Kocharian Vows Public Debate On Karabakh During Television Interview

YEREVAN (Armenpress)–Armenian president Robert Kocharian gave an exclusive interview to Armenian National TV February 11. The following is the text of the interview.

Armenian National Television: Mr. President–it is quite clear now that the resolution of the Karabakh conflict remains the most pivotal problem. The public’s attention to it is also quite understandable. Negotiations to resolve the conflict within the framework of the OSCE Minsk group have been suspended during recent years. However–during that period of time you have had many meetings with Azeri president Heydar Aliyev. You have declared that the meetings must not be seen as a substitute of the negotiation process within the Minsk group and that one of the goals of these meetings is the resumption of talks within the Minsk group. In what phase are the negotiations today? Does the lack of negotiations mean that a deadlock continues?

Robert Kocharian: I would like to remind you about the events that have taken place over the last year and a half. The Minsk group came out with a proposal that was accepted both by Armenia and Karabakh but was rejected by Azerbaijan. That was the principle of "common state." Actually–the issue appeared in a deadlock and it was clear that the Minsk group had to come out with a new proposal which must be less shifted to Azeri wishes.

I suppose we could have said "no" to the new proposal and Azerbaijan would have accepted it. Thus–the cycle would have continued to turn in a circle–since such developmen’s had already occurred twice in the past. And here the idea of direct meetings between the presidents was born. We met and the following agreement was reached: we are ready to consider all possible options of solution–the discussions should be confidential–the content of negotiations must not place any commitmen’s on either side and none of us must use the discussed topic with different political goals.

Let me try to explain what concessions mean. We all say that the conflict must be solved through peaceful means and concessions. I think this is quite clear and understandable. But concessions mean that both pleasant and unpleasant questions must be discussed. And if I try to present to our public only the pleasant momen’s of the negotiations–proceeding only from personal interests and the Azeri president does the same all we would be doing is addressing out personal interests

Thus–the following agreement was reached: our peoples have the same problem and we are to be partners for the solution of that problem. I think that this principle is correct. I must express my satisfaction with the fact that none of us tried to give preference to personal matters.

ANT: Mr. President–after your two recent meetings with Aliyev some reports appeared in the Armenian press alleging that the option of territorial exchange is being discussed during your negotiations with Aliyev. To be more exact–the reports claimed that the region of Armenian Meghri will be given to Azerbaijan. In any case–to what extent can you comment about the possibilities being discussed?

R.K.:. I can say with certainty that we don’t have any concrete agreement today–besides the one referring to maintenance of a cease-fire. I think that the reduction of incidents on the front line and sharp decrease of victims on the front lines is a serious gain. But regarding the conflict solution–I would like to say it once again that we have not reached any final agreement. We are discussing all possible options–there is a deadlock and the only way out of it is the discussion of all possible options–there is no other way. Within this context there was the idea of territorial exchange. This idea is quite different from the one that was published in our press nevertheless–I rejected it and current speculations about it are simply pointless. But I have to say that that option had its logic. It was supposed to bring long-lasting peace in the region.

ANT: How long are the negotiations with Aliyev are supposed to last? Let’s suppose they will be crowned with success. What is to happen next? The issue of Karabakh is debatable and any decision would not be accepted by all Armenia’s equally. Does the parliament have to approve it–must a referendum be held or does it have to be approved otherwise?

R.K.: As to the first question–we have been negotiating for almost a year and the talks will not continue this way. I think there are other options–other potential that has not been fully implemented. If we come to the conclusion that we have exhausted the negotiation resources we shall appeal to the Minsk group co-chairmen to request their more active involvement in the process. This option too is open to us. But of course–it would be more desirable that we ourselves–Azerbaijan–Armenia and Karabakh–find the solution..

As to the second question on how we would implement the peace agreement–it is a question of technology. I fully agree that all solution options that would be accepted by all sides to the conflict must become a topic of public discussion. I have reiterated it during my meetings with faction leaders. Accepting any resolution to the conflict would take the following path: We–all sides to the conflict–agree to approaches and appeal to the co-chairmen who are ready to support and promote the reached agreemen’s. Then we begin wide-scale consultations with political forces.

I think this issue must become a topic for wide discussion by the parliament and I also do not exclude the option of holding a referendum. We shall have to convince the public that the decision reached is the correct one and the best way to learn the people’s opinion is a referendum. So there is nothing secret here since the entire world knows about the negotiations–the negotiations have their own technology and laws. We must respect these technologies if we want to solve the conflict.

ANT: Mr. President–what has changed over these two years–that is–what progress has been registered in the Karabakh issue?

R.K.: I think there has been a qualitative change in the overall situation regarding the conflict. Many conflicts over these two years were solved and are being solved. Serious progress has been recorded in the settlement of conflicts in Balkans–Arab-Israeli opposition–in Eastern Timor and Russia is solving the conflict in Chechnya. The Karabakh conflict thus has shown up in the focus of the international community. Since the region witnesses interesting developmen’s and is supposed to become an important transport corridor qualitative changes can also be observed.

ANT: Mr. President–while speaking about international politics–it is assumed that the policy of threats and bribery is option. The co-chairmen are enthusiastic today about the negotiations you are holding with Aliyev–they say they welcome them and are ready to accept any option agreed by Armenia and Azerbaijan. Do you think that there may be a phase when the policy of threats and bribery may be applied and what should be done to prevent it ?

R.K.: I think that the international community is trying to encourage the presidents and peoples of the two countries to resolve the problem. I think it to be quite natural. And in case of settling the conflict–all sides to it will get serious economic–and financial support from it. All political leaders and heads of states abroad say that the peoples must see the advantages of peace. The peoples must feel in a very short period of time that peace changes the quality of life.

In this respect I have no doubts that if a solution is found the international community will make very serious investmen’s both in Armenia–Azerbaijan and Karabakh. It is very important that we ourselves find the solution–it must not be imposed. If we succeed in doing so–the support on behalf of the international community would be more serious. I think this is well understood both in Armenia–Azerbaijan and Karabakh.

ANT: Are you an optimist?

R.K.: Yes–I am. I think that we must work more actively to find the solution. As to the possibility of using threats and bribery–I don’t rule it out. But I would like to repeat that we have to do everything in our power to find a consessionary solution that would also take into account our national interests.

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