LONDON—Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian visited the Chatham House, an independent policy institute based in London on Thursday to discuss the challenges facing Armenia’s foreign policy. Nalbandian spoke about various issues concerning the international community, including the ongoing war in Syria, the spread of terrorist extremism, the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The talk was hosted within the framework of the Chatham House’s “Russia and Eurasia Programme” and “Faultlines and Western Engagement in the South Caucasus,” area study programs. Nalbandian spoke for about twenty minutes followed by an hour-long question and discussion period.
The full transcript of Nalbandian’s speech is as follows.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to be back at the Chatham House. I would like to thank you for the invitation and the opportunity to address the esteemed audience on some of the foreign policy challenges that Armenia and the region face.
The attention of the international community is focused today on the unacceptability of the further escalation of the conflicts in the Middle East and beyond. The spread of terrorist networks and devastation caused by their activities, the crisis in Ukraine, instability in many other parts of the world show that the world is undergoing heavy shocks of turbulence. Yesterday on my way from Paris to London the Eurostar train had to stop for almost two hours because of a situation related to refugees. What’s happening thousands of miles away knocks on the doors of Europe. We can no more talk about isolated problems. Early warning and prevention of conflicts and destructive wars should always be top priorities not only for those affected, but also for the international community as a whole.
The Armenians have for centuries been a distinctive part of the multicultural mosaic of the Middle East. We are grateful to the people of the region who a century ago sheltered hundreds of thousands of survivors of the Armenian Genocide. Now, when the ethnic and religious communities face an existential threat, we feel moral responsibility to stand with them.
The violence in the Middle East has not bypassed our compatriots, many of whom lost their lives in terrorist attacks; Armenian settlements, churches, schools and cultural institutions [have been] destroyed. Just as one hundred years ago tens of thousands of Armenians, together with other peoples of the Middle East, today again are obliged to abandon their places of residence. More than fifteen thousand Syrian-Armenians found refuge in Armenia.
It is not a coincidence that the terrorists declared a war against the cultural heritage of the people of the region. It is exactly through the history and the collective memory that the universal values of [a] civilized world, tolerance, coexistence and respect to the culture and religion of others pass from generation to generation. These values stand in stark contrast to the ideology of xenophobia and discrimination adhered by the terrorist groups. Destruction of many Islamic sacred sites and the monuments of historic Palmyra and Nimrud, the blowing up of the Armenian church in Der ez-Zor – a sanctuary of the remains of many victims of the Armenian Genocide and other similar barbaric acts are crimes committed against civilization.
It is imperative to create mechanisms to deprive terrorists of the resources and financial means, prevent the influx of the foreign fighters, precluding them to continue the use of the territory of the neighboring states for trans-boundary attacks. The international law holds responsibility not only for the crimes against humanity but also for its complicity. This should be clear for all those who try to deny and justify the past crimes and incite current violence.
This year marks the centenary of the Armenian Genocide. The commemoration attracted huge international attention. Here, in Britain, too, the leading media outlets were widely covering the message of the centenary of the Armenian Genocide.
In 1929 Winston Churchill characterized the Armenian massacres as a “holocaust” and added that “this crime was planned and executed for political reasons. The opportunity presented itself for clearing Turkish soil of a Christian race.” British historian Arnold Toynbee entitled his 1915 report as “The Murder of a Nation” and called it “an organized murder of the Armenian race.”
What happens today in the Middle East revives the horrors of the Armenian Genocide. In 1915 Armenians were forced to march through the deserts where now the terror of Daesh is spreading, where Yazidis, Christians and other minority groups are being exterminated, and traces of ancient civilizations are being destroyed. Lack of adequate international reaction to the massacres committed against Armenians in 1894-96 and impunity resulted in the Genocide of 1915. On May 24th, 1915 the Allied powers—Great Britain, Russia and France—adopted a special declaration warning the perpetrators of the atrocities against the Armenian people that they would be held personally responsible “for these new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization.” However, it was a late attempt at preventing what had to be stopped much earlier. Failure of early warning mechanisms and prevention efforts made genocide a re-occurring phenomenon in the 20th century.
We, Armenians, as the survivors of the first genocide of the 20th century, feel a great moral responsibility towards the prevention of new crimes against humanity. We initiate Genocide prevention resolutions in the UN, organize regular international conferences and workshops for genocide scholars, and are determined to extend our contribution to the genocide prevention efforts of the international community.
Unfortunately, this year was not only the centenary of the Armenian Genocide, but also a centenary of Turkish denial of this genocide.
I would like to recall the powerful words of Pope Francis the First during the Mass in St. Peter’s Cathedral this April: “Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it.” Lack of proper recognition of genocides perpetuates the occurrence of new ones.
The irreversible process of the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide continues on different levels and dimensions. Not only have a number of countries reaffirmed its recognition, but they also have been joined by new states. Since late 2014 the parliaments of Bolivia, Austria, Luxemburg, Chile, and Brazil adopted special resolutions. They were joined by the European Parliament, the Latin American Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and others.
I would specially like to underline the courageous statement of the President of the Federal Republic of Germany in which he not only paid tribute to the innocent victims massacred in the Ottoman Empire, but also spoke of Germany’s part of responsibility in that crime.
High level delegations from more than 60 countries joined the Armenian nation on the commemoration day in Yerevan as a sign of compassion for this tragedy of not only a single nation but of humanity as a whole.
It was another missed opportunity for the Turkish leadership which was invited to participate in this commemoration. In Ankara I personally passed the written message from the President of Armenia inviting his Turkish counterpart to Yerevan on this occasion. It was not only a missed opportunity, but on the same day the Turkish leadership organized the commemoration of the battle of Gallipoli making apparently a failed attempt to divert international attention from the centenary of the Armenian Genocide.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The problems that our region, the South Caucasus, is facing may seem less visible to many observers from various parts of the world, but this should not mislead anyone. This region has for a long time been a place of geopolitical rivalry, marked by lingering wounds.
The resolution of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh is one of the main priorities of our foreign policy. A couple of months ago there was an excellent opportunity here at the Chatham House to get first hand insights on this issue directly from the President of Nagorno-Karabakh. Needless to say, that the views and approaches of Nagorno-Karabakh are essential in the conflict resolution.
Armenia continues to make efforts together with the mediators – the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries – United States, Russia and France, to reach an exclusively peaceful solution to this conflict.
The Co-Chairs have a common approach on the fundamental principles of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement. This is a rare example in the current turmoil in the international relations when those countries adhere to the same approach. We forthrightly stand by the position of the international community that negotiations, compromises and preparation of our societies to peace have no alternative for the conflict resolution.
The Co-Chair countries have outlined their proposals on numerous occasions, most notably in five statements of the presidents of France, the US and Russia made since 2009. Those proposals are better known as Basic Principles of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution and are consisted of three principles of international law: non-use of force or threat of force, people’s right to self-determination, and territorial integrity. The Co-Chair’s proposal gives a full credit to the right of people of Nagorno-Karabakh to determine their future status through legally binding expression of will. Armenia has expressed its commitment to move forward based on those proposals.
The reason that a breakthrough in the peace talks has not been achieved is the rejection of Azerbaijan of the proposals of the Co-Chair countries.
Continuous cease-fire violations by Baku along the border with Armenia and on the line of contact with Nagorno-Karabakh once again prove that Azerbaijan continues to jeopardize the conflict resolution process, the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs aimed at the peaceful settlement of the issue and undermining the upcoming meetings initiated by the mediators.
During the Baku European Games this June Azerbaijan exercised restraint on the ground, since they needed a calm period. The situation drastically changed immediately after the Games when Azerbaijan intensified the ceasefire violations. In fact by its actions Azerbaijan once again clearly identified, which side is responsible for the escalation of the situation. Baku didn’t even bother to conceal its militaristic attitude.
Azerbaijan continues heavy military buildup, by increasing its military budget nearly 30 times in a decade. As long as Azerbaijan’s bellicose aspirations are not curtailed, there will be no real progress in the peace talks.
The implementation of the agreement on the mechanism to investigate the incidents on the Line of Contact, together with other proposals on confidence and security building measures made by the Co-Chairs could be an important tool for prevention of such incidents and creation of the environment conducive for the peace talks. Azerbaijan continuously rejects numerous proposals of Co-Chairs on consolidation of the cease-fire, withdrawal of snipers and on other confidence building measures while Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh have welcomed those proposals. It is obvious there is no military or political goal that Nagorno-Karabakh or Armenia might seek via the escalation of the situation.
While the international community speaks about the necessity of preparing the societies for peace Azerbaijan continues on an official level the policy of injection of hatred against Armenians. The similarities between the destruction of thousands of Armenian Medieval cross stones in Nakhichevan by the Azerbaijani army and the devastation of 2000-year-old monuments in the historic Palmyra bear a striking resemblance. Deliberate destruction of monuments, be that in Syria or Nakhichevan, should be considered as a crime against civilization.
The road from authoritarianism to totalitarianism and despotism is interlinked to the escalation of the tensions through which the Azerbaijani leadership is attempting to mislead and distract the attention of the international community from the outrageous human rights violations in Azerbaijan. The cornerstone of authoritarianism is hatred. Propaganda of enmity towards a neighbor is one of the favorite methods of such regimes to strengthen loyalty inside their countries by punishing representatives of media, civil society and intelligentsia, who dare to speak up against the regime and stand for peace and reconciliation. Not surprisingly many of them in Azerbaijan have been put behind the bars with allegations on serving the Armenian interests. The xenophobic hatred against Armenians has become the dominating rhetoric of Azerbaijan and state-supported policy for decades. While stating that Armenia is situated on native Azerbaijani lands, President of that country declared that Armenians all over the world are the “Number 1 enemy” of Azerbaijan.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to add a couple of words about my current visit to the UK. I am here in London upon the invitation of my colleague Foreign Secretary Mr. Philip Hammond with whom I had a meeting yesterday. I also met Minister for Europe Mr. David Lidington. Later today, I will meet Secretary of State for Culture Mr. John Wittingdale. Together with my British colleagues we continue discussions on efforts to further boost Armenian-British cooperation in different fields of mutual interest. We have a very solid foundation to build on, to enhance our bilateral relations that date back to centuries. Lord Byron famously portrayed Armenia as one of the most interesting countries on the globe. We will continue our efforts aimed at further strengthening of our relations not just as countries interested in each other, but also as a good partners.