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Pasadena Mayor Returns from Landmark State Department Mission to Armenia

Mayor Victor Gordo reflects on the U.S.-Armenia Diplomatic Mission, Sister City ties, and the warmth and culture of the Armenian people

Published on Saturday, June 22, 2024 | 6:17 am
 

Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo was scheduled to return to the United States on Saturday after participating in a groundbreaking U.S.-Armenia Local Democracy Forum in Yerevan, Armenia. The week-long diplomatic mission, led by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard R. Verma, marked the highest-ranking diplomatic visit of its kind by the United States government to Armenia since it gained independence 30 years ago.

Speaking with Pasadena Now from France during a layover on his journey home Friday night, Gordo expressed his honor at being selected for this crucial mission.

“I was honored to have been asked to participate and to learn how well thought of our great city is,” Gordo said. 

The forum, which took place on June 17 and 18, brought together U.S. and Armenian mayors, regional, state, and provincial leaders for a two-day exchange about local leadership in a democracy. It comes at a pivotal time for Armenia, a nation of three million people facing significant challenges as it transitions away from Russian influence and towards Western-style democracy.

“Armenia is a country in transition to democracy,” Gordo explained.

“They’re breaking away from Russian influence and building a democracy. It’s a complicated issue that includes federal democracy but also democracy at the local level.” 

Gordo noted that former Ambassador Nina Hachigian invited him to join a small delegation that included the Deputy Secretary of State, other mayors, and state and federal officials.

The U.S. delegation, led by Hachigian, who is now the U.S. Department of State Special Representative for City and State Diplomacy, included mayors from Glendale, Scranton, Helena, and Los Angeles, as well as state officials from California and Kansas. They met with Armenian counterparts, including mayors, governors, and national officials.

During the forum, participants discussed democracy-building at the local level, focusing on cooperation with civil society and free media, transparency and accountability, election integrity, and constituent engagement. 

The second day involved a trip to Armenia’s second-largest city, Gyumri, where delegates explored topics such as IT development, fostering public-private partnerships, responding to climate change, and promoting tourism.

Gordo also had the opportunity to visit Vanadzor, Pasadena’s sister city since 1991. 

During his visit, he met with Arkadi Peleshyan, the acting head of the Vanadzor community. They discussed prospects for cooperation between the cities and explored investment opportunities in IT, light industry, and tourism. Gordo also visited the Vanadzor Technology Center, St. Astvatsatsin Church, and paid his respects at the monument to the victims of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. 

The long-standing partnership between Pasadena and Vanadzor has included various programs in Vanadzor kindergartens, such as heating system improvements, bathroom repairs, English classes, and providing stationery and kitchen utensils.

The mayor highlighted the gracious reception he received throughout Armenia. 

“The Armenian people are warm and embracing,” Gordo said. “They share many of the values that we do in Pasadena, including preservation, arts, and culture. Most importantly, the people were very welcoming, very hospitable, and very engaging.”

Reflecting on his experience, Gordo emphasized the significance of witnessing a nascent democracy’s development. 

“It’s interesting to see a new democracy begin to develop,” he observed. “The number one issue, I would say, is community involvement, engaging their community at the local level.” 

Gordo also noted that Armenia has 11 provinces, collectively called “marzer,” and emphasized the importance of coordination between cities, provinces, and the national government.

Gordo noted the parallels between Armenian and American values, particularly the emphasis on family, culture, and community. 

He shared a personal connection from when he was a boy, having immigrated to Pasadena from Mexico.

“My first friend in the United States was a young man from Armenia. He did not speak very good English. I did not either. Our families got to know each other by sharing food.”

“I feel very closely tied to the Armenian people and culture.”

The mayor stressed the critical timing of the diplomatic mission, given Armenia’s geopolitical situation. He explained that recent events have led Armenia to look to Western countries, primarily the United States, for assistance.

As part of the forum’s outcomes, new city and regional partnerships were announced, including between Helena, Montana, and Stepanavan; Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Armavir community; and the state of Michigan and Tavush province.

Gordo expressed gratitude to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Deputy Secretary Verma, Ambassador Hachigian, and Armenian leaders, including the President of Armenia,  Vahagn Khachaturyan, whom he has “had the pleasure of meeting twice.”

In a second call from France, Gordo emphasized the universal importance of democratic values and the responsibility of the United States to support emerging democracies. 

“It’s a reminder that democracy is both a governance structure and a way of thinking. Democracy is fragile and has to be curated, protected, and importantly, practiced in everything we do at all levels of government.”

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