Interviews and press conferences
President Serzh Sargsyan’s interview with journalists in attendance of Baze 2014 forum
Suren Areents: Armenia TV - Mr. President, as a guy, I am more concerned about the country’s safety. What are the latest developments in the Karabakh conflict settlement process?
Where are we?
President Serzh Sargsyan - I think you have recently had enough information on the matter. I just want to add as follows: it is clear to me that Azerbaijan is trying to get through to the international community the idea that the war is not over yet and that the status quo is unacceptable. And this is being done not just at the level of junior or medium commanders, but at the highest level. I once told you that the President of Azerbaijan does not even try to conceal it. Now, I can assure you that it is true, although the recent developments came with some nuances, namely that the Azerbaijanis have set themselves additional goals, one of which is to give us a little fright and justify their enormous military spending.
They wanted to demonstrate with a certain degree of seriousness that they had the upper hand in the confrontation. Why do I say with some degree of seriousness? The point is that for the last 20 years, the ceasefire used to be violated from time to time, but we never saw mortar firing. It was the case this time, which points to a dramatic escalation and increased threats. Secondly, I feel they were pushing ahead with their own policy line: firstly, that giving up hostilities would mean concessions in the talks. As ridiculous as it may seem, it is a mere fact. You may understand that it is rather blackmail, than argument. There were other goals as well, but I feel that they were none the worse for it during the latest meeting.
As far as the negotiations are concerned, we have had no significant progress since 2011, and the failure of the talks in Kazan was the last leg in this process. No corrections or additions have since been made to the document. I think you know our position: all we seek is to get Azerbaijan to acknowledge the Nagorno-Karabakh people's right to self-determination, and we want to achieve this through peaceful talks, not through the loss of new lives. If I were to summarize, I would say that I cannot see any serious progress in the talks, but the negotiations are still going on.
Aravot daily: Tatev Harutyunyan - Mr. President, it seems that those in the Customs Union are not too happy to see us join the CU. Is that a pertinent impression, and where does this impression come from?
President Serzh Sargsyan – The Customs Union is not a single country, and I can agree with the opinion that perhaps not everyone is happy. We are a small country, a country with problems, and, of course, our accession to any association may cause some problems for its members. Though, on the other hand, it is not just that the CU member countries are reluctant to Armenia’s membership. Should it have been so, they would have just put a veto, and the issue could not have advanced at all.
The reality is that no one is urging us to enter the Union as soon as possible. I am stating this with all sincerity, and you may be assured that we ourselves are behind the course of action, which has so much been criticized by some members of our society who keep blaming us for seeking CU membership at any cost. So, I think it to be a normal course of action.
You know, it is a key stage in the development of our country. Obviously, a lot is going to be changed in our country and we will have some difficulty in adhering to a uniform and commonly shared opinion. I think it is natural, and I do not have any problems with people who have a hard slam and not even with those strongly advocating this idea. Time will show and everyone will see who was right.
Welcoming you, I noted that twenty years ago, when the Declaration of Independence was adopted, not everyone had a positive perception of it. Many had fears, doubts, but thank God, we are in 2014 and, despite the difficulties, hardships we have been through, we are moving forward with a steady pace.
Armenia Public Radio: Armine Gevorgyan - Mr. President, you said that changes are in store for us. What kind of changes are you talking about? Also, I would like to focus on the statement made by Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan after taking office to the effect that he was going to fight against black economy in order to bring major businesses into the taxable field. He asked to be allowed some time in the fight against the shade. In the meantime, the opposition declares that the program is a mere failure. Do you believe in the government’s final success? Hovik Abrahamyan said he did not have a magic wand to do it all in a day’s time. When will the time come to implement what has been pledged. Thank you.
President Serzh Sargsyan - First of all, we will talk about changes later. I wish to reiterate once again that we have not yet completed the talks: diligence, extra effort or unnecessary arguments will be of no use in this process. Concerning the government’s statement, I think that everything is going off well in this field.
Firstly, I should say that those not working directly with this issue have inadequate understanding of the shadow economy and our economy, in general. I do not share the view that the shade was enormous before Hovik Abrahamyan’s premiership, neither do I feel that little work had been done in this direction.
You know, a logical approach is a must when we talk about any problem. We need to understand what criteria should be used to assess a process. Every time I hear people say that there is a shade, or say a 70 percent shadow in the economy, I wonder whether they have a statistical department of their own. People can only judge by their own activities or undertakings, neighbors’ and relatives’ businesses, knowing that they themselves, their neighbors or friends are working in the shade. Otherwise, how do they come to know the extent of the black economy?
Shade is measured as follows worldwide: which part of the GDP is funneled toward the budget by means of taxes. Note that if about ten years ago we had thirteen percent revenue collection, today we have twenty-two percent. Now let us assess whether the shade has shrunk or increased. This is the reality.
Of course, I would like to see this figure come to twenty, twenty-nine, thirty percent, as in developed countries, but as a matter of fact, Hovik Abrahamyan is right to say that there is not a magic wand to get things right in shortest time. There is no much difference with our neighbors. If you take a close glance, you can see how much our economy has evolved over the last five years. I do not say very much developed, nor do I insist that the GDP has experienced a sharp increase, but look, our budget has almost doubled, while we have not other source of revenue than the taxes and loans.
- Mr. President, look, we talk about figures, but at the same time, emigration is on the rise, and we cannot deny this fact.
President Serzh Sargsyan - What do you mean by saying on the rise? Can you explain to me what does it mean?
- I mean equestrian growth.
President Serzh Sargsyan – Are you sure that it keeps growing?
President Serzh Sargsyan - Who says, who did you learn it from?
- Judging by the closed doors of neighbors, relatives...
President Serzh Sargsyan – You are dealing with assumptions. We have a statistics department, which provides the exact numbers. Emigration went down last year, and this year’s figures say that it will be even lower during 2014. You may know that by saying “on the rise,” people mean the overflowing of waters, when a flood is coming up, when a stream grows into a river; this is my understanding of the term “on the rise.”
- Speaking of figures…
President Serzh Sargsyan - Yes, let us resort to the language of figures, but I would rather ask you to refer to the ones provided by the Statistical Department. Is there a computer over here?
President Serzh Sargsyan – Then I would recommend you to see the data available from the Statistics Department. I have already stated once and would emphasize now that it was not until earlier this year that we gained full control of cross-border movements. Before that we did not have an automated system that could capture all the necessary data. But even such incomplete data suffice to state that emigration was far greater in the 90s. If you were to ask your elders what the situation was like in 1993-94, they would tell you that everyone was sure that nobody was left in the country. Now, let us continue.
- Poverty as you would say is high in the country. Either the Prime Minister accepts that people are leaving because of the lack of jobs, due to unemployment, but there are also other aspects. Many of those leaving the country do so because they feel humiliated for the lack of rule of law. I am citing what I have been told during interviews with ordinary citizens. Do you agree with it or not? What do you think of it?
President Serzh Sargsyan - No, I disagree, and I think that most of the emigrants leave the country in search of conditions to their liking. Look, the problem is that emigration is not our characteristic. It is characteristic to all post-Soviet nations. You had better get to know, for example, how many people have emigrated from Russia or other countries since independence. It is typical of the Baltic States and all Eastern European countries, as well. If you tried to learn how many university graduates have left France since 2013, you would see that the problem is much the same everywhere. The point is that we are a small nation and emigration has a double negative effect on us. But on the other hand, you need to understand that there are at least two extra factors behind emigration from Armenia.
The first is the existence of the Armenian Diaspora, which is like a magnet that draws everyone. If you ask those who leave the country where they go, the answer would be to Moscow for a joint business with a friend, to a friend, relative and so on.
This is an additional factor. The second factor is that we are facing an unfinished war, there is a safety issue - parents are worried - and so on. I could state more reasons behind emigration, but I do not want to play into slanderers’ hands so that they would not use our arguments against us. I mean outside the country. So, there is a problem there; though I categorically disagree with statement that emigration is on the rise.
A1 + TV: Narine Iritsyan - My question is about the political situation and particularly the opposition. A couple of months ago, the opposition declared that we were in for a very hot fall. They promised drastic changes, especially in September, and a powerful rally. In particular, the Armenian National Congress called for your resignation.
President Serzh Sargsyan – Did they?
- I mean that the Armenian National Congress is the only one in the oppositional quartet to focus on your resignation. I would like to know your opinion as to whether their forecasts will come true, and what are your expectations in this regard?
President Serzh Sargsyan - You know, I am deeply convinced that the problem of power is dealt with through elections. To address the issue otherwise would mean circumvent the law. Well, as you said above about social justice and rule of law, we have always done and will continue to do so. If they have grievances, let them express them. Thank God, there is no lack of dissatisfaction in the Armenian press. Should they wish to stage far more powerful actions, let them take to the street; we have seen numerous rallies and demonstrations in Armenia. Let them stage rallies, but it should be done within the law. I do not think that they are in favor of illegality: they, too, want us to have a better country, but their ideas are different from our perceptions.
I wish they had the clear understanding that everything must be done within the law. Can you remember them not saying in advance that we were in for a heated autumn? They have always said so. Yes, it is true that political life dies down in summer to resume in autumn, but everything should be done with moderation – it is both a very good trend and reality for our country. The country must progress, civil society should evolve, and I do not see anything wrong about it, but I wish to emphasize once again that ideas rather than the police and rebels should come into confrontation.
- As regards civil society, either you mentioned that the “I oppose” movement has been active especially for the past one year fighting against the pension reform. Those born after 1974 proved unhappy again with the new bill submitted by the government. Are you going to intervene or will the Government of the Republic of Armenia try to amend the law once again in order to address the grievances?
President Serzh Sargsyan - I do not think so, because the government cannot take up the same issue over and over, including the most complex ones. Otherwise, it would not be serious. I think the government has carefully considered the impact of its decision while drafting it: the draft was sent to the National Assembly and the National Assembly passed a similar law. Moreover, all this was done by the new government.
In this respect, we should have no other expectations, especially as you may know that I am in favor of the new pension system, which was introduced by the former government. We do respect the public opinion, which can influence our decisions, but at the same time, you must agree that as decision-makers, we cannot take into account everyone’s opinion the more so that there is great diversity in opinions. Whichever opinion is accepted, we will face dissatisfaction all the same.
Authorities are the ones to be held responsible for making decisions. They report back to the voters the impact of their decisions and win the polls thanks to successful decisions. We have gone a long way as a nation, and must be able to quickly pass the rest of the path ahead. Batons may hamper our passage. We ourselves are in favor of an open society, but everything should be done with moderation and as prescribed by law.
Lilit Hovhannisyan: armef.com website - Mr. President, my question is about the constitutional reform. I would like to know where the process is at this point of time, including the discussion held in the regions. Is there any progress?
President Serzh Sargsyan - The process is completely transparent and recently, I do not remember, I think a month ago, we took it up and decided that the Commission should be allowed some time to expand the geography of discussions and, if I am not mistaken, they are due to report back in October what has been done and come up with relevant suggestions.
In October, I will have to approve the concept subject to re-deliberation, after which the experts will draft the final text. Should an agreement be reached on the matter, a decision will have to be taken and a law adopted on referendum. If the referendum proves positive, we will have a new Constitution or an amended version of the Constitution.
I want to make two more remarks regarding the first question about the negotiations and the military operations. When I said in Sochi that I was proud of our troops rather than happy with their achievements, I meant the wealth of trust our people had in their army, which doubled the strength of our armed forces. I cannot think of any efficient army in the world that does not have the people’s trust.
Armaments, human and financial resources are just not enough to have an efficient army. Our tank soldiers’ recent success says it all. I hope you saw for yourselves that I was right to say for years that we have a great army and amazing soldiers.
Reporters – That’s it, Mr. President. We know that our guys faced unequal conditions.
President Serzh Sargsyan - Why unequal?
- Because our guys were eighteen years old conscripts, while their opponents were contract servicemen.
President Serzh Sargsyan - I want to tell you from my personal experience that youth are the best fighters.
- For they are warm-blooded.
President Serzh Sargsyan – It is the case all over the world. Of course, experienced commanders are a must, but youth is something else.
- It is just what I was coming to. The starting conditions were unequal: the Russian tank was of 1400 horsepower, while ours – only 700. In addition, they were servicemen.
President Serzh Sargsyan – I would not put it that way. We are doomed to be as we are. Let it be so.
Suren Areents - Mr. President, I can assure you that gatherings like this promote a spirit of patriotism in our youth.
President Serzh Sargsyan - I am confident. Again, I would like to say that I bear media outlets no ill will, even the ones that keep casting slurs upon us everyday. Sincerely, I have no grudge against them as I know they are misled by others.
- Attending Baze camp, we realized that similar events are a must for the youth. Our stay over here once again strengthened our confidence in the army as it promotes friendship by bringing together young people from both Yerevan and border settlements. I wish events like this would be continued ahead.
President Serzh Sargsyan – It is a necessity. I make frequent visits to our communities in the Diaspora, etc. Many businessmen coming from abroad keep asking me about what they can do for the Motherland. I suggest them to help their community members, subordinates, employees to visit Motherland at least once in lifetime. They should stay in Armenia at least for a couple of days in order to have a first-hand idea of Armenia’s reality. I am sure that after hearing much gossip, the reality will be ten times as better than their perceptions of Armenia.
Addressing the journalists, I would urge them to visit Nagorno-Karabakh once or twice a year. Go and see the optimism of those people who live under enemy shelling. Then life will seem a lot more interesting. Ill-will leads to nowhere. In my opinion, ill-will, ignorance and envy are the worst things in the world. People suffering from these evil feelings can never make a right decision, no matter how clever they are. Good luck!