Sarkisian Discusses Karabakh, Turkey

YEREVAN (ArmRadio)–Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian sough to make the case for what many believe to be a failed foreign policy in a recent interview with a Ukranian Profile Magazine, where he touts the benefits of normalizing relations with Turkey and attempts to rationalize his administration’s approach to the Karabakh peace process, Armenian Public Radio reported Friday.

In the interview, presented by ArmRadio in translated excerpts, Sarkisian argues that normalizing relations with Turkey was “A civilized response” in “the contemporary world” to an unrepentant neighbor that “committed genocide” against the Armenians, “denied it for a hundred years,” and “took away our territories of vital importance.”

Sarkisian said that “cooperation without preconditions,” and the establishment of diplomatic relations, and open borders, was among “the most difficult steps” in his life, but will ultimately “benefit not only Turkey and Armenia, but also Georgia, Azerbaijan, and the region, as a whole.”

He brushed aside criticism of his conciliatory policy toward Turkey by many in Armenia and its large international Diaspora and argued that it would be futile to “wait until Turks themselves acknowledge the genocide” before resuming relations.

“Our people are emotional, every Armenian family was affected in those years. I know people who sometimes go out to the streets to express their protest against the policy of reconciliation with Turkey with unflattering words,” he said. “But I am glad that at last our people understood this idea. Now, I think very few people are left who believe that we were wrong.”

Sarkisian’s initiative was met with fierce opposition throughout the Diaspora. Late last year the Armenian leader attempted a world-wind tour of Armenian communities to placate concerns but was greeted in every community by thousands of protesters. His policies received a similarly cold treatment in Armenia, where tens of thousands of people marched the streets of Yerevan to demand an end to the President’s failing Turkish-Armenian protocols. Opposition to the protocols stemmed mainly from the dangerous position it placed Armenia vis-a-vis Turkey, endangering the independence of the Karabakh Republic and threatening to sacrifice rights to historic territories and justice for the Genocide.

Despite that, Sarkisian claimed his “initiative was dictated by a sober mind” and did not “contradict our national interests.”

“The desire to establish relations with Turkey without preconditions,” he continued, “does not mean that we abandon the process of international recognition of genocide, or go to some concessions.”

He said that every way conceivable had been tried to “make Turkey recognize the Genocide,” except reconciliation. “Once we started this process, unexpected things started [to happen] in Turkish society–young people started speaking about the Genocide,” he added.

“Of course, our relationship did not normalize this time. We signed the famous bilateral protocols but the Turkish side refused to ratify them in the parliament,” he said. “Now we are waiting for a political force or leaders to appear in Turkey who would be willing to show political will.”

Sarkisian also discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Azerbaijan’s efforts to influence Armenia through Turkey. “You know, I do not think the circle is closed, after all, negotiations are continuing. Yes, they are very difficult, but any bad peace is better than war. If there are talks, there is the possibility to achieve the final results,” he said.

“Armenia’s position–I am referring to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, is very simple. It is based on the rule of law, international law,” he added, explaining the history of the Karabakh conflict dating back to the forced transfer of Karabakh to Azeri rule by the Communist Party.

“In 1988, a movement started in Karabakh, and then by a referendum, Nagorno-Karabakh gained unilateral independence,” Sarkisian said, legitimizing that referendum by pointing to a recent decision by the The Hague Court to recognize Kosovo’s deceleration of Independence as internationally legal.

He said this decision is why the OSCE Ministerial Summit in Almaty this year made it clear that the three principles on which Armenia and Azerbaijan negotiate–the non-use of force or the threat of force, territorial integrity, and right of peoples to self-determination–are equal.

“We hope that we eventually come to a final just solution,” Sarkisian said. “If we proceeded from the fact that there is no solution, for us, and especially for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, it would be very hard to live.”

Sarkisian also commented on Armenia’s relationship with Russia and, in particular, a recently signed defense pact between the two countries ostensibly committing Moscow to guarantee the security of Armenia.

”No nation–even the strongest and largest ones or the smaller, weaker ones–is able to ensure its safety alone,” he said, explaining why Armenia extended the lease of a Russian military base in Gyumri “We are allies with Russia–strategic partners, not only bilaterally but also in the framework of the CSTO.”

“We live in a region where there are a lot of threats and dangers,” he said, explaining that some countries go so far as “to question the right of Armenians to live on their historic land.” Historical and contemporary factors, he continued, make “the probability of armed clashes in our region high.”

Sarkisian said the Russians, for their part, are interested in developing Armenia’s armed forces, “which is a strategic interest to Moscow in the long-term.” The agreement with Russia “is a major factor for the prevention of hostilities, and a good opportunity to re-equip our army in line with modern standards. Therefore, I think that this extension proceeds from our national interests.”

Sarkisian also commented on the contradictions over Armenia’s strategic relations with Russia and the CSTO and its growing involvement in NATO, which was traditionally the West’s anti-Russian military alliance. “NATO and the CSTO are not adversaries. These are security systems with their zones of interest, allowing countries to benefit,” he said, adding that it was important to see more than just black and white in life.

The Armenian leader said his country succeeded in harmonizing the two relationships. “We turn out to have very good relations on the one hand with the U.S., on the other with Iran, on one hand with Russia and on the other with Georgia, because we are pursuing a policy of frankness,” he said. “We are not trying to extract some benefits from the conflicts between other countries. The best thing for us is when U.S. and Russian interests coincide.”

“Cooperation with NATO provides an opportunity to modernize our army, to carry out reforms, seek a proper, modern way of building security systems,” Sarkisian said, noting, however, that Armenia had no plans to join NATO. “Not to see the positive results of cooperation with NATO, means to stick to the thinking of the Cold War.”

Sarkisian also made the case for Armenia’s strong relations with Iran, which he described as vital to Armenia’s economic prosperity. Armenia’s links to Iran helped it avert economic catastrophe in the early 1990’s, when its only other link to the outside world, Georgia, was experiencing instability. “Iran is also a country rich in energy resources; Armenia does not have them, and we are very happy to cooperate in this area,” Sarkisian said.


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  1. Armanen said:

    A bit of a bias piece from Asbaraz but then again it is an ARF news outlet. I like Serj and his foreign policy for the most part. A strong Russian presence in Armenia in the face of the hostile region Armenia finds itself in will only work to Armenia’s advantage.

  2. Gagik said:

    eddy, you are being a bit unfair. Everything that he mentions in the interview has been done.

    • eddy said:

      @Gagik, Serj, should not accept terms like “self governance” for NKR or a term like “expression of a will” , a term which is in no way part of international law! BESIDE THHIS i do not like Levon&co – This man and foreign agents and some others surrounding him have done a lot of harm to our nation and unity and are continuing as nothing happened …as if they were living in different wolrd (the sam ewould apply to a part of ruling elite too)!…! but still this is just unfair and a crime to close the roads and making the life for people living outside Yerevan as hard has possible, simple because the ruling elite (some highly corrupt) is afraid that 5000 or 10 000 more would attend Levon´s show (analyzing the situation in details for our enemies).. How about other 50 000 who travel to Yerevan to earn there livings?

  3. Harb said:

    Armenia seems to be on the possible foreign policy course given the current conditions and the primary need of insuring the success and viability of Armenia.

  4. Hajk said:

    Mostly Armenians dont like that the karabakg people is in the goverment, but i think that its good in some ways, They will fight to keep Artsakh in our hands.

  5. ArdeVast Atheian said:

    I feel so lucky that this man is our president.
    He has proven to be much more sensible, sober and sound than all of our political parties put together.
    The latter have behaved much like mindless advocates screaming nonsense after nonsense and ended up misleading our public to act against their own best interest.
    Thank you Serge for standing your ground when everyone else was shaking theirs with mindless rhetoric.

  6. Berge Baronian said:

    Our Sergey is on the right track.. I have criticised him in the past…but now I see what he’s trying to do and it is good.
    What we as Armenians in the Diaspora need to do, is to improve Armenia’s chances of survival by investing in Armenia…and yes, put your $ where your mouth is…that’s the only salvation we’ve got

    • Zungi said:

      I agree.. we need to take advantage of the western mentality we have been forced to learn and apply it towards the success of our motherland, never becoming subjected towards the types of hardships we have previously faced. We need to unite even more and invest in Armenia. The Jews do the same for Israel every day!

  7. Berge said:

    Sarkisian is doing the right thing with a slow and steady hand…like I said before, we need to help him achieve real independance and that can only be achieved through financial freedom for the country…which means…Older Diasporan Armenians ought to retire in Armenia, ought to share theor know how with the people, ought to invest in the future of our country…nobody else is going to ever help…sure the odars, they throw a few bread crumps our way, but it is only us ARMENIANS who collectively can make a difference for our country and home land

  8. Karo said:

    Serge would do a right thing had he agreed to the Turkish-Armenian protocols with no hint on pre-conditions in these documents. He’s, obviously, insincere when he speaks about “the desire to establish relations with Turkey without preconditions.” In the international practice, Memorandums of Understanding, such as the Turkish-Armenian protocols, contain, basically, a single phrase on the desire of respective governments to establish diplomatic relations and open the border. Turkish-Armenian protocols clearly were potentially hazardous documents for Armenia and our national Cause because they contained provisions incompatible with the similar international documents. Serge is also insincere when he says that many have understood his position on the protocols. The majority of Armenians in Armenia and the Diaspora clearly showed that they were against the document in their form. Lastly, Serge just carried out what he was ordered to do by those who stood behind his foreign minister’s back at the signing ceremony. He just can’t admit that he, essentially, acted as their marionette.

    • Zungi said:

      Karo, in the end, Armenia needs more money and a fruitful economy… without that we won’t get anywhere….do you suggest that preconditions exsist and hinder this already stagnant process? We are getting no where like this. Let us make coin first then we can put more emphasis on our past hardships… our anger and bitterness is making us stagnant!

  9. Arto T. said:

    Interesting comments. Most people on this site were condemning Sarkissian vis-a-vis the protocols, calling him a traitor and illegitimate. Now he is suddenly a hero. Thank goodness he doesn’t listen to 90% of the nonsense coming from the Diaspora and follows the path of what is right for the longterm future of Armenia.

  10. Random Armenian said:

    Arto T,

    He’s probably listening to what the Russians are urging him to do. Russia has an interested in keeping the status quo on Karabagh since it can get concessions from Armenia and Azerbaijan. Where do all of Armenia’s weaponry come from? That’s a means of controlling Armenia.

    • Zungi said:

      So are we saying that without Russia we have nothing to gain? Why is it that Armenia is having so much trouble with their economy with a 99% literacy rate and being a land to some of the most intellegent people… what do we need to do to change this? Will opening the border improve our condition and the economy of Armenia… becasue without money, nothing…NOTHING can be done.

  11. Fred said:

    Dear Compatriots. I was one of the 10% diasporan that supported Serge Sarkisian. I could see what he was getting at, specially when on his visit to France he was able to convince Chrles Arsnavor the finer points of his strategy. But all this aside we still have an Armenia that doe’s not officially recognise NKR. This is a stone stuck on my throat which I can not swallow. Is it becouse the public openion in Armenia proper is against this. I for one can guaranty that the Diasporan Armenia support NKR more than they support Armenia, that is because they feel more keenship with a state that folowes the true path towards greater Armenia. The Artsakh people have no prejudise twords the forigne Armenians. Once Artsakh build their airport the flood of support to Artsakh would only increase. I would like to plead Armenians in Armenia to learn from this and learn from NKR in how to be Armenian loving Armenians.