WATERTOWN–Mass.–Armenian President Robert Kocharian handled a full itinerary this past week as he conducted his first visit to the United States since assuming office last April. Kocharian’s one-week visit included a stop in New York during which he met with international policymakers–addressed the United Nations General Assembly and a large-scale community forums.
Arrival and New York itinerary
As reported previously–the president and his entourage arrived at JFK International Airport on Wednesday afternoon–September 23. Joining Kocharian on the trip were First Lady Mrs. Bella Kocharian–His Holiness Karekin I–Catholicos of All Armenia’s–Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian–presidential assistant Armen Gevorkian–and presidential press secretary Gassia Apkarian.
The following evening–President Kocharian addressed a large public gathering held at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Nearly 2,000 people from throughout the Mid-Atlantic area were on hand to hear the President deliver a major policy address–as he touched on nearly all principal aspects of foreign and domestic activity–including homeland-Diaspora relations. Organized by Armenia’s UN Mission with the assistance of numerous community organizations–the event was held in the manner of a public forum–with a brief opportunity for questions-and-answers following Kocharian’s talk.
In his 45-minute address–Kocharian repeatedly stressed the importance of Diasporan involvement in strengthening Armenian statehood. He did so–however–not by appealing for aid–charity–or humanitarian assistance–but calling for a partnership between equals. "We want Armenia to become a place where people will want to invest–develop business activities–and most of all–feel at home," he noted. "It is only by developing such processes that we will be able to utilize the full potential of the Diaspora."
Kocharian dwelt considerably on the question of Armenia’s economic development–and while he acknowledged that there is a long road ahead–he expressed firm belief that the transition to a market-based economy would eventually bring appreciable benefit to the people of Armenia. "For Armenia today–the creation of some 200,000 jobs would resolve the immediate problems of the country. This means some 5,000 new business that would employ almost 40 people each," he said. "We do not have the 5,000 businesses today; however–we can create the climate and the means to conducted business in Armenia," he pledged. The president added that current Armenian laws and practices were being brought into line with those now used in much of Europe–thus providing additional impetus for outside investment.
Kocharian also spent considerable time outlining his government’s new approach to Armenia’s foreign policy–especially as it pertains to Karabakh–the Diaspora–and the Armenian Genocide issue. In particular–Kocharian reaffirmed earlier statemen’s he has made–indicating that "Hai Tahd" (The Armenian Cause) is an inescapable part of the Armenian reality and therefore forms an important pillar of Armenia’s foreign policy. "The recognition of the Armenian Genocide is an issue being pursued by the Armenian government–and we foresee your [the Diaspora’s] political assistance in realizing this issue," Kocharian stated–noting in addition that he welcomes the Diaspora’s input toward the shaping of a multi-faceted foreign policy.
Turning to Armenia’s domestic situation–Kocharian placed emphasis on Armenia’s recent reforms in the political realm. He noted that Armenia today is a country that no longer houses political prisoners–and that the government has earnestly sought to re-establish the rule of law in the face of long-standing corruption–cronyism–and abuse of power by high-ranking officials. "Armenia’should become the most stable–strong and organized country in the region," he noted–adding that Armenia’s rich culture–strong Diaspora–and ethnic homogeneity could only contribute to the process.
In the end–however–Karabakh-the issue Kocharian is most strongly identified with-received perhaps the strongest share of attention. Kocharian concluded his remarks by discussing the current juncture in the peace negotiations–stressing that the Armenian government categorically and unequivocally rejects any notion of Karabakh being returned to Azeri rule. He prioritized the need for guarantees on the safety and security of the people of Karabakh–and stressed that his administration seeks a resolution that would coincide with the aspirations of the Armenian people.
Following the conclusion of his address–Kocharian received a hearty standing ovation from the crowd. This was followed by a 10-15 question-and-answer session–in which Kocharian offered generally brief responses to questions written on index cards by many of those in attendance.
The Manhattan program was capably MC’d by author and activist Peter Balakian–and Kocharian was introduced by former State Department official and US Ambassador Edward Djerejian.
Appearances at UN
On the following day–Kocharian addressed the 53rd United Nations General Assembly and later took part in a reception held at the UN and sponsored by Armenia’s UN Mission.
In his 10 a.m. speech–the president emphasized the importance of international acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide–as a means of preventing further such crimes. Kocharian’s message was in keeping with Armenia’s effort–in tandem with several other nations–to raise the profile of genocide issues on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the UN Genocide Convention.
Kocharian also called on the international community to exert efforts to overcome obstacles facing the Karabakh peace process. He also addressed the deadlock stemming from Azerbaijan’s refusal to negotiate directly with Karabakh.
During his visit to the UN–Kocharian also met with Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. At the same time–Foreign Minister Oskanian also held a full slate of appointmen’s–including meetings with representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe–which is currently overseeing mediation efforts over Karabakh.
Later in the day–Kocharian greeted approximately 100 guests-some from UN member delegations–others representing Armenian community organizations-at a reception hosted by Armenia’s UN Mission. Kocharian was assisted in greeting the guests by Armenia’s Ambassador to the UN–Dr. Movses Abelian