Interviews and press conferences
Were it not for the negative influence of Turkey, it is very likely that this war would not have happened at all. Interview of President Armen Sarkissian to Ukraine 24 TV Channel
President of the Republic of Armenia Armen Sarkissian gave an interview to Ukraine 24 TV channel.
Ukraine 24: Mr. President, first of all thank you for affording us the time and opportunity to get in touch with you. Of course, I want to talk to you about the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, where heavy military activities have been going on for more than a month. According to the public information, today the confrontations are taking place in positions of strategic importance. It can be said that these last days would be decisive for the conflict. What is the current situation in Nagorno-Karabakh or, as the Armenians call it, Artsakh?
- Indeed, the battles have been going on for more than a month. I think this war is absolutely groundless. Azerbaijan started the war on September 27 with the strong support of Turkey. It was both expected and unexpected. It was expected in the sense that they had obviously been preparing themselves for this war. It was unexpected because in any case there was a negotiation process, no one had stopped it. Those negotiations had been going on for twenty years, and were quite successful. There were certainly days when one of the sides was satisfied or not so much. However, in any case negotiations are much better than wars. A war implies loss of lives on both sides; it is destruction, not construction. In this case, unfortunately, the Azerbaijani side has been bombing the civilian population since the first days of the war. They started it from Stepanakert, and on the very first day, children and adults suffered the most; as a result, we had human losses.
So, unfortunately, the war is going on. It was unleashed by Azerbaijan. I will repeat once again that this war is absolutely unfounded, because in all cases, any war ends in negotiations.
The first Karabakh war lasted for several years, and there were days when everyone said that the end was near. And there were days when they said the end was near, for the other side. In fact, it took a very long time, a few years. In any case, it ended with a ceasefire, which was signed in Bishkek in 1994, between Azerbaijan and, Armenia, and I want to emphasize, Karabakh.
Ukraine 24: Yes, what you mentioned is very essential. During the escalation of the conflict in the last few weeks, there have been talks at the same level as the Minsk Group Co-Chairs, and a ceasefire has already been reached three times. The last meeting took place in Geneva with the participation of the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Despite these agreements, why does the conflict continue?
- I would simplify this question. All these attempts, which were made first by the efforts of the Russian Federation, then the French tried, and then the USA Secretary of State Pompeo. After that, the ministers met in Geneva. These attempts failed for a very simple reason. Besides the two sides of the conflict, the Artsakh Republic and Azerbaijan, there is a third party, which is not interested in a ceasefire. That is Turkey.
Ukraine 24: If we are talking about Turkey, there is a hypothesis that, in fact, the initiator of this military attack is Turkey. Are you inclined to agree with such a view? How long do you think these hostilities have been planned? Mr. President, can we say today that the period was not chosen by chance either? The tension began in late September, when there was an outbreak of the coronavirus, and during the hot campaign for the US presidential elections.
- You have already answered your own question. I agree with you. The assumption that Turkey was the initiator… It was between the leaderships of Turkey and Azerbaijan. Their relationship has a long history, and it is obvious that Turkey is interested.
The story of Karabakh is, unfortunately, not the only one, where Turkey has created instability, and is actually doing everything to destroy all possible status quo. Turkey is creating hotbeds of instability around itself. You see they were first in Egypt, then they were in Libya together with the others and afterwards in Iraq. They talk about the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, but it was they who invaded Iraq. There, nobody paid attention to the territorial integrity of Iraq. Then the same happened with Syria; Turkey did not take into account the issue of Syria’s territorial integrity. It found a pretext and entered Syria. And today in Azerbaijan, they are fighting for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. In any case, this is very strange.
Turkey is creating instability in the Eastern Mediteranean and opposed to Greece and Cyprus. It creates instability everywhere. Turkey’s ambition to become a major player in the region is for everybody to admit its importance. It has several motives in the case of Azerbaijan. First of all, Turkey wants to show its younger brother Azerbaijan that they cannot resolve the issue on their own, so Turkey will do it instead of them. No doubt, every such service has its price. And the price is that Turkey has an immense influence on Azerbaijan today, and most likely it will remain there. In that case, the energy carriers, oil and gas pipelines, that pass via the Caspian Sea and Central Asia will be under its control, i.e. in a sense, Europe will become a hostage. The third is the refugees. There are four million refugees in Europe, who are mostly from Syria. Turkey is one of the creators of the Syrian crisis. These refugees are a major playing card for Turkey to influence upon Europe today. Four million refugees are on the border with Europe, and actually, Europe pays a lot of money to keep them in Turkey. Six billon euros were paid, and with this money the refugees should have lived very well, but it is not so in reality. Besides this, there are the terrorists, whom Turkey brought to Azerbaijan.
Yes, Turkey has its game, and each time when the parties agree on a ceasefire, a third one appears and says no. This is obviously not the Armenian side.
Ukraine 24: Mr. President, the leaders of Turkey and Azerbaijan are announcing a possible military solution to the Karabakh conflict. How do you comment on such positions? Does Yerevan see the development of a military solution today?
- You know they said the same thing thirty years ago, during the first war. At first, Azerbaijan had an advantage, and everyone said that they would solve this issue by military means. But then exactly the contrary happened: it all ended with a ceasefire, and negotiations began. I am skeptical of such statements because there are no military solutions in the world. Look at the entire history, the history of Europe, and that of Ukraine. Final solutions have never been based on military results. They always had to sit somewhere at the negotiating table and agree on the future.
The people of Karabakh have lived in Karabakh for several thousand years; they have seen much more aggressive "conquerors": from the Mongols to the Seljuk Turks and everyone else. There is no military solution. There is only a negotiated solution, when the parties sit around the table, sign a certain document, and then try to implement it. Neither Azerbaijan, nor Karabakh will disappear from this planet.
I can give a very simple example, which I use quite often. 105 years ago, the same Turkey, represented by the Ottoman Empire, decided to get rid of the Armenians in Western Armenia. It was the Armenian Genocide, ethnic cleansing. The Armenians were turned out of those lands where they had lived for thousands of years, when the Turks did not exist at all. That ethnic cleansing ended with the Armenian Genocide. And what? Is that all over? No. It did not end, although more than 100 years have passed; the Armenians everywhere and always remember it. They are not the same Armenians who managed to survive the Genocide, but their grandchildren and heirs, but in any case, it is not forgotten. Today, the Armenians all over the world are struggling for the recognition of the Genocide; many countries have already recognized it, from the US Senate to France, the German Parliament, the Russian Federation and other countries. Therefore, this struggle will continue. Even if they (Azerbaijan and Turkey) dream of solving this issue by military means. We must remember that wars end at the negotiating table. And there is already a negotiating table, which is very representative. Armenians have not built shelters or military bases all these years, on the contrary, they have built roads and hospitals. Armenians have lived with a dream of living in peace. And Azerbaijan has decided no, let's destroy it all.
Ukraine 24: You have rightly said that any war sooner or later ends in peace, and proceeding from this, why must so many lives be taken? A few days ago in Brussels you met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to talk about the situation in Karabakh. How does the Secretary-General explain a NATO member Turkey's position and actions?
Unfortunately, I cannot make public how he explained it in our closed discussions. However, you must be sure that I have raised these sharp questions, as I do not comprehend this not only as president, but also as a person who knows what NATO is, as I was Armenia’s first Ambassador to NATO. I do not understand how it becomes possible for a NATO member country to use NATO weapons. The weapons used by the Turkish side in Karabakh, or given to Azerbaijan, belong to NATO. Although the same Bayraktar ATS are Turkish, their engines are Austrian, the aviation system is from Canada, and the projectile management system is from Great Britain. It is NATO weapons. Those weapons, the officers who have been trained in NATO, and the war tactics are from NATO: all this is used against Nagorno-Karabakh. Where is Nagorno-Karabakh, and where is NATO? I can say that I am satisfied with our negotiations, because the questions were asked very concrete, I received the answers I more or less knew. However, that conversation had to take place, and the pressure on NATO will continue.
Ukraine 24: Do you mean pressure on Turkey?
- Pressure on NATO to put pressure on Turkey. Otherwise, NATO, as an organization, cannot continue to lead one of its members, and its activity will not end in Karabakh. God knows where else they can appear and what they will do. Such behaviour of Turkey actually discredits NATO. I think such a behaviour is an anachronism and it is outdated. Or, Turkey declares that a coalition or even an army of Turkic-speaking states should be formed: it can be said that it is a dinosaur from another era. Today is the 21st century. The world is no longer unipolar. In fact, many international organizations are not very effective. Many things in this world are instable and changing. I even call it the new world quantum behaviour. In this world with quantum behaviour such dinosaurs can be very dangerous, as when Turkey talks about its ethnic brothers, see how far they go. They reach as far as Central Asia, China, Mongolia, Russia and Ukraine. Should Turkey use military technology and equipment every time to help its brothers and sisters? It is medieval approach.
Ukraine 24: In any case, part of the civilized world and the international community today turn a blind eye to such behaviour. Do they want such behaviour, or can the position of the international community and potential geopolitical actors change in the near future?
Anyway, Mr. President, let us talk about the support that Karabakh receives today? As I understand it, today we are talking only about the Armenians all over the world, who provide financial, material and humanitarian aid. How important is that aid today? How do you assess it? I can say what I know: from the very first days of the conflict, the operative headquarters of the Union of Armenians of Ukraine has been working in Yerevan, coordinating the work of providing humanitarian aid to the victims. A lot of work is being done there under the leadership of the head of the Union Vilen Shatvoryan. How important is this? How would you rate it?
- Let me start with the first part of your question. Indeed, time was very correctly chosen. The United States was busy with the elections. So, we cannot hope that the United States could be more actively involved in resolving this issue. Europe was also busy with its Brexit, coronavirus, economic matters, etc. Everybody is busy. From this point of view, it is necessary to mention the inhumanity of starting this war once again. Moreover, the war started when there was an opportunity to resolve the matter through negotiations. Maybe you are displeased with something or someone, in that case you can express your dissatisfaction, something or someone would change, and everything would be back to normal. You should not start killing people because you are unhappy with something. This shows the inhuman nature of this war.
Before the war, it was calculated that, first of all, everybody will be busy. Second, in both Azerbaijan and Turkey, there is a complex war going on, as coronavirus data are rapidly increasing. Besides that , the economy in Turkey is declining with quickened pace; compare the Turkish lira and then the Armenian dram, which is absolutely stable.
From this point of view, yes, we have a good-neighbourly and strategic relations with Russia. In its turn, Russia is in good relations with Azerbaijan as well, and this is useful because Russia can be a good mediator in this regard. You are right that Armenians are fighting for themselves.
This is how they fought during the first Karabakh war. We are talking about the people of Karabakh who know how to fight for their own country; we are talking about Armenia that supports them in this struggle; we are talking about volunteers who want to come and help Karabakh. Moreover, we are talking not only about Armenia, but also about the Armenians of the Diaspora. Turkey's presence changes everything. If in the absence of Turkey it was possible to think that this issue is within the framework of the right to self-determination and the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, then the presence of Turkey completely changes the situation.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Armenian community of Ukraine and the friends of the Armenians living in that country, for their help. I want to repeat that any such war is a patriotic war for us Armenians. It is the people who win a war, and they win it with their unity, not with weapons. Any weapon plays a role only at the beginning of the war, then there is the willpower, the unity, the unity of our people over the Karabakh issue, the help that the people of Karabakh need, because when men fight, women and children need help. They become homeless, and they need help. I would not call them refugees, but their temporary status is very uncertain. Therefore, the assistance of the Armenian Diaspora around the world, in this case Ukraine, is highly appreciated. I would like to thank our compatriots and say that their help is not only appreciated, but also really needed. Now is the time for all our people to be one fist together.
Ukraine 24: You have rightly mentioned, Mr. President, that Armenians in Ukraine have a large number of friends, because today in this country they know very well what war is, what the loss of people and the devastating consequences are, the catastrophe that brings back war and hostilities.
- As for the political-diplomaticsettlement of the situation,I would like to ask you a question. You recalled the Bishkek Agreement, signed in 1994, which established a ceasefire. Since then, as you rightly said, it has been possible to control the situation and not allow it to escalate. However, it was not possible to reach an agreement on reconciliation and sign a peace treaty. Why did it not succeed in the course of 26 years?
First of all, I do not agree with you that we did not succeed. Such negotiations are very complicated and contain many elements, in addition to big issues, there are also many other small issues.
Ukraine 24: I mean you failed to put an end to it.
- And who said we had to put an end in 26 or 36 years.Look at another conflist around the world. The Palestinian issue has been going on for many years, negotiations had been coducted and papers signed. This is a very difficult question. I want to reaffirm the idea that if it were not for Turkey's negative influence on this process, it is very likely that this war would not have happened at all, we would have been closer to a peaceful settlement.
Ukraine 24: If we talk about a peaceful settlement, is Yerevan ready to compromise, is it ready to make certain concessions, regardless of the steps taken by the opposite party, both Azerbaijani and Turkish?
- During these 26 or 30 years, the Armenian side has always stated that it is ready for normal negotiations. You do not have to go very far to prove this, everything is too simple. Armenia has not yet recognized the Karabakh independence. - During these 26 or 30 years, the Armenian side has always stated that it is ready for normal negotiations. You do not have to go very far to prove this, everything is too simple. Armenia has not yet recognized the Karabakh independence. Answering your question about what Armenia is ready for and what it is not, it is a topic of negotiations, and the negotiations have been stopped. Even if they continued, I would not answer you, because after 2018, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs are our negotiating parties, not me.
Ukraine 24: Nikol Pashinyan recently stated that the deployment of peacekeepers could be one of the optimal solutions to the conflict. Is it possible to deploy peacekeepers in Karabakh in the near future? Do I understand correctly that at the moment the other side rules out this version of events?
- As far as I understand, it is the other side who rule this out, as they think they are moving forward and do not need peacekeepers. This is the usual story. As I said, we have witnessed such processes also thirty years ago, during the first Karabakh war. I think that at this moment the importance of peacekeepers is in the fact that there is a third party.
For 26 years, both sides have been more or less reserved, without peacekeepers. One could even advertise that, look, there are no peacekeepers in Armenia, between Karabakh and Azerbaijan, and the ceasefire is maintained. However, the third player, Turkey, appeared. That is why I think the deployment of peacekeepers in the future is mandatory. I think the most optimal choice ho the peacekeepers will be is Russia, as this country has normal relations with Azerbaijan and Armenia, it is a Co-Chair, one of the countries trying to resolve the issue and to bring hostilities to a ceasefire. This is my personal opinion.
Ukraine 24: The Ministry of Defense of Armenia has repeatedly stated that there are Syrian mercenaries in Azerbaijan. Such statements are made regularly, although Azerbaijan and Turkey deny hiring militants from third countries. Is there any confirmation today that such forces, terrorists and militants, are used in Karabakh by the opposite side?
- We are wasting time talking about this, because they really exist. It is a fact, and satellite channels show they were transported to this region. Besides, many countries, including the Russian Federation, have confirmed this at the level of foreign intelligence chief and foreign minister. Not to mention other countries. No one discusses this any longer. Everyone in Europe knows they exist. However, they are not ordinary terrorists. These are extremists, people who belong to organizations that are strictly forbidden in both Europe and Russia, and everywhere. Turkey brought these people. Turkey funds these organizations and trains them in Syria. This is a well-known fact.
During the first Karabakh war, there were Mujahideen individuals, e.g. from Afghanistan or Pakistan. In this case, it is organized at a state level. This is called state terrorism or state-organized terrorism. In fact, this is not the first case. The same terrorists were in Syria, Libya and Egypt, and tomorrow they may appear in Europe.
Ukraine 24: If the international community, as you say, understands this unequivocally, although it does not always speak directly about it, sooner or later should there be some responsibility and punishment for such actions? What should the punishment be according to international law and its norms?
- I am not a judge of the International Court of Justice, but I think that the punishment will be in real life, as nothing goes unpunished. Unfortunately, European countries will also be punished, because this is terrorism; the same way as organized terrorism appeared in Europe from Afghanistan, then in the United States, and happened what happened, this terrorism will appear there as well.The sentence will be handed down by a non-international court. The country that organizes all this will be punished too.
Turkey thinks that everything is allowed to it: to transfer terrorists, to create refugees, to oppress Europe with those refugees, with energy, and to create hotbeds of instability. This is absolutely unrestricted opportunism. I think after all, this will have a bad ending. But, unfortunately, the Armenians of Karabakh became the victims of this Turkish policy. In this regard, the Armenians in Karabakh are fighting not only for their independence, values, heritage, culture and faith, but also to stop what is moving to Europe and the great risks that are moving to Europe.
Ukraine 24: Those risks were confirmed by the recent tragical events in a number of European countries. I want to ask you a question about the factor of religion in the Karabagh issue. The history of this conflict also has cultural-spiritual roots How realistic are those fears that in the close perspective the region may become a centre of global Christian-Islamic conflict under the circumstances of the development of pessimistical scenarios?
- It cannot happen, as this is not a religious war. It is another matter that President Erdogan declares himself and wants to be the leader of all Turkic-speaking peoples. We will see how this anachronism can work in the 21st century. Turkey does not represent the Islamic world under any circumstances. Most of the Islamic countries had lived within the Ottoman Empire, in fact, they know very well what it means. Let us see what the attitude is towards Turkey in the Persian Gulf, in other Arab countries: from Egypt to Saudi Arabia. This is not a religious war by any means. To protect the Christian heritage is something else because the first thing the Turks do is to bomb a church. Not because they are strong Muslims, or because this is a religious war, but because they know that it is very dear for Armenians. Besides, they know that the children and the elderly take refuge in churches. This is the moral side of this conflict.
Ukraine 24: How would you assess the future perspectives in Karabakh? Is there any hope that the issue will be resolved in the foreseeable future? Will the fire stop at least?
- Let me end our conversation with a small message to our Armenian sisters and brothers. The President of Armenia does not live with hopes, my day does not start and end with hope. I work every day, from morning till night. As our soldiers fight on the front, so I work day and night for that victory. That is why I am sure that when we are all together, the victory will be ours. And in our case, the victory is to keep our homes.
Ukraine 24: Sooner or later, a war ends, and it ends in peace. We want to believe that wars will soon end in Karabakh, as well as in Ukraine and around the world. Thank you for the opportunity of this interview.
-I am thankful too. We must work for that peace. Peace does not just happen. Peace has a creative nature, unlike wars, which are destructive.
- Thank you.