Interviews and press conferences
President Serzh Sargsyan answers MPs’ questions at PACE plenary session
Ms. Kau (Norway, on behalf of the European People’s Party group):
- Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. President, for visiting the Council of Europe. Mr. President, the 10-year-long term of your presidency is coming to an end. Summing up the results of these years, what are the main achievements of Armenia in its European agenda, considering also the recent agreement signed between Armenia and the European Union as you mentioned in your speech? Thank you.
- Thank you. If you have in mind the European agenda of Armenia, then I must say that during these ten years Armenia has had serious achievements both on bilateral level with European countries and in multilateral formats. As I already mentioned, in both 2016 and 2017, the Committee of Ministers and the Co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly in their reports noted the great progress achieved by Armenia. To avoid talking too long, I want to give just one example. In 2008, when I was elected President of the Republic of Armenia, we faced serious problems: the relations were strained, specifically, with the Council of Europe. And we were even threatened with sanctions. And now, after 10 years, we are already talking about the achievements of Armenia.
As for our relations with the European Union, as I already mentioned, just two months ago, on November 24, the European Union and Armenia signed a new cooperation agreement, which opens up very good prospects for Armenia. We consider ourselves Europeans, regardless of whether Europeans consider us as such. Therefore, our cooperation with European countries and structures stems from our conviction, and no one can impose this on us. Thank you.
Ms. Doris BARNETT (Germany, on behalf of the Socialist Group):
- Thank you. Mr. President, the conversations with representatives of your country, but also with those of Azerbaijan showed what decision the two sides want to see for the conflict which lasts more than 26 years. The proposals made in this respect are not a package, but rather standalone measures that can not be separated from each other. Can we, as a parliamentary assembly, which is a supporter of dialogue and mutual understanding, help and invite you and the President of Azerbaijan to try to find a peaceful solution to the conflict that will ensure a good future for the two countries?
- Thank you for your question. Undoubtedly, both Armenians and Azerbaijanis want this conflict to end as soon as possible, but the problem is that between these two desires there is a huge difference. What can you do? What can the international community do? I believe that the main obstacle to the talks is the maximalist and unrealistic expectations of Azerbaijan in relation to the outcome of the talks. If the international community can help Azerbaijan get rid of these illusions and return to the field of reality, I think we could achieve great success in a short time.
Indeed, this conflict is an obstacle to the development of our peoples, it takes away human lives, large material resources, and the conflict really needs settling.
You know, the negotiation process is also hampered by the fact that, unfortunately, the agreements reached are not being implemented. As you know, in 2016 Azerbaijan unleashed a large-scale military operation with the goal of returning Nagorno-Karabakh to itself with the use of force. After that, we held meetings in Vienna and St. Petersburg, and then in Geneva, and these meetings - the first two at least – were attended by top-level officials and mediators from the co-chair countries, and we agreed that the best way to continue the negotiations is to create some elements of trust. To this end, we decided to create an international mechanism to investigate cease-fire violations and somehow expand the powers and tools of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office in order to ease tensions. But, unfortunately, this did not happen, because immediately after these meetings, statements were made by highest Azerbaijani officials saying that these were not their words, but the words of the co-chairs and that the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh was an internal matter for Azerbaijan.
Under these conditions, it would be unrealistic to expect a quick resolution or intensive progress in talkss. Answering your question, I would like to say that we ask everyone to bring the parties to a realistic field.
Mr. TURKESH (Turkey, on behalf of the European Group of Conservatives):
- Mr. President, although there are relevant protocols signed between Armenia and Turkey, I think that they are not on anyone’s agenda. Does this mean that the stagnation in the Armenian-Turkish relations will continue in the foreseeable future? Is it possible for Armenia to take any steps after the presidential elections in your country in March to demonstrate its intention to normalize relations in the region?
- You know, we do not understand the Turkish side’s demand ad for taking steps. After I was elected President in 2008,, I initiated a campaign of publicity in Armenian-Turkish negotiations, and the result was a series of meetings between me and the President of Turkey. The negotiations continued intensely, and in Switzerland, in the presence of the foreign ministers of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, we signed two documents on establishment of relations between Armenia and Turkey.
Prior to the commencement of negotiations it was decided and the resulting documents themselves stipulated very clearly that relations should be established without any preconditions. Unfortunately, after the protocols had been signed, the Turkish side attempted and is trying now, too, to set forth preconditions.
We know no such examples in the international practice. All terms and conditions are supposed to be discussed before signing a document, while after signing it elementary decency should prompt signatories to comply with the requirements of the document. And now as nine years have passed, again we can hear from the Turkish side about the need to take some steps.
I wonder whether the establishment of relations between countries should be conditioned by some gestures, or concessions. The document clearly states that first relations should be established, after which all disputable issues that exist between the two countries would be discussed. And again the Turkish side puts forward preconditions.
We can never accept any preconditions. Yes, Turkey is a powerful State. Indeed, Turkey has huge potential, and Armenia’s potential can not be compared with the potential of Turkey. But this does not mean that Turkey should speak with Armenia from a position of strength or in the language of preconditions. If this were so, then there are countries that are much more powerful than Turkey from the point of view of population and economy, and these powerful States should have spoken to Turkey from a position of strength or put forward preconditions. I think that neither the Turkish authorities nor the Turkish people would ever accept such an attitude. Similarly, we do not accept that attitude of Turkey’s.
It is desirable, no matter the protocols are going to be declared null and void by Armenia in the near future - until the spring - because they are meaningless.
I believe that the Turkish side would be right to preserve the fragile stability in the region, abandon its prejudiced position and policy of unconditional support of Azerbaijan. I want to remind you that during the military actions of 2016, Turkey was the only State in the world to support the military campaign: five statements were made in favor of Azerbaijan during four days at the level of the President and the Prime Minister of your country.
What steps can we take under such circumstances? It would be insulting for our people to go for unilateral concessions for the sake of establishing relations!
Ms. Rodríguez Hernández (Spain, on behalf of the ALDE Group):
- Mr. President, speaking more practically and touching on the association agreement between Armenia and Europe, until now, what are the key measures taken in the fight against corruption, violence, crime, and terrorism? And returning to the current agreement which, according to all of us, is more ambitious, what is the difference between this agreement and the previous one? What tangible reforms have been registered? What reforms are most ambitious? What measures will be taken to make this new agreement a reality and more ambitious? Thank you.
- In my speech, I spoke very briefly about the work that we carried out in Armenia in the direction of eradicating corruption, and I must say that, unfortunately, our work has not yielded very great results, and we are still facing this disgusting phenomenon in Armenia. As I said, last year we passed a relevant law, and created a commission to counter corruption, and this legislation fully meets the best European criteria.
The members of the commission will be elected by our parliamentarians after April 9, when the provisions of the new Constitution will be fully enforced. As I said, we passed a law on informing and protecting whistleblowers, criminalizing illegal enrichment. As far as I can remember, about 500 Armenian officials should declare their incomes and property, which is a huge figure for small Armenia.
Civil society has been formed in Armenia - a strong civil society, and this civil society contributes to the disclosure and prevention of such crimes. As for punishments, I must say that every year there are many times more criminal cases and court verdicts passed in Armenia related to corruption crimes. If you also mean common crimes, I must say that serious crimes have been reduced in Armenia by almost 20% in 2017 - murders, other serious crimes - and the law enforcement system of Armenia is really very serious about combating crime.
What is the difference between this agreement and the previous one? There are much more opportunities here. Under the previous agreement, we, of course, outlined a plan of action, and both the Council of Europe and the European Union have been supporting us in terms of expert and technical assistance. Today’s agreement is a legal document that must be ratified by both the Armenian parliament and by the way, we can say already 27 member countries of Europe, where there are provisions concerning almost all spheres of public life, and they already have the status of law.
We are confident that our cooperation with the European Union will go deepening, since we cooperate with the European structures not because we want to show someone, say, see, we cooperate with these structures, but because we consider ourselves carriers of European values. Thank you.
Mr. Sikogios (Greece):
- Mr. President, which influence will the transition to the parliamentary system have in terms of the rule of law and the protection of human rights? And second, what is the expected impact of the policy of privatization and liberalization, enshrined in the new Constitution, considering that liberal policy, if applied, may lead to inequality and violation of social and economic rights?
In this context, what counter measures will the government take?
- I think that the transition to the parliamentary system of governance was the logical continuation of the ongoing reforms in Armenia. We are deeply convinced that the parliamentary governance is a more inclusive system of public administration, more transparent management in line with the vision of democratic development. Honestly, I must say that I either did not understand your question, or the translation was not so good. I must say that in our opinion the system of parliamentary administration will contribute to the development of democracy in our country and the protection of human rights. The parliamentary system is supposed to be more influenced on the part of civil society. The parliamentary system makes it possible to be more accountable. The parliamentary system will enables us to work more closely with our European partners.
Mr. Fournier (France, on behalf of the EPP group):
- Mr. President, dear colleagues, how does Armenia combine, on the one hand, its participation in the Eastern Partnership of the European Union and, on the other hand, its membership in the Eurasian Union? And how does this affect the relations between Armenia and Russia?
- You know, I believe that we have already combined them, and we have no doubt that being a member of various integration processes, we can confidently move forward. You may know that we have been negotiating with the European Union since 2010, 2009 over the signing of a new agreement. And this period coincided with our negotiations with the Eurasian Economic Union. Responsible officials from both the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union knew very well that the negotiation process was being maintained with both integration associations.
At the initial stage, both of them welcomed our approach. But there came such times when our colleagues from the European Union considered that it was impossible to combine our participation in these two integration associations. And we were forced to decide in favor of our membership in the Eurasian Economic Union, because Armenia’s economy is interconnected with the economies of the Eurasian Economic Union by thousands of invisible threads; we have a centuries-old history of relations, friendship and the overwhelming majority of RA citizens - up to 80 percent - was in favor of closer cooperation with Eurasian Economic Union. But I must say, to the credit of EU officials, that time has made tangible adjustments to the way of thinking, and at the Riga Eastern Partnership summit a decision was taken on a differentiated approach.
It was decided that it is really possible to combine participation in various integration structures. And we began intensive negotiations, and as you can see, we came to the right place and on November 24 signed an agreement with the European Union. In my opinion, the precondition for combining is very simple: one must be sincere with partners and not keep secret the process of negotiations, and if it appears that in one integration process your obligations do not contradict the obligations assumed under another document, then why can not we cooperate? I think that we have this experience as a full member of the Collective Security Treaty, cooperating with NATO. And that cooperation has a history of many years. I think that in the future the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union will come into close cooperation. The future belongs to cooperation.
The problems that exist today or can emerge tomorrow do not promote development. They take up a lot of resources, and these resources can be used to make people’s lives more prosperous. Thank you.
Mr. Seidov (Azerbaijan, on behalf of the European Conservatives):
- You noted that you were the leader of the war against Azerbaijan. Why did not you mention the pogroms of Khojalu, during which children, old people, women, about 800 people were killed by Armenians? Why did not you mention the 100 percent ethnic cleansing carried out in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding seven districts? And now you are trying to confuse the international community. How can you manage your policy if you are not ready to comply with the resolutions of either this one or another organization? The UN, the Council of Europe, the European Union and all international organizations have already referred to the occupation of Azerbaijani territories, while you are not ready to accept any of these organizations. Is this the Armenian understanding of integration?
- You see, first of all, I would ask you to calm down a little and not misinterpret my words. I did not declare from this rostrum that I was the leader of the war, I did not have such an honor; I was a participant in the fair struggle of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Why did not I mention the events in Khojalu that you consider genocide? For a very simple reason. Because right after these sad events President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ayaz Mutalibov detailed the facts clearly showing who was the organizer of those pogroms. You know, I am very sorry, genocide is not a good thing, it implies suffering, and I think there is some tendency in Azerbaijan to just boast of what the Armenians have suffered. You know, this is unacceptable. Why do you need to call genocide something that never happened, and especially as it was not the fault of Armenians?
As for the commitments we have made in international structures, you are mistaken. There is no decision accepted by international structures, which is denied by Armenia. You tried to mention the resolutions of the UN Security Council. I would advise you, when you want to go into a subject, do it to the last and study the matter more carefully. Everyone knows that the UN Security Council has never referred to the NK problem, in 1993 the UN Security Council adopted four resolutions on the cessation of hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and after each resolution Azerbaijan stated that it would not stop fighting, tried to undertake new attacks, but, as often happens, had a loss. In these four resolutions, Armenia’s only obligation was to use its influence and authority to end the hostilities. And we, to the credit of the then Armenian authorities, have complied with our obligation.
The very first responsible side – Azerbaijan - which was supposed to cease hostilities, did not refrain from them, and as you know, in 1994 an agreement on a truce was signed, but already influenced by other factors, and not influenced by the resolutions of the UN Security Council. Unfortunately, the provisions stated in this agreement are not being honored. The mentioned agreement clearly stipulates that all military operations should be stopped and, for making political decisions, it is necessary to proceed to extensive negotiations. And, as I noted and as we can see from your remarks, you want to achieve the maximum in negotiations, you want what is impossible: you want to return Karabakh to Azerbaijan.
Unfortunately, xenophobia in Azerbaijan has developed so much that you already openly declare that you need Karabakh without Armenians. It is impossible and this will never happen. The struggle of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh is very clear in its essence. They are fighting for freedom and self-determination, and such a struggle can not be doomed to failure. I am sure about that.