VIENNA—Armenia’s Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian, who is on a working visit to the Austrian capital, sat down with the Austiran Der Standard newspaper for an in-depth interview on official Yerevan’s views on matters, including the Armenia-Turkey protocols and the Karabakh conflict.
On Tuesday, Asbarez reported on a portion of the interview, which dealt with Armenia’s decision to not support a Turkish candidate for the leadership post of the OSCE. Today we provide a translated transcript of the interview in its entirty.
Standard: You signed the Zurich protocols that aimed at normalizing relations between Turkey and Armenia despite political protests in your country and within the Diaspora around the world. How frustrated do you feel that Turkey has put the ratification on hold?
Nalbandian: Some people, including in Europe, have no confidence on the Turkish side. They think that Turkey says one thing and does something else. The negotiation process with the Turkish side was long, a difficult one and with many obstacles. There were more than ten meetings on the ministerial level. In Davos, for example, we had 35 hours of negotiations with then foreign minister Ali Babacan. We finally came to the agreement and we signed Protocols in Zurich in October, 2009, in the presence of representatives of Switzerland, the US, Russia, France, EU, Council of Europe. Once it was signed, Turkey put forward preconditions for ratification.
Standard: What do you think happened with the Turkish side?
Nalbandian: You probably have to ask them. Maybe nothing happened In any cases, may those who said you cannot trust Turkey had a valid argument.
Standard: Did the Turkish government pull back for electoral reasons?
Nalbandian: Turks tend to think that only in Turkey they have elections and public opinion. We have in fact much more reason to talk about preconditions.
Standard: To what extent has Azerbaijan, Turkey’s political partner and energy source, sabotaged the process of normalization between Armenia and Turkey?
Nalbandian: All countries in the world supported this process, with one exception: Azerbaijan. I don‘t think they were right. The normalization of relations could have been beneficial not only for Turkey and Armenia, but for the entire region. And Azerbaijan is part of this region.
Standard: How can the Zurich protocols be revived again?
Nalbandian: There is only one way. We have signed the protocols, we have to ratify and implement them – without any preconditions according to the principle of pacta sunt servanda.
Standard: Will that be possible once the parliamentary elections in Turkey in June are over?
Nalbandian: After the parliamentary elections there will be other elections. If you look for a reason to postpone the ratification you can always find one. I think Turkish society today is more supportive of normalization on the one hand, and on the other hand are more receptive about the past. The start of negotiations and the signing of the protocols opened new windows. For the first time on the 24th of April last year, the people gathered in Turkish cities to commemorate the day of the Armenian Genocide. More than 30,000 Turkish citizens signed a petition apologizing to the Armenian people.
Standard: Looking at the overarching, more than 25 year old, frozen conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh, how much of a danger is it for the South Caucasus?
Nalbandian: The Azerbaijani authorities, almost on a daily basis, make bellicose statements and provoke. In one year alone, they doubled their military budget and they rejected the proposals of the international community to come to an agreement on non-use of force, consolidation of ceasefire, withdrawal of snipers from the line of contact. I do not think that anyone can interpret that such behavior by the Azerbaijani authorities does not pose any dangers.
Standard: But, do you have to take these bellicose statements as you said, seriously or are they not rather made for domestic consumption in Azerbaijan?
Nalbandian: The threat to use force is a violation of international law. And absence of adequate reaction to such bellicose behavior may lead to serious consequences.
Standard: To what extent are autocratic rule and underdeveloped civil societies a source of instability in the region?
Nalbandian: I would be more cautious in making any comparisons of political-social development among the countries of the region. While Armenia is a developing democracy, Azerbaijan is a developing authoritarian regime. This is a view expressed by most international organizations and shared by most of the experts.
The media and civil society in Armenia are actively involved in political discussions, something unheard of in Azerbaijan. Quite the contrary, full-fledged state sponsored propaganda of hatred toward Armenians hinders the peace process. And the minds of the young generations are being spoiled in such a way that it hinders future reconciliation.
A spirit of compromise and peaceful discourse are, in general, less probable in authoritarian countries.
Standard: Now, with some months having passed, did you get accustomed to the idea of Austria having opened one single embassy in the region in Baku and not in Yerevan or Tbilisi?
Nalbandian: If I say I am very happy about it, would you believe me? No. We opened our embassy in Vienna many years ago—one of the first after independence. I think it is high time for Austria to reciprocate and open representation in Yerevan. Our aim has to be to elevate our relations to a much higher level.
Standard: Former Austrian foreign minister Ursula Plassnik is running for Secretary General of the OSCE. Will Armenia support her?
Nalbandian: We did not make a decision on the candidates yet. But concerning the Turkish candidate, we have stated that we cannot support him because Turkish representatives in different international organizations generally hold a different view with their biased approaches and do not waste any opportunity to express themselves against Armenia’s positions.
Standard: What does that mean for the other candidates and Mrs Plassnik?
Nalbandian: That means that one of the other candidates could be supported from our side…
Standard: Will you narrow down the list?
Nalbandian: We will do so, pretty soon.