Interviews and press conferences
President Serzh Sargsyan’s interview to Agencia EFE
President Serzh Sargsyan gave an interview to Spanish news Agencia EFE.
Mr President, you have just arrived from Paris, you have been in Brussels a few days ago and you are traveling to Moscow on Tuesday. What is the reason for this intense diplomatic activity?
Each country has its problems, each country wants to cooperate closely with its partners and this cooperation is multifaceted. The active political dialogue at the highest level I think is the most effective and is a very good signal for all other sectors. Yes I have been for almost a week in Brussels, yesterday I returned from a trip to Paris and on Tuesday I will travel to Moscow. I would also like to add that in March I have scheduled a trip to the United Arab Emirates and Malta.
Russia is the main political, economic and military ally of Armenia. How do you assess this reality at a time when relations between Moscow and the West are in very low hours? Do you think the West is being unfair to Russia? Could Armenia contribute, in any way, to a normalization of relations between Russia and the West?
It is true, Russia is our strategic partner and our relations have a long history. And along these relationships have formed many connections that are vital for us. We see no reason to cut these ties, on the contrary, we want to strengthen these ties and expand them. This stems from our national interest. Russia is our main trading partner, it is one of the biggest investors in Armenia, with Russia we have very good military technical cooperation, Russia is a huge market and it is a country where Armenia is well known. Armenia can be and is already a favorite place for Russian tourists. Our relations with Russia are developed both bilaterally and multilaterally.
We are members of the Eurasian Economic Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, I do not want to make an assessment of the Western countries that today have a difficult relationship with Russia, because I believe that any country, any organization, before taking a step considers that it is a fair step. Here I want to say one thing: in the modern world people gain when there is free movement of people, goods and services.
We are a small country, so I do not want to overestimate our role, and to say that Armenia can be the bridge between the West and Russia is an exaggeration. And, therefore, we are constantly working not to cause additional problems between Russia and the West. We believe that it is dangerous to take advantage of contradictions. In many cases, for small countries, that can be fatal. And for that, we always feel more comfortable when relations between Russia and NATO, between Russia and the West are not tense. This is the most acceptable situation for us.
Some of your neighbors, like Georgia, have been betting strongly on the European Union. You are also in talks with the European partners. What is the objective of the Armenian foreign policy in relation to the EU? Do you see any kind of contradiction or lack of complementarity between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union?
There may be contradictions between the two economic and political structures, but being members of the Eurasian Economic Union at the same time we are also trying to cooperate with the EU. The deepening of relations with the EU is one of the priorities of our foreign policy. Each year we are improving our relations, both with the EU and with the member countries, and this also corresponds to our national interests.
You know that the EU has developed a policy called the Eastern Partnership and there are several problems within that policy. But after the Riga Summit in 2015 everything has changed. Because it was decided that the EU should have a differentiated approach for each member of the Eastern Partnership. Immediately after the summit, Armenia expressed its desire to resume negotiations with the EU on a new framework agreement. In December 2015, Armenia and the EU announced the start of negotiations. A week ago in Brussels the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and I announce the conclusion of the negotiations. Everything is ready to be initialed.
We see no contradiction in our policy. On the contrary, we are convinced that this policy is complementary and in none of the documents are there any points that contradict the other, nor do they have conflicting provisions. Why am I talking about documents? Because I believe that one of the most important responsibilities of a State is to be responsible and defend its actions.
Armenia has hosted tens of thousands of refugees from the war in Syria. What advice can you give to European countries on the management of this humanitarian crisis?
One needs many things to give advice. I do not have all those things. I can only say that the people who came from Syria do not call them refugees, they are our brothers and sisters, we are of the same blood and flesh. And we have received 20,000 Syrians, the majority being of Armenian origin. Of course, they face many problems, but today Armenians living in Armenia also have difficulties and problems. We try to do everything possible so that these people can adapt to these conditions. Of course, it is a great tragedy, they have abandoned their homes that for decades have tried to build, furnish, have left their heritage. Armenians have a great heritage in Syria. People simply fled from Syria.
There are different types of refugees: there are people who simply want to save the lives of their children, there are people who seek a more comfortable life in Europe, there are people who travel to Europe with other objectives. I am sure that the Europeans clearly differentiate.
Armenia recalled last year the centenary of genocide at the hands of the Turks. Has there been any change in relations with Turkey, which does not recognize that fact? You tried to approach Turkey through what was called the "sports diplomacy". Why did he fail?
I believe that the events commemorating the centenary of the Armenian genocide had no impact on the relations between Armenia and Turkey, because these relations simply do not exist. Even more, it was not our goal to raise anti-Turkish hysteria. Yes we strongly criticize the Turkish authorities for their policy of denial. We do not blame the Turkish people. We believe that denial is the continuation of crime. And we believe that impunity and denial lead to new offenses.
We are fighting not only for the international recognition of the Armenian genocide, but also against all genocides.
You are right, in 2008 I initiate a process of reconciliation with Turkey. We negotiated for a long time and then signed two documents, and signed them in the presence of three foreign ministers from countries that are permanent members of the UN Security Council. The protocols were to be ratified by the parliaments of Armenia and Turkey. We are still waiting for the Turks to ratify them. I am convinced that they will not do so, because the Turks have already expressed their opinion, and today relations between Armenia and Turkey depend on Armenia's relations with Azerbaijan. They put preconditions. At the same time, Armenia does not see Turkey's recognition of the Armenian genocide as a precondition. So we are not willing to accept preconditions on the Turkish side.
In the 21st century states must have relationships. We believe that the issues that exist between the two countries can be discussed after the establishment of diplomatic relations.
You mentioned the dispute with Azerbaijan about Nagorno Karabakh. What is Armenia prepared to do to redress the situation? His last meeting with the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Alíyev, was in June of last year. Are you willing to meet with him again, to try to have a personal relationship with him that would help to channel the situation?
We have never denied any negotiation process, including meetings at the highest level. However, we prefer that the agreements reached at previous meetings be implemented at least in part, and only then to think about a new meeting. Why meet, if we can not implement what we agreed. As an example I can talk about the last two meetings in Vienna and St. Petersburg. We agreed to create a mechanism for investigating cases of violation of the ceasefire regime, to reduce the tension in the line of contact. That would also create a basis for further negotiations. But, unfortunately, this agreement was not implemented. Even more,
Is the possibility of recognition of the independence of Nagorno Karabakh still on the table?
We do not recognize the independence of Nagorno Karabakh only for one reason, to allow the process of the negotiation to continue. Karabakh is fighting for its right to self-determination, for its independence. Armenia participates in these negotiations because Azerbaijan does not want to talk to Karabakh. Karabakh is involved in the negotiation process because the co-presidents (from the Minsk Group) regularly travel to Nagorno Karabakh and report to the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities on the process. But during the negotiations, Armenia represents Nagorno-Karabakh. Imagine if, under these circumstances, Armenia recognizes the independence of Nagorny Karabakh. That would be the end of the negotiations. And as you know, the alternative to negotiations is war.
We consider this as a commitment, as our contribution to continue the negotiation process. However, it will depend on the situation; Of course, we can change our position. I have already said several times that if Azerbaijan resumes large-scale military action against Nagorno Karabakh, we immediately recognize the independence of Nagorno Karabakh, because Armenia is the guarantor of the security of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Are you pessimistic about the possibility of reaching an agreement?
It is obvious that Azerbaijan from 2011, when it refused to sign the document based on the principles of Madrid, tried to solve the problem by military means. During these years Azerbaijan has multiplied its military budget, acquired armaments and increased its war rhetoric even more. Since 2014 has begun to make provocations in the line of contact. His policy is very clear. Azerbaijan is trying to maintain the tense situation and put pressure on Armenia and Karabakh. On the one hand, it wants to draw attention to the issue, on the other, to frighten the Armenians with their actions. And this tension reached its peak in April of last year, when the Azeri launched an offensive in several directions. These military actions lasted four days, but the consequences were very bad. Both we and the azeries had lost, they even more. These military actions were the reason we were in Vienna.
The situation has not improved, it is still tense. After those four days we understood that we should always be attentive in the line of contact, we have to buy more modern weapons to record any movement of the adversary. The Azeris did not expect to have so many losses and understood that they are not so strong to solve the problem in the short term.
The situation remains tense. For example, last night Azerbaijan violated the ceasefire 41 times, but that is ten times less than we had last month. I do not think we have large-scale military actions in the near future. But every time I say this, I think that the President and the Minister of Defense must, in these circumstances, think that it is not tomorrow but in an hour or two when military action can begin.
Armenia has decided to become a parliamentary republic. Do you intend to appear as prime minister after the end of your term as president?
I have been working in state structures for a long time and have held high positions. I started in 1993 as Minister of Defense. During my career I never thought about my next position. And now I am in the same situation. Everything depends on the situation. I say, frankly, that I do not have an elaborate plan. My main objective is to hold the first parliamentary elections in April, I want Parliament to have the maximum confidence of the people, because this Parliament will be different from all the previous ones due to the management system that we have changed. Until now our system was semi-resident.
Of course it would be very nice if in these elections my party manages to win more votes. In this case, I want to assure you that the current Prime Minister will continue in his position. And if the government, headed by him continues with the reform process, I do not see any problem for the same prime minister to continue in his position.
I am the leader of a great party and I think I will always find a place according to my experience and my efforts. I was the prime minister of Armenia and I know how difficult that position is. People who dream of this position can not imagine the difficulties that it entails.
Are you convinced that your Republican Party will win the election?
Now, because of the current situation in the world, it is difficult to speak to one hundred percent about elections: just a year ago no one imagined the situation in which France is now; All the big polling stations talked about (Hillary) Clinton's victory. But I do not want to say that sociology is a false science. In our case, sociologists, both Armenian and foreign, suggest that our party has very good chances of winning a high percentage.
How do you see a world in which Mr. Trump is the president of a country like the United States? What is your opinion of Mr. Trump?
It is a bit early to express an opinion, because we must respect the decision of the Americans, and still very little time has passed. Regardless of any circumstance, our relationship with the United States is very strong. And the strongest bridge in this relationship is the great Armenian community of the United States, which is very dear and makes a great contribution to the United States.
Much of the Armenian diaspora lives in America, including Latin America. What is the current state of the relationship with these Latin American countries?
It is true, Armenia has a very large diaspora, more than 7 million brothers and sisters live all over the world. But they all have something in common, a characteristic that I do not know if it is something good or bad, and is that they integrate easily in the societies in which they live. And so are our compatriots living in Latin America, have an essential role in the development of these countries. They are dear and appreciated, the Armenians always express their appreciation and are part of the society. It is no coincidence that Uruguay was the first country to recognize the Armenian genocide in 1965. And now most Latin American countries have recognized and condemned the Armenian genocide. This shows their attitude not only towards values, but towards our compatriots, who are part of their societies.
If I am not mistaken, two or three years ago, I traveled to Latin America, I was in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and I found the large and viable Armenian community in these countries. They have cultural centers, institutions, and their press. There are many successful Armenians, one of them, for example, is Eduardo Eurnekian. He is probably one of the richest men in Latin America. We are happy about the activity he has in Armenia. In this case, geographical distance does not play any important role.
Armenia is not a country so well known in Spain. What are the main attractions of Armenia for Spanish tourists? Do you plan to travel to Spain? Have you spoken in this regard with President Mariano Rajoy?
We have not yet spoken with (Mariano) Rajoy, but we are part of the European People's Party and we have contacts at that level. Yes, I am sure that the Spaniards do not know Armenia, but Spain is one of the main tourist destinations for the Armenians. They will enjoy the Mediterranean Sea, and Spanish culture. Relations between the Armenians and the Spaniards have a long history since the Middle Ages, our kings were allies, and is probably due to the common religion, Christianity.
We are the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, and as a result, we have been Christians for more than 1,700 years, and during that time we have built numerous monuments. Some years ago, during a meeting with Spanish journalists, one of them said that in a country where there are so many monasteries, churches, it is impossible not to believe in God. Last year the Holy Father, Francis, visited Armenia, and called his visit "Pilgrimage to the first Christian country."
Spaniards, as exporters of wine culture, must know that, according to the Bible, the first vineyard was planted in Armenia. And there are many things that could attract Spanish tourists. The museum of ancient manuscripts, where the world's smallest and largest book is found, our 'lavash' (the Armenian bread). International agencies consider Armenia as one of the safest countries in the world. In Armenia you eat very well, food is organic. But the most important thing is that we know the art of hospitality. EFE