Interviews and press conferences
President Serzh Sargsyan met with the representatives of the mass media
Good afternoon. I intentionally didn’t prepare any introductory remarks, since we almost never meet in this format. I believe in this period of time many questions have arisen which demand answers and not to waste our time I will answer your questions and simultaneously will try to communicate whatever I want to tell. Please.
Gevork Altunian, Public TV: Mr. President, first, I would like to thank you for this opportunity. And let’s start with the elections: different comments and assessments have been voiced regarding the past presidential elections. The authorities declared that the elections have been the best in our history. International observers, along with highlighting some problems, nevertheless gave a positive assessment. However the opposition, in the person of the leader of Heritage contests the results of the elections and declares that there took place large scale violations. What are your assessments and comments?
Serzh Sargsyan: I believe that overall the results of the elections were satisfactory, though I also believe that we should evaluate these results from different points of view. I trust that 58,64 percent participation of the voters is a very serious percentage and I think nobody should have misgivings about this simply because you cannot point to any developed democracy, or even if you can, it would be an exception, where in the first round of the elections an individual or a party would get more than 58,64 percent of the votes. 58,64% in the elections which were crucially important for us and in the country which has thousand problems, difficulties, the ongoing emigration, where people lack the jobs of their liking, where one third of the population lives in poverty, I believe this number is a decent number for the authorities which put in a nomination. It means, for me - the person, who for the last twenty years has been occupying important positions in the state structures of the Republic of Armenia. To receive this number of votes without, please excuse my language, without scuffle, without hollow promises, without shows, I believe that it’s a remarkable success indeed. To get that number of votes and at the same time to receive overall a positive assessment from the international observers, this too, I believe, is a good assessment not only for the candidate but for the country as well. I wouldn’t claim that the elections were impeccable; however the most objective assessments are made in comparison. Compare and see for yourself how many statements and announcements were made by the law enforcement bodies during the previous elections? Compare and see for yourself if there was an impressive atmosphere of solidarity during the previous elections? And these results were registered as a result of the pre-election campaign which was void of, at least on my part, any serious criticism, of black PR, void of personal insults – in a nutshell, void of the atmosphere of animosity. Compare and see for yourself if there was such atmosphere during the previous elections. It was done, of course, intentionally so that after the elections such atmosphere vanishes from our country. And if anyone would say that today, when considerable time has passed after the elections there is the atmosphere of animosity, it means that I don’t command the situation. Yes, there are disaffected people, there are protesters but first, I don’t see any hostility and second, even a quantitative comparison with the past is impossible because now the atmosphere is very different. Certainly, I would be happy and wouldn’t say that the situation was satisfactory “overall” if 58,64 votes were distributed equally on the entire territory of the Republic. Of course, it is painful for me that I lost in Shirak marz. I expected that we would flop in Gyumri not only because there are more problems than in other regions but because we didn’t manage to restore our party structures in time. As you noticed, we didn’t put in a nomination at the mayor elections; moreover, we supported the candidate from another party. Unfortunately, during the presidential elections we didn’t receive any support. However, I didn’t expect that we would lose in Shirak marz. I mention this fact not because I am hurt or bear a grudge against the residents of Shirak marz or inhabitants of Gyumri. Since the opportunity presented itself, I would like to repeat my statement which I made years ago – I consider myself President of all citizens of Armenia, of the citizens who voted, of the citizens who voted for me, of the citizens who voted against and, of course, of the citizens who didn’t vote at all. I am confident that in all those places, in all those polling stations where we lost, we have to double our attention. It means that there are unresolved issues; it means there are problems, and these problems are not of a social and economic nature exclusively. If they were social and economic problems only or even related to justice or something else, it would be one thing. I can give you the example of Kajaran: in Kajaran I won with a negligible margin. In Kajaran, the average salary is above 400,000 drams, i.e. three times more than the average in the country. Almost everyone in Kajaran has a job. There are not too many nasty roads in Kajaran. Then what’s the reason, why? It means that there are problems too. It will take time to make all necessary analysis, it requires human resources, experts. We will do that analysis. I also get the underlying message, because it looks like after the elections and probably right now (right now to a lesser degree) there is a sense of dissatisfaction in the air. That sense was also present within my closest milieu, my teammates, the Republican Party and, naturally, the public at large. However the reason in this case is different: the reason is that I was not able to overcome a very large problem – the expectation of an easy win. I was not able to overcome these expectations and by the way, with this regard I also see some problems in the area of mass media. All were saying that these elections would not be competitive, would not be interesting. It was echoed by the representatives of the international structures, by the political parties which could but didn’t put in nominations, and our mass media was repeating that too. I put much effort with my closest circle, I mean political circle, to explain that it couldn’t be that way, impossible, don’t expect 70-80 percent. In normal countries such percentage simply cannot be, doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, in Armenia the rich are protesting just as the poor; the opposition are protesting, the authorities are protesting, everyone is protesting. I spoke about this in detail with my team members after the elections and brought the example of the parliamentary elections. As you remember, the Republican Party in the parliamentary elections won 44 percent of the votes and all the Republicans were happy. Why? Is 44% greater than 58, 64%? Of course not. It happened because the expectations were lower at that time. At that time my closest circle, my teammates thought that 30-35% would be nice. I told them I was sure we would get more than 40%. We won 44% and all were happy. Now we won 58 percent and it looks like there is some disappointment. In a nutshell, overall I am satisfied with the results of the elections.
Gagik Mkrtchian, Armenia TV: Mr. President, days ago at the Presidential Palace there took place a meeting between You and Raffi Hovhannissian. It was much talked about; however we learn about the meeting, the details of the meeting mostly from Mr. Hovhannissian. Would You open the brackets?
Serzh Sargsyan: It looks like I have to open because the meeting has been much commented on by Raffi Hovhannissian and by other people who were not present at the meeting, or that conversation. It’s not right when the public is provided distorted, incorrect information. This is what happened in reality: after the journalists left, we together with Mr. Hovhannissian inquired about each other’s well being. Then, I asked Mr. Hovhannissian if he had something to tell, what was going on, what’s the reason behind the gatherings. He said that he definitely had something to tell and it was the following: what were we going to do? I said literally this: Raffi, before speaking of what’s to be done, I have two questions: first, have you won the elections? He said “no.” I asked, “What is it then?” He said, “Our folks say that you didn’t win either.” I said, “Raffi, if you didn’t win and I didn’t win, then who did?” Mr. Hovhannissian smiled and I asked the second question. I asked if during the pre-election campaign he heard any personal insult from me, or a though formulation, except just one instance when I assessed the phenomenon, because it was an extremely important one. If it is asked about, I’ll tell, if not, I will tell it anyway. Mr. Hovhannissian explained that the reason of his tough language was that I prematurely raised a glass of champagne within my circle to celebrate the victory. I was really surprised. I told him that nowadays, when a word from any official becomes known within seconds, it is precisely known who said what and when, I was surprised that you said that. Number one, I expressed thanks to my teammates, to those who voted for me and only after the Central Electoral Committee presented preliminary results for all 1988 polling stations. And number two, the congratulations went without champagne. The entire population of our country had seen that. Anyway, we finished with that and I asked Mr. Hovahannissian what he wanted, “I am listening, tell me.” He said that it would be right and it would be nice if we held new presidential elections. I answered that I didn’t think it was possible, but even if there was a possibility, was he sure that in those new elections, he would win, let’s say, 4th place? He asked, why? I said, because new elections mean new contesters and it was not clear who would be nominated. He said, “No, I didn’t mean that. I mean elections just between you and me.” I said it was not possible either, because the international community, the great majority of our people accepted the results of the elections and assessed it as good. However if by any miracle there was such a chance and we together with you conduct presidential elections and if by some miracle you receive 55 percent of the votes, can I take the remaining 45%? He said, yes. I went on, “In that case, can I gather twenty thousand people at the Freedom of Republic Square?” He said, yes. I told him, “It’s four times more than you have gathered today.” In that case, I will gather these twenty thousand people and will claim that if Raffi Hovhannissian with his 37 percent demanded new elections and conducted them, then I too demand new elections. So? How far and how long can we go on like this? He said, “Ok, if we cannot do new presidential elections, let’s dissolve the parliament and conduct parliamentary elections. I asked what the reason for that was. If we agreed on the presidential elections, what’s the reason for dissolving the parliament? Besides, in accordance with our Constitution and laws, the President of the Republic cannot just on a whim dissolve the National Assembly. It can be dissolved in four cases stipulated by the Article 74 of the Constitution. At the moment, neither of them is present. How can I do that? He said, “You can.” You can invited everybody and make them put down their mandates. I answered that first, it was unlawful. Justice and lawfulness can never be established through unlawfulness. And second, what if 10, 20, 30, any number of the parliament members reject my demand and say, “Mr. President, we really respect you very much, however in the interest of our nation, democracy and in order not to set a precedence, and so on, we will not resign.” To that Raffi said that nobody here would let my words hang in the air. Then I asked how come that Raffi Hovhannissian could do that but there was no other one or two or even five people who wouldn’t do that. Thus, Raffi Hovhannissian’s proposal was to undermine the political base, one of the most important institutions of our state just because Raffi Hovhannissian had received 37 percent of the votes. And I said, all right, let’s put it aside. “If by some miracle we dissolve the parliament and conduct parliamentary elections, are you sure you will overcome the five percent threshold?” He said, “We will go together with the Republicans.” It was rather strange. I asked him, “You propose that I “startup” the entire state and police machine so that we together receive the majority of the votes and form a new parliament?” If I were the one who started up that machine, I would have done it during the presidential elctions and would get at least 80 percent of the votes. What are you talking about? It’s impossible. He said, “So this is no option either?” I said, “No, it is no option.” He said than that all those who falsified the elections must be panished. On this I told him that I agree 100 percent and regardless of whether he demands it or not, we would do that. He asked what else could be done, it was necessary to conduct an all-national event. I said, please, let’s think what an all-national event it can be, let’s put in on the paper and let’s see what you propose. I will think it over too. I will put my ideas on the paper and give them you. He said it was fine, and asked what we should tell the people. I said that in my opinion it would be right without going into details present all this to our teams. He asked what if not to tell anything at all. I said, no, because if you can tell your teammates that it’s a secret and you cannot tell, I cannot tell my team, “You know what, we didn’t discuss anything with Raffi Hovhannissian during the hour-long meeting.” Besides, there has been no important decision or an important event which at the least the members of the Executive body of the Republican Party are not aware of. Why should I do it now? He said, “In that case, I will go out and say that it didn’t work out.” I said, “As you wish.” He asked, “Now what?” I said, “Raffi, I see only three options: option number one – you walk out and state publicly everything you told here – that you received 80% of the votes but the President of the Republic wouldn’t transfer me the authority. You continue to form field courts, as you already have, you appoint ministers and declare that in this country you have to get to power, i.e. a coup d'état. In that case, I can promise you two things: first, the Police, all law enforcement bodies, all state structures will be acting in the framework of the law. And second, the Police all law enforcement bodies, all state structures will use 100 percent all their authority to protect the people and maintain constitutional order. In that case, the responsibility will be yours and yours only. If you are ready to take that responsibilty, go ahead. Option number two: you walk out, go to the Square and there you declare that you received not 37% but more, however because of Raffi Hovhannissian’s love for Armenia, for the Armenian people and his commitment to the democratic values, Raffi Hovhannissian within the limits of the law will compel the authorities to stop the emigration, to fight the corruption, to elimanate the “otkat” phenomenon, i.e. all things that you have stated in your pre-election campaign. In that case, I, as the President of the Republic ex officio have to cooperate with the opposition and I will cooperate with you. Turn 500.000 plus votes you have received into your political capital, your property. Make the Heritage Party a 500,000 strong party. In just two months, we will be having Yerevan municipal elections: participate in these elections, first win and then govern the 1/3 of the country’s population, then get ready for the parliamentary elections, which are not too far away, only in four years from now. You will win the majority, form the government and in this way the Heritage Party will take the power. And option number three: you walk out, go to the Square and tell the people that Serzh Sargsyan offered you to become part of the authorities and through the joint efforts to address the problems of our country. He asked, “Do you mean coalition?” I said, no, “I am absolutely frank with you and don’t want to discuss any detail or point because two hours later, at the Square people would tell that Raffi sold himself out, that he asked for a nice job, etc. Only when you make that statement, you come back and we together decide on the issue of your involvement. But in this case, you have to forget about being the opposition.” I didn’t tell him but would like to repeat on this occasion what I have already told on many occasions: I don’t understand the stance of some individuals who being part of the authorities, play the opposition. Those who constitute part of the authorities cannot make statements which are opposite to the authorities’ political course. Those who constitute part of the authorities cannot demand that we recognize the independence of the NKR. I will fire such official in ten minutes. Those who constitute part of the authorities cannot make territorial claims to a neighboring state. I will fire such official in ten minutes. And in general, those who constitute part of the authorities cannot make any statement regarding the political course of the superior. All those individuals who are part of the authorities and want to criticize their superiors have to resign, and only then they can roll up their sleeves and mercilessly criticize all and every one. It is their right. Those individuals who are part of the authorities may not insult any country, even the president of Azerbaijan. It is impermissible, unacceptable. How one can insult personally the presidents of the United States, Russia, and France? It’s inadmissible. How can one adopt the Azeri course and fight for the dissolution of the Minsk Group, the Co-Chairs? We have been struggling for years not to allow any changes in the format of the Group, because that format was properly chosen. That’s how our meeting with Raffi Hovhannissian ended. As for all other things such as we allegedly recorded that conversation and will go public with it, or I allegedly proposed him the position of the Vice Mayor of Yerevan or a couple of ministerial portfolios – all this is not true. I believe the distortion of the content of that conversation is not ethical, no matter who makes it.
Hrair Tamrazian, Radio Freedom: Mr. President, according to the official data, and you said it a minute ago, over half a million people voted for Raffi Hovhannissian and now they are simply convinced that their candidate has won the elections and they stood up for him: they support their candidate through the mass protests, and Raffi Hovhannissian, as you know, went on hunger strike and his health is probably deteriorating.
Serzh Sargsyan: You have information on his health?
Hrair Tamrazian, Radio Freedom: No, I don’t.
Serzh Sargsyan: I am asking because in the pre-election period we and I believe, you all saw, that this particular case we are very attentive to that issue. And state officials, who are responsible for that matter, have received very strict instructions.
Hrair Tamrazian, Radio Freedom: Sorry, I am not finished with my question. Are you going to visit him at the Freedom Square and if yes, what proposals are you taking with you?
Serzh Sargsyan: I am not going to the Freedom Square. There are numerous and different reasons for that. First, I would like to clarify your words. But before that I congratulate you on the 60th anniversary of the Armenian service of Radio Freedom. I believe that Radio Freedom is also celebrating anniversaries. First, about my clarification: you said that over half a million people have stood up for him and are standing now on the Square. It means, I have some vision problems and not only me but also the majority of our population, because I didn’t see neither 500,000 nor even 50,000 there. When it is said that people are on the Square, it sounds pretty strange to me. On average, meetings, which are taking place at the Freedom Square, are attended by 3,000 people. First, I am not sure, maybe you are, that all of them, up to the last person are those who have voted for Raffi Hovhannissian and second, 3,000 people, although we appreciate the opinion of each person, makes, I believe, 0,1% of our citizens. We have the population of around three millions, consequently to speak about people on the squares, is at least, how should I put it, is improper.
Hrair Tamrazian, Radio Freedom: Mr. President, I meant other towns too.
Serzh Sargsyan: Mr. Tamrazian, I am particularly meticulous on this question because declarations are made from the podium “about people”, “for people,” etc. This awakens bitter memories, because everywhere in the world all benefactors and all villains have always spoken on behalf of the people and have always adorned their actions with the assurances that they do it all for the people. I would refrain from bringing examples, I believe you absolutely understand. You all know about our relations with the Armenian National Congress, all know about our political dispute and other things too. I am telling this so that nobody takes this as flattery. If you remember, in 2008 up to 30,000 people gathered at the Freedom Square to listen to the speech of the candidate who won around 300,000 votes. In this particular case at least the voters came together, ten percent of the voters. However, that’s not the point. I am telling this to clarify declarations of those who are ready to speak and to act on behalf of the people. I am deeply convinced that by going on hunger strike, Raffi Hovhannissian has taken the events out of the political processes. What am I supposed to talk to Raffi Hovhannissian about? I am asking myself, what should I negotiate with him, a person who is bitter with the world and hungry for the last 8 days? As you say, probably his health is also not fine. To negotiate doesn’t mean to exchange niceties, true? There is no sense, no reason for that. Should I have gone there, I would do it for one purpose only: once again to urge, ask Raffi Hovhannissian to end hunger strike, to choose other means of struggle (I intentionally left out the word “political”). I can do it even now: Raffi Hovhannissian, I urge you to end hunger strike, I beg you, ask you. There is an in important, very substantial point here: I don’t know why Raffi Hovhannissian went on hunger strike, do you? You’re a informed person, tell me – what conditions has Raffi Hovhannissian put forward? I looked into his statement very carefully, which, unfortunately, was mired with obscenities, personal insults which doesn’t suit Raffi Hovhannissian. However I saw one thing here: Raffi Hovhannissian says, if Serzh Sargsyan on April 9 will make a false, I repeat false oath on the Gospel and Constitution, then... then... then... I have never ever, unlike many-many other people, made any false oaths, haven’t showered phony greetings, never assumed phony stances, have never put a phony smile on my face. I have took oath many times, made pledges for many very serious issues, and on April 9 my oath will be coming from my heart and will be absolutely sincere, because I believe that I won in a fair struggle. At least, it was not arranged because I trust that I have to justify confidence of those hundreds thousand people, I trust I am responsible for this country and this people. Presidential elections – no need to use other opportunities and speak of manliness. Manliness has very precise manifestations. One shouldn’t speak of manliness; one just has to be a man. No need to speak volumes on patriotism, one just has to be a patriot. And when the homeland is in danger, you have to be in the center of the events. Then and only then, and it doesn’t happen often, you may think that you’re a patriot, and not to talk unwarranted of patriotism, not to talk small and big of patriotism, of decency, of solidarity, of democracy. Don’t pretend to be, just be a democrat. The answer to your question is no, I will not go. And one more thing, reports are not given at the squares. The reports mostly should be made public but not made at public places. We have used public places too. In just one year, I gave hundreds of such reports, considering the parliamentary, local governance and presidential elections. Soon we’ll be having Yerevan municipal elections. We never shy away from public gatherings or from speaking at the public gatherings. Never shy away from seeing people face to face. It is true, it is my fault that I cannot, have no time, incapable of shaking hands with 500 to 600 thousand people. But we all have our strong and weak sides.
Hovhannes Galajian, Iravunk paper: Mr. President, rallies are important for democracy. However when it comes to the speeches made by the “Fifth column”, especially anti-state, unethical speeches should there be no restrictions? One example, many were outraged by the pronouncements of Ruben Hakhverdian regarding a distant province of Azerbaijan. Don’t you think it’s necessary to draw the line somewhere?
Serzh Sargsyan: Of course, it is. But we should not go from one extreme to another. I think, though I am not an expert, Ruben Hakhverdian is a talented singer and composer. However I should say that he is not an equally talented in politics, moreover in personal relations. Also I would like to note that his memory is often failing him, and I can bring numerous examples. But just one will suffice: I was never an assistant to Boris Kevorkov, it’s a fact, thousands, hundred thousands know it. I was the assistant to Henrik Poghosian. These are different persons. At least names and surnames are to be distinguished. This is number one. Number two: he accuses me of being a communist in Soviet times, for being a member of and working in komsomol. You know, one shouldn’t be ungrateful and first of all toward the previous generations. Can anyone tell today unequivocally what would be our destiny should Armenia not become soviet? If anyone knows for sure, please speak out. That is, are we allowed to take the standpoint that there was absolutely nothing good in Soviet Armenia? That is if we run down everything people did in soviet times, does it mean we should equally run down also music of Aram Khatchaturian? All our achievements are to be degraded too? And please excuse me but I have to put Ruben Hakhverdian in this crowd too. Does it mean we have to run down Ruben Hakhverdian’s music created in those times? Is this a right approach? I am proud that I had the opportunity to serve my people in those times too. As for how I served can be testified by the residents of that “distant province of Azerbaijan.” Anyway, God grant Ruben Hakhverdian gets back to what he is doing best and make us happy with his new works. As for putting restrictions on the gatherings and speeches, it will get us nowhere. For a long time, in independent Armenia too we have been living under such conditions. Was it a good time? I don’t think so. It’s better this way. Never mind that insults and obscenities multiply, never mind that insulting the President has become the easiest job there is. Many in this country are afraid to insult even a mid-caliber businessman, but they are not afraid to curse the President. I am very patient. We have to pass that road too. And when our courts will really be trusted by our people, we will settle the score through those very courts. I am confident the more developed country we become, the fewer in number such speech will become, because people will criticize those who went overboard not at the street corners or in their kitchens but publicly. At that time, they will be a little more careful. It’s a normal process, don’t worry. At this point hardly anything can disrupt, I wouldn’t say the calm but the normal life of our country.
Shavarsh Gevorkian, H2 TV: Mr. President, many take interest in the future composition of the government. Will the government be changed or reshuffled; the Prime Minister will be appointed or re-appointed?
Serzh Sargsyan: Should I have wanted to tell everything, I would have done it long ago. Not because it’s a secret but because it’s a serious process and should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, when we speak of changes in our country, we mean first of all shake-ups. In the last year, a strange phenomenon surfaced: shake-ups are mostly spoken of by the former officials. Current officials are talking about a reshuffle. The first are talking with the anticipation because the shake-up is a chance for them to make a comeback, the others are talking because they think that the reshuffle will promote them to a higher position. Changes are also discussed by those who expect that can get a position in the future but with a reservation: those who are talking indicate everyone except themselves. This doesn’t mean that there haven’t been changes or shouldn’t be. Stereotypes must be broken. I will give a number which will surprise you: in the five years since I formed the government, and our government comprises 19 officials – 18 ministers plus the prime minister, I have made twenty replacements. Was anyone thinking that so many changes have been made? No. Why? Because all day long our mass media is telling that officials are never being changed in our country. Please, check for yourselves: twenty changes. The average tenure in office for our officials, our ministers is three years. Is it too much? One cannot become a good specialist in three years; one cannot become a good driver in three years just to drive a small car. In three years one only gets to know what kind of place he works and, in general, what it means to be minister. It doesn’t mean that there will be no changes. On the contrary, I have said it on one occasion, I will say it now: no official has any guarantee that he or she will never be relieved of the duties. Now, if you ask me of any official, my answer is the following: at this moment, I have no such intentions. However, it doesn’t mean that the same official will not fail the day after tomorrow so I will consider firing him or her. What I mean is this: change of cadre is an ongoing process. Probably, it’s our fault or error that we don’t cover this issue properly, but this is it. By and large, there are no officials in our country who work too long, I mean on the same position, and I am not talking of myself. But look at the neighboring countries – there are people who serve as ministers for twenty years. There must be something in it. At the moment, I cannot tell you that the government in its entirety will be changed. My answer is: today I don’t see any reason to make cardinal changes, but it doesn’t mean that the members of the government are guaranteed against changes or that I endow them with certain privileges. The government works to develop our economy. The government exists for moving our country forward. I formed the last government only some months ago, after the parliamentary elections. I was personally present at the first sitting of the government and set objectives for that government. I told them that the government must ensure economic growth for the Republic of Armenia, at least 7 percent. I told them that wages must grow more than inflation. In 2012, our economic growth was 7,2 percent and it happened when the economic growth in European Union was 0,2% and in the experts’ opinion the global economy grew for 3,5 percent, probably less. I am not saying that 7,2 is a great achievement, but would like to repeat that everything is revealed in comparison. In the Republic of Armenia the wages grew more than inflation. Do I have a moral right to summon that government and tell them to resign? They have fulfilled the task. There are thousands faults and errors. But who says that the new team will work better? Of course, there are big mouths. Of course, there are people out of reality and they think that everything is quite easy, just say it, and everything is done, perfect, we’ll be living in paradise. It doesn’t work that way. A member of the government works hard, tirelessly, I assure you. I worked in the government for fifteen years, I know what it’s like. At the same time, I want to tell something important. A government of the Republic of Armenia that cannot deliver 7 percent economic growth (we are talking 2013-2017), must resign. And a government, which will not make the end of the year breakthrough, i.e. a more impressive growth, and a government which will not provide for higher wages, i.e. higher than inflation in the country, will have to resign. On the other hand, one can wonder what about the already mentioned arguments? Yes, it will happen notwithstanding these arguments. Because our government has already acquired sufficient experience and when I say that the average term in office is three years, for one minister it can be six years, and two for the other. That is, our government overall has experience, has the abilities and it is not the members of the government that must be changed but rather their attitude toward their duties. I mean this: changes must be first of all made in the minds of the people; if we succeed in making these changes, what’s the difference who’s in government? If your pension is paid on time, if your pension is increasing on a regular basis, if your daily life is slowly improving, what’s the difference who’s the minister for social affairs? If there are violations, at that point it makes difference for you. I believe this should be the approach toward this issue. Of course, there are also ethical issues, there are issues of a broad social impact, but at this point I am talking about the general approach.
Artak Alexanian, Armnews TV: Mr. President, my question pertains to the episode you mentioned a moment ago. During the pre-election campaign you demonstrated restraint vis-à-vis all candidates but for one episode when in response to the idea expressed by Raffi Hovhannissian, you said that it was adventurism. In particular, Raffi Hovhannissian proposed to recognize independence of NKR. What’s your position on this issue and why this it is dangerous?
Serzh Sargsyan: Why such a harsh response? Because there is nothing new to it, and we have explained our position on many occasions. A reasonable official, a reasonable political figure before making a decision, I don’t say before talking, before making a decision must fully understand what the outcome of this or that move will be, what price is to be paid, and where it will get us. I want, Artak, all of us to think together, what will the citizens of NK and Armenia gain today if independence of NKR is recognized? Whether the recognition will make lives of these people more secure? Please tell me if the recognition will increase the inflow of investments or will it mean more loans for Nagorno Karabakh? Will that decision improve the lives of the NK inhabitants, will it improve the roads? Please tell me anyone, what will we get? Please tell me what will get the people of NK from the recognition by Armenia? It’s not a rhetorical question, it’s a practical one. Here we have people who have been talking and writing about this problem for the last two decades, tell me, what will we get? Name just one benefit. No answer? Then let’s talk about citizens of Armenia: what will the citizens of Armenia get? What will we get from it? Will it make Armenia a more secure state? Will it make lives of our troops safer? Will it add to the international reputation of Armenia? Will we gain trust of our partners? Will we be able to maintain that we are responsible and full members of the international community? I don’t see any benefit for Armenia or her citizens. Now, let’s observe the issue from a different angle. How dangerous such a decision for the people of Nagorno Karabakh will be? I believe there is no doubt about that. However there is a more important thing. Nobody should have any doubt about this: if we make such a decision, it means the negotiations are ceased. Do you doubt that? Will there be anything to negotiate about? I don’t think so. It means to slap in the face not only the other side but also the Co-chairs. Moreover so when we voice insults from the Square addressed to the Minsk Group Co-chairs, leaders of that states. If there is a war, are we going to fight alone against the entire world? Such calls and statements could be done only by the people who have no responsibility whatsoever. They think that it sounds nice to the people. Probably for an Armenian who lives in Toronto it would be nice if Armenia recognizes independence of NK. But is it worth endangering the lives of thousands? Is it worth aborting negotiations which have been going on for twenty years, which resulted in our opponent Azerbaijan’s rejection of the document on the table, while we say it is somewhat acceptable to us? So? Just one reckless decision and lives of thousands of people will be wasted. One should simply understand what war is, or rather should see it to understand. That was the reason I immediately gave that harsh response, because a more unreasonable step regarding the NK problem is hardly to be made, simply impossible. But I said it publicly, I said it on international forums, in Armenia too, and I repeat – we will recognize independence of the NKR the moment the military actions begin. In that case, we will have nothing to lose and we, yes, will declare that we are a united state or NK is an independent state and we are the guarantor of NK people’s security. But should we instigate military activities ourselves? No. We will recognize independence of NKR if Azerbaijan starts military actions or creates an impasse in which we will have no alternatives. In any other case even to think about it is betrayal of our troops, of our citizens. We are talking of emigration and instigate war at the same time? We are talking of encouraging birth and start a war at the same time? We talk of democracy and by such an imprudent decision put at risk everything we have?
Artem Erkanian, Shant TV: Mr. President, none of the RA presidential candidates questioned Armenia’s Eurointegration as well as further development of our relations with Russia. At the least on that issue, there is a certain consensus. After the election, your first visits, as expected, were conducted to Moscow and Brussels. Supposedly in Brussels discussed were issues pertinent to Armenia’s becoming an associated member of EU and in Moscow, of course, the possibilities of joining the Customs and Euroasian Unions. I would like to here it from you: are these two processes compatible and can we hope that in December Armenia will become an associated member of EU?
Serzh Sargsyan: First, I should repeat that my first trip abroad was conducted to Moscow, which is natural. It is natural because the Russian Federation is our strategic partner, our ally and it means that we are linked together with the military security as well as economic security issues. It is no accident that we have the largest turnover with the Russian Federation. It means that our economies are closely interconnected. And the new elections do not announce the end of anything, nothing ends with elections. Elections give a start to new works. We should realize what we can expect from our partners. It is about the gas prices, and new funds, and Nairit – all this has a host of sub-questions. Certainly, it is also about political integration, about the CSTO, Customs Union, it is also about a very important problem of the functioning of the Abkhaz railroad. Overall, the agenda of the Armenian-Russian cooperation is so large that just one visit, even with a lengthy conversation cannot cover even a small part of it, even the issues that have already been discussed at the presidential level. We have more or less went through all issues – some substantially, some superficially. I want to add one thing: don’t listen to all those people – whether they speak through the media, or at the rallies, kitchens or theaters, doesn’t matter, who claim that Russians are coercing us into becoming a member of the Customs Union. No such thing. How many times should I repeat? The members of the Customs Union have no intention yet to involve anyone else, at least when it comes to us, I haven’t seen such an intention. I am not talking just for talking, am I? I am not expressing my views, I am talking about negotiations, about what’s taking place in reality. Integration process is another matter. Can we just stop integration processes? How can we associate our military security issues with the CSTO, with the Russian Federation, and associate our political or economic future with another country or another union at the expense of the other. Of course, we can’t. I am telling this to underscore that we will continue our integration processes also with the European structures. And that was the very purpose of visiting Brussels. As you know, there took place the Summit of the EPP. However it would not be entirely correct to call it a party convention because it was attended by the leaders of almost every European state, majority of which are represented in EPP. I am very pleased that at the Summit and in the congratulatory messages of the EPP leaders in general, Armenia is viewed as a model, as an example for the others. For us the matter is not a white-and-black one, there is no “either - or” problem. We are honest in our intentions, while our intentions stem from the interests of our people; we want our country to develop and in the process we will use assistance provided by the Customs Union, Eurasian Union, and European Union. We are honest in our conduct, in our activities. We don’t promise one that will run to one side one day, and run to the other side the next day. Such people are short-lived in politics. It happens and there are such examples in our country too. A responsible official is traveling some place and makes a statement which is the opposite of the statement made by the President; then he is coming back claiming that he or she meant something else. It doesn’t work that way, neither in the internal nor in the foreign policies.
Artem Erkanian, Shant TV: The association idea before December...
Serzh Sargsyan: The association idea is the following: we have already signed with the European Union the agreement on facilitation the visa regime and, if I am not mistaken, before June 1, there is a precise date, EU member states will ratify the agreement which will enter into force. We have almost concluded works on the Deep and Comprehensive Trade Zone Agreement and God help us to finish and sign it at the end of this year. I believe a delegation from EU will visit Yerevan this week to close the remaining chapter of the Association agreement; it means it is almost be ready too. Also, in first or second week of April, the Head of the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission and the Armenian Government, most probably, will sign with the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission a memorandum on cooperation. This is against the wishes of all those, who are rubbing their hands in anticipation of a white-and-black story, who are waiting to see whom Armenia is going to antagonize. I am simply surprised. They want this country to have problems, so that they can gloat. But the problems are not only for Serzh Sargsyan, these are problems for the entire Armenian nation. People don’t care that today Armenia is importing gas two times cheaper than Ukraine or Moldova. There are scores of curses, gossip about the gas price. Yes, the price may go up or not. If it goes up, is it fine with them? I can also bring an example from EU but don’t want to dwell on this too much. People are guided by spite way too often. But life proves that spiteful people never get serious success. They can have a short-lived success for a while but not in the long run.
Gegham Manukian, Erkir Media: Results of the sovetization of Armenia may be discussed at length however it would be out of place here. A moment ago, you spoke about the works of the government. Months ago your speech on “otkats” and some other speeches drew a wide resonance in the society. They were followed by a number of demonstrative sessions – of the government, different structures of the executive body; however months later, let’s recap – the “buffalo meat case” is not fully solved, it’s about one or two individuals, moreover the imprisoned individual has again won the bidding. At the pharmaceutical market instead of regulation, prices for some medications went up, after one or two replacements at the state procurement system, though the announcement was about major changes, it looks like everything remains in place. In your speeches you noted several times that would come back to these issues now and again. After all, for how long it is going to be that way – strict instructions which boost works somewhat, then back to normal.
Serzh Sargsyan: I believe you dramatize just a little. I don’t think that there have been no changes in our country at all. If they took place, it means that some of the instructions were carried out, if they didn’t then I don’t understand how at least two TV channels say whatever they want about the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister, about whomever they want; the level of free expression is so high that it has become the most safe occupation. I don’t know, if nothing has changed in that area how come the President is named a pickpocket, a representative of the TV company which aired that is sitting at the Presidential Palace and talks to the President of the Republic. Would it be possible five, seven, ten years ago? I can bring a dozen of other examples. What I mean is: our country is changing; whoever has eyes can see that. Who has eyes and desire will see much. Who doesn’t have eyes can tell day and night that nothing has changed. As for that particular meeting, first I should inform that regarding the buffalo meat not one or two persons were interrogated but hundreds. For your information it‘s a very difficult job, it’s not easy moreover so because the buffalo meat problem was raised by the person who’s sitting in front of you – me, and not anybody else. That problem will be brought to its end, in the court. I can assure you, however the buffalo meat problem should not be a problem our TV companies and our printed media are trying to turn around and present from a different point of view, as if it is snake meat or it’s poisonous. The problem was presented in a different context. I had a different approach toward it. Next, after our meeting, where by the way, the conversation was not about “otkats”, a huge amount of work has been done. New regulations were adopted. These regulations were improved, to become more transparent, more controlled. I am certain, if you direct this question to the Prime Minister, he will tell you the details. I don’t want to waste time here on details. And again for your information, it was not or two individuals that got replaced. And in general, that agency or that business doesn’t involve a thousand individuals. Three dozens are working in that area, around the same number of people works in that area and 1/3 of them have been replaced.
What’s the problem? As a preliminary result, we, for instance, at the 24 billion dram bidding at the Ministry of Defense managed to save 2,5 billion. In the area of health care, if I am not mistaken, in 1,4 billion bidding we managed to save over 240 million drams and so on. Again for your information, the state budget assigned nearly 350 billion drams for state procurement. I can assure you that without much effort, I mean efforts which are invisible for you, by the end of the year, we will save 35-40 billion drams. Is it a positive result, or not? Or do we just talk, rend the air, people get a little scared and that’s it. No, that’s not the case. But I am also deeply convinced that not all my instructions are being carried out and not all programs are being implemented. Certainly, it shouldn’t be that way. If I set medium or small problems, they all will be solved. President is supposed to set a bar, which is very hard to get to and pass over. It’s a simple policy, this is a common administrative technique. Too many are taking advantage of it and go on blackening everything. That’s the working mode and it will be maintained. Of course, the implementation discipline will be tightened. I believe it’s advisable that you, as a TV company, in the end of 2013 assess the situation, and if there are questions, we will talk. About the medication price cuts. I didn’t say that at the government sitting. I spoke about it during the pre-election campaign, noted precise time-frame, unfortunately, you’re not aware of that, because I didn’t see or hear it on your channel. I can promise that in the specified time-frame that social package will be available. As for the price hikes, I have told in the beginning and I am telling now: in 2012 there was no major inflation in our country. It was within the limits set by the budget. It was around 3-3,5%. I will check it out and there will be the official announcement. It doesn’t mean that some medications didn’t become more expensive, possibly they did. But if you pay attention, some of them became cheaper. I know it. It also doesn’t mean that in our country goods are becoming cheaper. It’s a very difficult process and hardly happens anywhere in the world. Let’s not speak about it now. What I want to say is this: dear Gegham, some changes are really taking place, not as fast and not on the scale which I - more than anyone else would like to see, but we really have to notice positive things too. The greatest problem of our country is not with the people, is not with the corruption, not with the criminals, our country’s greatest problem is the lukewarm attitude. This lukewarm attitude must go. Help us to get rid of that attitude. It’s not the sole responsibility of the authorities. Emigration is predominantly authorities’ problem but not solely, because people leave Armenia not, as it is often said, because of the shortage of justice or jobs. If you exercise some effort to find our where the people go, you will see that people are leaving mostly for Russia and you may conclude, you can at least see this very simple and trivial thing: in Russia justice is not something easily accessible for the Armenians, that in Armenia it is more accessible than in Russia. So, why are they going to Russia? What about those who work for 16 hours? Had they worked in Armenia for 16 hours, wouldn’t they been able to sustain their families? Maybe they would earn a little less, though I doubt that, but would be able to provide for their families. The core reason for emigration is this lukewarm atmosphere, people don’t see a light in the end of the tunnel, they have no hopes. Why, because for many years at least two TV channels, dozens of printed and electronic media have been talking about the very worst, have been only blackening the picture. We become Olympian champions in chess, they say it happened accidentally. We prevail in several football games in a row and over strong teams, they say we were lucky. Whatever we do – just a good chance or an accident. It’s a pity you don’t enjoy that luck just once. Luck is with the people who is running after it day and night, and not with the one who is sitting on the couch, waiting for that luck to arrive. Please help, I urge you all, let’s change this atmosphere. On my side, I will do everything I can so that officials really become rather then play more caring. I will do everything so that officials do not take bribes but help to reveal the corrupt ones. Some media sources are talking 2000 or 3000 drams. Please, is it the largest bribe in our country? Is it the real problem? Do you know people, let’s say 10 people who would come to court to testify about bribery? Do you? Everyone is ready to whisper in your ear but will not state it publicly. What can I do, if there is no civil activity? What can I do, if there is no assistance, no concrete help? I will do it anyway, but if you help, we’ll do it faster.
Christine Sukiassian, Kentron TV station: Mr. President, we are approaching the City Council elections. Some political forces have already announced their participation, with their own nominations. Do you see any possibility for cooperation with other political forces and what kind of competition there will be, considering the fact that the current Mayor is a member of the Republican Party?
Serzh Sargsyan: We are ready to cooperate with all political forces in any concrete electoral process. In general, we are ready for cooperation but in this process we are ready to cooperate closely. At this point, I would like to pick up a topic which concerns me greatly. I understand that it concerns you too, that’s why you’ve brought up the issue. Electoral process - what does it mean? It means participation of the voters, of the citizens. State bodies, state structure and political forces also participate in the elections. The latter participate through their political parties and do it through the appointment of their representatives and authorized persons to the commissions. Do you agree? Thus, who is the first to provide a party with the information on the process of the elections? Party members, who were delegated to the commission, right? What do we have now? In the presidential elections, Heritage and three opposition parties had, let’s put it this way, nearly 7000 representatives. We have 1988 polling stations. Half of the chairmen and secretaries of 1988 polling stations were from Heritage and three opposition parties. Thus, presiding over precisely the half of the commissions, having thousand representatives in these commissions there was only one person who appealed for the re-count of the votes. 15000 citizens of the Republic of Armenia worked at the polling stations, members of the commissions from the Republican Party, Orinats Erkir Party, and four other parties. Almost 2000 representatives of the mass media worked at the polling stations as well as 640 international observers and nearly 6000 local observers. It means 2-3 individuals at each polling station. So when the parties are making derogatory remarks about the elections, I don’t believe it serves the purpose of elevating the reputation of their parties. All right, 3000 members of a party worked on the commissions, they were all weak-willed people, or corrupt? Or these 3000 were just idling away their time or there was no communication between the leadership of a party and its members, other reasons? Well, if that’s what they have, how were they supposed to lead the country with such a party, such members? If a candidate doesn’t have 10, 15 or 20 persons that can be present in at least 20 polling stations, and stand up staunchly against every violation... I am telling this because I am confident that even if the Yerevan Council elections will be, let’s say, “stainless” still, there will be political forces which will mire these elections too, trust me. I want, I wish that the Yerevan Council elections are even more transparent, fairer and a step forward compared to the presidential elections. I hope it will be just like that. I think that each party with its own candidate doesn’t mean inevitable animosity, doesn’t mean inevitable loathing, moreover so, because I am confident that the nominees are decent people. We, as the Republican Party, have already made our decision. Our list is totally ready. It will be headed by the current Mayor Taron Margarian. While he’s been occupying this position and the position of Deputy Mayor before that I cannot recall him lying, or taking any indecent step. Anyone, who is objective, cannot tell that during these years, Taron Margarian has become haughty, nobody can tell that he is walking around with a score of bodyguards. Nobody can tell that Taron Margarian has lost touch with the people and nobody who’s fair will tell that today Yerevan is in a worse state than it was last year, or year before that or five years ago. Considering all this, we have taken a unanimous decision to nominate Taron Margarian for Mayor’s position unlike other political forces that have probably decided on the leader at the list of nominees but haven’t decided who will be the Mayor of Yerevan. It means that the residents of Yerevan will be voting for the list with no idea as of who is going to take care of their daily needs. Is it an advantage for us or not? I think it is. And we have a number of such advantages. For that very reason I am confident that the majority of Yerevan residents will vote for Taron Margarian. The pre-election campaign has not started yet, that’s why I can speak freely of this. I trust we will have good elections.
Aram Abrahamian, Aravot daily: Mr. President, the officials have been talking for two years about separating business from politics, you have spoken about it too. You said before the parliamentary elections that tycoons, wealthy officials are banned from getting into parliament. Nevertheless they got in. What prevents you in your party from urging the Republican oligarchs not to get into the parliament and what prevents now to tell, to urge, to ask them to leave the parliament and allow for other more educated, more accomplished people to work in our parliament, because their low educational level and their presence in the parliament enrages people.
Serzh Sargyan: First, I am surprised to hear this, because you cannot attach these people to the Republican Party list. These people are not on the Republican list, and this is our position. It means that the Party position on this issue, in this particular issue regarding parliament is fully reflected in its proportional list. Yes, I said it and I did it. I never said that businessmen have no place in the Republican Party. Businessmen not in fictional terms, i.e. one who is perceived as such, even though on the paper everything is fine, like they are not businessmen, but in reality they are. I didn’t say that and couldn’t have. Why couldn’t have I said that? Because those who know me well also know that I solve issues not through coercion, not with a stick, unless absolutely necessary, but through other means - urging and asking. But you cannot urge or ask everyone, or close the doors of parliament before everyone. We delivered on our promise. Let the other political forces get in, catch up with us and in that case I think the parliament will probably be of a better quality as you said. But I repeat, I don’t believe that our present parliament is a bad one or the overwhelming majority of the members are lacking knowledge or education. That’s not the case. I believe that these people should be approached, it would be right if they are engaged by mature, distinguished, professional journalists and not by those, I wouldn’t give the specific name of an educational institution, by boys and girls who graduated from that institution just three months ago, who hardly can present the reality correctly, who hardly will be able to display deep knowledge with these people. However, we have solved another problem as well and continue to address it. We, it is worth mentioning the numbers: the number of female MP who represent the Republican Party in the parliament has increased 4,5 times. We included on our proportional list also unaffiliated persons, we have put on our list representatives of other political forces and that was the idea – to make the parliament the reflection of the society. It should be that way. Probably there are people who think that in parliament gathered should be the most intelligent, the best people of our country. I may be wrong, but I don’t think so. I truly believe that parliament should be the reflection of the society. Parliament undoubtedly must be a step ahead of all processes, but if we gather in the parliament only scientists, such a parliament cannot fulfill its mission. Being a member of the parliament is not only about adopting laws. Its role is much greater than that. In my opinion, in building civil solidarity parliament should have an indispensable role. Unfortunately, in our reality it is quite the opposite. Because all those political forces who are underrepresented in the parliament believe that elections were falsified, that they were deceived and deprived. Filled with spite they go to the parliament and consider it their task to talk scandal. I would like to reflect on that topic: regrettably, in our country spiteful talks replaced constructive criticism. You see, in our country kindness is not appreciated. Kindness and altruism are replaced by formal benevolence. I repeat that I am the one who’s ultimately responsible for that; authorities are the responsible for that, but is it about authorities only? What about other political forces, mass media? Should they have any responsibility at all? Should civil society in general have any participation at all? I can name the people who in the last 10 years have seen nothing, nothing positive in this country. I can name media outlets which haven’t seen anything positive. I don’t ask them not to curse me, or my teammates, others, by brothers, or my children. If I assumed the position of the President of the Republic, I have to swallow all bitter words. But not all are Presidents, aren’t they. Why a person who doesn’t want to boycott classes, who doesn’t want to miss classes must be ridiculed? And people who consider them to be decent keep silent; how can a person, who is not a student, force students into boycotting classes? Is it only my business? Why others will use blackmail and blame the state for it, why? Shouldn’t we do it all together? This country doesn’t belong to the authorities, it doesn’t belong to me, it’s our country. Why wouldn’t let’s say 20 people go there and ask – why are you sitting here and not in your classes, why you came to the Yerevan State University and force people into sabotaging classes? Probably because you once failed to complete your studies here, or you took offence at the University, or probably you’ve been asked to, or have been paid for it? The society should be active too. It cannot be any other way. Let’s blame the parliament members and claim that if they weren’t like that, this country would be a paradise. Reality is not like that. I know many wealthy people whose minds are bright, who have honest aspirations. I am not defending the rich, I wouldn’t claim they all are decent people, but it shouldn’t be assumed that a wealthy person is a bad person, that a wealthy person has no right to become a MP. It looks like for 70 years we were saying that to be wealthy is bad, for the next 15-16 years we were saying that to be wealthy is good, now again, we are getting back to saying that to be rich is bad. I believe what we should be saying is this: means to get the riches must be honest, and should not debase just being rich. In a nutshell, I delivered on my promises. In the future, we will self-clean even more. Again, in the future at least in the parliament we will not have individuals who are considered by the public or by the media, even if in reality they are not, to be tycoons, we’ll not have them. But to cut off, like that, there may be problems. I think you know all too well there were leaders in our region who tried to undertake drastic measures. Possibly part of people because of that had a short-term benefit, but many things were also lost. I don’t want us to lose what we already have, I don’t want to put our country in peril only for people to tell, see how he did it, just thrashed them. Who would doubt that President has every means at his disposal? Who would doubt that I can get angry with anyone, and compel many people to do different things? But I will not do it unless absolutely necessary. That’s the right way, that’s my work style. If our people, our citizens want someone who would come in the morning to the office with a sword, chopping along the way heads at Baghramian Street, let them elect such a person, go find him and elect. I will not do anything drastic, because it is dangerous: I will make haste slowly.
Aram Abrahamian, Aravot daily: Excuse me, it is about conflicts. Conflicting interests, it’s not about wealthy people, it’s about businessmen. If I have, for instance, liqueur business, adopting a law on liqueur, I will keep that in mind.
Serzh Sargyan: I agree, but it’s impossible for 66 out of 131 members of parliament to have liqueur business. You would say there are other businesses too, they will unite around common interests. At this point it comes to political parties, political leadership, and government not to allow these issues to be settled like that. Maybe I shouldn’t say that there are 2-3 men in parliament who are doing liqueur business, I should rather say that people believe that there are 2-3 men who are doing liqueur business. But they cannot lay a key role, simply can’t. They probably are trying to use their position in dealing with other bodies; maybe they are trying to secure their future through this position. So, what’s the bottom line? If we are able to expeditiously improve works of our overseeing, fiscal bodies, if we succeed in planting the idea that private property in Armenia is inviolable, these people will naturally leave the parliament, there will be no need to stay there. This is the vision for development. And not like, Mr. X, come here, you have no right to be in the parliament, get out! Or Mr. Y, you too, you’re this and that... Will we then be different from bolsheviks, who were summoning people in 1937 and telling them that they had composed bad music, anti-Soviet music. Well? Have we also to assume the functions of judges? Will it make the society more cohesive? OK, let’s say we expelled ten persons by force. A thousand or 5,000 may applaud, but will it bring more solidarity to the society? Our goal, our goal number one is to bring unanimity to our society. I see it that way. I see my mission in bringing unanimity to our society.
Gagik Mkrtchian, Hayots Ashkharh paper: I would like to talk about your comment on making haste slowly. Look, a month has passed after the presidential elections; it’s been a pretty tough month, full of events, but wouldn’t you agree that plain citizens, regular people are more interested in their families’ problems, in getting their daily bread, etc. The pre-election period witnessed many interesting, ambitious programs. In your opinion, when will the citizen feel positive changes, first improvements, even if small steps, but when will they become noticeable?
Serzh Sargsyan: Gagik, I don’t expect that the number of disappointed people in Armenia will decrease, and I don’t say in a bad sense. On the contrary, I believe for some time to come, the number of disgruntled people will rise, rise considerably, the number of people resentful of state officials’ work will increase, expectations for problem solving will rise. We need to look into other nations’ experience. I don’t mean we need two hundred years to achieve democracy, but I say look back and see that in a country like France Sarkozy got 27 percent of votes. What does it mean? That at least 73 percent of the voters were displeased with his performance, or probably there were other problems too? I hope that our people do not doubt elections in France, do they? Thus, those in power, first of all the President of the Republic should not expect that the number of disillusioned will decrease. It doesn’t mean that elimination of poverty and social problems stop to be priorities. Of course, our task number one is economic development, reduction of poverty. Of course we have to do that, but to feel it is a little relative. It is relative because along with the improvement, demands also increase. We can approach the situation like this: is inflation higher than pay rise or vise versa? This is number one. Number two, does the number of jobs increase or decrease, and what’s average salary? This is a set of indicators. If you mean this, then I should say that nobody heard me saying during the pre-election campaign that we will increase pensions or wages dramatically. I didn’t say that deliberately, because I believe it to be a kind of bribery, even though to put it bluntly, every promise made to the people is “bribery” so to speak. It doesn’t mean we don’t have such a program. I mentioned one of such programs in general terms – at least 7 percent economic growth and progressive rise of wages compared to inflation. However it is clear that we have to increase the average wage, pensions, we have also other social programs. At the moment, the government is working seriously on increasing salaries in 2013, i.e. on July 1, 2013. But unlike others we have to make painstaking calculations and only after that to take up the issue. I trust this is going to be a significant rise. The issue of pension rise is also being discussed. Some would say, aren't they strange people? They are going to increase salaries and pensions but didn't speak about that during the pre-election campaign. That's true, we discussed it at the beginning of this year. A little increase in pensions and wages but a lot of fuss as if it's coming from a private purse, as if it's a favor. It's a process which must be moving on. It's a part of the country development. If a working person cannot take care of his family, he's hardly to be admonished for taking bribes during the elections, but of course, a corrupt person is the vilest thing in the world. Anyone should be able to provide for the family, to take care of its problems. I think that some people have noticed certain positive change, I repeat, I am not talking of everyone and not about the fact that 1/3 of our population is poor. We will move forward much faster than before because we have been able to totally overcome the consequences of the global financial and economic crisis. For all those who just sit on the fence and talk like “crisis or no crisis - doesn’t matter” let them reckon over the growth of the European economy, over the growth of the global economy. Of course, it matters, doesn’t it? Do they mean that our economy is so large and so stable that stays out of global processes? Changes will be made faster and more observable.
Flora Nakhshkarian, Golos Armenii newspaper: Have there been a follow up on your talks with President Putin on the Abkhaz railroad? How realistic is it and when to expect results?
Serzh Sargsyan: I can’t tell you anything regarding the timeframe. However I can tell this: during the meeting proper, during my conversation with President Putin, he said the same day he would also meet with the President of Abkhazia and would definitely touch upon this issue. Later, we were informed that there were positive signals, and efforts should be made to solve that critical issue. As for the timeframe, I really cannot tell. There are problems with the Georgian side, there are problems with the Abkhaz side, there are problems with the Russian side, and only we don’t have any problem on this and have a great desire. I expect positive shift on this issue. It will be immensely beneficial for our economy and beyond. Currently, to import a ton of goods from Moscow via railways we, I mean our businesses, unfortunately, spend $190 just for one ton of goods. It’s a dreadful price. I am not even speaking about other things. The same goes for exports. I have great hopes on this issue.
Hrair Tamrazian, Radio Freedom: Mr. President, you said you wouldn’t go to Freedom Square. It is your position and your right...
Serzh Sargsyan: If you were me, would you go? If you would go, for what purpose then?
Hrair Tamrazian, Radio Freedom: I don’t really know whether I would go or not. But the situation is such as, I believe, he can be visited as the presidential candidate who came second, or just can be visited to see how he’s feeling.
Serzh Sargsyan: It’s not about just seeing him, is it? I don’t need that. If I am to see, to get information or make opinion about everything, I’ll run out of time. There are special officials who take care of the problem. And because you insist, just to put you on ease, I want you to know that I didn’t lose touch with Raffi Hovhannissian and recently made a proposal on the topic suggested by him. If you recall, when I spoke about our meeting with him, I said that I suggested he puts his ideas down on the paper and send them to me, and I would put my ideas on the paper and send to him. As always, I kept my word – I put down my ideas on the paper and send over to him, but so far haven’t received anything from him. I hear only his defiant speeches on the Square, now and then spiced with obscenities. If there are concrete proposals, I will give concrete answers. You see, dialogue is a two-way street. There are things that cannot be articulated unilaterally. You cannot marry just you alone, it’s impossible. You cannot converse alone, it will become a monologue. You cannot negotiation alone, with yourself. You have to have a partner. If your proposals are not accepted, you have to listen to the other side’s proposal rather than say if Serzh Sargsyan is a real man, he has to resign. I can put it that way too, but have we, as my granny used to say, come for that business?
Hrair Tamrazian, Radio Freedom: Mr. President, if it’s not a secret, what were the proposals you sent about?
Serzh Sargyan: No secret. I thought a lot, what a pan-national event can it be? Help me, name an all-national event, a large event that would satisfy a candidate who won 37 percent of the votes and came second.
Shavarsh Gevorkian, H2 TV: A referendum on Constitutional changes.
Serzh Sargsyan: See, I thought a little and found that yes, we could have agreed with Raffi Hovhannissian to creat a constitutional council headed by him. The council would comprise the best people of Armenia, of the nation, to develop a strategy for constitutional changes, after that to translate that strategy into a proposal, put it for public discussions, invite experts. Make serious work and put it on referendum, and if our people vote in favor, we adopt that constitutional changes. But just to tell whatever crosses one’s mind and make it public and go on making demands before doing such work, I consider it to be ineffectual. I would like to come back to the same problem: proportional or majority system, parliamentary or presidential: whatever you want.
Hrair Tamrazian, Radio Freedom: Changes in the appointment of the regional heads?
Serzh Sargsyan: Yes, that too, appointment or election of marzpets, etc., etc. These are all topics to be discussed and not only on the emotional level, not only for partisan interest, but on the expert level. For instance, in your opinion, why is there a desire to eliminate the majority vote system? It’s it obvious that it’s done for purely partisan reasons? This idea is entertained by the parties whose members cannot win in the majority vote and will not be able for some time to come I guess, because it’s not only about an individual, it is also about the party’s standing. If a party gets 6 or 7 percent of the votes, it simply has to do something to save face, and at the same time, regrettably, go on discrediting the elections and speaking about the proportional system only. In this case the reasoning is, probably, the following: how can the elections be good if that particular party got only 6 percent? Is it honorable for that party? They couldn’t care less about the country’s honor, they couldn’t care less if our country gets positive or negative assessment in the international settings, they can only think of saving their reputation. So, we are ready for that discussion, please. But to set demands from the outset, why?
Hrair Tamrazian, Radio Freedom: Have you sent your proposal already?
Serzh Sargsyan: Sure, I see that you want to ask the next question but feel uncomfortable on asking what response I got? Sit tight: I did receive a response – a cross. What else can I do? Tell me, what else? Raffi would say, if you’re a man – resign. Is it the way to decide on being a man or not? Is it really a right thing to use such language?
Hovhanness Galajian, Iravunk newspaper: A cross on the paper?
Serzh Sargsyan: Yes, on the document. A non-official paper sent by the President of the Republic is still a document. That’s what we have, that the difference in the conduct and language of the people.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the President exchanged with the representatives of the mass media ideas on other issues such as sports, certain topics of foreign policy, etc. The President thanked them all and expressed hope that in the future such meetings will be held regularly providing opportunity to discuss different issues.