Interviews and press conferences
President Serzh Sargsyan at the Plenary Session of the PACE responded to the questions raised by the members of the Parliament
Mrs. de Purba-Lundin (Sweden) on behalf of the European People’s Party Group – Armenia had a final agreement with the Eastern Partnership and the Association Agreement with the EU but in the last minute Armenia has changed her mind and joined Russia’s Customs Union. Russia is putting a lot of pressure and not only on Armenia but on Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan. In the case of Armenia, I understand that this pressure was about the security in Armenia and the support of Russia in the conflict of Nagorno Karabakh. My question, Mr. President, is did Armenia get a so-called “offer you can’t resist” from Russia?
Serzh Sargsyan – First, I must say that Armenia has not deviated from her course and the Customs Union is not Russia’s Custom Union but a union of several states. From the very beginning of the negotiations, we were constantly telling our European partners, our partners from the European Commission that our policy pursues coordination of interests, not setting one against the other. And our partners agreed with us; they said that the Eastern Partnership is not directed against any state or structure and that the Eastern Partnership can always complement work conducted by other structures, which means our interests can complemented. We are still ready to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union. Unfortunately, after our announcement that we join the Customs Union, our partners in the European Commission said that there is a direct contradiction between the Customs Union and Free Trade Agreement; the rules are different. We proposed that in that case, let’s sign the Association Agreement which mainly implies political reforms, and we are ready, and not only ready but resolute to implement these reforms in our country. Now that process in underway. You know, it would be redundant to speak about pressures. I am telling you quite frankly and I cannot state other than truth publicly, not a single official from the Russian Federation or the Customs Union said even a word about Armenia’s obligatory membership. We expressed that desire because we based it on a very simple reality: more than twenty years, we have been a member of the military and security structure where countries which today form the Customs Union are composite parts. We cannot isolate ourselves from that geoeconomic area in which we have been cooperating for over twenty years. Unfortunately, time restrictions don’t allow me to speak in detail about economic gains which Armenia will get from it. However I would like to assure once again that we will continue to closely cooperate with the European Union. It is our wish.
Lord Prescott (United Kingdom) on behalf of the Socialist Group – Mr. President, you will recall our four-year negotiations, me as Reporter of this Organization to bring about many democratic and human rights and changes in law to improve situation in Armenia and with your cooperation it was achieved. However Mr. President, are you aware there are twenty-nine people in your prisons as conscientious objectors who refuse to serve in your armed forces? This is clearly in breach with the Council of Europe. Will you release them now and offer them the alternative civilian activity?
Serzh Sargsyan – Mr. Prescott, first I would like to publicly thank you for your cooperation. We cooperated successfully indeed and the Republic of Armenia benefited from that cooperation. You know that to get to the European standards of the freedom of conscience we have accomplished huge work and at this point I can tell that by the constantly manifested political will there have been reached legal solutions, provisions of the alternative service have been changed and I believe that yes, those people who don’t wish to serve in the armed forces because of their convictions, in accordance with our procedures will not be criminally prosecuted. There is political will, legislative reforms have been made, and the process is going on. Thank you.
Mrs. Ana Gutu (Moldova) on behalf of the Alliance of Democrats and Liberals for Europe Group – The Eastern Partnership Summit will be held in November in Vilnius. After joining the Customs Union together with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan what are your expectations with regard to that Summit? Is Armenia still willing to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union?
Serzh Sargsyan – We will participate at the Vilnius Summit and we expect before that to introduce certain changes into the document which is being negotiated. We are absolutely ready to sign the Association Agreement. However since the Association Agreement has two components – the Association Agreement and Free Trade Agreement and since our European partners say that the provisions of the Free Trade Agreement contradict the provisions of the Customs Union, we expect to separately sign the Association Agreement. The Association Agreement and envisaged reforms make the nexus of our relations with the European Union. The Association Agreement is the main document, and we benefit from the provisions of that Agreement, we benefit from the process of negotiations on our way towards the reform implementation in our country. We want to be in Vilnius and to sign the Association Agreement.
Mr. David Davies (Great Britain) on behalf of the European Democrat Group – Mr. President, you have obviously received a very large number of Syrians, Syrians of the Armenian extraction as a result of the conflict taking place in that country. Can you tell if you’re satisfied with the living conditions which they have at the moment and whether you will be willing to support talks of all parties who are taking part in that conflict at the moment?
Serzh Sargsyan – We unequivocally support the negotiations, we unequivocally support the formula which has been adopted, and we support the agreements which have been reached. With regard to the living conditions of our brothers and sisters from Syria, or their situation, I should say that I am dissatisfied with the conditions of some of our citizens who have been living in Armenia for a long time, their social conditions, because we have poverty in our country, we have unemployment, however we do our best so that our brothers and sisters who came from Syria feel more or less comfortable in Armenia. For some of them, we solve housing problems, others receive some other kind of assistance. A school has been opened in Yerevan, where the studies are conducted based on the Syrian learning program; it is necessary for those who will return to Syria to be able to continue their studies in Syrian schools. We do believe that the situation in Syria will improve. We have certainly started a process with the international organizations and structures which have assumed a responsibility to help refugees from Syria, and Syrians of the Armenian descent are no exception. We will do our best so that our sisters and brothers from Syria feel protected in Armenia.
Mr. Dimitrios Papadimoulis (Greece) on behalf of the Group of Unified European Left – My question to you is very simple: do you want to maintain status quo on the issue of Nagorno Karabakh, or you are ready to search for a political solution based on compromise? With regard to the bilateral relations with Turkey: do you intend to come up with new initiatives for establishing contacts between Armenia and Turkey to reduce tension between the two countries?
Serzh Sargsyan – As is known, the NK issue is being managed by the OSCE Minsk Group and we have been negotiating for more than twenty years now. It was clear for us from the beginning that this issue can be solved exclusively through compromise; without compromise there is no solution to this conflict. After a lengthy process of negotiations, in 2007 the Minsk Group offered us – the parties – a document, which was named Madrid principles. The document proposes the resolution of the conflict based on three basic principles: non-use of force or threat to use force, the right of people for self-determination, and territorial integrity of states. After receiving the document we declared that, yes, we believe it is possible to solve the conflict based on these principles. In a while, the Azerbaijanis also stated, yes, they are ready to solve the conflict based on these principles.
After 2008, i.e. the first presidential elections, I became directly involved in the negotiations and together with the President of Azerbaijan we for more than three years were negotiating with the mediation of the former President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev.
In summer of 2011, there was an opinion that the parties were ready to sign a document on basic principles and we arrived to Kazan, a town in the Russian Federation, to review at the meeting the results of the negotiations conducted so far and to sign the document. By the way, right before that, I spoke from this very podium and said that I strongly doubt that our partners were ready to sign the document, even though the international community thought otherwise. Unfortunately, I was right and in Kazan the Azerbaijanis instead of signing the document, came up with ten new proposals which quite naturally our side couldn’t accept. From that point on, the Azerbaijanis started to create artificial obstacles for the negotiations, aggravating the situation, raising their threatening tone, accumulating even more weaponry and, I believe, their objective was, and they don’t conceal it, to solve the problem through force. It means that the Azerbaijanis do not accept two of the principles set forward by the Minsk Group Co-chairs. They reject the principle of non-use of force or threat to use force and the right of people for self-determination. We didn’t change our position: the conflict must be solved based on compromise and with the simultaneous implementation of these three principles. Yes, we are ready to solve the problem based on compromise because we want peace, we want stability and we want the resources which today are being wasted in the region for the stockpiling of arms to be used for the people’s well-being.
Mrs. Zarouhi Postanjian - on behalf of the European People’s Party Group – It is know that you are here not because of the Armenian people’s will but because of a criminal act and as a result of stealing people’s vote on February 18. For that reason you de jure cannot represent the will and rights of the Armenian people. That’s why I will ask you another question: Have you recently been to Europe, in casino? Since in our society you are notorious as a gambler, have you gambled away 70 million Euros? Who paid out the losses? If it’s not the precise sum, then how much did you actually lose in casino?
Serzh Sargsyan – I am deeply convinced, Mrs. Postanjian, that I do represent Armenian people and I am proud of it. Unfortunately, during the presidential elections your candidate was unable to show qualities which are suitable for representing the Armenian people. As for you remarks about casino, it’s yet another of you fantasies. I have never been to any of European casinos, I do not gamble in casinos and, regrettably, I don’t have 70 million Euros. If I had, I would give you part of it, to make you more content with life, so that you are not that spiteful. Consider I didn’t answer your question.
Mr. Igor Ivanovski (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) – According to our Assembly report and in my opinion Armenia has done a very limited progress in her development. The judiciary lacks its independence, the administration continues to be under pressure by the ruling party, the country is not decreasing the level of crime and corruption. I emphasize that serious election concerns remain as voters with problems, voters’ pressure, intimidation and misuse of state and public resources in administration of the ruling party campaign. Can you expect when and what way concrete and serious democratic standards improvements, especially election ones, and fulfillment of the numerous obligations in the Council of Europe?
Serzh Sargsyan – I am sorry, I don’t know who you are and what country you represent, or what group, however I see clearly that you have animosity towards Armenia. I would just ask you, if you will oblige, of course, to read carefully all reports. First, I would recommend you read all the observer reports in which Armenia’s progress is stated clearly. I would recommend you to spend some time, effort and energy to familiarize with those reports. However I respect your right to ask questions here and to express your opinion and would wish democracy in your country every success. I also see that there is democracy in your country irrespective of the fact that I don’t know which country you represent, because if you have such a great concern regarding Armenia’s democratic development, I am sure that you are concerned ten times more with the democratic development of your own state.
Mr. Bernard Fournier (France) – My question complements the question of Mrs. de Purba-Lundin. Armenian has announced its wish to join the Customs Union formed by Russia. This rapprochement raised some questions in the European Union, since in 2013 your country stated its desire to strengthen ties through the signing of the Protocol which supplements the Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation. It looks like this decision puts in question the draft of the Free Trade Agreement with the European Union which your country was intending to sign at the Eastern Partnership Summit to be held in November in Vilnius. What content are you intending to put now in your relations with the European Union?
Serzh Sargsyan – As I have already mentioned, we will continue to develop our relations with EU, we will be in Vilnius and at the moment we are negotiating with our EU partners on a kind of document we are going to sign. I have to repeat that we are pursuing a policy of complementarity and that from the outset of the negotiations in the EU Eastern Partnership we reached an agreement with our European partners that we would not go ahead in our relations with EU at the expense of our relations with the allies. That is to say, our relations with the European Union should complement our relations, our cooperation with other structures. We have been moving forward with this understanding for three years. I regret that our partners at the EU thought that the Free Trade Agreement is incompatible with our membership to the Customs Union. However the Association Agreement is not only about the Free Trade Agreement. Main provisions of the Association Agreement are related to political reforms. I state once again that we will carry on with these reforms, and we are ready to sign in Vilnius that part of the Agreement. Thank you.
Mr. Diaz Tejera (Spain) – On many occasions, Mr. President, I spoke in Madrid with your wonderful diplomatic representation and each time they gave me the same answer you gave us this morning regarding four resolutions of the UN Security Council and two resolutions adopted here at the Council of Europe. With all due respect and care, nonetheless tell us what can we do to help you with this conflict? What initiatives are you planning to come up with in the nearest future to move the process forward? Otherwise we will be talking endlessly about the same thing without moving forward. This is my question, thank you.
Serzh Sargsyan – Thank you very much. Very briefly I would like to refer to the four resolutions of the UN Security Council and would like to start from the fact that it’s a question which the Azerbaijanis do not like to answer. Why four resolutions? Because resolutions of the UN Security Council – from the first to the fourth, foremost demanded the cessation of the military actions, stabilization of the situation, and only then – resolution of the problem. That’s the reason. Azerbaijan never carried out the main requirement of the UN resolutions, i.e. to stop military actions. After each new resolution, the Azerbaijanis were either staging a new attack or were getting ready for a new offensive. As a result of the new offensive they were losing more territories and new resolutions were being adopted at the Security Council. Eventually, those in the Security Council realized that Azerbaijan was not willing to stop military actions, and for that very reason they stopped to adopt resolutions at the Security Council. Armenia faithfully carried our all provisions related to our country in these resolutions which was to use our influence with the Nagorno Karabakh to implement the UN resolutions. This is about the resolutions. Now about what the international community can do and what can you personally do. Each of us, each state which becomes a member of the CE, assumes certain obligations. In 2001, both we and Azerbaijan assumed the obligation to solve the NK problem peacefully. As you see, even now we continue to insist that yes, the problem must be solved peacefully. However the leadership of Azerbaijan on a daily basis and on the presidential level at least once a week, states that they will solve the problem through military means. I believe that PACE should pose a question – is Azerbaijan committed to the assumed obligations, or not? If not, then a certain decision must be made. If yes, than the commitment must be fulfilled. The most important thing for us is to come to the conclusion that the problem must be solved peacefully. I am telling this not because Azerbaijanis have stockpiled more weapons, not because now the population of Azerbaijan is larger than that of Armenia and not because we are afraid we might lose in the military actions. We are afraid of war, we don’t want war, but we are not afraid to fight, we simply don’t want war. That’s the problem. I am sure that war will not solve the problem, it will not. We cannot fight endlessly, can we? Even the Hundred Year War ended, we have to eventually find a peaceful solution and that solution the international community passed to us through the lips of the Co-Chairs – solution based on three main principles. Yes, through peaceful means; yes, the people of NK will decide for themselves how they are going to live - as a part of Azerbaijan, independent, or a part of Armenia. It is to be decided by the people of NK just like other nations decided how they wanted to live. And yes, we agree that Azerbaijan should struggle for its territorial integrity; we have no territorial claims to Azerbaijan. The problem must be solved based on these three principles but first of all there must be established an atmosphere of trust. Such an atmosphere will be established when we, and by we I, of course, first of all, mean the leadership of Azerbaijan, stop to voice threats. When a leader articulates threats, the majority of people repeat that threat. That’s the reason there is no dialogue going on between the members of this Assembly, or intellectuals, or at any other level. Promote the establishment of that atmosphere of trust. Obligate each of us to fill our share of commitments.
Mr. Samad Seiydov (Azerbaijan) – Mr. Sargsyan, you mentioned about territorial integrity and territorial claims. Azerbaijan has been occupied by Armenia, 20% of Azerbaijan has been occupied by Armenia, and seven regions which never belonged to Nagorno Karabakh are under occupation. At the same time you have territorial claims to Turkey, at the same time you have territorial claims to Georgia; you are playing game with European integration and going to Customs Union. Do you think that this kind of policy has future?
Serzh Sargsyan – The policy you’ve mentioned has no future, but the policy you’ve mentioned has nothing to do with us. We have never made any territorial claims to Turkey. If there is just one such claim, one such statement you can point out, I’ll ask for your forgiveness; it would be nice if you collected at least some information on that issue. As for Georgia, now this is something new for me. Regarding Georgia these is some news, this is ridiculous for us and for the Georgians. I don’t know whom are you representing but how can one try to drive a wedge between two brotherly nations? I believe all European structures, including the PACE are constantly supporting the expression of the states’ free will and it is Armenia’s problem whether she will join the Customs Union, European Union, of the Organization of Islamic Conference. Why should we be accountable to you on this issue? What does it mean – to play games? I am not a sportsman, probably you, in your younger years were engaged in that kind of activities. We are not playing games, we are implementing policy and we do it based on our people’s interest. As for the 20 percent of “occupied” Azerbaijani territories, first I would request that you refresh your arithmetical skills, second, change your attitude towards Armenia. I request because right now in one of the mentioned here four UN resolutions it is stated that Armenia has nothing to do with the military actions in Nagorno Karabakh, because the Security Council set up a special commission and that issue was specially examined. Yes, today we consider the RA, her armed forces to be a security guarantor for the people of NK. I state right here: if Azerbaijan starts military actions against Nagorno Karabakh, the Republic of Armenia will defend Nagorno Karabakh with all her capabilities. Shouldn’t have started military action and now complain of occupation. Now Azerbaijan is threatening us with the military offensive. I have no doubt if such offensive takes place, a couple of months later the Azeris will be complaining not of 20 but of 25 or 30 percent; shouldn’t have started military actions.
Mr. Pavlo Ryabikin (Ukraine) – Mr. President, we gathered from your statement that political settlement of the NK conflict is dragging on. However those who suffer in this endless process are different inhabitants of Nagorno Karabakh, who were forced to leave their homes and who until now are not able to return there. What humanitarian actions can be initiated to give these people an opportunity to return to their homes?
Serzh Sargsyan – I believe that all those people who left their settlements because of the conflict absolutely have a right to return to their places and we are for it. But here is the question: where these people should return, what kind of territory, what country? Shouldn’t that people know what is the status of the territory they will be living in; what country will they be living in? Are you sure that return of these people will not ignite new military actions? If we are talking about the territory of NK proper, the question is whether the NK authorities will be able to provide each family with a policeman of a soldier? What I mean is the following: the conflict must get a political solution. The problem must be solved once and for all so that these people are able to return to their homes once and for all, otherwise, let’s say they return now, then because of Azerbaijani policies there are new military actions, new conflicts and these people will be forced once again to go away from the territory where they live. Is it logical? By the way, I would like to mention that the document which is called Madrid Principles also envisaged resolution of the issues related to the refugees. The problem must be solved comprehensively, including the issues related to the return of the people who were forced to leave the territory of their permanent residency.
Mr. Valeriu Ghiletchi (Moldova) – Mr. President, foreign affairs and external relations are very important for every country. Giving the fact that Armenia is facing some challenges with this regard and I believe most of the members of this Assembly regret this and with best thoughts in mind may I ask you about your relations with Turkey?
Serzh Sargsyan – Unfortunately, efforts we made pertinent to the start of relations with Turkey didn’t yield positive results. They didn’t yield positive results because the Turks are not ready to start relations with Armenia. As you know after lengthy negotiations we signed documents on the establishment of diplomatic relations, but the Turkish Parliament, Turkish leadership refused to ratify the documents. I would not dwell on the reasons why, because they know them only too well. I would like just to give my impression: In my opinion, the Turks in the foreseeable future are not going to ratify these documents, which means that we are not the ones to be blamed for the absence of relations. I also believe that each country should be very responsible about documents it signs. Unfortunately, in this case we don’t see any presence of such responsibility. Today, there are no relations. The Turkish authorities are trying to make some proposals through different channels but I think these proposals are being made mostly to calm down the international community, because if they really want to do something they can ratify these Protocols and we will be able to start relations and discuss any issue of interest.
Mr. Tedo Japaridze (Georgia) – Mr. President, there are many problems of security, stability and prosperity especially in our corner of the world. We in our region are interconnected and intertwined and it’s a fact that we cannot change our geography. Despite all these problems and conflicts my question will be are there any prospects for regional cooperation?
Serzh Sargsyan – Dear David, one of the main ideas and main objectives of the Eastern Partnership, as you know, is that very development of regional cooperation. I am convinced that you are aware of our relations with Georgia, of our efforts. We have excellent relations, we are implementing many joint programs and the latest example is the idea to have a common check-point which we are realizing. Regional cooperation is inevitable, however any cooperation implies availability of the parties and if one of the parties is unwilling, no matter how hard we try, we cannot have that cooperation. Cooperation is a two-way street, it cannot be a one-way street and with this regard we are ready for any cooperation. With the idea of cooperation in mind we proposed Turkey to start up relations. Certainly, we cannot change our geographical position. Of course we will be living side by side. And because of that very simple fact we should manifest constructive approach and should be able to build relations with each other. But when the parties lack that wish and are boasting about their efforts to isolate their neighbor, it is hard to find points of tangency for cooperation. We will continue our good relations with Georgia, and we hope that in any case the time will come when will be joined by others.
Mr. Emanuelis Zingeris (Lithuania) – Thank you, Mr. President. I am from Vilnius, Lithuania, 20 years in my parliamentary activity. Before that I was in democratic movement. In 1989, I remember how we avoided Soviet captivity and Armenia declared independence. Now the question is for you, for your respectful country, about internal consultations which with members of opposition which you had before making the statement and before doing decision not to join alliance which was joined by Ukraine and Moldova? The question is how broad was your consensus of the respectful Armenian society about crucial decision of November 28 meeting in Vilnius and your signature. Thank you very much for your contribution.
Serzh Sargsyan – The issue was constantly discussed with the political forces. If I were to tell you that it was discussed with all opposition parties meticulously, it wouldn’t be true. However there is one simple fact: the RA Constitution endows the President of the Republic with the right to execute foreign policy and the Constitutions endows me with every possibility to sign international treaties. The peculiarity is that all these international treaties eventually are presented to the National Assembly where all political forces of Armenia are represented. In case treaties signed by the President are not ratified, there are opportunities to do it other way, there are opportunities to stay clear of some policies. I hope that membership to the Customs Union emanates also from interests of political forces, because it is in the people’s interests. We are tied to the members of the Customs Union with thousand threads. One third of our export goes to the RF, and it is mainly agricultural produce and processed foods. Imagine what difficulties we may face, if they do not correspond to technical specifications. At any rate, I am confident that part of our society consents with the signing in Vilnius of the Association Agreement. Currently we are making polls and I don’t think today there is a need for a referendum. However I don’t rule out that tomorrow political force may demand a referendum. But I assure you that our research shows that the decision we have made is in the interest of our people and the wish of the majority.