Interviews and press conferences
Exclusive interview of the President of the Republic Armen Sarkissian to the "News" program of the Public Television
Question: Mr. President, this is your third visit to an Arab country under this situation of crisis. Many people wonder why you have chosen this direction of foreign policy under these conditions.
-First of all, I have visited not only Arab countries during the crisis and even the days of war. If you may recall, there were visits to Brussels, where I met with the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the President of the European Council. I had a meeting with the Secretary General of NATO, with whom, to be honest, I had a rather difficult talk, taking into account that Turkey, a NАТО member state, was openly involved in the hostilities.
After that I visited France, and had a meeting with President Macron; we had a long and very friendly talk. On the way back, for a half day I also visited Qatar, where I had a talk with the Emir, taking into consideration the special role of Qatar in the Gulf and its relations with different countries.
Then I had a short visit to the Emirates, and this time, after the ceasefire, I visited Jordan.
The King of Jordan is a very good friend of our country; he has been my personal friend for many years, I would say we are family friends. As you know, he had visited Armenia, and there should have been a return visit. I am thankful to His Majesty that after the ceasefire, when Armenia was really in a most difficult situation, not only economical, but also military-political and moral-psychological, he invited me to Jordan. This is symbolical in a sense. Take into account that Jordan has an immense prestige in the whole Arab world. The King and his family are direct descendants of Prophet Muhammed, and he has a great influence in the whole Arab, and not only Arab, but also the Muslim world. Consequently, this visit manifests a number of points. First of all that this war never was and should be interpreted as a religious war.
Armenia has a large number of friends in the Islamic world, and our bilateral relations should be aimed at developing our friendly relations. Jordan can be the mediator that will bring us closer to the whole Arab-Islamic world. For long years, our political orientations were toward the United States, European Union, and Russia, the others seemed to be secondary, tools to ensure diplomacy in the General Assembly of the UNO or when voting, to have friendly countries that might vote rightly…
However, the world has changed, it has become unpredictable. Today we need friends in many countries.
Question: In your opinion, what foreign policy gaps did we have that could lead to this state of war, or was it inevitable?
- I would like to complete my idea first. The world has changed, and even smaller states and separate regions are becoming more and more important. Hence, in its essence, our policy must have very clear directions, which must be determined proceeding from our national and state interests. Of course, it is important for us to have relations with a country like Indonesia, with Malaysia or Vietnam, because they are UNO members, and so on. However, how do we explain the fact that today we do not have diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, one of the most influential countries of our region and the Islamic world? We do not have relations with Pakistan, one of the most important countries of the same region. The explanation that if we have relations with Pakistan, India will be offended is infantile and naïve. We have close relations with the United States and Iran, and there are many such examples. This is the essence of diplomacy: you must be able upon a modified formula to be close with, or know closely all your adversaries, even enemies, and to be very close to your friends. At the given moment, diplomacy dictates us that our duty is to conduct active diplomacy in the Gulf, the Arab world and the Islamic world, the role of which is growing. Jordan, as I have already mentioned, has a very important role. It is small, but it has an immense influence, both the country and certainly the royal family.
Today, I would not like at all to discuss our diplomatic oversights, success, victories or defeats with you. I have already said that we lost not only on the battlefield, but also suffered defeats in diplomacy, public opinion and information spheres, and numerous other defeats, from which we must make corresponding conclusions.
As for Jordan itself, His Majesty has shown a special attitude, as at this moment there are not many official visits because of the coronavirus. It is, in fact, a very high-level official visit. We have discussed a broad circle of issues, concerning the international agenda, the region, our neighbours, and the Karabakh conflict.
It is gratifying that all this is done in coordination with our other friends. A few days ago, when Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov was in Yerevan, we talked about my visit. On the same day, during my visit, Mr. Lavrov talked to Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and discussed the region. Consequently, in our foreign policy it is essential that the diplomatic and political, public and practical relations with our most important partners, first of all Russia and our other friendly countries, were coordinated, not at the expense of one another, but on the contrary, gathering all our friends in one place.
I can say that in the last one and a half, or two years, I did everything to transform my personal relations with the Emir of Qatar and his family, with Muhammad bin Zayed, the leader of the United Arab Emirates, with the Kuwait leadership and even with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia into structural state relations, i.e. to be transferred to the institution and not to remain personified, so that when I am not President tomorrow, our relations do not go away with me. We can and must be friends with the two countries which are in a tense relationship at the moment. The United Arab Emirates and Qatar are a brilliant example of such relations. These two are very close states, but living in a great tension today. However, I am friends with both of them and, today we are trying with both of them to establish very friendly relations on a state level, which is, of course, very calmly accepted by the leaders of the two states. Armenia is one of the few countries that has warm relations with both of these states.
Question: A large segment of the public thinks that you have pretensions to become prime minister, and another layer nominates your candidacy to find a way out. Do you have such pretensions?
I was Prime Minister twenty-five years ago, and when I was Prime Minister, I was young, I knew what I wanted, and I had a clear plan. But it was God’s will that after being Prime Minister for some time, I had to spend one year and a half in hospital, healing from a very serious illness and I am lucky to be here with you today.
First of all, there can be no question of pretensions. I am the President of the Republic, and even in a parliamentary country, even in the Armenian parliamentary country, where a president’s functions are quite limited, the President has certain clear-cut obligations and an opportunity to support. The presidential institution should be the platform to be used both by the government and the opposition under the crisis we have today, so that the confrontation comes from the street to the table. We say that to resolve the Karabakh issue the Minsk group is the best platform, because the diplomats and the leaders of the states came and negotiated around the table, opposing it to the war. Now we have the same in our country. You do not have to take to the street to find the truth.
Secondly, that crisis is not defined by the quantity of people in the streets. I think we really have a deep crisis in Armenia, and with a simple analysis, we can understand why we do not have 100 thousand or 200 thousand of people in the streets. However, we have a crisis not only in Armenia; in general, for the entire Armenian people, this is a deep moral-psychological crisis of loss. Any Armenian has it. You saw it in Jordan, and it is the same in Moscow, and California. We have an economical and political crisis in Armenia, and in general, we have a crisis connected with Armenia abroad: in foreign relations, because the image of our country and our nation is not very positive at present. We also lost the public war, and hence, if in 1994 we had a world which had a very well-wishing attitude towards us, to our problems and Karabakh struggle, it is not so today, because our adversaries have purposefully been working for years, and we did not do that work.
Therefore, the President of the Republic has a lot to do, and he does not think about being the Prime Minister. He is ready to work with any government elected by the people and the Prime Minister, and to bring his own contribution. My problem is somewhere else. I think I am using only 5-10% of my potential for my country, be it due to constitutional restrictions, or because my partners are not open to cooperation… These are the main reasons. I think I can do more in foreign relations, foreign economy, investments, culture and diplomacy, but I do very little. It is quite difficult for me as I want to work, and I certainly do, but I think I can do much more.
Question: Now, when we are all looking for the guilty, your name is often circulated on social platforms and becomes associated with various myths. Will you clarify some of them?
-Me to clarify others? No, let the authors of these myths clarify them. However, if you asked the question and taking into account the interest, I will try to answer.
Personally, I am absolutely indifferent to those myths and conspiracy theories. To be honest, I do not read them at all, only my colleagues sometimes report. The topics constantly repeat. If you are interested, I can tell you about a couple of them to close the theme. One of the topics is about my relation to BP (British Petroleum). My relations with BP are very simple: at the beginning of the 2000s, when I regained my health, I was no longer a civil servant, I was a free man. I was in business, also engaged in my academic life, and I had my centre at Cambridge University. I was also providing consulting services.
I worked with different companies. At the same time, I was the founder and then the president of the Global Council on Energy Security in those years. That Council worked within the framework of the World Economic Forum. After three years of work, other presidents came. In a sense, I got specialized in the spheres of modern technologies telecom and energetics, and BP offered me to work with them within one concrete project. BP had a project to buy the TNK Company, the Russian oil giant. First of all, I clarified the matter with our Russian colleagues, they had a great desire, and were happy that I should be the negotiator-consultant. I did not negotiate in the commercial sense. There was a moment of political element. I took up my duties in the work. At this, my contract clearly stated that I only work with them on this issue. At my request, a special clause was included in the contract that no one can even ask me for an opinion about the Caucasus, because I have a conflict of interests there. In other words, I cannot give an unbiased opinion, because I am Armenian, Armenia is above everything for me. And no one even tried. After one or two years of work not only with BP, but also with the Russian side, including the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Energetics, we successfully completed the work. The Contract was signed on June 23, 2003, within the framework of the Russian–British Forum. The relations of Britain and Russia were very warm at that time. I was present at that Forum and at the signing. President of Russia Vladimir Putin, was also present, as well as the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the leadership of BP and TNK: Mikhail Fridman, Vexelberg, Len Blavatnik and others. That day ended with success, and that was the end of my activities with BP.
The rest is the result of a morbid, highly desirable, and well-financed wish to associate it with an absolute nonsense.
The other topic refers to my participation in the work of the Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative. It was again 17 years ago, when Russia, the United States and NATO set up a special commission, which worked for two and a half years. Its purpose was to see what problems and challenges might come forth in the future. There were more than thirty participants, among them the former Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Russia and the USSR, the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the leadership of the Russian General Staff, and generals who participated in the drafting of strategic arms management treaties between the Soviet Union and the United States.
The same was on the American side. Professionals from various places were invited as well. I was invited as a professional. I was individually invited. If you are Armenian, you may be a little proud that your former Prime Minister had been invited as an energy security expert to attend these meetings.
Some people invested time and money and went and found that there was a document in that huge mass of documents, written by one of the members of the group from Turkey and was the former Foreign Minister Hikmet Cetin. He was a very interesting man of Kurdish origin. Cetin had written his personal opinion there that Turkey would have imperial claims in the future and would like to have a greater role in the region. This was a personal opinion. People, who had found it, commented that, look,,. Mr. Sarkissian is with all of them… Conspiracy theory, I do not know what ... That is absurd, of course. The reality is that we must follow most carefully any analysis aimed at the future of 10-15 years, as, unfortunately, that small article by Mr. Cetin became a reality, and we are one of its victims. If we had paid attention to it in time, and if we had seen the Turkish threat growing at a huge rate every year, we might have been better prepared for this war.
I have worked in French, American, Russian, Chinese and Indian companies. … I regret that all that zeal, energy and money is spent for one purpose only - to destabilize our country. If we analyze what groups are here, it is very clear that there is a group that with such actions and spreading false information, tries to blame others what they did and failed to do, and to shift their responsibility and mistakes on others. This is one. Another group is trying to destabilize our country as much as possible and to catch fish in dirty waters. That “fish” may be power, hatred, vengeance, or other “small fish.” The third group in reality are our enemies, who take this garbage, and then multiply it. I am talking about both Turkey and Azerbaijan. They multiply it and then spread it amongst us. That small lie, which is garbage in reality, becomes an immense quantity of garbage hills. After that comes the fourth group, which are the so-called international experts from the USA, Britain, Europe, Russia, and Turkey; and as there is a need for information and that information is on the same Facebook; they take it from there, analyze, make conclusions, and offer it to the public to show what important journalists or political analysts they are. In fact, they seal the garbage, making it official.
As the President, I regret a lot because we lost the information war. We are defeated everywhere. Even in Jordan, people protested that the Arabic Facebook was full of anti-Armenian materials fabricated in Baku and Ankara, for sure. We are not there. We have lost the information war not only in the Arab world, but also in the USA, Europe, and even in the Russian Federation, our closest friendly country; and this unacceptable. This is very regrettable, and our war still goes on especially in the information sphere. I think this must be assessed and analyzed, why we lose every day in the information sphere.
I insist that we live in Armenia mixing the imagination and the reality. And this is one of the main reasons. We say ‘we have a good army’, but we do not in reality. We say we have IT, but we do not have it. We have Information system, but I do not know whether we have it or not, which would correspond to the 21st century.
Question: In your speech you made proposals. Are they still valid?
They are not taken from the air, and they are not proposals of this moment, but they are well-considered for a long time. We are a parliamentary country, and if we have a crisis, the solutions are quite simple and clear; they are not something new for the world. There must be early elections. Two years ago we had elections. Today’s power in the National Assembly and the Government received that mandate two years ago. Armenia two years ago and Armenia today are different. I do not say that they will get a mandate again. The people will decide. But it is so accepted that you must go back again to refresh your mandate, after which you have additional four or five years, and not the remaining two or three. Second, the opposition must leave the streets and take part in the elections. And, certainly, there must be a government for this period, to whom many should trust, either national accord or technocratic, or call it as you wish. There must be a clear program, which will be placed on the table of the same interim government so that people are ready to work with dedication, serving their Homeland for the temporary period of one year, or a year and a half. This is called a road map.
In my case, the road map, first of all, has an analytical element; it is written and it is ready. This is what has been done wrong up to the present day, when instead of building an institution, we have sought for a person, a saviour. The second is an analysis of today’s economic, political, and foreign relations, particularly, the regional policy, and it is a so-called guide to where the world goes and where we go. After that is the road map. These are concrete tasks and concrete directions. There are also the terms, i.e. this must be done in such period of time, then the other task; also if we do not manage something in time, what to do next, etc. Of course, this must be coordinated.
I have created a document to be given to the negotiators, and to say: take this as a base; remove or add, do whatever you want. And if there is a coordinated document, you can have a government built around it, without any need for a political leader. The President of the Republic, the National Assembly and the Minister will have a clear program in front of them, what they are starting from today until the new elections.
It is natural and necessary that before the new elections, we think about the amendments to the Electoral Codex so that a person, regardless of whether he lives in Yerevan or in a village, knows who his deputy is and called that deputy to account.
And, of course, we need changes in the Constitution, because we have a Constitution where there are no mechanisms of balance and restraint, and that it is very dangerous.