YEREVAN (AZG)-Armenian Presidential Candidate Vahan Hovannesian recently gave an interview to the Azg Armenian Daily where he discussed the ARF’s decision to nominate a candidate for the President. In his interview Hovannesian also provides an analysis of the current socio-political climate in Armenia, as well as discusses his overall campaign platform and the progress of his campaign in recent weeks.
Belo is the translated text of the interview:
A.M. Mr. Hovannesian, The Armenian Revolutionary Federation has nominated you as a candidate for the President of Armenia. This is something they had not done earlier. We want to know whether there had been any agreemen’s with President Robert Kocharian that cease to function after his withdrawal and whether this effected the decision of the ARF to nominate its own presidential candidate.
V.H. Naturally, we had been closely cooperating with president Kocharian, not only on internal issues but also on the issues of international importance. One example is the issue of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, which has passed from the moral level to the political, etc.
But, the most important issue is that of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, where we knew his position, a position that we were in agreement with, despite slight differences in the details, i.e. in the approaches and the views of President Kocharian and the Foreign Minister. However, those were mere details, as principally we had achieved a mutual agreement.
Such an agreement doesn’t exist any longer, however. Although it may appear as though everything depends on the results of the presidential elections, in the end, it is quite obvious to us that the drawbacks that existed in the nineties have not been completely corrected. This is the main reason why we have decided to nominate our own candidate for the presidential elections.
A.M. As for the drawbacks, which issues, in particular, are you going to pay attention to?
V.H. The main problems we have today are caused by corruption; by the unwise application of liberal approaches; by the lack of any justice; by totally ignoring any social programs; by failing to appoint decent specialists to certain positions. These are problems that occurred in 90-ies but easily reached our times. If these problems were shaped and rooted in the circles of the Pan-Armenian Movement, it doesn’t mean that they can exist today, as well. These are the main problems that I should pay attention to in case I am elected the President.
A.M. According to the latest reports by international watchdog organizations, Armenia’s indicator for the corruption has decreased.
V.H. Yes, though they attempted to find some organizational solutions, we don’t find them effective.
A.M. The authorities also speak about fighting corruption, but till now we haven’t witnessed any high-ranking corrupted official facing a trail in court. Will such things happen if you are elected the president?
V.H. Such developmen’s are not only possible, but they will take place very soon; and not only that, but those who will be corrupted in the future will be punished alongside those who are already corrupt. At least, the most obvious and notorious cases that we don’t doubt will be taken into consideration. Many cases will also be reconsidered. All the cases, beginning from the current conditions in the privatization deals to the obviously unfair court verdicts that we have been witnessing as of late, will be reconsidered. If we don’t correct these mistakes now, we may never guarantee that they may not happen in the future.
A.M. The court verdicts, which are very often unfair, make the people think that we live in a country without justice. Does the ARF have any mechanisms, tools in your programs that can help in the struggle against corruption within the judicial system?
V.H. We shouldn’t talk of the ARF’s mechanisms; we should talk of the tools in the president’s hands. An ARF member belongs to everybody when elected president. He is not the president for the ARF party members only. The president has powerful tools, for example, in the sphere you dwelt on there exists the Judiciary Council, which is supposed to deal with a number of notorious cases of injustice in order to reconsider their consequences.
A.M. The ARF has been apart of the governing authorities during the last few years. Wasn’t it possible to settle your mentioned problems during that period?
V.H. No. The People are mistaken to think that participation in the government gives you complete control and responsibility. We have never escaped our share of responsibility, a share we earned through the votes our electors gave us and thanks to our growing political influence. But one can never build a paradise in one sphere and leave the rest in rubbish. This is not possible, as the system of government, the whole state system, for that matter, is mutually linked and only systemic changes can result in the improvement in certain spheres. For example, they often ask me whether there is corruption in the educational sphere or not, as the minister of education is an ARF member.
They forget about two factors: the first is that it is impossible to achieve an ideal state in one separate sphere. Second, the local administration bodies are responsible for the administration of the educational system. The ministry only defines the main policy of the educational system. Perhaps, it was too early to hand certain institutions of this or that system to the local administrative bodies, but the step has been taken and we should work on strengthening these local administrative bodies. These issues will also be addressed through systemic changes.
A.M. There is an opinion that the growing animosity between Serge Sargsian and Levon Ter-Petrosyan can strengthen a third party. Do you consider yourself that third party?
V.H. I don’t consider myself…I am that very third party. It would be wrong to think that the number of our voters grows as a result of growing confrontation between these artificially created poles. If people, being disappointed of the propaganda of hatred from one side and of anarchy from the other side, turn to us, well, this is a natural phenomenon and not a result of artificial confrontation.
A.M. Heritage party called for several of the opposition candidates to unite and you were among those candidates. Do you consider yourself an opposition candidate?
V.H. Yes, at present moment, yes, I am. Unfortunately, the concept of an opposition is distorted in our country. Such conditions are created, beginning from the very nineties, that opposition is considered an enemy force fighting from beneath the barricades. They put the opposition in a position, in such conditions that they can do nothing but curse the authorities. This actually helps the authorities limit the abilities of the opposition to act. This is also a result of opposition’s lack of determination, as the opposition shouldn’t let the authorities put them in such conditions.
The ARF learned this lesson long ago and we act according to European democratic practices. We don’t think about trying to make a power shift in our everyday agenda. Unfortunately, this issue is always on the agenda of Armenia’s opposition. We understand that the elections are the exact-and only–time for that power shift, and after the elections, its time to go back to work. If I win, naturally, I shall cooperate with the republicans, as well as with the Heritage party or any other force. If somebody else wins, our party will work again and we will not put ourselves in the position of the offended or take any other extreme actions. Certainly, this depends on how the elections would be held, and this is an even more important issue than that concerning the winner of the elections.
But I think that the time has come for mutual trust and tolerance towards each other. This is why we don’t curse at anyone in our pre-electoral campaign. As you can see, this is not our style. We believe that the opposition should participate in the most important decisions of our country. Of course, between the elections you can cooperate with or struggle against certain political forces, but during the elections you are absolutely independent and your independence is reflected by your position of opposition.
Naturally, we are in that position today, but our position of opposition differs from the generally accepted and hysterical mode of opposition in Armenia; that’s why many people are surprised. We are more decisive, than those whose insults you can frequently hear on TV.
A.M. Let’s talk about those insults. During the elections, and very often from the former president’s campaign team, we frequently hear about the artificial confrontation of the residents of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. Don’t you think it’s a very dangerous tendency for the development of Armenia?
V.H. This is dangerous, not only from the viewpoint of Armenia’s development, but also because it is a blow directed at the comprehension of the benefits of our nation as a whole, a comprehension that serves as an engine of progress for our country.
This is the main factor that determines the nationhood of our people. If we begin dividing the interests of our nation into those of the residents of Nagorno Karabakh and those of the residents of Armenia, the next step will be to seperate the interest of the residents of Yerevan against those of the of Zangezour or of Shirak. This will be the end of, not only, our nation, but also the end of our state.
A.M. What’s your opinion concerning the issue of the liberated territories, as there are various opinions, some think we should give them back, the rest are against making any concessions.
V.H. First of all, I want to emphasize that the issue of returning these territories doesn’t exist for the ARF, or for me. And this is not conditioned by some sentimental reasons, like the fact that we had shed blood there.
That’s not the point. The point is that the President and Foreign Minister have both stated, on many occasions, Armenia’s readiness to make mutual concessions. We did that, even a bit more than needed. At the same time, we never heard any correctly made statemen’s from Azerbaijan about concessions that they want to make. They also say that they are ready to make mutual concessions, but in the very following sentence they say that the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan should be restored by all means, and the conversation stops at this point.
All we hear from them is the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and about war as an alternative solution. If they make us face these two alternatives, I believe that Armenia’shouldn’t have to talk of the liberated territories. We have stated that we are ready to make mutual concessions, but the content of the concessions, from our side, can be discussed only if Azerbaijan specifies the limits of concessions they are ready to make. They have yet to do this, which means that any talk of concessions on the part of Armenia is idle talk.
A.M. The pre-electoral campaign has started and you have visited the regions of Armenia. What is your impression about the moods of the people concerning the participation in the elections?
V.H. There are certain factors that I am glad about. The number of active people seems to be growing; what I mean to say is the number of active people interested in our programs and suggestions is growing. For example, there are over 150,000 citizens who had signed an agreement with me. This action of ours is quite a success, and we are approaching the number of votes we had in the parliamentary elections and I am sure that we can double this number. This means that the interest for us among the general public is growing. I don’t know whether there will be big violations or not. I just know that, unfortunately, the tools of succession at the disposal of the authorities aren’t their campaign programs. But we can’t deny that there have been certain positive changes made in our lives since the nineties, not in necessary tempos and directions, of course, but they exist.
On the other hand, the questions we have been asked and the general interest expressed during our indoor and outdoor meetings with the electorate testify to the fact that the interest for participation in the elections is quite high in our society. If the elections are held normally, I believe I have a very good chance of success.
Interview by Armen Manvelian, translated by K.A.