YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian described Armenia and Georgia as “the closest friends” in the region as he met with his Georgian counterpart, Mikheil Saakashvili, in Yerevan over the weekend.
Saakashvili arrived in the Armenian capital Saturday on a two-day working visit which Sarkisian’s office said focused on “a broad range of issues” of mutual interest.
A statement by the office said the two leaders hailed a more than 10 percent increase in Georgian-Armenian trade registered last year and discussed ways of further facilitating transport communication between the two neighboring nations. It said they pledged to make sure that vehicles cross the Georgian-Armenian border “almost without stops.”
“The presidents of the two countries also attached importance to active work towards eliminating artificially created bureaucratic obstacles to the development of bilateral economic cooperation,” added the statement.
Sarkisian and Saakashvili held talks after handing awards to the winners of first-ever Georgian-Armenian science Olympiad for school students held at the offices of Armenia’s largest information technology company.
“Can there be Georgian-Armenian friendship without competition?” Sarkisian joked at the ceremony. “This joke has a profound meaning. That meaning, in my view, is that having lived side by side for millennia, we have never taken up arms against one another.”
“We have competed in literature, we have argued over whose theater is older and better, who plays better football or chess,” he said. “This has been the basis of our competition, and this is a very good message that we can relay to our children.”
Addressing Armenian and Georgian participants of the Olympiad, Sarkisian held up Saakashvili as a role model for those who want to achieve success at young age. “At the age of just 28 he received a doctoral degree, and he was only 36 when he became president of Georgia,” he said.
“Indeed, in this region, we are the closest friends, and we must value, cherish and pass that friendship on to our children, and our peoples must benefit from that friendship,” added the Armenian leader.
Saakashvili reciprocated the praise, calling Sarkisian a “brother” and thanking him for supporting Georgia. “I want to tell you that we are doing everything to ensure that our countries become even closer to each other and our relations become even stronger,” he said.
“Georgian-Armenian friendship should serve as example to the outside world,” Saakashvili told journalists later in the day.
The Georgian president also announced at the ceremony that his government plans to offer scholarships to Armenian university students willing to continue their studies in Georgia. Sarkisian welcomed the initiative and said the Armenian side is ready to launch a similar scheme for young Georgians.