О Карабахе, Азербайджане, Турции, России. По-моему, очень интересное.
Minister Speaks about Karabakh, Referendum, Turkey in Year-End Interview
December 28, 2005
INTERVIEW BY PETROS GHAZARIAN KENTRON TELEVISION, YEREVAN OF H.E. VARTAN OSKANIAN MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
The year 2005 was replete with positive and optimistic statements by the co-chairs of the Minsk Group. Just recently in Baku, the Russian and American co-chairs said they had high expectations that in 2006 the sides would be able to approach an agreement. Was there really the kind of progress in 2005 that legitimizes such optimism for 2006? Are you personally hopeful that we’ll reach an understanding?
There was indeed progress in 2005; and we have all expressed hope that in 2006 we can register success, and indeed, if we can, try to reach a resolution. The presidents’ meetings are cause for optimism. They came about as a result of the Prague process; and as I look back at the Prague meetings of the foreign ministers, I can say they were helpful. The decision by the Minsk Group co-chairs, and by us, to take that route was the right one. You know, the presidents do not meet often. So, in between their two meetings, we did a lot of work, and made it easier for the co-chairs to delve deeper into issues, find common ground, and present that to the presidents. That environment and the Prague mind-set continued during the presidents’ meetings. And certainly, progress was made. In Warsaw, during the Council of Europe summit, the first important step was taken, and later in Kazan, that step was completed. So, now, there is a good foundation for future meetings. If this trend persists, then in 2006, it will be possible to register additional progress in this process and prepare the ground for a resolution of the conflict. But allow me a small cautionary note: in the past we’ve been in similar situations, at least once, when we expressed great optimism, because there had been real progress, but then the process went backwards. I truly hope that this time, we won’t backtrack, and that 2006 will be a real turning point.
But there is an element today that we didn’t have in the past. The OSCE High Level Planning Group (HLPG) is now in Baku, as part of a regional visit to study conditions for peace-keeping forces. The last time that this group came to the region was 8 years ago. Today, they’re looking around and I’ve read that they’re talking about positioning 10,000 peacekeepers. Have they coordinated their activity with Armenia? They’re determining numbers, positions. I would think that the placement of these troops would even affect the political interests of Iran and Russia.
It is much too early to discuss these political issues, today. The HLPG was created at the OSCE Budapest Summit, in 1994. It has existed since then, although it has not been able to do much in recent years since there has been no progress. Now that there is progress, they’ve become more active. But their presence here doesn’t mean the resolution of the conflict is imminent. On the other hand, if we do indeed have some hope that in 2006 there will be real progress and the issue may even come close to being resolved, then, for the HLPG to start its work at that point would already be too late. After all, they must be able to prepare various scenarios, depending on the nature and extent of the agreement. They must develop proposals for who is to participate and where they will be positioned. There is lots of detail, lots of serious work. They must search within the OSCE to determine which countries might participate with peacekeepers. All this requires perhaps a year’s time. That’s why they’ve already begun. But let’s not link the two. When we say ‘the HLPG is in the region,’ it almost sounds like this process is irreversible and that an agreement will be signed any day now. That’s not the case. But the optimism that in 2006 there is possibility of a resolution forces us to get this group to start its time-consuming work.
But you said we’ve been close to resolution before. Yet, at that time, there was no such group in the region. Does that mean we are closer this time?
At that time, we were close to a resolution that was significantly different in nature; it was based on the Key West principles which provided for an immediate, clear-cut resolution. This time around, everyone knows that peacekeeping forces will be necessary. The prior instance was very different, and would quite possibly never have required peacekeeping forces.
If we look at all the reports that appeared in 2005 on what a resolution might look like, for the most part, there’s talk of returning 5 territories, keeping Lachin and Kelbajar, then refugees would return….
Let me interrupt you. I’m not going to answer that question because the content of the negotiations are and must remain confidential. I can characterize all the scenarios and conjectures that I’ve read in the press in this way: they each contain some elements of truth. That’s all I can say. That’s why I cut you off so I won’t be obliged to say whether you’re right or not. Let’s wait then, for the presidents’ next meeting, which I think will be in the next few months. If additional progress is registered, if things become clearer, we’ll perhaps be able to more deeply explore this issue. Until then, those involved in the negotiations should not be discussing the specifics. It’s still early. After another stage or two, if this trend continues, when there is agreement on the fundamental principles, when we feel this process is becoming irreversible, and the sides believe that they can in fact take the process to its end, then it’s possible to open up partially or completely for discussion. That of course would be the President’s decision. I’ve always said this is a national issue and the public must be engaged. The political forces must be informed. If we are going to reach a final decision, it will be a compromise decision. It won’t be the kind of decision that will be put on the table and the public will applaud. That won’t be the case. Since, this will be an agreement that all sides can put their signature to, voluntarily, not with anyone’s imposition, therefore, we must naturally assume this will be a compromise solution. There will be concessions. We must be able to explain and present that compromise and those concessions correctly. The political forces must believe in the package and we must support it in unison.
There has long been an argument over whether the solution should be step-by-step or a package. This administration has insisted that it be a package solution that addresses all issues. Including the status of Nagorno Karabakh. So, which kind of resolution will it be?
I think the time has come for us to discard those standard terms. I can tell you the solution will be all-inclusive. All the fundamental issues will be addressed in that agreement. The implementation may come over time. That’s how I would characterize this. Let’s reject the black and white labels: ‘step-by-step’ or ‘package’. Let’s look at the solution and see how complete it is, let’s see what prospects it offers for the political status of Nagorno Karabakh, how solid it is, how much the involvement of the international community is guaranteed, how committed Azerbaijan is. Let’s look at it in this context and let’s avoid the step-by-step and package labels.
You know that both in the administration and among the opposition there are serious nationalistic elements that believe that those territories should remain Armenian. I assume the compromise you spoke of means territorial compromise as well. Won’t this lead to a nationalist or faux-nationalist wave?
It depends on how the issue is presented and how the levelheaded political elements approach this issue. Will the healthy political forces also politicize an agreement, for their own political interests, or in the name of national interests, of Armenia’s future, its future economic and political development, will they be more realistic and offer their backing to such an agreement? If we approach this issue from extremist positions, we’ll get nowhere. This is true for both sides. The issue of territories is the most abused and scrutinized. Those territories under our control are security elements for us. If keeping those territories becomes an end unto itself, then, I believe we will have made the wrong choice. I can say the same for Azerbaijan too. If, heretofore, we have been at a dead-end, it is because gaining control of those territories had become Azerbaijan’s primary goal. Their only goal. They refused to discuss anything else, including any kind of status for Nagorno Karabakh. Today, that position has changed and that is why we are able to speak of a possible forward movement. We must look at those territories from the perspective of security. If those territories must be kept in order to assure the security of the people of Nagorno Karabakh, then they should be kept. If, on the other hand, those territories must be relinquished in order to assure the security of the people of Nagorno Karabakh, then so be it. That’s how I look at this issue, and I hope that our political forces will also look at the issue this way, in order for us to be able to build on the progress we’ve already achieved and continue forward. Any solution that secures today’s de facto status of Nagorno Karabakh and provides a prospect for its de jure transformation in the near future is worth seriously considering.
Among the coalition members, there are at least two nationalist parties, whose ideologies advocate recovering lands. Won’t that lead to disagreements within the ruling coalition?
“Recovering lands” is a huge topic. You bundled everything together. It depends on what lands we’re talking about. Today, the situation at hand is different. We must look at these territories, as I said, from the perspective of security. I don’t want to analyze the ideology of each coalition member now. But I do believe that all coalition members are in the political mainstream. Some of their ideas find expressions that differ from our foreign policy, but they are generally considerate about Armenia’s prospects, Armenia’s future development, about the Nagorno Karabakh people’s security, our existential issues in this region. Those coalition parties whose differences are strictly ideological, and who will not politicize the issue for their own partisan gains, they will be easier to work with, they will better understand the issues. But there are other parties, who are in ideological agreement with this process, but who will try to politicize the issue solely to strike at the authorities. That’s my fear. We just saw that happen in the referendum process. So I am concerned that that not be repeated in the Nagorno Karabakh case. This is my fear. Having said all this, however, I want to caution again that this is not the time to discuss all of this in such detail. Today, we are not in a position to explore these issues so deeply. You are persistent in asking your questions and I’m responding, but we’re really not yet at the point to really delve into these issues.
The co-chairs have said that the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet in January or February. What can we expect of this meeting?
Some new ideas have been formulated by the co-chairs. The President of the Republic of Armenia has responded with what might be called some counter-proposals. Those have gone to Baku. After that, we have not met with them, but we have been told that before the presidents’ meeting there is need for a meeting of the foreign ministers. That tells me that when our proposals went to Baku, they were not outright rejected. We’ll meet sometime soon, and see how close our positions are. Then, the issues will be presented to the presidents. If the previous 2005 situation is any sort of indication: sometimes the most complex issues facing the foreign ministers was successfully tackled by the presidents. So, I want to remain hopeful that we can build again on the progress we’ve registered. I say this cautiously, since we have been in similar situations before. We’ve been close and have not been able to reach agreement, but still, I would like for us to move forward in 2006.
As the co-chairs have noted, 2006 is not an election year in either Armenia or Azerbaijan and everyone thinks therefore that a resolution can more likely be found this year. Therefore, if there is no resolution in 2006, we should forget about one in 2007 or 2008?
Yes and no. In 2006, we must attempt to reach a solution, because it’s a politically more expedient year than the preceding or following years. If you’re working on a compromise solution, but the whole environment is politicized because of elections, that’s not helpful. Such an obstacle doesn’t exist in 2006. But that doesn’t mean that we will bend backwards to resolve every issue in 2006, at all cost. Not at all. We will move forward carefully. Our problems and objectives are very clear. We don’t have extremist demands, we have made compromises in our position. Azerbaijan also has stepped back from maximalist demands. That’s why the environment is favorable now. In 2006, at a natural pace, without outside impositions, in a favorable environment, without extreme concessions, we will try to reach a resolution. But this isn’t dogma. That’s why I said ‘yes and no’ to your question. Perhaps even in 2007, the coalition forces can use a favorable solution to gain political dividends that year. In other words, if 2006 works, that’s wonderful. If not, we should continue to work and look forward with the same optimism.
Let’s move to Turkey. The whole world is watching the Orhan Pamuk trial there and it’s being viewed as a kind of test of Turkey’s democracy. There are lots of interesting observations about freedom of speech, about this testing Turkey’s commitment to freedom of expression. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan said something interesting. He said that when he himself was imprisoned just a few years ago for writing a poem, no European journalists or activists came to follow his case to see what had happened, to see why he’d been convicted. But now with Pamuk charged, Europeans are applying double standards, and have turned the Pamuk case into a show, he says. What do you think about this opinion about double standards? And a second question: Don’t you think that Europe is settling its own scores with Turkey through Pamuk, who you know was charged because of the comments he made about the murder of 1 million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds, and thus Armenians are presented again in a negative light in Turkey.
Let me respond to the second part: Let me absolutely say that we have not been presented negatively. If you’ve noticed, we’ve stayed away from this issue. We’ve made no statements, offered no interpretations. We’ve considered this an internal Turkish issue, and a European issue. Europe has its own demands. Turkey had not begun its EU accession process when the Prime Minister’s case was on. Today the situation is different. They have begun the process, they have expressed a desire to become a member of that Union. They are obliged to adopt reform measures regarding freedom of speech issues. The context is different, it’s a different time. That process will continue. Europe will be persistent in these freedom of expression and speech issues. Turkey will be forced to make these reforms. The Pamuk issue, however, goes deeper. It’s fundamentally a freedom of speech issue, and a matter of Turkey coming to terms with its history. For Europe, this is a most important concern, because at the base of the idea of a European union is the principle of conciliation, meaning each state and nation coming to terms with itself and its history. Without this, this Union would not have been created and sustained. If France and Germany did not acknowledge their mistakes, if Germany and Poland did not do so, they would not have come together. Europe undersands that if, today, Turkey is to be accepted as a member, it’s not just freedom of speech that is necessary in that country, but Turkey as a state must come to terms with its past, and they see freedom of speech as a means for them to come to terms with their history. And, in order to come to terms with that history, the recognition of the Armenian genocide is significant. That is today a European issue, therefore. That’s why we don’t intervene. That’s why I reject your statement that we have somehow been dishonored. On the contrary, Armenia’s position of not exploiting this issue has been appreciated. We are neither commenting on nor interpreting the events. We are making no statements. We are just observing. And we believe that finally, this difficult knot will be unraveled, this problem will be resolved, for the good of Turkey and Europe, and for genocide recognition.
Our other strategic ally, the Russian Federation, has announced that gas prices will be doubled. This will mean prices will rise, and everything will be affected. It will have serious social and political consequences. That will mean the beginning of the end of our traditional, friendly political, strategic, economic ties. What is Armenia’s response?
I agree that we must draw conclusions, but not radical ones. I don’t think that we should totally politicize this. On the other hand, Russia’s effort to view this rise in prices as a strictly economic matter is also not correct. One can’t completely separate economics from politics today, especially when it comes to gas and oil, which can be used as levers, and have political consequences. The issue is both political and economic. Look, there is much discussion about prices rising, but it hasn’t happened yet. I was present at the meeting between the presidents, and I can say that the process is not ended. That negotiation process is not concluded. I have some hope that the issue will be resolved. Everyone agrees that such a price hike will adversely affect Armenia’s small economy. And that is not good for Russia either. Russia does not need a weaker Armenian economy. An additional expenditure of $110 million added to our budget is huge and will have serious consequences. The purchasing power of our population will not be able to absorb this kind of hike. At our existing rate of economic growth, and with the expected infusion of foreign funds, we can maintain and even push up the current level of double-digit growth. It would be a shame to upset that momentum, and Russia realizes this. I think they, too, are searching for solutions. But, again, it’s early to draw political conclusions. We must wait for the negotiations to be completed.
If prices do go up, then should we take another look at our relationship?
Instead, we should review our energy security policy, our vulnerabilities, and more intensively diversify our energy reliance. That’s why I think our decision to build the gas pipeline from Iran was the right decision and a huge step forward. That kind of activity must be intensified. Our economic and energy security issues must be addressed, through different scenarios. Today, developments may take place to the north of us that may result in gas being completely cut off. I hope we don’t get to that point, but we must be prepared for that.
The US Ambassador has said, on several occasions, that in 2007, 2008, they will very carefully follow our election procedures. Why? How do you view this and the fact that in 2005 they are already talking about elections that will be held three years from now?
One must prepare for those elections, and the US has already made certain proposals for what must be done to have free and fair elections in 2007. They have assessed what must be done in order to make those processes more transparent. The political basis for all that is simple: the US invests in Armenia. They want Armenia to become a more economically prosperous and democratic country. The most recent manifestation of that is the $225 million that they have allocated to Armenia through the Millennium Challenge Program. That’s not a small amount.
Yet it took a long while for the compact to be completed. Is there a reason that it was delayed?
That’s linked to the other matter – holding normal elections. There have been various statements and interpretations about the referendum that was just held. But this referendum should serve as a lesson to us for future elections. We must introduce improvements in various directions. We cannot allow ourselves to be in a similar situation following the parliamentary elections. No one in the international community has questioned the results or legitimacy of the referendum or that the Constitutional changes have passed. But that should not give us satisfaction. Everyone says there have been irregularities, but the results were not affected. We console ourselves by saying that. We should forever remove that phrase from our lexicon. We should not use that explanation again in the next election. The US and Europe place great significance on these matters, and they view Armenia differently. I know this because I’m on the front line, I meet with people, I see that they have higher expectations of Armenia. It has always been that way, it’s even more true today. They understand well that for Armenia’s economic development, prosperity, political stability, the only guarantee is democracy and democratic institutions. There needs to be a solid belief that those who have come to office reflect the people’s will 100%; there can be no doubt about their legitimacy. Only that will bring us economic prosperity. Today, if we step back from democratic processes, if there are irregularities in our elections, there will be economic costs. I can even place a dollar amount on them. You saw the conditions they placed for giving Armenia $225 million.
The letter clearly laid out that they expect normal elections in 2007 and 2008.
Yes, that we hold normal elections in 2007 and 2008. In other words, those who resort to irregularities are not just doing abstract damage, but they are incurring a clear, practical dollar loss. They are striking at the people’s pockets. They’re doing so at the people’s expense. There is a similar risk in our European integration processes. If we resort to irregularities, the consequences will be financial, not just moral. Today, the situation has changed and we need to be sensitive to this. The same applies to what the opposition says and does. In economics, there is an interesting concept called ‘opportunity cost’. It refers to the cost of passing up a choice when making a decision. If you had taken a different action, would you have received a larger dividend? For us, it means having to assess not what we have done, but what we haven’t done. What is being done is visible, what we are losing is invisible. This idea must become embedded in our thinking. For example, when the radical opposition makes daily calls for revolution, do they consider that those statements have economic consequences? Of course there are. How would I know if someone, sitting in the US, is contemplating investing $5 million here, is ready to do so, but suddenly, hearing calls for revolution, decides to sit and wait. There is an opportunity lost.
But the opposition says that if there were irregularities during elections, therefore they are calling for revolutionary change.
But the calls for revolution had been made from Day 1. They’re not just tied to elections. That’s why I’m referring to all aspects, all sides and all costs. Those who resort to irregularities bring on adverse economic consequences for the country. On the other hand, the revolutionary calls of the radical opposition, they too have opportunity costs. It affects our general image, our authority, our investment environment. And we don’t even know what losses they’ve caused. Look, our economic growth is at a very sensitive stage. Our greatest challenge today is to maintain that growth, but without maximal mobilization of our internal and external resources, we can’t maintain this pace and compete with our neighbors in the next five or 10 years.
What would you say if the elections of 2007 or 2008 produced similar results, what would be the negative consequences?
Then I would say as a result, we’ve lost $225 million. There is a price tag on all this. Our European integration processes have moved further along, and the fundamental stipulation is our democratic development. And the basic test of democracy is elections. There too, there are economic promises which can be squandered. We must realize that we really cannot resort to such steps any longer. The price is too high. The population must understand this. And especially those who in the backs of their minds believe that they can resort to such steps in the next election, they, too, must understand this.
Honest elections will mean the end of some people’s political careers.
So the people must suffer because of individual political careers? Look, until recently, the issue of irregularities was a moral issue, an abstract issue. Irregularities were noted, they were criticized, it was over. Today, we have evolved and everything is so intertwined, that our economic development, foreign assistance, everything is linked to our democratic development. And elections are the measure of that development. But even without that kind of pressure, we must realize that this country has no other resource.
So what must be done?
Everyone has work to do. The opposition, the authorities, the people. The new constitution provides new democratic underpinnings. We must assess the new situation, pass the right legislation, and at least in these electoral matters, sit and talk. This is in everyone’s interest. We must approach this seriously.
What is your new year’s message?
We must be optimistic regarding our future. I’ve said the same thing for the last five years. Without optimism, we can’t progress at a faster pace. I’m not saying close our eyes to what is negative. We should criticize, be persistent, try to correct mistakes, but always optimistically, with an eye on our prospects. Those who have not left this country and have chosen to live here, can only be optimistic and positive. We must cooperate and respect each other. In 2006, I wish progress, peace, prosperity. We are a people that has had 3000 years of history, but only a decade or so of statehood in the last 500 years. After all that we have been through, after all that we have achieved against all odds during these almost 15 years of independence, this can only be cause for optimism.