My AGBU scholarship empowered me to invest in my academic interests. Now I am, quite literally, investing in Armenia.
Written for AGBU Impact Magazine 2022 by Nana Shakhnazaryan. Photos by Davit Hakobyan.
On the eve of the anniversary of his repatriation, Erik Khzmalyan sits down at Yerevan’s buzzing Mirzoyan Library, his modesty entirely out of place for someone so accomplished. After more than a decade of living and working outside of his native Armenia, he is back in the country with a purpose.
A geopolitical analyst by trade, with years of experience in Washington, D.C., Khzmalyan is committed to bolstering education in the country, especially as it relates to navigating the labyrinth of international affairs. “A well-educated citizenry,” he begins, “translates to a healthy, vibrant state.” So, despite the mounting tensions in the region, Khzmalyan recognizes resignation is a luxury few in the Armenian community can afford and is working diligently to do his part.
Perhaps it is unsurprising that he puts such an emphasis on education. In many ways, Erik Khzmalyan’s life has been profoundly impacted by the pursuit of knowledge. Born in Vanadzor, he came to Yerevan as a child when his older siblings began studying in Armenia’s capital. As he was preparing for his own higher education, he was awarded a year of study in the U.S. through the highly competitive Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program, a merit-based scholarship funded by the U.S. Department of State. In 2008, Khzmalyan would travel from Yerevan, Armenia to Newport, Oregon to spend his senior year of highschool in this small American town of just 10,000 people.
Far from home, he found himself embraced by America and fascinated by her many faces. “I was able to maintain my Armenian identity by presenting the history of our country and culture to those who would ask out of curiosity,” Khzmalyan recalls, “but I never felt like an outsider.” With an already keen interest in international affairs and foreign policy, upon graduation, he embarked on an academic journey that would first take him to Los Angeles, then to Minnesota to study Political Science at Southwest Minnesota State University.
It was during his last semester of his undergraduate career—when he secured a Congressional internship—that he was first introduced to the power center, that is Washington, D.C. The catalyst for his integration into political life, the internship would usher in years of working across a swath of quintessential industries, from political communications to domestic political consulting, to foreign policy risk analysis. Working in Washington, especially during such a pivotal period in American political life (2016-2020) was an education unto itself.
AGBU soon came into Khzmalyan’s life. Active in the Armenian community, he organized a variety of networking events through the AGBU Young Professionals of D.C. “AGBU has been incredibly supportive throughout both my academic and professional life,” says Khzmalyan.
With the support of the AGBU Scholarship Program, he then pursued his graduate studies in Statecraft and National Security Affairs at Washington’s Institute of World Politics. Championing diplomacy, the Institute produces graduates that are fed directly into the national security and foreign policy ecosystems of Washington D.C. Given his expertise, Khzmalyan participated in panels organized by the American Political Science Association, Forum on International Affairs, and his alma mater, the Institute of World Politics. In addition, he has also published his insights in articles for The National Interest, Providence Magazine, American Spectato, Asia Times, and Geopolitical Monitor.
“As I progressed in both academic and professional realms, I would often ask myself how I could utilize my personal success to benefit Armenia, our culture and our communities throughout the world,” he notes. In May 2021, after considering how much his particular expertise could be of use in the country, Khzmalyan boarded a plane to Armenia.
When he first arrived, the same inquisitive spirit that took him on journeys throughout the U.S. inspired his travels through the country of his birth. “I suspected I could be useful on the ground,” Khzmalyan admits, “but I wanted to better understand how.”
Soon after, Khzmalyan found himself directly applying his background in geopolitics and statecraft, designing and teaching a course on U.S. foreign policy at Yerevan’s Russian-Armenian University. In particular, he is committed to broadening local understandings of diplomacy and applied policy. “Given the sometimes limited international scope in Armenia, the propensity to default to mirror imaging—assuming that others are interpreting the world in the ways that we are interpreting the world—is high,” he explains. “Understanding how other cultures interpret the world is key to understanding foreign policy decisions.”
Though he often finds himself standing at the front of a lecture hall nowadays, Khzmalyan is forever a student, as eager to learn as he is to teach. Currently, he is the investment promotion and foreign relations manager at Enterprise Armenia, the national investment promotion authority of the country. As the primary liaison with the Government, the organization pursues its mandate to facilitate and attract foreign direct investment into Armenia.
This new role is a unique marriage of Khzmalyan’s past careers, with echoes of political communications, policy research, and strategic diplomacy. Furthermore, working with Enterprise Armenia means exploring both traditional and nascent industries in the country. “My position affords me a window into the diversity of sectors that make up the Armenian economy, from agriculture to IT to tourism.” Khzmalyan continues, “You can also feel the impact of the work in a relatively short period of time: one day you are talking to an investor, the next, there are ten new jobs, which translate to ten people with sustainable livelihoods.”
By all accounts, Erik Khzmalyan is the epitome of the caliber of professionals returning to Armenia when it needs them most. “My AGBU scholarship empowered me to invest in my academic interests,” he says. “Now I am, quite literally, investing in Armenia.”
This article was featured in the 2022 release of AGBU Impact Magazine. For more information on AGBU Scholarships, click here. For more information on AGBU Young Professionals, click here.