12, 2021

The exclusive interview of President of Armenia Armen Sarkissian to Asia Times

Asia Times correspondent Kourosh Ziabari recently conducted an exclusive interview with Armenian President Armen Sarkissian in the capital Yerevan.

Part 1

Kourosh Ziabari: If history is indeed on your side, why hasn’t the Armenian government been able to draw the support of the international community and the UN Security Council that consider Nagorno-Karabakh as Azerbaijani territory, as reflected in UNSC resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884?

Armen Sarkissian: What is interesting, I think, is that you’re not the first person nor the last one who would like to build the international relations on historic justice. But it doesn’t work like that in the real world. Am, I right?

Ziabari: Sure!

Sarkissian: I think historic justice is one of the components but the real world is the real world. Indeed, I think if you have the chance of traveling to the territories of Artsakh, Nagorno-Karabakh, it would be a fantastic trip, because you go through all of the different ages of our history. That area was always inhabited by ethnic Armenians. If you go back, you’ll find Armenian churches coming from the fourth or fifth century and so on.

I was recently on a state visit to Italy. As part of that visit, I visited the University of Bologna and had a very interesting tour to the library where they presented us some of their old Armenian manuscripts they had. There was a very interesting material which was an old 16th or early 17th-century map depicting Armenian cultural and religious centers.

Those who have founded and made it were in fact based in two places: in Jerusalem and in Constantinople. The map covers current Turkey, it covers current Armenia, it covers partially places in Iran up to Isfahan and other places. But it also covers Nagorno-Karabakh with hundreds of Armenian medieval churches and cultural centers there. So, this is about history.

Secondly, I think, unfortunately the history is pretty simple! That territory was rich of invasions, fights, relations with the Persian Empire, and you can find a lot of culture there, as well. But if you go back around 200 years ago, you’ll see that territory was taken over by the Russian Empire from the Persian Empire.

And then comrade Stalin, who was the great designer of borders and in reality, a great creator of problems between nations, including between Armenia and Azerbaijan, at that time gave Karabakh and Nakhchivan to Azerbaijan, because Soviets wanted to help create a common border between Azerbaijan and Turkey, and because Turkish leader Atatürk was seen as a great friend of Bolshevik Russia.

This is not about historic justice; this is about a desire for political manipulation and relations. And in more than 70 years of the Soviet rule, people of Nagorno-Karabakh at that time, Artsakh, were never happy living under Azerbaijan for many reasons.

And with the end of the Soviet Empire in 1985, when Gorbachev introduced changes, the emotional Armenian people, especially in Nagorno-Karabakh, believed in what was declared by Gorbachev: freedom of speech, Perestroika, redesigning, and so on, and then a movement started for the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh triggering Soviet Azerbaijan’s military operations and violence against ethnic Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh which turned into a full-fledged war that the Armenian side won. And then for last 26 years, Karabakh and attached territories were under the control of the Republic of Artsakh or Nagorno-Karabakh until the war of 2020.

Now, why the international community didn’t do this or didn’t do that? Well, the international community was involved; international community has decided that the organization that should be responsible for the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh is the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), not the United Nations, not the European Union.

And that organization has created a specific group, which is the Minsk Group, and the three co-chairs of this group were the United States, France and Russia, representing the interested parties, namely the United States as a superpower of the time, the European Union represented by France, and Russia. And basically, the sides were negotiating a possible solution with all its details.

So, there was an international institution that was in charge and I hope that we will go back to negotiations and we don’t have to recreate or create a new format or framework, because it already exits and has a history.

Unfortunately, the second war in 2020 has destroyed the process of negotiations, but I think the best solution that we can get today is to engage the same organization. Now why did we win the first war, but lost the second one?

Let’s speak about the first war. Azerbaijan was, at that time, supported by Turkey. But Turkey was different under President Demirel, Prime Minister Tansu Çiller and others. And Armenians, and Karabakh probably were different. To make it simpler, I would say that we were a bit ahead of Azerbaijan; we were ahead of designing construction of army; we were ahead of motivation, war, discipline and science.

There were generals, colonels, captains or soldiers who were serving in the Soviet army and had the experience of the Afghanistan War. So, the experienced soldiers were coming to a voluntary army, the army of Fedayeens or voluntary people creating an army. And we were a bit quicker than Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, during the past 26 years we didn’t manage to convert the victory into stable peace.

Why I’m saying we couldn’t manage? Because it’s always not one side. At least, there are two or several sides. But because we were victorious, I think we had the upper hand to be more proactive and quickly convert the victory into stable peace. And probably towards the end of 1990s and beginning of 2000s, there was a chance of doing that and I will explain to you why. That was the time that Azerbaijan was trying to build the pipeline from the Caspian Sea to the European markets, to the Mediterranean, to Turkey – Ceyhan.

President Heydar Aliyev was a very pragmatic person. I didn’t have that discussion with him but I have met him several times, and his son more later – but I can guess that in his list of priorities, the pipeline was of the higher significance. Without the pipeline, there was no chance that Azerbaijan would ever get back Karabakh, because the pipeline was power, money – money that helped them to rebuild their own army; and then it was also money that helped them to build their public relations and relations with other states including Europe.

For him it was a priority and at that time the Armenian army was the most powerful in the region. And that was the time that probably we should have gone into deep negotiations and sort it out. After that, the history started going 180 degrees in the other direction; Azerbaijan was becoming more powerful and Armenia was basically and gradually sort of falling behind the development.

The Armenian side was still enjoying the victories and believing that the issue was resolved and that the Minsk Group of co-chairs had a final conclusion. But the negotiations were not very successful, the sides were emotional while there were elections here and there, so these negotiations were being shaped in a different form.

Ziabari: I want to make a quick reference to Armenia’s present challenges with Azerbaijan. There was a massive rally in Yerevan in December last year, the March of Dignity, after the Russian-brokered armistice was signed, and many Armenians, mostly from the opposition party Homeland, were expressing frustration over the terms of the peace deal believing that the government didn’t act prudently and acquiesced to a ceasefire that took away from Armenia territories it had controlled for more than a quarter of a century.

Do you believe Armenians are right to be disgruntled? Do you personally find the terms of the peace deal favorable or think the government could have negotiated more persuasively?

Sarkissian: It takes me back to our Constitution. I’m the president of the parliamentary Republic and not in the position to comment on what I think about the parliament or the government.

As a president, I have very limited tools which are defined by the constitution. When something comes to my table, I have only two options; either to sign it or send it to the Constitutional Court.

Not every law that is on my table is anti-constitutional, but it can be anti-state, anti-education, anti-culture. The constitution is less effective until we don’t change it. And I made it clear that if we go on with the constitutional changes, I’m ready to resign.

Secondly, psychologically, for most of Armenians it is difficult to get the concept of parliamentary democracy. Probably it’s difficult for them to understand why the president cannot sack a minister.

Thirdly, our constitution was written at the time of the third president who was hoping to become the next prime minister. So, there were no checks and balances. If you have a constitution without checks and balances, then you will have very big problems. Any democracy, be that presidential or parliamentary, has to have checks and balances.

And the president doesn’t have enough power to stop any law or to balance the government or prime minister’s power. And that’s not healthy. What I’m pushing now is the change of constitution. And it doesn’t matter if it changes to presidential one or will change kind of by bringing more checks and some balances, but we need a change.

Now, there is a statement on ceasefire and further steps by leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia, but not an official agreement that has gone through the parliament or has come to my table. There was nothing on my table. Yes, the majority of people were unhappy, because a lot of them believed that the country was winning the war, and then one day it appeared that despite the thousands of lives lost, Armenia had also lost territory, cultural heritage and religious heritage.

What’s the solution then? The solution is classic. You don’t have to invent solutions in this world. If you are a non-democracy, you just keep going. If you are a democracy, there’s only one solution. You appeal to the people; whom do they want to continue running the country? This is exactly what I proposed openly. My proposal was the government to resign. I don’t have the power, I couldn’t force them, but to ask the government, not the prime minister, to resign and have a professional government, being appointed by the parliament.

Why professional? Because the aim was to go through the elections. It’s better to have either a government of national unity, which is much more complex, or a professional one which is not politicized. And, change the constitution.

Ziabari: Moving onto your foreign relations. I understand that Armenia and Turkey have had a long history of hostilities and challenges, and there are deep-seated grievances that might not go away momentarily. But still your country and Turkey were so close to a breakthrough on normalizing ties when the Zurich Protocols were signed in 2009 mediated by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.

Yet the deal faced immense criticism in both countries and your predecessor Serzh Sargsyan recalled it from the parliament. Do you foresee any shift in the current antagonistic mood between Yerevan and Ankara? Is there any benefit to establishing official diplomatic relations and diffusing tensions?

Sarkissian: Is there anybody that would say there’s no benefit in normalizing relations between two individuals that don’t like each other or two families or two nations or two states? Of course, not. But every normalization is at minimum two-way or requires two players. This sort of normalization needs specific ingredients.

But, let me comment on what you said about the Zurich document. I didn’t really believe when this document was signed that it is going to be effective. There are several reasons, but I’ll give you the simplest one. The simple reason is that there was an attempt to bring together Turkey and Armenia while the Karabakh issue was not resolved. Could anyone prove or explain to me how Turkey could have normalized relations with Armenia when there was this unfinished war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, when Azerbaijan and Turkey were declaring that they are brotherly nations?

Obviously, in that room of peace talks, there were not only Armenia and Turkey; there was a third party that was not taken into account. And I never believed that there’s any way that Turkey can normalize relations with Armenia without Azerbaijan agreeing to that. And why should Azerbaijan agree to normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey when the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan aren’t normalized?

There is a fourth player and that fourth player is the Armenian nation. Armenian diaspora is a product of what happened in 1915 in the Ottoman Empire: the Armenian Genocide. Any president, cannot go on and negotiate on behalf of these people, on behalf of the grandparents that were killed or survived.

So, before negotiating with Turkey, there should be dialogue between the state of Armenia and its diaspora. And we have to have a common understanding and common policy on what we do, and that’s why when former president after that traveled to France or Lebanon, he was received not in a friendly [manner], for the first time, by his fellow Armenians.

This relationship is a much more complex issue. When you are speaking about relations between Armenia and Turkey, I think we don’t have a long history of Armenia and Turkey. We have a long history of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, Armenians in Turkey. The history of Armenia and Turkey was short, and there was a war between the first Republic of Armenia and Turkey in 1920.

And the second part of relations is from 1991 when the third Armenian Republic was announced. And there are no relations today. Individuals travel; I have traveled to Turkey many times, when I was especially a free person, not in government office. I have visited universities, I have been chairing big conferences, giving lectures at Koç and other universities.

How can we improve relations now? Let’s look at the other nations’ experiences, for example France and England, France and Germany. They were destroying each other for centuries; but then something changed, when after huge disasters and tragedies, everybody understood that there’s only one way out from that hatred, and that is tolerance; tolerating other peoples’ language, faith, culture and religion.

If there were no tolerance in Europe, Europe would have been a messy place now. They’ve put aside all of that and then started tolerating each other, accepting each other, and then having a dialogue and being involved around ideas and principles that they share.

Tolerance means accepting; tolerance means being strong enough to say I am sorry. Saying I am sorry in individual relations or family relations or on the level of states is a sign of strength. If Germany would have not said I am sorry to Jews, do you think there would have been any relations? And the same happened with other nations as well. I was in Jerusalem when the president of Germany made a speech on the Holocaust Day.

And on the war in 2020, as I said, Azerbaijan was ahead, but it had another factor which was the factor of Turkey, and this is the modern Turkey maybe with huge ambitions to return the glory of the Ottoman Empire. But no one wants to analyze, go to the psychology of people. But what we see is that Turkey is active everywhere; Turkey is in Lebanon, effectively a lot now; Turkey is in Syria aggressively; Turkey is in the Mediterranean; Turkey is near Cyprus; Turkey is near Greece; Turkey is in Libya.

Turkey keeps Europe as a hostage by keeping a couple of millions of refugees on the border with the European Union. And the EU is paying billions of euros for these refugees. Turkey is in Libya, which is the gateway from northern African refugees to Europe. Somehow, Turkey now is in a very strong way in Azerbaijan. Europe is getting oil and gas now from the Caspian and Turkey is sitting there.

Ziabari: So…?

Sarkissian: So, what about your historic justice?

Ziabari: That’s ambitious to be able to always cling to historic justice!

Armen Sarkissian: The reality is some sort of pure reality; the oil, the gas, logistics, transportation, money and power! 

Ziabari: And back to Armenia-Azerbaijan tensions – do you agree with the interpretation that there is a religious element to the conflict going on between Armenia and Azerbaijan? The same way Armenia has deplored Azerbaijan’s desecration of churches in the Republic of Artsakh, the President of Azerbaijan has also complained that Armenia has destroyed at least “70 mosques” in the disputed territories.

In describing what’s going on in Syria and Afghanistan, or broaching the idea that Turkey has imported mercenaries from Syria to fight for Azerbaijan, you’ve on several occasions used the term “Islamic terrorism.” Are you not concerned that these measures and rhetoric may widen the rifts between Armenia and the Muslim world and alienate Armenia’s small Muslim community?

Sarkissian: I think first of all, using the term “Islamist terrorist” by Armenian officials is in many cases just reflecting the reality. Terrorists are terrorists, be that from this or that religion; but these ones come from the Syrian war, and Turkey brought them from Syria. And this is more about their motivation rather than Armenia’s approach. These are guys motivated by religion or they are in a religious war, because they are paid, because they are mercenaries.

I don’t agree at all that this war or conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh had ever a religious aspect. First of all, there are only a few mosques there; there are a lot of Armenian churches. But then, I personally had encouraged the complete renovation of a mosque in Shushi, which was finalized by two Armenians and one Muslim guy.

It was fully renovated. I visited there; they had specialists, architects and religious people advising what to do. It’s a beautiful mosque. And if the Azeris recover even one church, please send me the photo.

This is not a religious war. Seventy mosques were destroyed? I don’t know – I hear from you about it. You should be very specific there. In the case of Armenian churches, the­­y are very specific; they are where they are; they are where they have been for hundreds or thousands of years.

And we know exactly which one is destroyed. Unfortunately, we have become professional in registering the destruction of Armenian churches, heritage and culture, first of all, in the Ottoman Empire, in Turkey. There are hundreds of old churches that were converted into mosques, and there’s a lot of historic evidence.

And if you want to compare the attitudes, is there any chance that the Armenians can say or complain that there are Armenian churches destroyed on the territory of Iran? Have you heard about that? No, I haven’t heard it, either. And in fact, during history, regimes changed in Iran, but with all regimes, Armenian communities in Iran were basically flourishing, and in fact, the Islamic Republic of Iran has spent money on the renovation of Armenian churches.

And I have examples of that. Well, I’ve been in Tehran a couple of times before becoming president.

In the center of Tehran, there’s a huge territory called Ararat club. When you go there, it’s like you’re in Armenia. Everything: the basketball pitch, the football, the Armenian girls and boys together. There is a huge tolerance by the leadership of the Islamic Republic towards the Armenian culture. There are a lot of Armenian churches in Iran everywhere. I’m not speaking only about Isfahan and Rasht.

Why don’t we complain about Iran destroying the Armenian culture? Because it doesn’t. In fact, it’s supporting, being an Islamic Republic while Turkey is not an Islamic republic, even Azerbaijan has not declared that they are an Islamic republic.

But the Islamic Republic of Iran is tolerant towards our culture, our religion, our beliefs. If anyone speaks about destruction, they should look at the example of Iran. This war was not religious and it could not be religious. Armenia has fantastic relations with a lot of countries that are Islamic states or where the majority of the population are Muslims.

Ziabari: I just want to jump quickly with a follow-up. You said that the crisis in Syria and the terrorism that thrived and flourished from there was driven by religion. Can it be similarly said that, for example, we have Jewish terrorism embodied by what the Israeli state unleashes on the Palestinians? Can we ever use the term Christian terrorism to refer to the Ku Klux Klan? We have never used such denominations.

Sarkissian: Well, I think you really jumped. I have a term saying that this world has become quantum; so, you can jump from one place to another and you don’t go logically with the trace. But you had a complete quantum question and a question that probably will need a couple of hours to answer. Let me not answer that question.

What I said in the case of Syria – even Iran has recognized that there are a lot of groups in Syria which, not me, but others were calling Islamic terrorists. What Turkey has done, is to bring mercenaries. People who are killing for money, can be Christians, Muslims or Buddhists, or any other religion.

That doesn’t matter, because whatever they are doing is wrong. Killing people because they are different, killing people for money, is not acceptable neither by Christianity nor by Islam.

I have read the Quran several times and I haven’t found anything saying that you should kill for money those who are different. I haven’t seen such a thing. Maybe you have seen; you can show it to me if you know.

Ziabari: That’s right.

Sarkissian: So, respecting other people’s religion and culture is very important for me.

Ziabari: And again on foreign policy; I understand that you’ve known President Joe Biden of the United States for quite a while and that the US President, in April this year, recognized the 1915 Armenian Genocide in a departure from the stance of many former US presidents who tip-toed on this recognition.

Do you expect bilateral relations with Washington to transition to a new level? Are there new developments in Yerevan-Washington ties to look out for?

Sarkissian: I think the recognition of the Armenian Genocide is very important for my nation and the international community. I don’t need to explain why. It is important for them to recognize that something wrong happened – that something wrong has happened even to grandfathers and grandmothers of those people who are now citizens of France, Russia, the United States of America, Argentina, Lebanon, etc.

If you don’t recognize a genocide, genocides will continue. How can one say that there was no genocide in Rwanda? You say that there was a genocide and then after that you’ll say how you can just live with that or change the consequences of that.

I am very happy to hear that Rwanda is a very active and a very successful state now. They are modern, they have invested in IT, and that’s fantastic because they have gone through the hell, as well. The same has happened to Armenians.

A big number of countries have recognized the Armenian Genocide. The United States and the president of the United States recognizing the genocide are taking an important step, but is that historic justice?

I think the main topic of our discussion today is about historic justice; it’s emotional. It’s important for Armenians in America, for Armenians worldwide, but I think it’s also important for Americans as well. They are recognizing something that was wrong. By recognizing something that’s wrong, you are at least trying to prevent the next wrong thing from happening.

As to US-Armenia relations, be it diplomatic, political and others, you should look not only on the historic aspect – but in the sort of modern pragmatic aspect of realpolitik. And in the realpolitik, there’s the process of redesigning the Caucasus, and maybe there’ll be a process of redesigning Central Asia.

This Caspian region is not the same as it was 30 years ago or 25 years ago. For Armenia, there was a chance then to be a part of redesigning the Caucasus in a different way.

Now, we have a situation when Azerbaijan is victorious. Will they be smart enough to convert their victory into a stable peace? When you are the victorious side, you have the advantage, and you can also do compromises because you have the victory. But then you have to be wise enough to understand that by doing compromises, when you are victorious, you can create relations that will last much longer.

We are living, as I said, in a quantum world and things change very fast in a way that one could not expect. We have neighbors like Turkey and it is difficult to predict what their next move will be.

Ziabari: Let’s also touch upon the state of Iran-Armenia relations. You have certainly heard about the recent border tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan. The government in Baku has been charging Iranian trucks and fuel trailers entering Armenia through the Goris-Kapan road substantial fees, effectively cutting Iran off from Armenia.

First, do you believe trade relations with Iran will be affected negatively as a result of Azerbaijan’s new plans? And what’s your assessment of the direction of Iran-Armenia relations, in political, economic, financial, scientific and cultural terms?

Sarkissian: Well, I don’t have to prove that relations between Armenia and Iran have a vital value and interest for Armenia. Iran has been our trusted neighbor for many years. Even a lot of our friends in the west always accept that they can have their differences and tensions with Iran, but Iran-Armenia relations are developed from a different dimension.

It is very important that our relations are deep, effective, be that trade or economic relations or indeed political and cultural relations. History shows that we can trust Iran and we can have long-lasting relations, both as a state and a nation.

I have already touched upon my visit to Tehran. What I saw there is a country with young and vibrant youth and students, very much interested in what’s happening in the world. After being in Isfahan and seeing the Armenian church, the library and how much the Iranian government has supported maintaining and keeping that heritage, I think that helps us to build the relations between Iran and Armenia on a positive note.

We have differences; Iran’s relations with other states are as complex as our relations with other states. But on the bilateral level, I think Iran needs a strong, stable Armenia and Armenia needs its good relations with Iran.

Ziabari: And do you have any comments on the recent border skirmishes between Iran and Azerbaijan and its possible spillover effects for Iran-Armenia trade?

Sarkissian: Well, I cannot judge how deep that is and how negative it could be in the future, but the reality is that the Azeri side, even before the process of demarcation, has been using their military strength or the position of a victory to impose and play that game.

As you know, we have our soldiers that are still kept hostage in Azerbaijan and haven’t returned back. But all the humanitarian values basically open the doors of exchange of prisoners of war, which in fact happened in 1994 when Armenia returned all the Azeri prisoners.

There are still a lot of names whose fate is unknown – a lot of families don’t know if their children, their sons, are alive or dead. There are issues with the borders, as well; there are issues with the Iranian trade.

Ziabari: I also would like you to address the Covid-19 pandemic and its repercussions for Armenia. In 2020, Armenia’s GDP contracted by 7.6%, while a year earlier, it had grown by 7.6% after trending up by 5.2% in 2018.

Do you expect the Economic Response Program approved by the government in February, together with foreign assistance including the European Union’s €92 million response package, can contribute to a reliable and speedy recovery? In particular, what’s your vision for the tourism industry which was one of the worst-hit sectors?

Sarkissian: Another three-hour question. To be short here, I think we’re still suffering from the consequences of the war and Covid-19. Well, we appreciate the support of all of our friends. The European Union has also announced €2.6 billion of support to Armenia in the upcoming years.

Ziabari: Is this a new development?

Sarkissian: No. The President of the European Council Charles Michel was here [recently]. It is big support. The question is how effectively we can use that money together with our European partners for the development of the country. We have a lot of friends in many places.

I was on a state visit to Italy, and the Italian government has pledged to support Armenia with huge number of vaccines as well. This is also the answer to your previous question about vaccination and Covid-19. Russia, as a special partner and friend, does a lot for Armenia.

We are small but we have an advantage. We are a small state but a big global nation. There are as many Armenians probably living in Russia as in Armenia; as many Armenians living in America.

When you have a small state, if you run it effectively, you can be successful. In many ways, small can be effective and beautiful. It is not a huge empire that is difficult to run. It is all about how smart we are and how prepared we are to be disciplined.

At least the question is how effectively we are using our strength. Azerbaijan used their strength, their oil quite effectively during the last 26 years by cashing it in. Our strength is also in our diaspora. But how effectively are we using it?

Honesty, I would say that we are not doing so yet. We still have to learn how to bring those top guys, experience, knowledge and Armenian money from abroad to Armenia. The moment we learn that, then I think we will be really successful.

Ziabari: My final question is exactly on the same theme you just mentioned. I want to bring up the partnership between Armenia and the Armenian diaspora, totaling some 7-10 million people scattered in nearly 100 countries.

How does Armenia benefit from the contributions and enterprise of the dynamic Armenian diaspora? Are they helping give a boost to the national economy?

Sarkissian: They are helping Armenia – that help is emotional. The expertise that is there has very high quality. They are everywhere and the diaspora can do much better in helping Armenia, but for that, we have to make some changes – again changing the constitution.

Do you know that an Armenian from the diaspora cannot be an Armenian minister in the constitution? I mean that’s a big, big wrong, wrong thing.

For example, a great Armenian scientist or a technology guy that has made billions [of dollars] cannot become minister of science in Armenia. He has to return his American passport, carry only an Armenian passport for 40 years and live only in Armenia for four years to be able to have the dream or the chance of becoming a minister.

In four years, people build empires in the 21st century. If you are outside of Silicon Valley for four years, you are gone. Your value is gone. We need a law where we can pick up someone today and make him a minister tomorrow.

You see, those know how to run. In America, there are two vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna. Do you know who has made one of them? Noubar Afeyan, who’s created the venture – Flagship Pioneering is the venture fund that has created Moderna.

But that guy, professor of MIT, cannot be the minister of education and science [in Armenia]. In order to do that, he had to live in Armenia for the last four years. Then who was going to develop Moderna?

In reality, there’s many more than 10 million Armenians living abroad. The numbers you are saying are the Armenians who are organized in the Armenian communities. There are so many Armenians that are unorganized.

I have a big list of these people and we are not using one of those talents. In this building, we had a conference devoted to the 100th birthday anniversary of a man whose name is Kemurdzhian. Do you know who the guy is?

Ziabari: Well, no.

Sarkissian: Of course, you don’t. There are a lot of Armenians, 90% of Armenians, don’t know about. Do you remember the moon rover? The rover that went into the moon first by the Soviet Union and then by the United States?

Ziabari: Yeah, sure.

Sarkissian: Actually, you remember the American astronauts of the moon, moon-walkers are using the same thing bigger as their car. Then the Soviet Union sent the Mars rover and then Americans. This Mr Kemurdzhian is the guy who built them – the first moon rover by the Soviet Union and Mars rover was built by Kemurdzhian after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

NASA asked him to help them because they couldn’t do that. He’s one of the greatest engineers in robotics in history. And he was Armenian. There’s a huge institute in Saint Petersburg now named after him.

And they are everywhere, but we’re not using them. So, I would say we are like any Gulf state that has decided not to use its oil. What do you get as a result? A desert.

Armenians have yet to learn how to use the power of their diaspora. And I’m working hard for that, because that’s one of the ways. People really don’t understand the power of the diaspora, how big it is, because it has never been used. We have to do a lot of things and one of these things is to change the constitution.

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