughter of as many as 1.5 million people and mass deportations of Armenians during World War One as genocide.
In recent years, Canada has accepted thousands of Armenian refugees fleeing wars in Iraq and Syria, as well as skilled immigrants, mostly IT professionals, from Armenia itself.
However, bilateral trade between the two countries remains very modest. In 2017, Canada’s exports to Armenia totalled $9.3 million and imports from Armenia reached $26 million, according to government statistics.
However, Pashinyan, a 43-year-old former newspaper editor and opposition leader, who became Armenia’s prime minister in May after leading mass street protests against the former ruling elites, has promised to uproot endemic corruption and attract foreign investment.
Pashinyan hopes the summit will help showcase Armenia’s potential as an attractive investment and tourism destination with a highly educated workforce, a burgeoning IT and high-tech sector, and a rich culture and history.
On a lighter note, an Armenian company is hoping to add to Trudeau’s collection of flashy socks. The digital branding company Braind has made socks with the colours of the Armenian flag – red, blue, orange – as a special gift for Trudeau and Pashinyan.