LINKS calls for a halt to megaphone diplomacy on NK

Posted by Caucasus Links
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contact person Lasha Darsalia
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The British non governmental organisation LINKS has called on politicians in
both Armenia and Azerbaijan to stop using “megaphone diplomacy” and to
engage more actively in a dialogue to resolve the Karabakh problem. The call
was made in a live interview on Armenian private TV Channel Kentron with
LINKS Executive Director Dennis Sammut.

The following is the full transcript of the interview

Live Interview on ‘Urvagits’ programme on Kentron Television, Armenia
with Dennis Sammut, Executive Director of LINKS
Thursday 18th March 2004, 21.30

Q. Mr Sammut, one of the objectives of your organisation is to contribute
to the settlement of the Karabakh issue. A range of international
organisations including the Minsk Group of the OSCE has not achieved any
considerable successes. What are you relying on in your mission?

DS : Well I would like to say first of all that we are not trying to replace
the work the Minsk Group is doing. The Minsk Group is the framework the
international community has chosen to try to settle the Karabakh conflict.
The Minsk Group is a framework of states within the framework of the
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. What LINKS is doing,
and in this we are also working with other non governmental organisations,
is to try and support the work of the Minsk Group by opening up the debate
with wider society.
Because we don’t represent governments we have a little bit more flexibility
in what we say and we can be a little more outspoken in with what we say.
Perhaps the language we use is a little more understandable by the people in
general as well.

Q. As I understand one of the objectives of your organisation is to expand
dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

DS : Well it is, but let me explain. There is a process that has been going
on for some years now of negotiations between the two presidents, assisted
sometimes by other officials. This process has not succeeded yet. There
have been some occasions were some progress was registered but somehow we go
back to square one because society in both countries is not ready to
understand or accept what is being proposed.
We think that the process must be opened up in a way that what the
presidents are discussing and are doing has to be underpinned by a wider
debate, first of all amongst the political community in both countries, and
secondly amongst the wider public in both countries. We feel it is
important that the quality of the discussion is improved. When people don’t
know what to say they usually just go for slogans because they are on safe

Q. Mr Sammut, do you mean political forces in both Armenia and Azerbaijan
when you are speaking about slogans?

DS : Political forces in both Armenia and Azerbaijan use slogans, quite a
lot of slogans. What we have in this situation, most of the time but not
always, is what I call megaphone diplomacy. So we don’t really have
diplomacy of negotiations or diplomacy of trying to actually work out
solutions to the problem. We have people shouting slogans from across the
frontier from one country to another. This is not helpful because by the
time the message reaches the other side, it gets distorted and it gets
misunderstood. I have seen this happen so many times, on so many issues and
I have appealed to my friends here and to my friends in Baku to ‘calm down’
and don’t use this method because it is not useful for you, for your
countries or for anybody.

Q. If I am not mistaken you were recently in Baku, is that so?

DS : Yes that is right.

Q. Mr Sammut, you said that there needs to be positive progress in the
dialogue between the two parties. However the recent murder of the Armenian
officer in Hungary and afterwards the stance of officials in Baku and also
the statements on behalf of the Ombudsman of Baku, do not inspire much
confidence in a process of dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Being
in Baku, did you see the forces did you see the parties that are really
striving for positive development of the dialogue between the two parties?

DS : I was in Baku before the tragic events in Budapest, but I can quite
understand what happened there, as I can quite understand what happened
here. But let me state first of all what impressions I got, and this was
before Budapest. There is increasing debate in Azerbaijan about the
Karabakh problem. The amount of time being spent talking about this issues
is much more than it was last year or the year before. And of course there
are different trends. There is one trend that is saying ‘we must engage in
a serious discussion, we must engage in a proper dialogue with the Armenian
side to try to resolve this problem’, and there is another trend saying that
‘this is our national humiliation and we have to somehow solve it and we
will have to use all methods to solve it’.

Q. Which trend is the dominant trend in Baku?

DS : Well it is difficult to say because as with everything else and as with
every other country, sometimes it is one trend that is more dominant, and
sometimes it is the other. I spent time speaking to both of these groups of
people because I think it is very important that we talk to both. And these
two kinds of stereotypes also exist in Armenia by the way, and this is not a
unique feature of Azerbaijan. We talk with both trends, both here and
there. What happened in Budapest was a shock. It was a shock for you here.
And frankly speaking, regardless of what we hear, it was a shock for people
in Baku as well: they were not expecting this to happen. And is was
certainly a shock for people like myself and other people in the
international community that have been engaged in this process of dialogue
because obviously we understood immediately that an incident like that, a
tragedy like that, will have implications. And there is always a
spontaneous reaction when something happens that people are not prepared
for. The spontaneous reaction is the kind of reaction where people have not
thought about the consequences and so a lot of things are said that are not
sensible. Afterwards, when the people realise what they have said they
realise that they should not have been so emotional and so impulsive in what
they were saying. I think from this tragedy, from the loss of the life of
this young Armenian, frankly speaking two lives were lost because this young
Azeri is now going to spend most of his time in a jail if he is convicted of
this murder. So from this tragic situation two lives were lost, one is dead
and one will have to pay for his crime. From this tragedy we must draw
conclusions, we must draw lessons and we must be more determined. And when
I say ‘we’, and since I am now engaged in this process I feel it is our
responsibility also. So ‘we’, being the Armenians and the Azeris and the
international community, must make a bigger effort to move the process

Q. Mr Sammut, you said that there needs to be progress in the dialogue
inside Armenia. Let me remind you that some twenty days ago, the president
of Armenia said during a meeting with students that Armenia will not concede
Karabakh to Azerbaijan. Plus the representatives of culture, literature and
arts applied to the president to state that they will not concede Karabakh
to Azerbaijan and that it should be made more firmly part of Armenia. Also
in this regard there is no discrepancy of ideas between the opposition and
the authorities of Armenia. So they are supporting the idea that we should
not concede Karabakh. In light of these circumstances can you see the
development of the dialogue in Armenia?

DS : Well I would never talk in terms of ‘conceding’, this is not the
language I prefer to use. We have a situation, a situation which is not
really acceptable to anybody because people are suffering on all sides in
different ways. From this situation we must move forward to find a
solution, a solution that would be a peaceful solution, and a solution that
would be achieved not in fifty years time but in a manageable short period
of time. But also a solution that has to have wide support amongst all the
interested parties: amongst Armenians and Azerbaijanis, amongst the people
of Karabakh who are in Karabakh and who are Armenians and people of Karabakh
who had to leave Karabakh because they were Azerbaijani. There has to be
consensus because an imposed solution will not work. Now, is this easy? Of
course it is not easy. Is it impossible? Of course it is not impossible.

Q. Why?

DS : Well it is possible because it is a problem that has defined parameters
and those defined parameters can somehow be altered in a way that would
become acceptable to everybody. It will take time, and it will take
concessions on everybody’s side. Nobody will be able to say ‘I have won all
the arguments and I have won all the issues that I am interested in’. It
has to be based on concessions and it has to be based on a vision for the
future and not a vision of the past. The past we have to look at and learn
lessons from, but we must not be slaves of the past.
I want to take up your point regarding Armenian political forces and how
they look at Karabakh. I know that the National Assembly in 2001 adopted a
resolution on the Karabakh issue. Recently they revisited it. They did not
change it, they simply restated it. I would have preferred that political
forces should have engaged in a new discussion because three years have
passed, things have changed. Many changes are taking place in the world and
in the region and we need to be sure that what is being said still applies
to the situation today.

Q. But not for our political forces, because they restate their position,
that is there will be no concessions.

DS : My suggestion is that there should not be a position so fixed that it
can never be changed. This is not how politics is done. Now, it is
important and positive in my view that there is a consensus in Armenia on
these issues. It is better than if people have completely different
positions and one is never sure where they are. But I would like to suggest
that we turn this argument a bit up side down. Instead of going for the
most radical position and say ‘OK, let this be the least common denominator’
, lets go for the most moderate position and say ‘let this be the least
common denominator’. It is impossible for the political forces to tie the
hands of the government and the president on this issue in a way that
negotiations become futile. If there is no space for negotiations, why go
and discuss if there is no scope? And I want to emphasise that I am not the
kind of person who says ‘these are people with radical views we don’t
respect them, we don’t dialogue with them’. That is not the approach at
all. People with radical views have radical views because they believe in
them very strongly. We have to understand why they believe in them and we
have to persuade them that there are perhaps alternative ways of approaching
a subject.

Q. Mr Sammut you said we have to change the parameters of the Karabakh
conflict. This is a very interesting idea. What do you understand by this?
Can you open the brackets?

DS : Well I will open them a little bit. I think the Karabakh issue has
different dimensions to it. It is not a single issue. It is an issue that
has different elements to it. If the debate was only on a piece of land and
perhaps the natural resources that exist on that piece of land then one type
of solution can be envisaged. There are many examples in the world of
disputes between countries over pieces of land, territory, continental
shelves in the sea, islands and other such situations where people have
interests because of either natural resources, or strategic interests or
whatever. If Karabakh was only in this context, it would be an easily
solvable problem.

Q. In which context is it now?

DS : Well, not only now. We have a different situation because the issue of
Karabakh is a territorial issue; it is an issue that is connected with the
population that lives in Karabakh, and that used to live in Karabakh. It is
connected with the issue of how sustainable Karabakh itself is if one only
looks at it in the agreed territory or border that is recognised as being
Karabakh. Is it sustainable without other territories that are attached to
it? I mean it is a different layered subject; it is not simply one issue.
This is what makes it much more complicated.

Q. I know that during your stay in Armenia you have dealt with our
politicians, media and other representatives of society. Can you summarize
whether you think we are ready for peace? Does Armenia want peace?

DS : Does Armenia want peace? I think yes, Armenia wants peace. There is
perhaps a little bit of fear of peace and there is a confusion in the minds
of people between peace and defeatism. Peace is not defeatism. From a good
peace, everybody will win and everybody can celebrate victory, but only if
it is a good peace. I think that society is somehow tied down to a number
of positions that were perhaps useful in some period but are becoming less
and less useful these days when the world is changing so fast, and when the
South Caucasus is changing so fast. I remain optimistic.