YEREVAN—President Serzh Sarkisian on Friday evening convened a meeting of the legislative, executive and judicial branches, as well as high ranking official from territorial administration and local self-government bodies to outline the course of the Republic following the Constitutional changes, which were approved during a December referendum.
In his sweeping remarks, Sarkisian touched on domestic, as well foreign challenges facing Armenia and put forth his vision of the future of the Republic. The president touched on issues of social justice, corruption, emigration and the Artsakh conflict.
Below is the English language text of the speech as has been provided by the presidential press service.
After December 6, in many different formats we have been speaking about the directions, the timetable and the necessary sequence in the process of implementation of the constitutional changes. I believe, today we can already state that in our country the process of formation of a new political structure, introduction of a new political culture has been launched.
I have no doubt that as a result of the constitutional changes, the political structure of Armenia will become more open, more flexible, and intricate. It will reflect the dynamic and comprehensively developing social structure of our society; it will respond to the political culture of the free, secure, and critically thinking individuals. As in many democratic countries, political parties will become the leaders of political struggle. Parties and coalitions will form executive bodies and make nominations for the leading positions of the state and local governance bodies. They will acquire a lasting experience, responsible and meaningful interaction with the voters, partisan cooperation, and a compromise-based work style for finding solutions for acute social problems.
The political structure will transform and improve thanks to the competition of the political formations, provided there is a partisan consensus on the strategic principles of foreign policy, social stability, national security, fundamental provisions of the constitutional structure and sovereignty, protection of the rights and freedoms of the citizens, and all forms of self-organization and local governance. Such consensus exists in almost every modern democratic state.
At this stage of implementation of constitutional changes, I believe it is important to once again present our vision regarding our future, and once again present our ideas. Let’s ask ourselves: How are we going to govern our state, to manage our nation’s heritage? How are we going to preserve and multiply it? What kind of Armenia we want to have tomorrow, ten or twenty years from now? What will be Armenia’s role and place in the world, what kind of Armenia our children, next generations will live in? Probably it is nothing new, probably I repeat myself but particularly at this stage I believe it is mandatory to fix it all, so that tomorrow, or day after tomorrow there are no different interpretations.
I am confident that today everyone is thinking: What steps it is necessary to take to make tomorrow better than today, to make our life better, to make our country more organized, more stable, more attractive for our fellow citizens and for the foreigners? What to do to make high-quality education and health care affordable to all? What to do so that patriotism is never just words, what to do to make our country’s empowerment a source of happiness for all?
We cannot be content with the situation present in Armenia today. We should point out achievements made step by step in almost every area, but should never be complacent. We must create the Armenia where people are happy and don’t contemplate leaving the country; the Armenia which will attract our compatriots living in foreign lands, and they will proudly tell about strangers about Armenia on any proper occasion. Foreign policy challenges to compel us to take up as soon as possible the course which leads to advancement. Our common efforts must be channeled towards the resolution of that issue, our minds and knowledge must put to service to achieve that. Within the country, we have to ensure social solidarity. Social issues are linked closely to justice, and we must critically increase the pace of instituting justice in the social relations.
We must create a social milieu without privileged persons but with a nation which is united, which is disciplined and law abiding, peace loving and proud. Have we spoken of this before? Of course we have, on many occasions, and will continue to speak, a lot. Those who will come after us will speak of this, and those who will come after them. It doesn’t mean that there is no progress, of course there is, a fair glance will see a lot, but I repeat – we must critically increase the pace on this course.
We should not be limiting ourselves with the resolution of Armenia’s internal problems. Geopolitical changes compel us to unite the entire world-spread Armenian nation to ensure the secure existence of our people and our place in the world. From this point of view, it is mandatory that Armenia become a mature state in every sense of the word, and become an attractive and attracting, hope inspiring cradle of our united Armenian nation.
We have two main values – the Armenian nation and Armenia. They must be above any other value we have. All our steps, decisions and demeanor must emanate from these two values. Armenia’s interests and future call for it. It was entrusted to us by our forefathers. Demeanor of each and every one of us is measured by these values: if an act empowers our nation, inspires our people, it deserves commendation, if not, it deserves condemnation.
Considering the situation in the region, we simple have to have a strong, two feet on the ground, confident state in which everyone, if necessary, is ready to become a soldier of the Fatherland.
Constitutional changes are not just another changes imposed by this or that structure, or by a membership to this or that structure, or by the necessity to solve this or that personal issue. This act reflects on the challenges we are facing, on our political life, pressing issues of our reality and is called upon to solve them. I am confident that very soon the Constitution will become a document of national accord.
Inequality, injustice, impunity, disillusioned people, poverty, migration – these are challenges for any state, including the Republic of Armenia.
Our country doesn’t need officials who can justify failure of this or that program, our country needs officials who can deliver these programs, no matter what.
We need public servants who will consider any public problems ten times more important than his or her own personal well-being.
“We do what we can, we do as much as we can” – this is not an excuse for a public servant. Public service is for the individuals who can do what is necessary.
It is no secret that today we live in the atmosphere in which everyone – from a community leader to a high-ranking official blame their failures on the superiors. In every branch of the power there are widely spread clichés such as “it has been agreed upon”, “it has been decided this way.” Obviously, this is intended to hint to the highest level of power. With this, in their opinion, they solve two important issues: 1. Obstruction of wide discussion on the given issue, rejection of alternative ideas, and often, adoption of the personally beneficial options, and, in the process, ascribing one’s indecency to someone else, and 2. Transfer of the responsibility to the “upper level”, to avoid becomeing a target for criticism in case of a possible blunder.
On this, I have two precise observations, and I want you all to remember them.
First, at the “upper level” no one is shying off from responsibility and no one is frightened by criticism.
The official, who is not publicly criticized, is obviously а round peg in a square hole and is perceived as such. After all, who needs an official who is beyond himself after each publication about his work and is busy all day long by protecting himself from this or that website or a newspaper, using along the way all available means?
Solutions to our problems should not be looked for outside. Yes, we are the masters of our country, we are the masters of our problems, and we are the solvers of these problems.
Each and every one of us must become exactly what he wants his inner circle, his family, friends, society and the state to be.
People overwhelmed with distrust have no place in power.
People overwhelmed with distrust towards their own abilities have no place in our power.
People who fail their own duties and gossip around have no place in power.
Trust in our own state depends on the daily work and demeanor of each and every one of us.
Each and every one’s daily duty is to do everything so that Armenia becomes a state and a society in which:
– The authorities are transparent and trustworthy, whose goal is the present and future prosperity of the citizens of the
country and compatriots abroad, authorities every representative of which is accountable before the law just like any other citizen, authorities whose representatives are not guided by personal gains.
– The system of justice is void of influences, fair and unbiased. The legislative is knowledgeable and respected. Public service is the most veneered career because it endows with the opportunity to serve the Fatherland and the people, and requires exceptional professional qualities.
– The society enjoys high living standards, is polite, tolerant, and humane. The economy is developing dynamically, supported by the human capital of the entire nation. It provides equal opportunities for the development for all, prohibits unfair competition, redistributes resources through fair taxation and efficient policies.
– The responsible administration of the environment and natural resources is critically important for the state’s continued existence and is a priority for the prosperity of the future generations.
– Human rights constitute a strong and mature system of values. Citizens of Armenia – Armenians, Yezids, Greeks, Kurds, Russians and the others are self-expressing freely.
– The Armed Forces are the most powerful in the region through their spirit, dedication, modern weaponry and purposeful significance for the preservation of our life, history, and culture.
– The Diaspora and Armenia are one entity – the nation. Rights of the Diaspora in Armenia are recognized and encouraged, its potential is fully integrated.
The updated Constitution is a new thrust for a new beginning. We have created an exceptional opportunity to give a boost to our development and address the shortcomings. And this is true for every one – from the President of the Republic to a common citizen.
We should uproot the notion that all problems must be solved by the state or someone else, but not by us. The desire to shape ourselves, to reach success moving step by step is not universal with us. As a result, there is no initiative, but there is a lack of new ideas, low level of public debate, including critical statements. Public accord and assistance are usually expressed silently. Disagreements are very often emotional, acrimonious, but at the same time superficial and rhetorical.
Our nation is endowed with the intrinsic combat valor, loyalty, hospitality and kindness, while corruption, theft, intellectual and spiritual indolence are vices which appeared with time, and which we have to eradicate steadily. I’ve said it before, I am saying it now: prosperity rests on hard work.
It is unquestionable that we are living through special times. We have the opportunity to build a new, free and strong Armenia. The constitutional changes really provide that opportunity, and we have to fully utilize it.
We have to disappoint the proponents of perpetual revolutions. We will make no haste. Haste and credulity in carrying out structural changes in the political area never yield good results. At the same time, I have to disappoint also those who are quite happy with the status quo. Essential changes will continue. They will be gradual, judicious and carried out step by step but at the same time steadfast and persistent.
Gifted individuals, who are striving to create something new and brilliant, will not come from out of space. They are right here, among us. We, as state, society and family must learn to find, raise, educate and protect such people and not mishandle the advancement of young and talented personnel.
Political culture cannot be changed by simply imitating political traditions of the more advanced societies. An efficient judicial structure cannot be imported. Freedoms cannot be copied from books, even if from very smart books. We will certainly learn from other nations, will study their experience, will observe their success and failures in the process of developing democratic institutions. However no one can live our life for us; no one will become free instead of us, or successful, or responsible. Only our own experience in democracy building will allow us to state that we are free, successful, and responsible. Those who strive receive help, those who don’t, are handed alms.
Just like basic rights and freedoms of our citizens, democracy too needs protection. Firstly, protection from corruption which breeds conspiracy, no freedom, and injustice. We have already such a protective mechanism. Its centerpiece is the court. We must create a modern efficient court which will act in accordance with the amended Constitution and will correspond to the contemporary notions. We have also get rid of mistrust towards the law and the court, sometimes even contemptuous attitude, which has become a sad “tradition”. The existing law enforcement structure should have normal working conditions and should resolutely rid itself of swindlers. We should elevated protection of human rights and freedoms in the law enforcement bodies to a qualitatively new level. Illegal pressure on the judicial acts must be eliminated, regardless of the ideas it’s been inspired by. We have registered progress in this area too, but the process must be brought to a conclusion. After all, the judicial branch can sort out itself what is good for the state and what is “good” for a corrupt official or for a selfish enterprise. Respect towards political culture, respect towards legitimacy, rights of the others, including property rights should become a tradition. Through the public support, courts are called upon to rid the country of corruption. It’s a very complex issue, but it is solvable. Other countries were able to do it.
The Ethics Commission on high-ranking officials established in 2012, in our country assumed a responsible but also a mission full of challenges – to ensure publicity regarding the property and income of the officials as well as transparency of their actions.
In this context, it would be appropriate to speak about the disclosure of the conflict of interests and the need to create the most efficient mechanisms for its prevention. We believe that added authority for the Ethics Commission will give a new impetus to that crucial work, providing for adequacy of the means necessary for carrying out this difficult task.
No need to say what kind of new, multifaceted and altering challenges the region, where our Fatherland is located, is facing nowadays. Naturally, these challenges and threats cannot circumvent us and by “us” I mean Armenia homeland, Artsakh, and the entire Armenian nation worldwide. But our historical experience teaches us that every challenge is also an opportunity – it’s an opportunity to reinvent, to appreciate the strength we possess, the huge potential which we have and which still remains not fully discovered and utilized.
Only one glance at our past history and at the processing going on in our larger vicinity is enough to understand the value of political stability for our country and for the secure advancement of our statehood. Speaking about political stability, I don’t mean its rigid notions and interpretations which from time to time are being brought about and are being expressed as concerns by some of our political opponents. The constitutional changes have significantly enforced guarantees of political stability in our county, secured a new philosophy of state power formation and its implementation, made the roles of political power and opposition more precise. But all that should acquire flesh and blood in the real life, thriving on our work and decisions, reviewed behavior of the political forces and their extended responsibility. We have no alternative but to follow that route, changing and transforming our reality. We should realize that under the circumstances we have to be flexible and adopt decisions, which only yesterday would seem unacceptable or immature.
The most significant guarantee of political stability is the continuous maturing of the political and partisan structure, consolidation of public trust towards the public-political movements, parties, institutions of the civil society. The parliamentary model of state governance chosen by us implies all this. I have no doubt that in due time, may be even unnoticed for us in the country there will form a new political culture, when the demeanor of the political parties will be purely competitive and the wicked trait of looking for the enemy within the country and the shortsighted political intent of seeing one’s own success exclusively as the failure of the others will remain in the past.
Even the authorities which enjoy the widest public support must listen to the public mood, to public expectations and be guided by the public demand. Even the most self-confident authorities cannot reject cooperation, or deny uniting efforts with all those units and individuals who want to bring their participation to our state building process. The mindset which claims that we love our Fatherland more than others, or that we are more patriotic than those who are not represented in the political power or sometimes criticize us too sharply is unacceptable. All those, all political formations which have their own ideas about our country’s future progression or about the means to overcome difficulties on our way should have an equal opportunity to ask for public support and implement their programs. With this regard, the amendments to the Constitution provide the most serious guarantees which will be coupled with our resolute political will.
This long journey must be crowned with success.
It is obvious that in order to implement these ideas, we not only have to have a good electoral code but also be able to conduct the most free, fair and trustworthy elections. The new electoral system should be ready to put into use novelties enshrined in the Constitution such as entirely proportionate electoral system, formation of a steady parliamentary majority, allocation of seats at the National Assembly for the ethnic minorities, etc.
It is extremely important to realize that the main objective of the new legislation and the new elections is the enforced stability of the governance system of the Republic of Armenia. For that reason, it is necessary to have a system of election to the National Assembly which will allow to form a steady parliamentary majority. At the same time, it must ensure representativeness of a political minority which will allow to fully utilize powers assigned to the parliamentary minority.
I would like to inform that we have already been working closely with the authoritative international structure specializing in the electoral processes to introduce in Armenia modern voting mechanisms.
Our economy is facing anew challenges which appeared years ago, bringing around new efforts, economic programs and specific approaches which require immediate implementation. In due time, the reformed Constitution will provide the legal base which is necessary for the development of our economy and its more expeditious advancement. However without a compound of today’s essential actions the advancement is not possible.
Today at the top of the itinerary of those responsible for our economic policy there should be the following issues:
First, to maintain and enforce the macroeconomic stability. We are witnessing how in the context of global developments, our region and countries elsewhere face macroeconomic instability, which, if persistent, can pose a threat of an economic crisis. From that point of view, we went through 2015 pretty smoothly, while the indicators were favorably different from the countries of our larger region. In 2015, the index of economic activity in Armenia compared to the previous year was 3,1 which is the highest in our immediate economic milieu. At the same time, the average annual inflation was 3,7 per cent which is lowest in the same milieu. We have the same picture regarding our national currency. In December 2015, compared to the previous year, the Armenian Dram depreciated against the US dollar by 1.8 percent. This is lowest level of deprecation of a national currency among the countries of the region. I would also like to mention that in 2015 the average wages in the Republic increased by 7,87 per cent reaching 184 441 drams and increase in the state sector was 8,2 per cent, while in the private sector it was 7 per cent.
Adverse external signals are coming in even today, and we have to maintain the same working speed. With this regard, it is critically important to implement more coordinated and prudent tax, budgetary and credit policies. The tax and budgetary policy should be strict, paying utmost attention to smooth taxation as well as to the efficient fulfillment of the expenditure. All state agencies must make maximum efforts to multiply the result of every budgetary spending.
Even though in the past we have been able to keep our financial markets free from unnecessary upheavals, it is mandatory in the future too to maintain necessary caution to react promptly to the negative tendencies infiltrating the financial markets. I am certain that the Central Bank has the ability and developed the necessary set of tools to carry out its mission and to response in a timely manner to the external foreign factors.
Second, further improvement of the investment climate and attraction of new investments. It is true that the 3,1 per cent indicator of the economic activity in year 2015 in the current situation and compared to the other countries of the region and Armenia’s partners, is comparatively not bad. However that level of economic growth is not enough to reach in the midterm period the level of the social and economic development which will satisfy our ambitions. With this regard it is necessary to exercise additional efforts to expedite the process of improving the business environment and attraction of new investments. Besides, it’s a common knowledge that macroeconomic stability and favorable business environment are a necessary but not sufficient for the flow of investments from abroad. It is necessary along with these activities to prepare and present to the foreign investors Armenia’s comparative advantages from the investment point of view.
Economic entities, including small and medium enterprises should be provided with all necessary assistance and economic incentives. In any country economic development is registered only when those engaged in economic activities see a precise perspective for the growth and expansion, while when due to objective factors the situation at the consumption markets worsens, prospects become blurry it weakens the incentives for the entrepreneurs to expand. Thus, our main task is provide a quick diagnosis of the short-term and long-term problems for the competing with the importers and exporting companies and through the development of the existing toolset or introduction of new tools to send new signals to the businesses. It is also necessary to use more actively platforms conducive to the state-private cooperation, including the executive councils functioning in the framework of the existing industrial policy, which will facilitate the resolution of the mentioned problems.
And finally, I would like to once again speak about the principles which we mention constantly. As I argued a little while ago, I will never tire to repeat the basic principles. I certainly mean enforcement in the economic life of equal opportunities for all and elimination of protectionism, inviolability of the state, community budgets and credits; it is about the same rules of the game for all. Of course, it can be said that the reality is lagging behind the declared goals, and it is true. But it doesn’t mean that the achieved progress should be ignored and second, the existing discrepancy between the goals and the reality should not make us silent but should make us take adequate steps to expedite the achievement of these goals.
It is certainly impossible to speak about the situation in Armenia without giving a precise evaluation of the influence of the outer world. However it is necessary to give an exact assessment of the place and the role of the signals coming from without. It is true that our immediate external environment is rough, intricate and very often extremely contradictive; the situation is aggravated by the fact that very often it is also unpredictable. Besides, Armenia is part of the global economic system which means that we cannot evade tendencies coming from the global market. But it doesn’t mean that we have to simply accept the situation. The notion that we cannot live well as long as the Karabakh issue is not resolved or the blockade imposed by Turkey is not lifted is simply unacceptable. Deficiencies in our state governance don’t result from that.
We all know too well the approaches of the authorities in Turkey and in Azerbaijan, and we learned them long ago. But the matter of the fact is that their years-long policy didn’t yield the results they yearned to see. They tried to talk to us from the position of threat, coercion, and force. It is quite unpromising to talk to us that way and will not produce results, just as didn’t produce so far.
Negotiations on Artsakh issue continue. Our position is unchanged: the Artsakh issue will be resolved through the free self-determination of the people of Artsakh. All other issues are subordinate to that and will find their logical and fair solution parallel to the resolution of the problem. As long as the main problem remains, as long as the status of Artsakh remains obscure, the problem will not find its solution.
With regard to the relations with Turkey; at this point I see no possibility for progress.
We have been living in these conditions for 25 years. We got used to these conditions and adjusted to them. We do not and will not strap the possibilities for our advancement with these problems.
We should get used to the idea that to the East from Martakert and Martuni and to the West from Gyumri and Armavir we don’t have real partners. We have lived without them until now, maintaining more or less our speed of development. Let’s imagine that there is nothing but a bottomless and unsurpassable swamp.
With our two other neighbors – Georgia and Iran – our relations develop in the good neighborly spirit. Obviously, we have not encountered any problems there. We highly value partnership with these countries, and we will continue to work with Tbilisi and Tehran in the same spirit.
All in all, our foreign policy is predictable and has always been far from adventurism. We have always been ready to develop positive and sincere relations with all based on mutual respect, trust and interests. We have never tried to play on the contradictions of the great powers and important geopolitical centers, have never tried to get cheap and short-lived benefit from their conflicting views.
Now the time has come to make another resolute step on this strong foundation. I have instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and all our diplomatic missions abroad to take up vigorously the task of promoting Armenia’s economic interests.
First of all, a precise task was defined to attract new direct foreign investments. These can be investment programs, which have been developed here, or possibly other options which have been initiated by foreign investors and stem from their interests. I would like to reiterate that in case of serious programs, we are ready to create for them the most favorable conditions.
Second, it is necessary to find new markets and directions for the goods and services produced in Armenia. Here too, we need to assess our most perspective directions. Of course, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not the only or the first responsible for these scope of issues. Thus, the diplomats’ coordinated work with the Ministry of Economy and other relevant agencies is of utmost importance. Later, we will speak about the interagency cooperation of this kind and efficient mechanisms of information sharing.
I would also like to mention that not a single party or an individual has already secured his place in the future parliament. Nobody should hope that the forthcoming parliamentary election will be an easy win. As the leading political force, we carry additional responsibility for organizing the elections on the highest level. These must be exemplary elections. It is first of all necessary for our state and for our people, but we shouldn’t also forget that it will also condition our country’s international standing and repute. All international obligations assumed by Armenia must be carried our fully. Of course, any party, to say nothing of its leader, will be interested in having many votes, however for me the normal course of the elections and legitimacy are much more important than the final outcome. A due conduct of elections and their legitimacy is not a lesser victory and are not of a lesser value for our society.
I urge you all: Forget the temptation of starting the election campaign well in advance. Everyone is doing his job at his place with the double energy and responsibility.
When we proposed constitutional changes, we did it on the assumption that the new version is more democratic and expands freedoms of the citizens of Armenia which means the scope of possibilities as well. We maintain that view today too. So let us prove it with our work and tangible steps. Let us bring our Constitution to life.