Statements and messages of the President of RA
Address by President Serzh Sargsyan to the representatives of the U.S. Expert Community at the Carnegie Endowment
Honorable Mr. Burns;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
I am greatly honored to be a guest at the Carnegie Endowment—a respectable institution with rich traditions. I am glad to have this opportunity to share my views and concerns on the foreign policy and international relations of the Republic of Armenia with this academic audience, and I expect open and impartial discussions.
The horrendous tragedies of the last century—destructive wars, genocides, an unprecedented rise in extremism and terrorism, and violence driven by national and religious hatred, testify that the world will engage in self-destruction unless it aspires to peace. Peace is not merely the absence of conflicts, which would clearly be impossible. Peace is the will and ability to resolve conflicts peacefully. This is the belief that guides Armenia’s foreign policy.
The South Caucasus is often seen as an arena for geopolitical rivalry. On the other hand, the fact that different stakeholders have interests in the region could be seen as an opportunity. Since the origins of her independence, Armenia’s relations with any state or organization have been guided by an ideology “for,” rather than “against.” As a founding member of the CSTO, the presidency of which we assumed a few days ago, we have long engaged in productive cooperation with NATO, as illustrated by us adopting the Alliance’s experience in army building and Armenia actively participating in the various peace-keeping missions. Having become a member of the EEU, we have reinvigorated the political and economic rapprochement between Armenia and the EU, confirming our idea that combining relations with European and Eurasian partners is fully possible. By the way, this idea has recently started to materialize and is often expressed by our European counterparts. Having a continuously-strengthening partnership with Russia, we have an excellent relationship with virtually all the Western countries. Finally, as the first Christian state in the world, we have historical and inter-state ties with numerous Muslim states.
With all of this, however, it is no secret that, facing the daily threat of resumption of war, the security of our country is the baseline for every decision, which often preconditions the various choices. As a small country, we do not wish and cannot divide the world into friends and enemies. We rely on an evolutionary and balanced policy, thereby not creating problems for countries that have interests in our region and not becoming another source of crisis. I believe this approach is fully compatible with the logic of the 21st century; moreover, reality has shown that political decisions based on differences are, putting it mildly, not favorable for either the countries making such decisions or the international community as a whole. In a number of cases, we have witnessed it quite recently.
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Now, I would like to spend some time discussing several questions of Armenia’s foreign policy. Perhaps, I will start with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which, I am certain, you are primarily interested in.
The conflict emerged back in the Soviet years, when the physical survival of the Armenian population of NK became urgency as the central power weakened. As a consequence of Azerbaijan’s discriminatory policy, the people of Nagorniy Karabakh were deprived of the possibility of living safely in their native land. Their righteous demands for self-determination were followed by Azerbaijan’s aggressive response, which caused the outburst of the bloodiest conflict in post-Soviet space.
Today, Azerbaijan presents the problem as a territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I wish to clearly emphasize that the Republic of Armenia has never had any territorial claims on Azerbaijan. Moreover, we recognize the territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan, of which Nagorno-Karabakh was never a part. These are not my personal opinions: they are historical facts. Those with an interest may study and find out.
The Nagorno-Karabakh issue is an issue of physical security of the Nagorno-Karabakh people and the exercise of their inalienable right to self-determination. Unfortunately, there is currently a huge gap between the perceptions of the Azerbaijani authorities and the norms accepted by the civilized world. While the civilized world is creating the necessary conditions for a people’s exercise of their right to self-determination, Azerbaijan, blinded by its oil revenues, is trying in all possible ways to impose its views on not only Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, but also the mediator countries. Scotland is a case in point: the United Kingdom provided Scotland the right to self-determination. As precious as it holds territorial integrity, the United Kingdom provides the people of Scotland the right to exercise self-determination and to determine their destiny. But, for some reason, it is concerned about Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. It is ridiculous, but true.
Despite the ceasefire established in 1994, Azerbaijan has been regularly shelling the border-adjacent regions of not only Nagorno-Karabakh, but also Armenia. However, in the last two years, Azerbaijan’s provocative actions have led to an unprecedented increase in tension. Moreover, Azerbaijan has now initiated shelling with large-caliber artillery, which is killing the peaceful population. I cannot hide that a low-intensity war is taking place on the border: all of you can see it.
On a slightly different topic: I would like to observe that this year, in the context of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, there is much discussion of the causes of that war and other wars of the last century. The primary reasons often cited are the state-level incitement of hatred in the population towards another nation, of the necessity to start war, and the instigation of an arms race. Anyone familiar with Azerbaijan’s policy will confirm that these are the underlying elements of Azerbaijan’s propaganda today. I believe many of you are familiar with the Azerbaijan leader’s statement that “Armenians of the world are the number-one enemy of Azerbaijan.” This is a statement by a country leader, not an opposition figure, for instance, nor a parliament member. A statement by no one more or less than a country president. These are the types of statements that give birth to Ramil Safarovs, who are subsequently glorified in their own country as heroes for axing an Armenian officer in his sleep.
We truly have no enemy states or, what is more, enemy peoples. Azerbaijan is no exception. We see no alternative to the peaceful resolution of the NK issue, because the life of each soldier is precious for me. The life of not only an Armenian soldier… Human life in general is precious for me.
Clearly, this issue also serves the domestic political interests of the Azerbaijani authorities: firstly, Azerbaijan’s administration needs to justify their own regime, the enormous military spending, and the extreme human rights situation in the country. Moreover, with lower oil prices and depreciation of the Azerbaijani manat, social issues have become more acute in the country, and the existence of an enemy is the easiest way for the Azerbaijani leadership to explain the current situation. I believe the resolution adopted by the European Parliament on September 9 contains a very accurate assessment of the situation: “Azerbaijan has suffered the greatest decline in democratic governance in all of Eurasia over the past ten years.” By the way, both the European Parliament and the ODIHR refused to even send observers to Azerbaijan for the parliamentary election coming up this November, finding that there are no longer prerequisites for conducting a free and fair election.
Now, I would like to pose you a question. Can the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, having been on a democratic path for over 20 years now, live as a part of Azerbaijan, a country that is firmly transitioning from authoritarianism to a dictatorship? Can the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, having paid the price of their blood to uphold their right to physical existence, go back to being a part of Azerbaijan, a country where they hate Armenians, a country where he who sheds Armenian blood is a hero, and not a murderer?
I would very much like Azerbaijan to have achieved the greatest improvement, rather than suffered the greatest decline in democratic governance in all of Eurasia. In that case, I am confident that we would be able to find the key to solving this issue and would spare our region another destructive war.
This year, Armenians worldwide commemorate the centenary of the Armenian Genocide: to us, it has meaning of revival, rather than mourning. Having survived the most brutal atrocity known to mankind, we have built our statehood, and today, Armenia is an important contributor to building a world free from such crimes. We will follow up to keep the issue in the international agenda and to develop more effective mechanisms. Hence, the UN Human Rights Council resolutions, initiated by Armenia and co-introduced by dozens of countries, on the prevention of genocide and designating 9 December as the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of Genocide, as well as the Global Forum against the Crime of Genocide held in Yerevan in April, which we intend to turn into a regular platform.
On April 24, we commemorated the victims of the Armenian Genocide in Yerevan, in events attended by numerous high-level delegations. I am satisfied that the message and spirit of this commemoration transcended national borders, and in the context of the Centenary of the Armenian Genocide, progressive mankind reavowed the importance of condemnation and prevention. We sincerely believed that the Centenary would also become a reconciliation milestone between the descendants of the Genocide perpetrators and victims. With this objective in mind, last year I invited the President of Turkey to visit Yerevan on the Armenian Genocide Victims Memorial Day. However, he preferred to disregard the invitation and, similar to the Armenian-Turkish protocols, missed this opportunity, as well.
Instead, Turkey’s leaders have adopted a totally new tactic of denial, which urges the two peoples to reconcile. Interestingly, though, how can they reconcile? We tell them to accept their past so that we start reconciliation of our countries from a clean slate: they say no. We tell them we can also accept the other way around: we can reconcile, open the border, establish diplomatic relations, and then discuss the problem issues: they say no and refuse to ratify the protocols that were already signed. How long can the Turkish authorities continue to mislead the international community? Doesn’t everyone understand that Turkey’s claims are false? They are urging the two peoples to reconcile, as if they are absolutely not related to it, as if the matter concerns two other peoples.
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Our foreign policy agenda is certainly not confined to these areas. We are developing active relations with the Asia-Pacific region, Latin American and Arab world countries: despite our scarce resources, we have recently established diplomatic presence in Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Mexico.
This March, during my state visit to China, we signed a number of important treaties. We outlined potential projects of regional infrastructure development, which will significantly expand Armenian-Chinese relations and contribute to regional stability and maximization of the economic potential.
At the same time, we are also trying to build bridges between Eurasian Economic Union and our other partners. We are glad that our initiative is resonating positively. Naturally, neighbors are important in our foreign policy agenda, and we were very encouraged to learn about the agreement concluded between Iran and the P5+1, which will enable to implement a number of strategic projects suspended in the past.
An important component of our foreign policy is the implementation of reforms in Armenia with the support of our partners. With the support of the EU and some of its Member States, as well as the USA, Armenia has recently significantly strengthened her democratic institutions, liberalized her economy, and improved the human rights and civil society situation. We will continue to work actively in this area. We are doing it not in order to please our Western partners, but because it is commitment and we are the ones that need it.
Ladies and Gentlemen;
It is no news that the formulae for overcoming challenges faced by the international community in history have subsequently become rules regulating international relations. Undoubtedly, one of the most serious challenges we face today is the crisis in the Middle East. We very much share the pain of the friendly peoples of Syria and Iraq, which provided refuge to Armenians that had survived the Genocide a century ago. It is difficult to believe that today, in the 21st century, these peoples are facing similar threats. Of course, extremist and terrorist actions have greatly harmed the Armenian population of the region, as well. About 16,000 of them have already found refuge in Armenia. We share the deep pain associated with the destruction of cultural monuments in this cradle of modern civilization, which is an attempt to erase the bridges between generations and civilizations.
We should jointly continue fighting this evil. We should strengthen the tools of international law and the international organizations. We should promote cooperation, so that history does not repeat, so that future generations only read about crimes of genocide in history books. In conclusion, I wish to quote US President Lyndon Johnson: “Peace is a journey of a thousand miles and it must be taken one step at a time.” Armenia is ready to make this journey.
At the very end, I would like to briefly touch upon a process that has been underway in Armenia for over two years now and can significantly influence the future course of our country: we launched constitutional reforms back in 2013. Today, the process has reached the stage of parliamentary debates. Two weeks ago, Armenia felt like everyone in society was a Constitution expert: for days, there was heavy debate in the Parliament, which we broadcast live across the country. Our Constitution had become the number-one topic at all social-political levels, including neighborhoods and households. We are clearly glad about this universal activity, and we will sustain this open and inclusive modus operandi. Let me now explain the process.
The main objectives of the constitutional reforms initiated by us are:
- To establish a stable democratic system in the country; and
- To safeguard the rule of law, which is a cornerstone of a lawful state.
The draft prepared by the expert commission created by me has tried to propose means of balancing the branches of power, as well balancing power and liability. The commission has proposed a new parliamentary model of government, which is aimed at making state governance more transparent and democratic. The draft amendments would also increase the role of the parliament and the government, give greater powers to the parliamentary minority, increase the role of society in state government, introduce new institutions safeguarding the independence of the judiciary and judges, and address other matters.
Recently, on 11 September 2015, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe published its Second Preliminary Opinion, which reads: “The work carried out by the Constitutional Commission of Armenia is of extremely high quality and deserves to be supported and welcomed. The atmosphere of genuine dialogue and fruitful exchanges with the Venice Commission has continued and has enabled the Constitutional Commission to produce a text which is now in line with international standards.”
This high praise indeed encourages us. Nevertheless, we do not view the proposed draft amendments as a dogma, and we readily engage in discussions with the political forces, non-governmental organizations, and all other stakeholders. We are currently processing the numerous proposals received to date, and I expect the final package of amendments to be presented to me in the near future.
These were my general remarks. I am ready to answer your questions.