01, 2014

Interview of President Serzh Sargsyan to the Czech “Lidové Noviny” (National News)


Interview of President Serzh Sargsyan to the Czech “Lidové Noviny” (National News) within the Framework of His State Visit to the Czech Republic

How do you assess the Armenian-Czech current relations ?

Serzh Sargsyan: Armenian-Czech people’s friendship has century - long history. Even though Armenian community in the Czech Republic has been recently formed, and interstate cooperation has merely 22 years history, however during this short period of time we have reached qualitatively new level of collaboration both in bilateral and multilateral formats . We attach high importance to the cooperation with the Czech Republic within the framework of the both EU’s various initiatives, first of all Eastern Partnership, and such international organizations as the UN, OSCE and Council of Europe.

This is the first high level visit in the history of our bilateral relations. State visit s is an evidence to both the level of bilateral political dialogue , and to our commitment to strengthen the long-term mutually beneficial cooperation .

There is a great potential to develop trade and economic cooperation. And that’s why I visit Prague accompanied by a delegation of businessmen. More than ten agreements signed during my state visit will have a positive impact on the development of partnership and and expansion of ties in the respective field.

Even though some areas of Armenian-Czech cooperation are still in the process of formation we should state we have rich experience of cooperation in the scientific, educational and cultural areas. . Our societies and people share the same values, have rich cultural heritage. Our Ministries of Culture have reached an agreement o that this year Yerevan and next year Prague will host the days of Czech and Armenian culture respectively

Question: Mr. President, Armenia has decided to join the Customs Union with the Russian Federation. Should we assume this is the end to the integration process with the European Union?

Serzh Sargsyan:
It is no way to be perceived , as you say, the end of our relationship with the European Union. During long period of time We have been effectively cooperating with the EU in various areas and we have firm intention to continue our relationship. I mean the reforms in such areas, as, strengthening of democratic institutions, human rights’ protection, etc.

We attach high importance of cooperation with the European Union. The joint statement (The Republic of Armenia and EU) adopted at Vilnius summit, affirmed Armenia's readiness to further strengthen and to d enhance cooperation in all areas of mutual interest.

Right there, in Vilnius, the Foreign Minister of Armenia and the EU High Representative exchanged letters, outlining the agenda of further cooperation between Armenia and the EU The decision to join the Customs Union has not cancelled the agenda of Armenia-EU relations as our cooperation is based on the common values such as respect for human rights, rule of law and democratic freedom. In regard of our commitments to carry out reforms in Armenia and expand the mutually beneficial cooperation, continues to be a high priority in the Agenda of the Armenian-EU dialogue. The part of the dialogue with the EU referring to our commitments to conduct improvements in Armenia and expansion of mutually beneficial cooperation continues to be a priority in our agenda.

We have done significant work in the cooperation with the European Union; we have achieved substantial progress in our legislation reform l, in democratization and strengthening of civil society. Partnership Agreements on Readmission and Visa facilitation, as well as on Mobility have entered into force. Negotiations aimed at strengthening the cooperation in a various areas are being conducted, a Protocol providing Armenia with an opportunity to take part in the EU projects is signed .

Question: Does Armenia seek a membership to the European Union in the future?

Serzh Sargsyan: We did not have such a question in our agenda and we do not have it today. Many even confused the concepts of the Agreements on "Association" and "Associate Membership". One does not assume the other. On the contrary, since the very beginning of the Eastern Partnership initiative, five years ago, here, in Prague, everyone was saying that these concepts should not be mixed up and that the Eastern Partnership does not assume membership to the European Union.

Question: What do you expect from the Eastern Partnership?

Serzh Sargsyan: The aim of “Eastern Partnership” program initially was the vision of common values, such as strengthening the basis of legal state, respect for fundamental human rights and freedom, the vision of joint future. Eastern Partnership is a mechanism for us to be in touch with our European partners, to reach common goals and objectives within the context of the penetration of our cultures , expansion of economic ties, deepening of political dialogue. We will try to carry out the goals of the Vilnius declaration providing basis for the prospective Armenia-European Union cooperation

Question: Georgia, your neighbor wants to become a member of NATO. Do you support NATO’s enlargement in Caucasus?

Serzh Sargsyan: Like any other state, it is Georgia’s sovereign right to choose a security system which will best provide its national interests. I hope that Georgia will manage to combine its NATO membership objective with its relations with neighboring countries , including those playing a crucial role in our regional security.

Currently, only one of our neighboring countries, Turkey is a member of NATO. It is not an added value to our security system. Moreover, although Armenia is strengthening partnership relations with NATO, we have an individual action plan ; we take part in operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan, however we have never noticed a NATO member, within the format of the Alliance, , pointing out that Turkey significantly harms a partner country. It is paradoxical that we have our input in North Atlantic security system meanwhile , the policy of a NATO member directly harms our security system.

Question: What is your position on the issues of South Ossetia and Abkhazia?

Serzh Sargsyan: I think that these problems should be resolved by their own societies through peaceful and constructive dialogue. Armenia has always been interested in the stability in the South Caucasus and cooperation among the regional countries. During the August events of 2008 Armenia was in a complicated situation. Infrastructures communicating Armenia with the outer world were interrupted. We had allied relations and obligations with Russia, moreover, at the same time we also had partnership relations with our neighbor, Georgia. Many Armenians live in Georgia, in Russia and in Abkhazia, and they suddenly appeared on opposite sides of the barricades. For us it was a very hard ordeal.

In any case I am convinced that such problems cannot be solved through power. It always leads to upheavals and tragedies.

Question: You were born and grew up in Nagorno-Karabakh. Is Nagorno-Karabakh an independent state?

Serzh Sargsyan: First of all I suggest you to visit Nagorno-Karabakh and explore one of the ancient corners of the world, to get familiarized with the spiritual and cultural century-old heritage, to experience the warm hospitality of Artsakh people and to grasp its value system, to get personally acquainted with Artsakh reality.

I am convinced that after your visit to Artsakh, you will join the hundreds of journalists, public and political figures from different corners of the world who mention with admiration the high level civic consciousness of the people living there, its democratic values, high level of elections of state and local government , viability of state institutions. During more than 20 years Artsakh has been successfully creating, building democratic society and state based on European values.
As a result of such visits, journalists convey to the readers what they saw thus presenting the whole truth about Artsakh. According to a prominent Czech writer, playwright, human rights’ defender and public figure Václav Havel, “When a truth is not given complete freedom, freedom is not complete.” I think, here is the reason why Azerbaijan does not want many people to visit Artsakh. Those, visiting Karabakh, dare to be included in the black lists and not to be allowed to visit Azerbaijan.

I assure you , in that case, you will be on the honorable list of many prominent people who put their civic stance higher than threats and intimidation.

The issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh status is the subject of negotiations mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group. According to the logic of the proposals presented by the co-chairs, the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh should be determined by the population of Artsakh through a legally binding expression of will.

Question: A part of Azerbaijani territory is under the Nagorno-Karabakh control. Why?

Serzh Sargsyan: As a result of Azerbaijani aggression against the self-determined Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, a part of the adjacent areas were brought by under control of Nagorno-Karabakh armed forces. These lands play a role of buffer zone ensuring the security of Nagorno-Karabakh locality from possible bombings and strengthening Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army positions in case of new aggression. Azerbaijan is constantly provoking the situation along the line of contact. Particularly either on the eve or immediately after a regular round of negotiations; during the visits of high rank state officials from foreign countries. Literally a few days ago, Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army soldiers fought back diversionary attack of Azerbaijani special forces. A group of Azerbaijani spies failed to realize diversion planned for months and was forced to escape taking several remains and being blown up in the minefield.

The existing line of contact is a fortified engineering structures and the shortest boundary providing the Artsakh people with an opportunity to protect themselves having the bellicose, extremely nationalistic, very often fascist rhetoric of Azerbaijani Leadership in the background. and sometimes The President of Azerbaijan states that Artsakh and even the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, which is the same age as Rome, are historical lands of Azerbaijan and some day they will be annexed by Azerbaijan. He announces this publicly and for the Karabakh authorities remains nothing but to keep their powder dry.

Question: There is a Russian military base in Armenia. Does it protect you from Turkey, Azerbaijan?

Serzh Sargsyan: The presence of Russian military base in the territory of the Republic of Armenia serves to maintain the peace, security and stability in our region. That base has deep historical roots and a serious combat history. According to the Agreement on the Base, it is an essential component of the security of the Republic of Armenia toward all the directions of possible threats.. With President Putin, we have recently visited that base in Gyumri city.

Armenia is one of the founders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. We are also connected with Russia through strategic allied partnership, which is reflected in a number of contracts and agreements. Armenia adheres to the principle of combining security systems and is against dividing lines, both old and new.

Question: Azerbaijan vigorously strengthens its military might. Is it getting ready for war?

Serzh Sargsyan: Unfortunately, the lessons of history are not always properly taken into account. Today as well Azerbaijan hasn’t stopped its threats against Armenia and Artsakh ignoring the calls of the international community to prepare the people for peace but not for war.

In the early 90th, the army and military equipment of Azerbaijan exceeded the ones of Armenia and Artsakh taken together much more than today. However, this fact didn’t have an impat on the outcome of the war due to the moral spirit of Artsakh people and their determination to defend the Motherland. As a result, Azerbaijan, that was the initiator of the aggression, was forced to ask for a cease-fire through direct negotiations with the authority of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Both Armenia and Artsakh fully share the co-chairs’ approaches on the absence of alternative to peace settlement.

No doubt that the use of force may cause more losses and destruction, but it will never solve the Karabakh problem.

I hope sooner or later the common sense will prevail, this perception will become dominant, and we will finally succeed in establishing long-term peace and stability in our region.

Question: What is the main obstacle on the way of improving relations with Turkey?

Serzh Sargsyan: The main obstacle on the way of improving relations is that Turkish side does not want to adhere to the agreements achieved earlier and to ratify without any preconditions Zurich Protocols on Establishing Diplomatic Relations and Opening Borders, signed in 2009 International community shares Armenian approach of improving relations with Turkey without any preconditions and considers that the ball is on the Turkish side now.

We are ready to resume reconciliation process if the Turkish side expresses a political will and refrains from the inefficient way of putting forward preconditions. Implementation of the signed Protocols will also become an essential component for strengthening stability in the region.

Question: Armenians has a big Diaspora. What does it give to Armenia?

Serzh Sargsyan: When we talk about the presence of a large Armenian Diaspora, we should not forget that it is the consequence of the Genocide, committed by the Ottoman Empire against Armenians. Next year is the the 100th anniversary of the crime, condemned by many countries and international organizations . Armenians across the world are united to make efforts towrd the recognition and condemnation of that crime. We express gratitude to the governments of the countries that supported Armenians after World War I. Along with them, I would like to mention also Masaryk Czechoslovak government which provided the forced immigrants both with an opportunity to get education and with special scholarships due to which, for example 50 young Armenian immigrants were able to study at the universities of Prague and Brno.

Starting from the first years of Independence up to now, many of our compatriots had and continue to have invaluable contribution in the development of Armenia and strengthening relations between Armenia and countries of their residence.

Armenian Diaspora significantly contribute to the development of the host countries and we should be proud of it.

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