YEREVAN (Estdao)—Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian sat down with the Brazilian periodical “Estadao” to discuss various issues, including the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, Armenia’s relations with Brazil, the Syrian-Armenian community, and the role of the Armenian Church.
Estadao: I would like to begin with a more general question, I think this is the main question right now. It is regarding the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. How important was this year for the efforts of international recognition of the Genocide?
Edward Nalbandian: The main message of the commemoration of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide is “Never Again”. The recognition of the Armenian Genocide is important not only for Armenia and the Armenian nation, it is important for the international community to prevent new crimes against humanity, new genocides. And that’s why the recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide, as well as other genocides, is of utmost importance. Maybe it would have been possible to prevent other crimes against humanity if the Armenian Genocide was duly recognized and condemned one hundred years ago.
Estadao: You think something we’ve seen already could have been avoided?
Edward Nalbandian: Yes, I think so. After the Armenian Genocide the world witnessed the Holocaust, genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, Darfur, and other places. The international community has to unite efforts to prevent new crimes against humanity. On March 27 the new resolution on genocide prevention, initiated by Armenia, was adopted in the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, co-authored by 72 countries, including Brazil. And the resolution passed by consensus. Almost every two years we initiate such resolutions with the aim to consolidate different mechanisms of prevention. It is important that the resolution was adopted on the eve of the commemoration of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide.
This April the European Parliament adopted a special resolution on the centennial of the Armenian Genocide with a strong message. This was not the first time that the European Parliament recognized it, but the new resolution contains a very clear and strong message to Turkey to come to terms with its past, to recognize the Armenian Genocide and thus pave the way for genuine reconciliation between the Turkish and Armenian peoples.
It is very important that new countries recognize the Armenian Genocide. Here I would like to emphasize the importance of steps made by Germany and Austria, the first on the level of president and the second on the level of parliament. I mean the statements made by Germany’s president and the Austrian parliament not only recognized the Armenian Genocide but also mentioned their shared responsibility in what happened 100 years ago. While Germany and Austria are talking about their role in the Genocide, Turkey – the successor of the Ottoman Empire—continues its policy of denial.
Estadao: In this context we have this resolution from the Brazilian senate.
Edward Nalbandian: A very important one. It is the first step and we hope that it will be completed by other steps to recognize the Armenian Genocide on the federal level in Brazil.
Here, I’d like to stress the importance and moral significance of the statement made by his Holiness the Pope on the Armenian Genocide during the special mass that took place at the Holy See this April. After the mass, journalists asked me if I had any comments on the reaction of the Turkish government, I didn’t know yet about their reaction because I was at the mass. I asked the journalists what the reaction was. They said Turkey criticized harshly…
Estadao: As usual.
Edward Nalbandian: I said that it is the problem of Turkey, not of His Holiness. His Holiness represents over 1 billion Catholics in the world; he is the spiritual leader of this very important part of the world population. Ankara is criticizing the European Parliament because of its resolution on the Armenian Genocide, and calling back its ambassadors from those countries that recognized the Armenian Genocide, as they did after the Brazilian senate’s resolution.
Estadao: Yes, and you think that this has something to do with political change in Turkey right now. Do you think this will affect somehow, have some impact for Armenia, if the…
Edward Nalbandian: You know, by the initiative of our president we started a very important process of normalization with Turkey. We had several rounds of negotiations and we came to the agreement on two documents – two protocols, which were signed in Zurich on October 10, 2009.
But the Turkish side rejected to ratify and to implement those two protocols. And the position, the stance of the international community was and is very clear—that the ball is in Turkish court. You have to respect the main principle of international relations—the principle of pacta sunt servanda—to respect reached agreements and implement them. The Turkish side took a step back. What will happen in the future? I’m sure that sooner or later, of course, we have to turn the page together…
Edward Nalbandian: But not with the policy of denial. It is very clear, that Armenia will never question the fact of the Armenian Genocide and the importance of its recognition. Look how many countries and how many international organizations recognized the Armenian Genocide. And Turkey is pretending that it did not happen, that it was not genocide.
Estadao: It’s been the same position for years?
Edward Nalbandian: Unfortunately, yes.
Estadao: You were in Damascus. I’d like to ask you about the Syrian-Armenian Diaspora. Can you comment a little bit on the situation of Syrian-Armenians?
Edward Nalbandian: Armenians in Syria are a part of the Syrian people, which is in a very difficult situation today. And I think in order to find a way out of this situation it is essential, first of all, to stop military hostilities, secondly to initiate dialogue between all political groups in Syria without exclusion, third, to respect the rights of minorities, including Christian minorities and the Armenian minority, and fourth, to unite efforts to combat terrorism and terrorist groups. Terrorism in the Middle East with the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Al-Nusra, and other groups represents real danger not only for minorities, Christians, but in general for the peoples of the Middle East and beyond. The international community must join efforts in their fight against terrorism.
Estadao: Right now the government has been dealing with lots of Syrian-Armenians, the diaspora, coming back to Armenia, right?
Edward Nalbandian: Yes, we have about 14,000 Syrian-Armenians now in Armenia. In some other countries you may have much more refugees, but for small Armenia it is a very big number.
And of course we are trying to help those who are coming to Armenia. But we still have many Armenians, tens of thousands living in Syria, including in Aleppo. It is very difficult to say the exact number. That’s why our consulate general has never stopped to operate in Aleppo and is now the only diplomatic mission working there. Of course we also have our embassy in Damascus.
Our information on what is going on in the country comes not only through our embassy and consulate general but also from Armenians living in Syria.
Estadao: Regarding the diaspora, now I would like to talk about Russia. There is a very important community of Armenians in Russia. Since the crisis in Ukraine, US and European sanctions against Russia have been affecting its economy. I would like to ask if Armenia, if the Armenian economy has been somehow affected by the consequences of the economic situation in Russia?
Edward Nalbandian: When we talk about the consequences, we have to say that there are consequences not only on Russia, and those countries that have strong economic relations with Russia, but also on those who decided to impose sanctions against Russia—they are all affected.
We believe that all issues should be treated and addressed through dialogue, through negotiations, not by using force, including economic coercion.
On the diaspora, yes, we have a very big Armenian community in Russia, about 2.5 million. We have about 500,000 Armenians living in Ukraine as well.
Estadao: Regarding another neighbor of Armenia—how would I say, a friendly country. Yesterday I saw lots of automobiles with Iranian license plates on the way to Tatev in the south. There are lots of good economic ties with Iran. So I would like to ask you in your view, in the Armenian government’s view, how do you view the deal regarding Iran’s nuclear program and deal?
Edward Nalbandian: Armenia was among the first, if not the first country, which welcomed the framework agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue, negotiated by Iran and 6 countries, and we hope very much that a solution would be reached by the end of this month as it is expected, or in the nearest future, and will bring a comprehensive settlement to this issue which will be in the interests not only of Iran and neighboring countries but also the entire region and even wider. So we hope very much that a solution is found and that the countries of the region could have more possibilities for economic and trade relations.
Estadao: I met a very interesting historian here. He was talking to me about the Genocide and the role of the people who fought in self-defense in some places against Ottoman troops like in Van, in Musa Ler… He was suggesting that when we remember the Genocide and the victims we also remember those who fought. How do you see this change in the remembrance of victims that also includes a remembrance of heroes? Is this something being worked on?
Edward Nalbandian: Our Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, decided to canonize the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide this April 23rd on the eve of the centennial, and we consider the victims of the Armenian Genocide as martyrs, as saints. Of course, our nation remembers its heroes.
Estadao: I would like to ask you about Armenia’s relationship with Brazil. Which points, which issues are important in Armenia’s bilateral relationship with Brazil and where do you expect to see more expansion?
Edward Nalbandian: I think that we have a big potential to be explored by our joint efforts, but I don’t think that much has been done till now.
We have had an embassy since 2011 in your beautiful country and you have the Brazilian Embassy in Armenia since 2006. The Consulate General in San Paolo was established 1998. We paid several visits to Brazil, including by the President, the chairman of the Parliament, and other ministers, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I visited your country for the inauguration of President Dilma Rousseff in January 2011. And of course, I had an opportunity also to meet with my colleague the former Brazilian Foreign Minister. He promised to visit Armenia but that never happened.
Estadao: And now?
Edward Nalbandian: We hope very much to expand our bilateral cooperation. We hope to consolidate the legal framework of our relations. The volume of our economic and trade relations is small. With many countries, which are several times smaller than Brazil, we have much more trade and economic exchanges.
We hope very much that concrete steps will be taken by Brazil to enhance, to deepen our cooperation and partnership in all possible fields. From our side we are very interested and we expressed our interest many times, and as a Foreign Minister I could confirm again that we are looking forward to having really strong partnerships with Brazil. We have more economic and trade cooperation with Argentina than we do with Brazil. Geographically we are far from Latin America, but Argentina is not much closer to us than Brazil.
Estadao: Especially considering the size of the Armenian community in San Paolo, it is the second biggest in Latin America.
Edward Nalbandian: Yes, this is also an important factor. The Armenian community there is a bridge in our relations and could play a more active role in deepening our cooperation in different dimensions. There are tens of thousands of Armenians living in Brazil, most of them in San Paolo. Two thirds of our people live in hundreds of countries around the world. Armenia is a small country, but we have many Armenians all over the world, we have hundreds of “Armenias” in the world.