Interviews and press conferences
There is only one way - negotiations, everything else leads to a deadlock, a historical deadlock: an еxclusive interview of President Armen Sarkissian with the RBC TV Company
President of the Republic of Armenia Armen Sarkissian gave an exclusive interview to the Russian RBC TV Company.
RBC TV Company: Mr. President, the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh has reached its peak. Today, of course, war is in the foreground; however, its roots might be sought in the past. Could the USSR resolve the Karabakh issue?
- We should go to the roots of the issue. Karabakh is part of Armenia; Armenians have lived there for thousands of years and became Christians in the early 4th century. They had lived under many empires that came to power and then collapsed, and finally they became part of the Russian Empire.
The problem we have today comes from the 1920s, as by the decision of the Soviet Union leadership of that period, Karabakh was given to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan. It was possible to resolve this issue then, but nothing was done in the next 70 years. Azerbaijan had more than 70 years to create necessary conditions for the peaceful coexistence of Armenians and Azeris in Karabakh. In 1920, 300-350 thousand people lived in Karabakh, 90-95% of whom were Armenians. In 1990, the Armenians comprised 75% of already 150,000 people living there. People were leaving, as there were no conditions: Armenian schools did not work, young people were not able to develop their lives and activities, so people were leaving.
After 1988, events began, which openly indicated the goals of Baku: mass ethnic cleansing of Armenians took place in Sumgait, Baku and Maragha. The case in point is more than half a million Armenian refugees who left Azerbaijan, after which a war broke out against the people of Nagorno Karabakh.
Today's events, including Baku's mass strikes on the civilian facilities of Karabakh, once again prove this fact.
To give a clear-cut answer to your question, I must say: yes, if the leadership of the Soviet Union had not made such a decision in the early 1920s, there would not have been such an issue. If the Soviet leadership had a strong political will after the 1960s-70s-80s, it would have been able to resolve this issue peacefully within the Soviet Union. However, this did not happen for the simple reason that the leadership of the Soviet Union was not so strong or purposeful to settle internal matters; they left everything for the future.
RBC TV Company: Nobody thought the Soviet Union would collapse. In your opinion, why did so many problematic points appear on the map after the collapse of the Union, including yours? Was there a way to avoid it?
- Before answering, I would like to return to the question we talked about a while ago. It is important to understand the essence of the Karabakh problem. There are different interpretations. You have often heard that Azerbaijan raises the issue of territorial integrity. However, what territorial integrity? The fact that the Soviet leadership gave Karabakh to Azerbaijan for 70 years’ patronage? It is more important today, i.e. after 70 years of Soviet rule, 30 years of independence, and the establishment of an independent Republic in Nagorno-Karabakh, to understand that independence is not a goal for the Armenians of Karabakh, but the only guarantee of living safely, building life and progress, the only guarantee of people's security. A lot of things proceed from this.
The Soviet Union had such an ideology that its leadership, i.e. the founding fathers, did not think about the nuances associated with the past, culture, history and religion. All of this was secondary to the great founders of the Soviet Union at that time. They thought a new citizen of the Soviet Union might be created over the years, and no one would need those nuances. That is why no one paid attention to the very painful and problematic issues that existed throughout the Soviet Union. Of course, all this was revealed after the collapse. And not only in Karabakh.
RBC TV Company: Why did Armenia not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh until now?
- In any case, the Armenians are optimistic and right-thinking people. We think, and I guess, we are right that we can reach a final decision on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh only through peaceful negotiations. There is no other way. Any military solution is not final, and war means a loss of many lives on all sides. If Armenia recognized Nagorno-Karabakh, what would the negotiations be about later? All the conditions for negotiations were created for Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan; I am talking about the OSCE Minsk Group with its three Co-Chairs. I think there could not be a better option. These Co-Chairs are Russia, France and the United States. Negotiations have been going on for 26 years since the 1994 ceasefire. I would not say that they were unsuccessful, as to resolve such a problem is very difficult on the whole. There are many nuances and many elements in it. Many details of the issue are determined in the negotiations. After more than 20 years of negotiations, the parties had reached a level where only compromises and political decisions needed to be considered. In other words, it was necessary to show political will to move forward. To cancel the talks just because you are not satisfied with some issues is the wrong way, because it is impossible to reach a final solution by military means. There is only one way: negotiations. And this is not only the case with Nagorno-Karabakh, but also with various conflicts around the world.
On the other hand, the Armenians are optimistic, as I said. After the ceasefire in 1994, Armenians began to return to normal life: they built schools, hospitals, kindergartens and roads, and restored the economy. Everyone dreamed of obtaining peace in the end, the peace established through negotiations, and they would be able to live in peace and harmony, having normal relations with neighbouring Azerbaijan. But ... September 2020 came…
RBC TV Company: - Why did the war start after the Velvet Revolution, when the democratic forces led by Nikol Pashinyan came to power in Armenia?
- I do not think this should be connected with the Velvet Revolution. The question could be asked in another way, for example, why did it start in September 2020? There are many factors: because the USA is busy with the presidential elections, the world is preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic, and everyone is fighting on a different front, on the health front, because today Turkey's influence on Azerbaijan is tremendous...
I am not of those people who think that politics or political and conflict situations should be analyzed based only on personal relationships or the input of certain individuals. Undoubtedly, they have not been preparing for this war since 2018. It is obvious that they have been preparing for it for years.
RBC TV Company: Or maybe the internal situation in Armenia has also changed? How strong have the nationalist forces become in the country?
- First of all, I want to make it clear that I do not see nationalist forces in Armenia. It all depends on what you mean by saying nationalist forces and nationalism. I think it should be defined as follows: there is an idea of patriotism, when a person loves his homeland, and is ready to do everything possible for the future of his country from the economic, political and military points of view. Armenians are patriots, not only in Karabakh, but all over the world. Nationalism is a sort of mutation of patriotism when there is patriotism without common sense, logic and human values. I am sure that there is no such nationalism in Armenia. On the contrary, Armenians are patriots.
If in recent years Azerbaijan spent billions of dollars to buy ammunition, Armenians built in Karabakh, restoring everything: villages, schools, hospitals, etc. Armenians have always been patriotic and constructive.
RBC TV Company: Let me give you a clear example. You took part in the "Immortal Regiment" March in Armenia, holding the picture of a Soviet Union hero, spy Gevorg Vardanyan. In recent years, this march is considered a pro-Russian action in a number of countries of the former Soviet Union. Is the attitude also changing in Armenia in this aspect?
- With this example, you actually confirmed what I said about nationalism. Yes, after becoming President, I participate in these actions and I have not seen that people have a negative attitude towards such actions in Yerevan. On the contrary. Let us first recall that a large number of Armenians took part in the Great Patriotic War: about 600 thousand people from Armenia, other republics of the Soviet Union and the Diaspora. We lost 300,000 Armenians. It was our joint war together with the other peoples of the Soviet Union; in this case, what nationalism can we talk about? For the past two years, I participated in the action, holding the portrait of Gevorg Vardanyan, a great Soviet spy whom I personally knew very well. My mother was friends with Gevorg Vardanyan and Gohar Levonovna in Tehran in the early 1940s. At the age of 16, my mother and her friends set up an organization called “Mshakuyt” (“Culture”). It was a pro-Soviet organization that raised money during the war to support the Soviet Union. After the war, my mother returned to Yerevan. In other words, she did not take part in the war, but she made her own contribution, like many other Armenians. Next year, on May 9, I will be with that Regiment again, holding three portraits of Gevorg Vardanyan, his wife Gohar Levonovna, and their friend, my mother, because I think that like many Armenians, my mother made a great contribution to the cause of the great victory.
RBC TV Company: As they say, we are Soviet people, but what is the attitude of the Armenian youth now? For instance, I know that young people in Georgia do not actually speak Russian.
- I cannot comment on what the attitude towards the Russian language is in different countries, as we have entered a new world, which is much more uncertain than before. In this world, many values must be redefined. A world where you have to find yourself, understand where the world movement goes, and come to correct conclusions. Russian is very often used in Armenia. Russian TV channels prevail on Cable TV, followed by a vast majority of people. Even Western TV channels are in Russian.
As for me, culturally I am a Soviet person, if I cite Mikhail Shvidko. I feel greatly at ease, for example, in Almaty, Tashkent, Tbilisi, Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi. I will do my best for this common culture of ours to stay, live and flourish in Armenia, because this is a wonderful heritage that will help young people, the next generation, to better understand the world, the region, to be integrated. In fact, this is the basis of our bilateral relations between Armenia and Russia. And our relations are very deep.
RBC TV Company: After Nikol Pashinyan came to power, many in Russia began to talk about the fact that Armenia had taken the direction of deteriorating relations with Russia, turning to the West. Do you agree with that?
- Again, we take the way of personifying international or bilateral relations. I would look at the Armenian-Russian relations from a deeper, fundamental viewpoint for a very simple reason. Politicians come and go. I myself a term in office, which is seven years. What matters is what you add to or subtract from these relationships. The relations between Armenia and Russia, between Armenians and Russians, have a history of centuries, they are so deep that no one can change, transform or influence them. I think real politicians who make decisions understand this very well. In this case, I am talking about the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin.
You are talking about 2018 ... Yes, there were anti-government speeches, there were a lot of people in the squares, there were anti-Russian and other statements. But what is very important here is that all our friends got worried and called. As the President of a country who is not a political leader, I received a call from Vladimir Putin. I explained my vision to him. Nursultan Nazarbay and Alexander Lukashenko also called, people from all over the world called, and more often friends from the former Soviet republics. The most interesting thing is that at that time, many people, mainly Western diplomats, were surprised by the fact that Russia did not interfere in Armenia's affairs. This is the wisdom of the Russian leadership, because they are so confident in the depth and longevity of our historical relations that even in the light of the events in Armenia, they were convinced that after a while the Armenian people, even those who had made anti-Russian statements, will understand what is valuable. When I meet with journalists, politicians and diplomats during my visits to the West, I often say that you see, there is trust between Armenia and Russia, it is so deep and fundamental that no political change and no statement can affect it. An example of this is the confidence that Russia has shown in Armenia without interfering in the internal affairs of the country. Time has shown that this decision was absolutely right.
Today, the only wish of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia is a ceasefire as soon as possible. Their eyes are on Russia and the world community, but people realize that Russia's role is very essential to obtain a fundamental solution to the problem.
RBC TV Company: In an interview with us, Ilham Aliyev said that no country in the world is as dependent on Russia as Armenia. I do not think he was talking about cultural ties. How would you comment on these words?
- It is not my job to comment on the words of another country's president. His words can be interpreted by the press secretary of the President of Azerbaijan or analysts, but not me. But I can say that no country in the world is as dependent on Turkey - politically, economically and militarily - as Azerbaijan. This is already a fact.
Relations of Armenia and Russia have the nature of strategic partnership. It is a relationship between two peoples that has a long history of trust. Unfortunately, I can say that today, Turkey’s influence on Azerbaijan is enormous, and that is a negative factor in this war. It has become a negative factor in resolving the Karabakh conflict through peaceful negotiations.
RBC TV Company: We will, of course, return to this question. These two dependencies seriously raise the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to an international level. Can its international recognition resolvе the Karabakh issue? What were the results of your visits to the West?
- Recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh by other countries in this case will be within the frame of international law, international agreements and principles, as well as the scope of the philosophy that has developed in different regions, including the West. The case in point is the right of peoples to decide their own destiny.
I met with the President, Vice-President of the Council of Europe, and the President of France. I met and negotiated with the Secretary General of NATO. I cannot tell you about the details. You are an experienced journalist, and you have seen the official message.
RBC TV Company: I would like to know if you received the answer to your main question: how does it happen that NATO member Turkey is doing what it wants, and NATO is not doing anything? This is the question you raised in the press when you were leaving for Europe. Did you get the answer to that question there?
- I got the answer to my question. I can say that I am satisfied with my trip, as well as with my meetings with President Macron, the Secretary General of NATO, and the representatives of the Council of Europe. I got the answers to my questions.
Did those answers solve the Karabakh issue? No. Can I share the details of those meetings with you? Naturally, it’s a pity, I cannot. Whatever there was for the press is already in the press.
RBC TV Company: Based on the results of the visit, can you say why Turkey is so active in this conflict, in fact, openly standing by the leadership of Baku and Azerbaijan?
You know, I did not need to pay that visit to answer your question, on the contrary, during that visit I explained to my European partners why Turkey behaves in that way. I mean, I did not make that visit to understand that. I know why.
Let's analyse together. Let's first understand the official reason why Turkey is involved in this conflict. First of all, they declared that the Azerbaijanis are their ethnic brothers. You know, Russia also has ethnic brothers, the Slavs all over Europe. Turkey's ethnic brothers go via Azerbaijan to Central Asia, Mongolia, China and the Russian Federation. Does that mean he should behave the same way in the future if he thinks something is threatening his ethnic brothers?
The second reason is complete nonsense. Using old playing cards, they say that there are militants of certain Kurdish organizations in the territory of Karabakh. This is absolute nonsense. If you find at least one, show him to me. However, on the other hand, the same Turkey has brought to Azerbaijan terrorists of well-known organizations, whose names are known to everyone. Their names were also announced by relevant representatives of many countries, including high-ranking Russian officials, diplomats and ministers. They are the same terrorists who actively worked and trained in Syria, then some of them moved to Egypt, and then to Libya, from where they were transported to Azerbaijan.
The third reason is, as they say, that the Armenians were about to hit the oil and gas pipelines, i.e. the infrastructures and logistics. This is also absolute nonsense, because if the Armenians intended to strike at that infrastructure, they would have done it 20 years ago, showing that without Armenia it is impossible to build pipelines, that Armenia should be part of those pipelines or at least the Karabakh conflict should have been resolved before the construction of those pipelines. But the Armenians did not do that, because, as I told you, for some reason Armenians believe in international relations, international law, and normal international behaviour. As you can see, the pipelines have been built, no bullets have been fired in their direction for about 20 years, and Azerbaijan has accumulated billions. And those billions were spent on buying weapons, and today those weapons are annihilating Armenian children, and grandmothers, firing on the Armenian villages and cities of Karabakh.
Now let us look at the reality, not the official reasons announced by Turkey. It is very simple. As I mentioned, today Azerbaijan is very strongly dependent on Turkey, first of all, Turkey's strong presence in Azerbaijan, both in the political and military spheres. In other words, in a sense, Turkey solves many issues. Its presence and influence in Azerbaijan are enormous. If you are thinking about the Karabakh conflict today, it is no longer the same conflict we were talking about. Yes, the people of Karabakh are fighting for their homes. However, in a sense, they are fighting not only for the future of Karabakh, but also for the future of the whole region, as the Turkish presence in Azerbaijan has several factors. As we mentioned, terrorists. This is directed not only against Armenia. Turkey came to Azerbaijan, saying: "My dear ethnic brothers, you cannot resolve the Karabakh conflict, I will help you, and we shall resolve this issue together, instead, I will stay here, I will bring those terrorists with me and, in fact, I will be here to defend the gas and oil pipelines. and in fact, I will manage them." What does this mean? The same Europe, the West you are talking about, must understand that Turkey's presence in Azerbaijan means control over gas and oil, which passes not only through Azerbaijan, but also from the Caspian Sea, Central Asia to Europe. It will run through oil and gas pipelines called the Trans-Anatolian Line or Trans-Adriatic Line. In other words, it implies full control of Turkey over the energy resources that pass through the Caspian region, from Central Asia to Europe, mainly southern Europe. In other words, in a sense, Europe will become a hostage of Turkey. This is a tool, a playing card, with which Turkey will play very actively, because not only Europe, but also Central Asia will be dependent on Turkey, as Turkey will become the ruler.
The second playing card is very important. These are the refugees who stand on the border of Europe. They are four million. Europe gives Turkey six billion euros to keep them. However, Turkey uses this card very effectively. Where do these refugees come from? The vast majority of them are from Syria. Turkey caused this problem with Syria, as a result, there are refugees, today it threatens Europe with them, and Europe will depend on it. The second destination of these refugees came from Libya. Libya is not only an energy country, but also a gateway for refugees from Africa to Europe.
And the third, of course, are the terrorists. These are the three playing cards.
RBC TV Company: As you mentioned, these ambitions create hotbeds of instability near the Russian border. At the same time, Russia today has a very restrained position. Doesn't this coincide with Yerevan's expectations?
- You are talking to me, and I can share my opinion as the President of the country. We understand that Russia has very deep and expanded relations with Turkey in the political, economic and military spheres. We accept this as normal bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia. I do not see any danger in this, on the contrary, as Russia is the country that can finally radically change the current military situation in Nagorno-Karabakh by offering proposals, diplomacy and pressure to the parties. I think the bilateral relations between Russia and Turkey are normal. Let me give you a completely different example. Years ago, when I was a free man, I was asked what I thought about the fact that Turkey wants to become an EU member. I said that in principle it is a good idea, because we will have a neighbour who will be governed by much more civilized laws and behaviour and, in other words, will have a very important thing for Europe - tolerance.
Russian-Turkish relations and Russia's influence on Turkey can play a very positive role in resolving this military situation in Karabakh; thus, to say that I am somewhat worried that processes are taking place is not true. I treat it as normal, as normal bilateral relations between Russia and Turkey.
RBC TV Company: Do you think it is time for Russia to provide military assistance to Armenia in this situation? Do you think Russia has a legal opportunity to do that?
- I am President of a Parliamentary Republic, the head of the country. But let me answer you again as a diplomat. The issue of military assistance between Armenia and the Russian Federation is regulated by our agreements. That agreement is on the table, and there was a clear answer from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If the terms of the agreement are clear, I am convinced that the Russian Federation and its leadership, as responsible politicians, will fulfill their oblgations.
However, are there any preconditions, does the current situation correspond to the fact that this agreement should start operating ... I leave this question to the governments of Armenia and Russia.
RBC TV Company: When the ceasefire was violated three times, what are the chances of ending the conflict? During a meeting with the Turkish Foreign Minister yesterday, Mr. Aliyev stated that he must ensure the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from Karabakh through negotiations as soon as possible, otherwise Baku will go until the end, that is, Baku does not consider any other negotiations, either withdrawal of troops or war until the end.
I have to repeat for the third time that I will not comment the words of the president of another country.
As for "until the end", let me answer a little differently. First of all, this is not the first time the Azerbaijanis have uttered this phrase. It does not sound for the first time today, in the last two months, in the course of the whole history. I heard that in the early 1990s. At that time, the first Karabakh war lasted several years. At that time as well, Armenians were a minority, it was a small country, there was no support from a country like Turkey; Azerbaijan had a much larger military base, and everyone said that Karabakh could not win that war, that war was going on in vain. The people of Karabakh are very stubborn. They should have been optimistic when they were building hospitals and schools, whereas the issue of war and peace was not resolved. They really fought to the end. As a result, the war ended with a ceasefire signed in 1994 in Bishkek, mediated by Russia and the CIS, and, of course, Kyrgyzstan. It was signed by Azerbaijan, Karabakh and Armenia. I am convinced that every Karabakh man will fight until the end, to the end of his life, to the last bullet.
When we talk about the end, let's think what we mean. History shows that there are no final solutions through war or military operations. After all, people have to sit at the negotiating table and come to an agreement. If that does not happen, the war will continue, if not in this way, then in another format. We won the Great Patriotic War, in which we all lost millions of our compatriots in 1945. The Soviet troops remained in Germany, Germany was divided into two parts, but in the late 1980s and early 1990s the Soviet army withdrew from Germany, and Germany was reunited. Any conflict is not finally resolved, because even if there is that ethnic cleansing in Karabakh, do you think it will mean the end of the war? No. Other forms will be found.
I can bring the example of the Armenian Genocide. 105 years ago, Turkey did the same, saying that Armenians are Russia's brothers, they will fight on Russia's side, Armenians are Christians, and the ethnic cleansing began, the Genocide; 1.5 million people were killed, the Armenian Diaspora was formed all over the world. They took control of those lands. But the struggle for the country and its history is not over. Look at how many generations have passed during these 105 years. Armenians were born in Russia, France, Argentina, the United States, California, and New York, whose grandparents had been Genocide witnesses. Those people still remember and fight. The first stage of this struggle is the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey.
In other words, the conflict cannot be resolved by military means. There is only one way - peace talks. Then we can say that the war is over, that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan can live in peace for a long time if they sit at the negotiating table. And the rest leads to destruction, devastation. The Azerbaijani side talks about the liberation of Karabakh. Liberation from whom? From Armenians who are natives there? And how are those regions liberated? Suppose a village is liberated. And what is there? The school, the hospital, everything is destroyed, everything is burned, everything that was built is destroyed, including the churches ... Look at two different approaches. There were about 6,000 people in Shushi in 1920, the vast majority of whom were Armenians. It was the second city in the Caucasus after Tbilisi. After the First World War, Armenians rebuilt many structures in Shushi: schools and churches. The mosque in Shushi has been reconstructed. I am a witness, I have been there. It was rebuilt by Armenians with the help and efforts of local leaders, the Diaspora and their non-Christian relatives. It is wonderfully rebuilt. In the war that started on September 27, the first thing that the Azerbaijanis bombed was the Christian church, which is 300 meters away from the mosque. There were elderly people, women and children in the church at that time. They did it not once by accident, but twice. Here are two different approaches.
There is only one solution. This wound cannot be healed through destruction. It can be resolved by building relationships. Negotiation is not a scientific process when you come together to find a solution. This is a very complicated process. In the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, that process must be long. During all this time, many issues, however small, had been resolved. The most important thing is that negotiations are a process during which there is a certain trust between the parties, because without that trust nothing can be built. To leave the process, saying that they are not satisfied. And who said that these negotiations should last, say, 5 or 30, 35 or 40 years? No. Only peaceful negotiations, concepts, the development of new ideas, and building of trust led to the fact that France and Germany not only did not go to war, but also became allies and creators of a new Europe.
There is only one way - negotiations, everything else leads to a deadlock, a historical deadlock.
- Thank you for the interview. We wish Armenia peace և peaceful sky.