Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia
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Minister of Foreign Affairs
of the Republic of Armenia
at Chatham House, London
April 16, 2004
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you here today. I look forward
to what is always an interesting dialog.
In preparing my thoughts for this evening, I looked over my talk here at
Chatham House in 1999. I suppose I knew, but those notes, black on white,
drove home the point that the world is a different place today. It is not
only international geopolitical relations and calculations which have
changed, but so has Armenia and our region.
Someone has said, “Show me a country’s location on a map and I’ll describe
to you their foreign policy.” Armenia is in the middle of the Caucasus,
which itself is at the center of three continents, and just north of the
Middle East. You can probably guess that our capacity to contribute to
regional stability depends very much on our success in managing our
relations with disparate and seemingly incompatible actors. Philip Marsden,
the perceptive British author of one of the most engaging books on Armenia
and Armenians, titles it the Crossing Place. No matter what type east-west,
north-south, trade, exchange and migration one talks about, for 3000 years,
Armenia has been at the intersection of millennial traffic.
It is therefore natural that the foreign policy choice, and sometimes
burden, of this young Republic is to pursue a policy of multidirectional
It is no secret, that given our geopolitical situation, the conflicts or
hostilities we face and the limited resources we command, our room to
maneuver is rather small.
It is important therefore for Armenia that our actions, intents and
relations are understood correctly and in their context.
Today, our future depends on how well we handle each of the following four
Security, Development, European integration and Nagorno Karabakh.
Let me start with security. Given our history and the current realities in
the region, security is a number one priority for Armenia. Armenians are
extremely security conscious, that is why we have entered into layers of
security guarantees compatible with our policy of complementarity. Those
layers are comprised of our bilateral security arrangements with Russia, our
membership in the Collective Security Agreement, our extensive engagement in
disarmament treaties, most particularly the CFE which provides balance and
transparency in our region, our extensive relations with NATO, and finally
other bilateral arrangements, such as with Greece, and most recently with
First, Russia, with whom the scope and range of our connectedness is
extensive — economically, militarily, politically, and not unlike our
relations with the US and the EU, influenced more and more by the presence
there of a very large and increasingly more active Armenian Diaspora.
Armenia does have a military pact with Russia. There are Russian military
bases in Armenia. All of this leads to a myth about the degree of Armenia’s
dependence on the Russian Federation. There exist differing assumptions
about Armenia’s absolute margin of maneuver and, more significantly, our
relative margin of flexibility in defining and pursuing our interests, more
particularly with other countries.
Actually, the truth lies elsewhere. The larger, more crucial and
geostrategically more contingent relationship between the US and Russia, and
the EU and Russia, is what will shape the role, significance and performance
of Armenia in that triangle. And that is no myth.
Before the war on terrorism, America itself was reticent to engage Armenia
in military matters, given its desire not to offend or irritate regional
proxies, friends or rivals. Today, we have entered into substantive military
cooperation with the US.
Further, while neither invited nor self-invited to be a candidate for NATO
membership, Armenia, through PfP, is active and interested in the process.
We have just begun our accession process to IPAP. In this and other
instances, we have never been offered more than we have been willing or able
to accept. We are therefore somewhat realistically concerned that if
Armenia’s and our neighbors’ engagement with NATO proceeds unevenly, there
is the danger of new dividing lines being created in the Caucasus, and
that’s not helpful for anyone’s security interests.
Turkey, too, has a role to play in Armenia’s security. Not as a partner,
unfortunately, but as a neighbor whose words, actions, relations or
absence of relations creates the environment in which security concerns
must be addressed. Turkey missed the historic opportunity a dozen years ago,
to use the event of Armenia’s independence to begin a new era of relations.
Turkey is a major regional player with the potential of significantly
impacting the regional environment. Its continuing insistence on
preconditions to normal relations creates a breach in confidence. The
absence of normal relations creates a fear of unexpected actions and
complicates an already tense security environment.
Fortunately, Iran, our southern neighbor has been much more even-handed and
farsighted in its relations with Armenia. By experience and necessity, our
engagement with Iran is not and cannot be superficial and on-and-off again.
What we have is the cooperation of two neighbors, each resisting different
forms of isolation and marginalization.
Our second challenge is sustainable and rapid development. In the dozen
short years since independence, we have secured Armenia’s borders in an
inherently unstable region, we have defended our people by creating a strong
army, we have begun to build state structures where none existed, we have
stopped the economic collapse and begun the climb toward prosperity, we have
resolved the energy crisis and converted energy into a commodity, and in
these last three years have sustained double digit economic growth.
Clearly, more crucial challenges are waiting for us still. This growth,
which admittedly began from a very low point of departure, will be difficult
to maintain. We must continue to create rewarding jobs, elevate people’s
standard of living and eradicate poverty and indignity, we must fight and
win the war against nepotism and corruption, we must dispel the shadow
economy, we must protect the socially vulnerable, advocate for the rights of
women and children, allow entrepreneurs to dream and create, bolster the
vital mission of educators and shape a society where people believe in their
abilities to live up to their dreams.
We must also fashion a government of believers and believers in government.
We often say that the steps we’ve taken toward democratic processes and
democratic institutions have been the easy steps. Now, we need to do the
hard work that results in the absorption and realization of these values in
personal and public life. The recent demonstrations in Yerevan, by an
opposition determined to come to power at all cost, even as they’ve publicly
said by force, demonstrates that we have a ways to go. For Armenia or for
any country in transition, what is needed is not just a government willing
to set the rules and play by them, but also a constructive opposition that
is willing to do the same, without brazenly, aggressively abusing the new
opportunities that a democratic system offers. Only this will provide the
kind of stability that is as important to empower a citizenry, as it is for
a businessman to take risks.
Taken together, all of these efforts economic and political will in turn
create the kind of confidence necessary for direct foreign investments to
increase and exports to find markets. It is the combination of these two
pillars around which our economic growth will be sustained. Towards this
end, we envision the creation of a Caucasus free trade zone, as Presidents
Kocharian and Saakashvili have advocated. The BSEC and CIS can provide
serious opportunities for unhindered economic cooperation among member
states if political obstacles do not interfere. For such an enterprise to
succeed, for foreign investors to engage in Caucasus projects, we need open
communication lines. The closed border with Turkey has resulted in a gap in
operating rail links from Turkey thru Armenia to Georgia. Within the TRACECA
route, this constitutes the only missing link from Europe to Asia.
Doubtless, re-commissioning this existing line is of value to those beyond
our immediate region as well, thanks to waves of regionalization and
globalization. Thus what is good for Armenia’s development is also good for
our neighbors near and far.
>From a common security policy to a free trade area, all are achievable and
workable. Civil society, interstate cooperation, human rights reforms,
legislative compatibility, economic cooperation these are the agenda items
that will drive the development of our region. In the Caucasus, where we
live with unresolved conflicts, a signal that the Caucasus belongs in
Europe, will influence and determine how conflicts are resolved. This is our
third challenge: Euro integration. This would not be a simple affirmation of
cultural and religious affinities. This would be the framework within which
we would view our futures, our borders, our neighbors. The Caucasus in
Europe means a Caucasus where all neighbors quit trying to settle scores,
where borders are no longer viewed as barriers. The countries of Europe and
the European structures talk to the Caucasus, visit us, consider our
problems and progress, our needs and accomplishments, all together, in one
breath. This means that in time, we too, will see our future together.
We appreciated the request by the Council of Ministers of the European Union
to the European Commission to make recommendations about the Caucasus
inclusion into the EU Wider Europe initiative during the Irish Presidency.
We hope for and expect such a positive recommendation.
But let me make a clear distinction, so we do not have any false illusions.
The European Union offers us the prospect, not the promise. This is clearly
understood by Armenia, and I have no doubt that it is understood by our
neighbors. It is we in the Caucasus who will turn that prospect into a
Europe’s standards force us to reexamine our own conduct and behavior. We
are working to build functional, responsive, responsible societies in this
neighborhood not through an imposition of force, but because we want to be a
part of a greater Europe. Europe’s experiences in regional cooperation,
regional conflicts, regional compromises, influenced by the successes of the
last 50 years can provide examples and guidance.
The prospect of EU membership has already had positive effects for our
neighbor Turkey, which is being forced to revisit its relations with at
least one of its neighbors. In light of possible Turkish membership in the
EU, the normalization of Turkey’s relations with Armenia, should also be
both condition and consequence. After all, this will be Europe’s eastern
border, and the prospect that it might be a closed border sounds improbable
given Europe’s standards and ideals.
As you can see, Turkey is a factor in all the major challenges facing
Armenia today. Whether we consider security interests, development
directions, or European integration, the role that Turkey plays in the
region is of consequence.
Armenia repeats at every possible opportunity that we are prepared to
continue dialogue, to work, without preconditions, for diplomatic relations,
for open formal sovereign communications, without which regional imbalances,
instability and even hostilities cannot be righted, mitigated, or anchored
in reciprocal understanding. The simple fact is that neither our past nor
our geography is going to change.
To ignore this truth means that perhaps we do not want them to go away.
If we do, then their legacy must be transcended together. We are not the
only neighbors in the world who have had, and who continue to have, a
troubled relationship. We know that evil ghosts on the Franco-German border
were exorcised. We know that ours can be as well.
I believe that Turkey’s current government is also interested in working
towards normalizing relations. But I also know that Turkey has fallen
hostage to Azeri pressure. Azerbaijan’s new President Aliyev recently
acknowledged, publicly, that closed borders between Turkey and Armenia is a
huge bargaining chip in Azerbaijan’s hand, and the opening of the border
will impact negatively on the Nagorno Karabakh peace process. He’s wrong on
Open borders are in the interests of everyone else, as well, but it would
not be unfair to say that Turkey’s role in Iraq, with Israel, with NATO and
EU defense policy, not to say anything of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, are all
too critical to risk jeopardizing by pushing a positive Turkish-Armenian
agenda in the face of Turkish resistance.
We believe that the facts show that the utility of sealed borders has
diminished. On the contrary, their continued existence tends to lessen
Turkey’s credibility as a positive, active, regional player.
This bring us to our fourth challenge: finding a lasting, peaceful
resolution to the Nagorno Karabagh conflict.
I’ve just returned from a meeting in Prague with the new Azerbaijani Foreign
Minister, called by the Minsk Group co-chairs. I must admit that there are
many uncertainties today in the negotiation process and I think that
wittingly or unwittingly, rather than focusing on finding answers to the
causes of this conflict, Azerbaijan is focusing on the consequences, and
looking for ways of unraveling them.
If the stages of this conflict are viewed one frame at a time, and the
analysis is based on a single frame the way the conflict appears today
then we will have a distorted view and will apply inaccurate labels and
propose inappropriate solutions. It is 2004 and the current phase of this
century-old conflict, which resurfaced in 1988, has not yet ended. It has
gone through a period of peaceful demonstrations by Armenians, followed by
pogroms in Sumgait and Baku, sanctioned by the Azerbaijani authorities. This
armed response was followed by a full military escalation, then a ceasefire,
then many stages of negotiations, and that brings us to today.
The refugee issue is consequence of the military conflict, and affects us
all. One million refugees Azerbaijan says. That’s true. But more than
one-third of those refugees are Armenians. There were 400,000 Armenians
living in Azerbaijan before this conflict began. If Armenia, with far less
resources than Azerbaijan, has found ways to settle those refugees into some
semblance of normal life, rather than keep them in tents and barracks as a
showcase to the world, that does not mean that they do not 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.
Second, it is simplistic to assume that Armenians will relinquish control
over territories under their control as some sort of confidence building
mechanism. Whose confidence are we building? Certainly not the confidence
of the population of Nagorno Karabakh which fought for its basic civil and
human rights, but will be left with no prospect of a long-term status and
security to ensure that it will not have to fight again. The conflict is not
over, and we’ve 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 territories. We are both victims. We
have to work towards a solution which allows us both to become victors.
This year, on the 10th anniversary of this, the only self-imposed and
self-maintained cease-fire in the world, what we want for Armenia, for
Nagorno Karabagh and for our neighborhood are visionary, creative, tolerant
responses based on good will. The formula we seek for our conflict and for
our region is one that assumes that tomorrow we will live next door to a
neighbor and not an enemy. Our dream is to create a country that will live
in peace within itself and with its neighbors, a country that will provide
security and comfort to those who wish to return. We dream that there will
be no dead-end roads leading out of Armenia, that they will all be avenues
of opportunity linking neighbor to neighbor, country to country,
civilization to civilization.
Our borders defining our territories will identify our cultures and
identities, not serve as obstacles to free exchange and cooperation. In
other words, putting this conflict within the context of European
integration, finding solutions that are appropriate to the new geopolitical
context is what will move all of the Caucasus to a new level of peace and
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress