In an interview published Monday in the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily, President Serzh Sarksian defended the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s right to self determination, discussing a recent declaration signed between himself and the president’s of Russia and Azerbaijan pledging to intensify negotiations for a settlement of the Nagonro-Karabakh conflict. The Armenian president also touched on Armenia-Turkey relations, describing Turkey’s bid to form a commission of historians to investigate the veracity of the Armenian Genocide as unnecessary to the normalization process.
Below is the translated transcript of the interview:
Nicolas Boussen: Mr. President, last week in Moscow you reached the agreement with the President of Azerbaijan regarding the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict–the cause of strained relations between the two countries for so long. What are the prospects?
Serzh Sarkisian: The very fact that the signed document rules out the use of military force is very important for us. Of course, this is only a Declaration, and we would be happy to turn it into agreement. However, I don’t wish to underestimate the significance of that document. I am also glad that Azerbaijan has signed a document which recognizes all the principles of international law as the basis for the resolution of the conflict and not only the principle of territorial integrity. I also assess positively the fact that despite some sharp commen’s regarding the activities of the Minsk Group, the Minsk Group format and the mediating role of the Co-Chairs ‘s the US, Russia and France, have been highlighted.
N.B.: Are you ready to withdraw forces from the adjacent seven territories as it is demanded?
S.S.: The essential issue of this conflict is the status of Nagorno Karabakh. Azerbaijan must recognize the right of people of Nagorno Karabakh to exercise their right to self-determination. The resolution of this fundamental issue would bring about the solutions for all other issues. The control over these territories is not a self-serving purpose for us ‘s its purpose is Karabakh’s security. Today it is necessary for us to negotiate the principles of settlement which could be followed by the principal peace agreement. We have a long way to go.
N.B.: You are a native of Karabakh yourself. Do you think Karabakh could remain an autonomous province of Azerbaijan?
S.S.: The whole issue is that necessary conditions must be created for the safe and secure development of the Nagorno-Karabakh population. History proves that this is impossible while remaining part of Azerbaijan. For us Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan in any status is not an option.
N.B.: Recently you visited Brussels. Do you think the EU has a role to play in the resolution of the conflict?
S.S.: When one of the sides deviates from the course and violates the peaceful nature of the process, Europe should clearly state that. Besides, if an international organization emphasizes the importance of one principle for the resolution of the conflict over the other principle, it encourages the actions of that country on that direction and thus displays an unconstructive approach. The United States and some European nations in case of Kosovo applied the right of people for self-determination. When the same approach was applied by Russia, it’s been rejected by the US and Europe.
N.B.: Isn’t it true, however, that you have not recognized South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence?
S.S.: You’re right. We haven’t recognized Kosovo’s independence either. We cannot recognize the independence of these countries as long as we don’t recognize Karabakh’s independence. Our people would not understand that. Now you may want to ask me why don’t we recognize Karabakh’s independence? We consider the recognition of Karabakh’s independence the last step in this process. We are not strong enough to unilaterally recognize Karabakh’s independence and thus bring the peace process to its end.
N.B.: What geopolitical consequences has the war in Georgia had for you?
S.S.: The events proved the vulnerability of the region. Georgia is very important for us since 70 per cent of our trade is conducted via this country. Besides, 350,000 Armenian reside in Georgia. At the same time, we are strategic partners with Russia. For us it is important to synchronize these two differing commitmen’s, and I think we have succeeded. We have different approaches with Georgia on a number of principle issues, but we, naturally, avoid anything which could be deemed as hostile. And despite the numerous changes that have taken place in the region after the war, thanks God, I can tell you that the Armenian-Georgian relations and the Armenian-Russian relations have not been damaged.
N.B.: Armenia is also a member to the NATO Partnership Plan. Do you think that one of the lessons this war taught is that NATO should stay clear from this region?
S.S.: I wouldn’t say that. In that case future development of our relations with NATO would be impossible. We consider cooperation with NATO a component of our security structure. On the other hand, we are not aspiring to join NATO. Creation of new dividing lines in our region could be very dangerous. This is a lesson of the Georgian war.
N.B.: Should your neighbors abandon their efforts to join NATO?
S.S.: I cannot speak for other countries. For the last ten years we have been trying to conduct a balanced policy which would not oppose the interests of the US, Russia, and NATO. It might be tempting to try to play on the contradictions of these powers, but at the same time, it is very dangerous.
N.B.: Recently you invited the President of Turkey to Armenia, to watch a soccer game. The entire world welcomed your initiative. Today the Turks propose to establish a historians’ commission to do research on the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Do you think it would be helpful?
S.S.: There is no need for it whatsoever. We don’t think it will get us anywhere. We wish to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries without preconditions, to open the borders, and after that we can discuss, on the intergovernmental level, the whole range of issues existing between neighbor states. We do not put the recognition of the Genocide by Turkey as a precondition for the establishment of bilateral relations. We wish to establish relations but not at any cost. In the past the European nations did not create any commissions for the establishment of normal relations either. Such a step could also mean an attempt to mislead the international community, especially when the process could last for years.
S.S.: Do you think Armenia could become a transit route like Georgia for the transportation of energy resource to Europe?
N.B.: I don’t think we should try to substitute anyone. However, we unequivocally strive to have a well-developed infrastructure to supply alternative routes. We would like to see our communication lines with Azerbaijan and Turkey reopened. We also wish to build in Armenia a north-south railroad which can, in the future, connect Armenia to Iran. The more developed and diversified our infrastructure is the more attractive and secure Armenia will be.