FM Oskanian Participates in Conference on Wider Europe Initiative

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia
Contact: Information Desk
Tel: (374-1) 52-35-31
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Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vartan Oskanian, participated in a
conference on Wider Europe – The New Agenda, in Bratislava, Slovakian, on
March 19. The conference, attended by presidents, prime ministers and
foreign ministers from Europe, North America and the CIS, focused on
Europe’s Wider Europe Initiative. In a panel on Europe’s Black Sea and
Caucasus Neighborhood, the Prime Minister of Romania and the Foreign
Minister of Bulgaria joined the presidents of Azerbaijan and Georgia, and
Armenian’s Foreign Minister Oskanian to speak about the prospects for the
Caucasus in a future, wider Europe. Following statements by President
Saakashvili, who recounted recent events in Georgia and their implications
for Georgia’s European future, and by President Aliyev on Azerbaijan’s
economic and political prospects, Minister Oskanian spoke about Armenia’s
expectations of Europe, and responded to Azerbaijan’s standard accusations
which were repeated by President Aliyev in his statement.

In the margins of the meeting, Minister Oskanian met with NATO Secretary
General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and they discussed the recent murder of an
Armenian officer at a NATO Language Training program, in Budapest, Hungary,
by an Azeri officer. They also discussed Armenia-NATO relations.

Minister Oskanian also met with the co-chair of the Minsk Group who were in
Bratislava to attend the conference. The Minister will meet with them in
Prague later this month.

Minister Oskanian was interviewed by Azerbaijani, Slovak and Armenian
journalists, about the Conference.

Below is the entire text of Minister Oskanian¹s extemporaneous comments on a
panel on Europe¹s Black Sea and Caucasus Neighborhood
At a Conference on
Wider Europe: The New Agenda
Bratislava, Slovakia Friday March 19, 2004

First let me say that I¹m honored to be present here, in this distinguished
gathering, and let me also say that the government and the people of Armenia
appreciate this initiative. The Wider Europe initiative, and the Caucasus
inclusion in it, is an important initiative. It is a clear signal from
Europe to our region, to the 3 Caucasus republics, that indeed there are
prospects for these three countries to be integrated in European structures
and especially to become part of the European family. And the fact that two
presidents of Caucasus republics and I (representing my own president who
could not attend for reasons beyond his control) are here is testimony of
the fact that the European direction is high on the agenda of all three

I recall in the early 90s, there was a debate within the Council of Europe
about whether the Caucasus belonged to Europe and to that organization. The
debate ended with a resolution that indeed the three Caucasus republics do
belong to Europe. And the membership accession process began at that time.
That was 1992. Before 10 years were over, Georgia first, then Armenia and
Azerbaijan also joined as members of the Council of Europe. But those years
of the accession process were extremely useful in advancing democracy, human
rights and rule of law in each of our three countries. In other words,
Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia became the beneficiaries ­ not just of
membership itself, but of the process.

A month ago, in Brussels, the Council of Ministers asked the Commission to
make a recommendation before the end of the term of the Irish presidency
back to the Council of Ministers on the issue of including the Caucasus in
the Wider Europe ­ New Neighborhood Initiative. I want to draw a parallel
between this and the 1992 decision by the Council of Europe to consider the
Caucasus as part of Europe. We ourselves as leaders, and historians, will
look back at that date as marking the beginning of the process of accession
of the three Caucasus republics into the European Union. I have no doubt
that this road, too, will be difficult and tortuous, but I also have no
doubt that we will get there. Because we got the signal from the European
Union that yes, indeed,, the three Caucasus republics, if they meet the
criteria, someday, down the road, can be considered for membership in that

This is extremely important. It gives new hope, new prospects to the
Caucasus and the three republics. But we have to make a clear distinction,
so we do not have any false illusions. The European Union offers us the
prospect, not the promise. We have to make a clear distinction. What we are
getting today, and what we will hopefully get before the Irish presidency is
concluded, is a prospect, but not the promise. This is clearly understood by
Armenia, and I have no doubt that it is understood by our neighbors. But it
is we in the Caucasus who will turn that prospect into a promise. The sooner
we do that, the better it will be for the region and for the countries that
comprise that region. That¹s why putting not just our own houses, but the
whole region in order, is extremely important. President Saakashvili was in
Yerevan and in Baku recently. He was visiting the two neighbors. Both in
Azerbaijan and in Armenia, he spoke about the common Caucasus, a free trade
zone, deeper integration. We share that vision President Saakashvili, and we
would like to work towards that end. We would like to see Azerbaijan also
join in, not just through Georgia, but to accept that the three of us must
move in that direction.

Let me not underestimate the true problem that we face. There are indeed
obstacles which stand in the way of Armenia and Azerbaijan fully engaging in
regional cooperation and integration.

That problem is the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. But we have to be realistic.
We have to look at this conflict from the perspective of the future, not
from the perspective of what we have on the ground at this moment. That¹s
not to say we can ignore the past or ignore history. Nor can we ignore what
we have now, but we must look to the future. That¹s why the European
prospect gives us a better context not only to advance democracy, human
rights and rule of law in our countries, but also to try to put regional
conflicts, ethnic conflicts within that global process. If we can do that,
we can succeed in resolving even the most problematic, the most contentious
problems, and among them, the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.

I must say frankly, I was disappointed to hear President Aliyev¹s statement
today and the way he approached the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. At least in
this forum, he should have put a different light on this issue and should
have looked to the future.

President Aliyev, Armenia is not an aggressor. Armenians are not aggressors.
You¹re not the vanquished, we¹re not the victors. At this moment, we are
both victims. We have to work so that in the future, we both become victors.
This phase of the conflict is only one frame in a much longer sequence of
frames. We can not just look at this one frame and make a judgement. This is
not the end. The conflict is not over, and we¹ve never claimed anything
beyond what we think we deserve — that the international community look at
this from the point of view of the rights of the people who live on those

Yes, there are refugees. But on both sides. We¹re tired of hearing the
number one million. Yes, there are one million refugees ­ but that¹s a
cumulative number. There were 400,000 Armenians living in Azerbaijan before
this conflict began. President Aliyev, where are those people? Aren¹t they
refugees? If they are not living under tents as a showcase to the world,
that does not mean that they do not exist. They do exist. There are refugees
from both sides just as there is suffering on both sides. Both sides have
certain rights that need to be addressed. I understand that you want to
recover the territorial integrity of your state, but we want to see the
people of Nagorno Karabakh and their right to self-determination respected.
They don¹t want anything beyond a normal, peaceful life. They want to join
their brothers and sisters in Armenia, as people throughout the world have
done throughout history. They want to belong where they do belong. That¹s
what they want and what Armenians want in the region.

Let me tell you this: we have no claim to anything beyond the right of the
people of Nagorno Karabakh to self-determination to be recognized. We have
to look to the future, put this conflict within the context of integration
into the European Union. We still think that we can begin cooperating in our
region. We can work together on a second track, parallel to the Nagorno
Karabakh conflict negotiations and try to make the two complementary. We can
work to create a better environment within which we can address and resolve
the Nagorno Karabakh conflict for the betterment of our two countries and
our two peoples.