04, 2009

Interview of Mr. Serzh Sargsyan, President of the Republic of Armenia to Russia Today TV

Alexander Gurnov: Good evening, Mr. President. Thank you for accepting our interview invitation. The first question, I would like to address is the following: what is the meaning of the date of April 24 for you as the President of the Republic of Armenia.

Serzh Sargsyan: Good afternoon! The history of the people of Armenia is calculated in thousands of years. Throughout that history we’ve had victories and defeats; we have had gains and losses. But throughout our history there is one turning point which is a dividing line. And that point is the April 24 of 1915. After that we deal with absolutely different reality. Hundreds of thousands and millions of people were living and creating a cultural heritage and their daily life in their homeland, but were made to leave those lands – part of which were massacred and the other part had to escape to survive. And today in the world there is no, almost no country where are no Armenians. The population of today’s Armenia, almost half of it, are the heirs of the survivors of the genocide. And these are realities which are in our life every day.

Today if you move from Yerevan 15–20 km towards Turkey you would see the last closed border of Europe. Armenia gained its independence in 1991. And for 18 years now that border is closed. I cite this example not to say that we are under blockade, but to make it clear that April 24 of 1915 is everyday present in our lives. April 24 is officially announced as the day of the victims of the genocide. But even before being officially recognized as such a date, April 24 has always been for our people such a day of memory and remembrance, also for me as one of the representatives of our people.

But for me as the President of Armenia it is my duty to take measures to soften the impact of that terrible tragedy and to take measures to make sure that such crimes will not repeat in the future. And the most efficient way for that is the international recognition of the genocide.

Alexander Gurnov: These days many believe that the President of the United States Barak Obama is likely to recognize the Armenian genocide as he had promised during his election campaign. What is the reason Armenians attach such a big importance to the genocide recognition?

Serzh Sargsyan: Firstly, the recognition of the genocide is the most efficient way for the prevention from such crimes in the future. Secondly, justice means much for the Armenian people. And recognition of the genocide is also affected by that belief. There is no single Armenian in the world that is not affected somehow by that genocide. And obviously each Armenian wants to see justice in that regard.

The United States has been extensively present in the Ottoman Empire through their diplomatic corps, through their missionaries, businesspeople. We all know they had insurance companies functioning in the Ottoman Empire. And for the US there is no doubt about the historic nature of the genocide as it has taken place. They do not need any additional proves or witnesses from us. I want to remind that 42 states of the US have recognized the genocide. I want to remind that when the US Congress Foreign Affairs Committee was hearing the case and they do it on regular basis discussing the issue of the Armenian genocide – it is almost unanimous recognition that there was genocide. But some of the congressmen say: “Yes, there has been genocide, and the US has to recognize that reality”. And the others say: “Yes, it has taken place, but now it is not in the national interests of the US to recognize it.”

Alexander Gurnov: Mr. President, you described the border with Turkey as the last closed one in Europe. In what degree the events of 1915 hinder your relations with Turkey nowadays, about 100 years after the Genocide? What are the current perspectives of normalization of relations?

Serzh Sargsyan: As I have mentioned, April 24 1915 has everyday presence in our live. But also as you know I have invited the President of Turkey Mr. Gul to come to Yerevan last year in September to jointly watch the football game between Armenia and Turkey and also to talk about our relations. And as you know Mr. Gul accepted that invitation and visited Yerevan. We have started an intensive negotiation stage with Turkey to establish diplomatic relations.

We base ourselves on the fact that there has been genocide, but non-recognition of that genocide by Turkey is not watched by us as an insurmountable obstacle for the establishment of the relations. We are in favor of having relations with Turkey without any preconditions. As you know before Gul`s visit to Armenia Turkey was offering two preconditions. One of them – genocide related and the other – Naghorno Karabakh problem. In the negotiations that we have had since, we both, Armenia and Turkey, took stance that our negotiations shall proceed without any preconditions: establishment of relations without preconditions and then discussion of any questions that might be of interest to the parties.

And as you know Mr. Gul invited me to Turkey to jointly watch the return football game and I will be happy to accept that invitation and will visit Turkey, if by that time the border is open or at least we are very close to that. Till recent period of time, everyone was convinced that we have significantly progressed and there was some expectation that would allow having a historic breakthrough, but recently there have been statements by the Prime Minister of Turkey to the effect that the Armenian-Turkish relations can improve if Armenia compromises on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We watch this as a step back from the existing agreements and as a precondition being put forward. I believe that in our relations we have progressed sufficiently. And now the ball is on the Turkish side of the field. And if we use the football terminology (as this process has been labeled as “football diplomacy” by the media) then we can say that any football game has a certain timeframe that limits it.

Alexander Gurnov: Mr. President, you mentioned the Naghorno-Karabakh conflict. What are the perspectives of peaceful settlement of Naghorno-Karabakh conflict and normalization of relations with Azerbaijan - another important neighbor?

Serzh Sargsyan: As you know, the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh is dealt with by the Minsk group and its co-chairs: Russia, the US and France. And from the beginning of the presidency, I have had three meetings with my Azeri counterpart Mr. Ilham Aliev. And I think this one year has been a sufficient period for us to understand each other’s positions, clarify those positions, and make our judgments on them. I think now it is the right time to speed up the whole process and to move towards mutually acceptable solutions. And as you know the key point of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is the right to self determination of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. If this issue is solved, then all the other issues of concern can be solved.

I am happy that most recently the leadership of Azerbaijan has been talking about solving this conflict on the basis of all principles of the international law. A few days ago the President of Azerbaijan has met the President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev and he has talked to the Russian media and reiterated that this problem has to be solved on the basis of all principles of international law. And to remind you I want to tell that for a long time the leadership of Azerbaijan has been talking about solving this Nagorno-Karabakh conflict either by military means or only on the principle of the territorial integrity.

In general when I hear people speaking about territorial integrity in many cases not knowing the substance of the conflict or due to political considerations many people prefer to say things that put them into a very delicate condition – in many cases I start to think that there are not only double, but also triple standards. Within the last twenty years, the membership of the United Nations has been increased by forty sovereign states. Forty out of 192 member states of the UN have joined the organization in the last twenty years. How could one then speak about inviolability of frontiers? Of course, I am in favor of, and I can never be against the principle of territorial integrity of states and we have never had any territorial claims towards Azerbaijan. The problem is being deformed here.

It is the initiative of self determination of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh that has been represented as a territorial claim of Armenia towards Azerbaijan, which is of course not true. Nagorno-Karabakh was merged to Azerbaijan in the Soviet period by the decision of the Communist Party Body and even in that case the Constitution of the Soviet Union was straightforwardly providing for the autonomous status of Nagorno-Karabakh as a district. In other words, it was recognized as some national state arrangement. And Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous district succeeded from the Soviet Union and Azerbaijan according to the legislation of the Soviet Union. When Azerbaijan today is speaking about the occupation of the part of its territory, to put it in a most soft way, they forget how these events unfolded. In 1991, along with Azerbaijan, Naghorno Karabakh succeeded from the Soviet Union after which it suffered an aggression from Azerbaijan and as the result of the military actions that were imposed by Azerbaijan we have what we have today.

Indeed, today forces of self-defense of Naghorno Karabakh control also such territories which in the past have not been part of Naghorno Karabakh autonomous district, but it should be remembered, that people of Naghorno Karabakh call those territories “security zone”. Despite the fact that the cease-fire stands for 15 years, the cause-consequences relationships in that conflict have not changed. From those territories on a daily bases thousands of shells were thrown on peaceful inhabitants of Naghorno Karabakh, and it is not right to accuse the people of Naghorno Karabakh, Armenians that they have been able to secure their right for life by a heavy price of their blood, and to call that an ‘occupation.’ I don’t think it is a just approach.

I want to repeat that I am very happy that the President of Azerbaijan, a few days ago, when he was speaking about international law principles he also spoke about the fact that this also has to be addressed on the basis of all founding principles of the UN and OSCE. Of course, this is the way to move forward. As we all know, the most recent ministerial summit of OSCE that took place at the end of 2008 in Helsinki has stated three principles: the right to self determination, territorial integrity and non-use of force as the guiding principles for the solution of this conflict. And these principles are the basis for the negotiations also incorporated into the framework document offered to us by the Minsk Group co-chairs. So, if we look from this perspective we have advanced significantly. There are possibilities and chances that situation can greatly change as well.

Alexander Gurnov: Mr. President, there is an opinion that many problems in the post soviet area can be resolved through CIS structures. According to another opinion, CIS has already exhausted itself. Do you think that this is true or are there resources to be used?

Serzh Sargsyan: I do not think that the CIS has exhausted its resources and I have to state that the cease fire that has been signed in 1994 has been signed exactly under the auspices of the CIS. And this once again comes to prove that the CIS is definitely needed. Any organization can be only what its members want to see and make out of it. We have lived within one country for 70 years. And many countries for decades had been the part of the Russian Empire before that. And to immediately interrupt all those connections and ties – I do not think it is right or productive. If countries like Canada or Australia till now keep their connections and do not cut their ties with the United Kingdom, with the Royal dynasty of the UK – it does not mean that Canada or Australia are less sovereign states than we are. Within decades and centuries they have created ties and connections that can be very beneficial within the Commonwealth. Here much depends on Russia. If Russia believes that the CIS is an important and needed structure, I think that the resources of the CIS are increasing.

Alexander Gurnov: Mr. President, Russia is actively voicing the idea of the need to review the existing system of European security and stressing the necessity to sign a new Treaty on European security. In what degree official Yerevan shares this approach?

Serzh Sargsyan: I understand the motivation of my Russian colleagues. I understand the position of the Russian Federation. The security system that we see today was formed decades ago, when it was difficult to take into account all the realities, when the threats and challenges were significantly different from what we face today. And exactly for that reason there is need for some amendments and changes to the security system. Let me bring a few examples. If we speak about the efficiency of OSCE, as you know, there is an agreement regulating the conventional forces in Europe and providing for certain quotas for each signatory country.

For a long period of time, Azerbaijan is significantly violating those quotas. It was violating these quotas by getting supplies from one or a few countries which are parties to the same treaty. And it seems that no one is ready to take necessary steps to show us mechanisms for those quotas. Security systems are usually being formed at the time of global shocks – and the two world wars were the shocks like that. There are analysts who even believe that it is a precondition for the formation of a new security system – there should be a global shock before a new international security architecture can be formed. But I hope, that at the time of this global economic crisis the big powers of the world will consider this as the major international shock that would allow changing the security architecture as well within the European model of security.

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