Valerie Gortsounian: “I left my soul in Armenia”
The Armenian society knows Valerie Grostounian as an exceptional woman who came to Armenia at most difficult times, and by creating Le Café De Paris, one of the most iconic corners downtown Yerevan, contributed to the Armenian society and economy.
“I came to Armenia in 1995, when the country was living hard times. We had been helping Monte, and decided to participate in Armenia’s economy as well. For me it was a dream to come to Armenia,” Valerie Gortsounian said in her interview (February 3, 2014, Paris).
Any diasporan that invests in the Armenian economy brings a new business culture and contacts, which the Armenian economy and society need so much. Coming out of the closed system of the Soviet Union and being a young system, Armenia needs new business culture and contacts channeling access to foreign markets. Valerie Gortsounian is a good example as she brought a culture of doing coffee business into Armenia. She brought with her the achievements, skills and contacts of her family’s 55 years’ hard work in coffee business. Such contacts, skills and business culture are sustainable for long-term development. For example, people who started in Valerie’s coffee business in Armenia continued that work in other companies as well. In this case, even though Valerie did not drop her business and leave Armenia voluntarily, the business culture, contacts for import, the brand and trained people still continue contributing to Armenia’s economy. Accordingly, it is highly important for Armenia to not only attract such businesspeople from Armenia but also make sure that they can do business in Armenia and will not have to leave any time in the future.
“At that time there was no coffee culture in Armenia; people were used to the Soviet coffee, which was coffee without caffeine. Even though it was difficult but gradually people got used to good coffee… The business started to bring income in ten years since its foundation, when we started to distribute coffee throughout Armenia,” said Valerie Gortsounian.
In answer to a question how did it happen that she had been doing business successfully in Armenia for a long time, and then unexpectedly was faced with problems Valerie Gortsounian said, “I had changes in my personal life, after which I started to manage the accounting of the business myself. At that time problems were discovered, which were connected with VAT. The amount of the penalty they wanted me to pay was 80 million drams. I did not bankrupt my company; I paid the whole amount, which made me bankrupt and I had to sell the “Le Café De Paris.”
In an interview given to www.tert.am in December 2011 Valerie Gortsounian said, “I asked for time to pay that 80 million but they refused and gave me 24 hours to pay that money. If they gave me time, the business would not die. They killed my business.” (Retrieved from: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_EPKwaAoP0&feature=share>)
Following the interview above, in December 2011 in another interview with www.tert.am Armen Alaverdyan, chairman of the State Income Committee of Armenia commented, “I watched that interview and, to be honest, as an Armenian I felt very sorry that the business environment could make someone leave the country… Le Café De Paris was among the taxpayers that are above the average level, and it paid all taxes in a duly fashion. Later, in October 2009, the tax body checked up the accounting of the company for the past two and half years. Debts for tax payments were imposed for those two and half years. Initially the amount of the imposed payment was 130 million drams. However, as we were in a crisis period, we were trying to have more favorable policies in relation to companies such as Le Café De Paris, we took all the issues above into consideration. As a result, for the sake of the taxpayer we imposed 53 million drams against tax payment. Mrs. Grotsounian appealed the entire amount of 53 million in 2009, and the court decided to cancel five million out of that amount. In 2010 she applied to the tax body and asked to give a payment schedule for paying that amount. We were ready to sign a payment schedule. However, after our answer that business showed us a payment schedule not only for that 48 million but also other current tax obligations that had incurred in that period; we did not have legal grounds for the latter.” (Retrieved from: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBMKnyl7Fkc>)
Valerie Gortsounian believes that Armenia needs investments from the Diaspora, and in order to attract people to invest in Armenia, they should be able to work in the domestic market, whether they are familiar with the local business culture or not.
“I left my soul in Armenia; it was very hard for me to leave everything in Armenia and return to Paris. I was very happy in Armenia. My home is Armenia; my home is not Paris. Every morning my day starts with Armenian news and Armenia. I left my soul in Armenia. If the environment changes, I will be the first one to return to Armenia,” says the founder of Yerevan’s Le Café De Paris.
Valerie Gortsounian’s facebook wall wakes up every morning with a new post of the Ararat, followed by Armenian news. Valerie’s conversation was very warm and very Armenian. Valerie has warm feeling about the society and life in Armenia. She was wearing Armenian accessories such as a watch, jewelry and bag. Even though she had to leave Armenia with negative feelings, her thoughts are still with Armenia.
Likewise, the day of people that emigrated from Armenia starts with Armenian news. Wherever you meet Armenians in any other part of the world, any talk turns into a discussion about Armenia. Such discussions are mostly dominated by the “grim attitude” that makes people emigrate, and now it seems that the same “grim attitude” is taking over the relations with the Diaspora as well. Even one precedent is enough for a word-of-mouth to go around in Diaspora communities and discourage many potential investors. Maybe it would be better to focus more on where this “grim attitude” comes from unless (hopefully) it is not late.
Interviewed by Kamo Mailyan
February 11, 2014, Paris