Kocharian Addresses Los Angeles World Affairs Council

During his visit to the Southland–President Robert Kocharian–among his many visits–addressed the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. In his speech–which was delivered in English–Kocharian clearly presented Armenia’s position on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and pledged Armenia’s cooperation for a peaceful end to the conflict.

Below is the text of Kocharian’s speech at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. I would like to thank the Los Angeles World Affairs Council for inviting me to this event. It is an honor and pleasure to be here today and to speak to you about the current economic and democratic challenges facing the Republic of Armenia. A few days ago–the people of Armenia celebrated the 7th anniversary of the Republic’s independence from Soviet rule. An independent Armenia is what all Armenia’s–throughout the world–have striven for. In 1991–what seemed like a dream to most–became a reality. Today–the Republic of Armenia’stands on firm ground. In true meaning of the word–it is free–democratic and a sovereign country. And I do not say this based on our official stance–but based on the official opinion makers of the western developed world. However–there is yet much to be done in order to complete what we have begun. Before we enter the 21st century–it is our responsibility to buttress Armenia’s economic structures and democratic institutions to ensure that Armenia becomes an indivisible part of regional and global economies. While Armenia enjoys internal stability–we must focus on improving the standard of living and social safety net of the people.

Before I discuss our current policies and approaches–a short review of the past is necessary. With the break-up of the Soviet Union–Armenia faced sudden and dramatic challenges both economically and politically. While the disintegration of the former USSR left all the republics in disarray due to the break-up of all interdependent economic ties–Armenia was faced with additional difficulties. Azerbaijan and Turkey imposed a dual blockade of the land-locked country–which resulted in a severe energy crisis. Due to the conflict between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan–where the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh struggled for their self-determination–there was an influx of more than 350,000 refugees from Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh into Armenia. These refugees–at their height–accounted for 13 percent of the population–put an additional strain on an already unstable economy. Under extreme circumstances–with a new government in power–the people of Armenia had to deal with finding immediate solutions to the disastrous situation they found themselves in. Nevertheless–throughout these trying times–Armenia remained undeterred and committed to its ultimate goal–a free and democratic Armenia.

As a nation that is committed to democracy–freedoms of speech–press–association and religion are exercised by all citizens of our nation. All political parties enjoy complete freedoms to organize and develop themselves. In order to create cohesion between society and the state–we believe it is necessary to establish mediums of dialogue among the political parties and the state. For this reason–we have established the Political Council–chaired by the President of the country. Regardless of partisanship–whether they represent opposition or not–the political council is open to the membership of all political parties–in order to discuss and develop programs that serve national interests.

We believe that the press can and must play a critical role in representing Armenia’s current situation. An informed and active mass media is only an asset to the nation–assisting Armenia to become an integral part of world politics and serving as an important force to guarantee accountability of public officers.

Mistakes have been made in the area of human rights–but we have learned from our mistakes and have moved forward. Today–we are implementing reforms in the judicial system and enacting laws that protect fundamental human rights for all citizens. Today–there are no political prisoners in Armenia–and all measures have been taken to ensure that no violations of human rights take palace.

The Constitution of a young nation is the most crucial living document–which lays out the principles that a nation adheres to. The people of Armenia feel that this living document does not currently provide for the basic human rights and responsibilities in order for the three branches of government to coexist independently and yet equally-by this I mean our Constitution does not provide checks and balances among the three branches of government. For this reason–we have formed a Constitution in order to propose amendmen’s. All versions proposed by any given group must first pass through the Armenian Parliament–after which the people of Armenia vote on its approval or disapproval in a referendum.

Economic reforms in Armenia have taken place swiftly and aggressively. There is no doubt this had its harsh impact on the livelihood of the people. These measures taken were necessary in order to break down the inherited state controlled economic system. Despite the difficulties that our people face in securing their children and families with basic daily needs–Armenia has been able to maintain internal stability. In fact–Armenia is the most internally stable country within the region. Today–we must remain committed to market-economic reform. Simultaneously–we are taking all possible measures in order to secure greater investmen’s into Armenia and have established an excellent legal framework for investors. Our goal is to make Armenia a hub for international business activities. Our workforce has the skills necessary to create competitive advantages in all industry sectors and we are aggressively seeking foreign partners. The goal is to create opportunities for our citizens to use their valuable skills in a regional and global framework.

During the first 8 months of this year–Armenia’s economic growth was registered at 8 percent–in comparison to 1997–which was at 3.5 percent. Our inflation is at the lowest level since independence–which has created greater trust and confidence in our citizens to invest their capital in our banking systems. Additionally–our trade balance is improving. During the past eight months–there has been a four percent shift from importing to exporting. these factors combined lay the foundation for a robust economic growth development.

In the early days of the young Republic–Armenia faced such harsh circumstances that humanitarian assistance was necessary for the survival of the nation. For this–we must thank the United States–the European Union as well as all other nations and the Diaspora that assisted us in our time of need. While we are forever grateful to those who assisted us in a time of urgent need–the days of handouts are over. Armenia’s have always taken pride in their work and it is time for us to take responsibility for our future and become once again self-sufficient. All our policies are focused on the act that we must take responsibility for our actions. We cannot do it alone–and we are working with others like the US to restructure assistance to focus on facilitating commercial and economic development in Armenia.

For the creation of employment we must revitalize our industry which has great potential. Armenia’s human resources and its ability to become the most efficient and organized civil society in the region in an asset that must be capitalized. This requires international investmen’s. We are implementing reforms in the legal systems as well as taking appropriate measures to lighten the tax burden and create an environment where all foreign investors have confidence in Armenia as a partner. These measures are being implemented in order to attract international investmen’s. Now–we must work to expand this scope of involvement and participation of foreign investors.

As a nation that has a prosperous and well organized Diaspora–we are also implementing legal measures in order to encourage our brethren to participate in Armenia’s economic development. the Diaspora is an inseparable part of Mother Armenia. It was created due to the genocide of Armenia’s by the Ottoman Empire in 1915. With an independent and free Armenia–we look upon our brothers and sisters as partners in realizing our national goals of making Armenia a prosperous and democratic nation and equal member of the international community in the 21st Century. For this reason–we intend to enact a law that will allow for dual-citizenship. the idea that the Diaspora has always been an inseparable part of Armenia will become a legally protected reality. Every Armenian shall have the right to build his or her home in Armenia and establish a business that will benefit the investor and the investee–in this case–the people of Armenia.

As an integral part of the Transcaucasus–we believe that Armenia’s regional cooperation and its participation in many regional initiatives will ensure the region’s stability. Today–Armenia is proactively involved in regional programs. As a founding country of the TRACECA program–we are working to open new corridors between the East West and the North South. Communication links and land-corridors are a must if the region is to develop in a stable and peaceful manner. Our policy toward our neighboring countries is one of open relations and cooperation. We must–as a land-locked country–find friends throughout the region as partners in mutually beneficial economic programs. We are prepared to create working relations with Turkey without pre-conditions–despite our fundamental policy differences on the Armenian Genocide.

We welcome President Aliyev’s invitation for Armenia’s participation in the TRACECA conference in Azerbaijan. The Armenian delegation participated–headed by our Prime Minister. I am prepared to discussed with both presidents Demirel and Aliyev regional cooperation projects and to find constructive solutions to enhance our regional cooperation that will benefit all people in the region.

Finally–let me address the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh. The peaceful settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh is critical if there is to be peace and stability in the region.

Unfortunately–the Minsk process has been at an impasse. During the past two years not a single meeting has taken place between the parties of the conflict within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group. Nevertheless–meetings between the heads of state of the involved parties have taken place–whereby bilateral discussion have ensured.

Today–there still remain several obstacles hindering the resumption of the peace process. One such obstacle is Azerbaijan’s reluctance to address the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. This is the most contentious issue and at the core of the conflict.

Instead–Azerbaijan is attempting to divert attention and deal with the occupied territories first. Another obstacle is Azerbaijan’s refusal to recognize Karabakh as a full party to the negotiations on the status issue and to engage in direct negotiations with them.

Two weeks ago–the three co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group visited the region in an effort to resuscitate the peace process. Currently–they are working on a new proposal to be presented to the parties after the presidential elections in Azerbaijan. We hope that the co-chairmen will succeed in overcoming the existing obstacles to enable us to resume talks leading to comprehensive settlement of the conflict.

To ensure a long lasting and durable peace in the region–however–the final resolution must necessarily include the following three elemen’s: equal legal rights for Nagorno-Karabakh; geographic continuity between Karabakh and Armenia; and substantial security measures to guarantee the irreversibility of the final settlement.

Let me assure you that Armenia remains committed to the comprehensive political settlement of the conflict on a mutually acceptable basis–through peaceful negotiations within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group.

Over the past 10 years–the people of Nagorno-Karabakh have lived free of Azerbaijani rule and dominance. The new generation of Nagorno-Karabakh does not recognize or understand what it means to be ruled by Azerbaijan. All the de facto circumstances exist for an independent Nagorno-Karabakh.

Once again–I would like to thank you for hosting this event to provide me with the opportunity to present to you Armenia’s current policies and its goals for the 21st century.

Thank you.

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