A1+ – Ter Petrosyan speech at the rally of October 17, 2008

A1+

THE SPEECH OF LEVON TER-PETROSYAN AT THE RALLY OF OCTOBER 17, 2008
[01:32 pm] 18 October, 2008

Dear Compatriots,

I had promised to you during our rally on September 26 to reveal and
explain in detail the strategy of the Popular Movement or the Armenian
National Congress without concealing anything from you. Today it is
the time to fulfill that promise, therefore, I ask you to be patient
and to listen carefully to every word of my speech.

I have already had the opportunity to draw your attention to the
unprecedented geopolitical situation in which Armenia has found itself
lately, putting special emphasis on the fact that our country has
never been as vulnerable to external pressure in the 17 years of its
independent existence, as it is today. It is in this dangerous
situation that instead of thinking about the interests of our state
and the well-being of our people, Serge Sargsyan is worried
exclusively about clinging on to power and having his legitimacy
recognized. What is more, his recent steps demonstrate that in order
to attain his goals he is ready to revise Armenia’s foreign policy
doctrine, and instead of preserving the policy of maintaining a
balance between Russia and the West, gradually to lean toward the
latter.
* * *

How can we explain Serge Sargsyan’s sharp turn toward the West? After
all, he was known up to recently as the most pro-Russian statesman in
Armenia. Let us not forget that he is the main architect of the
`Property for debt’ deal, which ensured the transfer of Armenia’s
entire energy system to Russia. Let us also not forget his significant
activities in the context of the `Organization of the Collective
Security Treaty,’ as well the stubborn rumors about his connections to
both the Russian intelligence service and the world of organized crime
in that country.

So what has forced Serge Sargsyan to reject the Russian orientation
and tilt toward the West? The reasons, obviously, have nothing to do
with Armenia’s strategic or state interests, but rather the simple
benefit of solving his legitimacy problem.

Russia never questioned Serge Sargsyan’s legitimacy. President
Vladimir Putin was among the first to congratulate him even before the
official results of the elections had been announced. Sargsyan on his
part violated certain diplomatic norms and expressed his gratitude to
Russia in such an exaggerated form that it created a difficult
situation for that country’s diplomacy.

Serge Sargysan has a legitimacy problem in the West. The US president
George W. Bush has still not congratulated him. The Parliamentary
Assembly of the Council of Europe, meanwhile, continues to threaten
sanctions against Armenia, which would seriously undermine Serge
Sargsyan’s legitimacy.

What this means is that Sargsyan has no expectations from Russia in
this issue, and his only hope is to get the West’s endorsement for
which he is ready to make any concession. And since given the absence
of mineral resources, transit routes and an attractive market, Armenia
does not have much to offer the West except for its state interests,
he has decided to sacrifice those interests. This claim is supported
not only by the conciliatory position he has assumed on the
Nagorno-Karabagh conflict and on the issue of normalization of
Armenian-Turkish relations, but also ` and this is even more important
– by his intention to make Armenia’s foreign policy `orientationalist.’

Throughout the entire period of independence Armenia has adhered to
the principle of maintaining a balance between the West and
Russia. Having adopted the Western values of democracy, liberalism,
and market economy, Armenia never allowed itself to come under the
West’s unilateral influence. On the other hand, having a close
economic and military relationship with Russia, Armenia nonetheless
did not become the latter’s political satellite. In other words,
Armenia has tried to be neither pro-Russian, nor pro-Western, but
rather pursue a policy based solely on its state interests.

During my presidency this position was called the policy of
`balancing,’ under Kocharyan it was called the policy of
`complementarism,’ but the difference here is rather terminological.

Serge Sargsyan is thus sharply changing this established order of
things, and, in order to protect his personal interests, he is trying
to flirt with the West. I consider it a waste of time to assess the
advantages or disadvantages of Western or Russian orientations,
because I consider any orientation dangerous. What has convinced me in
that first and foremost is the experience of the traditional Armenian
political thinking, which has had catastrophic consequences for
Armenia in the past. In the final analysis, both the genocide that our
people was subjected to and the territorial losses the first Republic
of Armenia incurred were the consequences of the flawed
`orientationalist’ thinking. What also convinces me in this is today’s
reality. In front of our eyes the adoption of the Western orientation
by Georgia confronted that country with a national disaster, which it
could have avoided had it pursued a more balanced policy with
Russia. If we ignore the empty demonstrations of solidarity and the
bluster of anti-Russian rhetoric, the West was unable to do anything
to help its junior ally. * * *

The politics of orientation is not just an abstraction or a
theoretical construct for us. It has a very specific and practical
content. By turning his back to Russia and embracing the West,
represented by the USA and its ally Turkey, Serge Sargsyan is
entrusting the unilateral solution to the most crucial problem of
Armenia’s foreign policy ` the Karabagh conflict ` to them. The basis
for reaching such a conclusion is the West’s obvious effort to exclude
Russia from the process of resolving the Karabagh conflict. It is most
clearly manifested in the transparent statements of Western diplomats,
as well as the fact of trilateral negotiations on Karabagh between
Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey, especially in the context of
conversations regarding the inclusion of Turkey’s representative as a
co-chairman in the Minsk Group. By the way, Serge Sargsyan is so
dependant on the West now that he could hardly resist the demand to
replace Russia with Turkey in the Minsk Group co-chairmanship if such
a demand was pressed on him.

As a result, there is a threat to the very existence of the Minsk
Group, which for the last sixteen years has been the only
international mechanism for resolving the Karabagh conflict. Despite
its many flaws, the Minsk Group has been the most convenient or
optimal format for us, both because the USA and Russia were equally
represented in it, and also partly due to the competition that existed
between them. It is no coincidence that Azerbaijan has spared no
effort for discrediting the Minsk Group as a forum for settling the
Karabagh conflict and to replace it with other international fora.

Unfortunately, the danger that the integrity of this format will be
violated and that Russia will be excluded from it is real, because
Russia, being preoccupied with the developments following the conflict
with Georgia, will hardly be able to resist the West’s increased
involvement in Karabagh. It goes without saying that in case of a
resolution to the Karabagh conflict that has been unilaterally
sponsored by the West, Russia will be excluded also from the
international peacekeeping force that will be deployed there. And that
means if not complete eradication of Russia’s influence in the South
Caucasus, then its substantial weakening, which entails serious and
unpredictable geopolitical consequences, such as suspension of both
Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s participation in the CIS, removal of the
Russian base and the Russian frontier troops from Armenia, etc.

* * *

The change of the Minsk Group format thus implies a unilateral Western
solution to the Karabagh problem, with active Turkish participation to
boot, which can never be beneficial for Armenia. By the way, realism
on this issue demands to say also that a unilateral Russian solution
would also not be in Armenia’s interests, since Russia has stated on
numerous occasions that it sees such a solution only within the
confines of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. This, however, is an
abstract observation, since there is no threat of a unilateral Russian
solution to the problem, mainly because Azerbaijan would never agree
to that.

Whereas, the opposite, i.e. an exclusively Western, or more
specifically American and Turkish, solution is an entirely real
prospect, as I tried to demonstrate.

Does Serge Sargsyan realize the dangers of jumping into the West’s
embrace and granting it the monopoly of resolving the Karabagh
conflict and that such a step can lead to a national catastrophe?
There is no doubt that he does not. He is trying to play the same game
with the West as Robert Kocharyan has played for the last ten
years. The essence of that game, which I have explicated in detail in
my speech on October 26, 2007, was to pretend that Armenia was
genuinely interested in resolving the Karabagh conflict, but in
reality to try to sabotage that process and to maintain the status
quo.

And even though the OSCE mediators have in their turn pretended to
believe the sincerity of the Armenian side, it does not mean that they
have not understood the latter’s not very sophisticated game. The fact
that they have not expended much effort to get the conflict resolved
is because on the list of great powers’ priorities Karabagh had an
extremely secondary importance. International terrorism, North Korea,
the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and a
multitude of other questions have always obscured the Karabagh
problem.

If Serge Sargsyan thinks he can continue to play this game, he is
fatally mistaken, because he is not taking into account three
substantial changes in the geopolitics of the South Caucasus:

1. However paradoxical it may seem, after recognizing Abkhazia’s and
South Ossetia’s independence, Russia’s influence in this region is
showing tendencies of diminishing rather than increasing in strength;

2. Russia is being forced out of the Minsk Group format, therefore, it
is losing its role in the process of resolving the Karabagh conflict;

3. In contrast to the last ten years, the Karabagh problem today has
become a priority for the West.

The logic driving the West’s policy toward Russia relies on the
following: `Very well, you solved the problems in Abkhazia and South
Ossetia, now we are going to solve the problem in Nagorno-Karabagh.’
What is frustrating about this situation is that as the West could do
nothing to prevent Russia from solving the problems in Abkhazia and
South Ossetia, Russia in all likelihood will be unable to prevent the
West from solving the Karabagh problem. The deepening of the
international financial crisis and the threat of that crisis becoming
uncontrollable can become the only impediment creating certain
obstacles on the path of implementing the West’s plan for resolving
the Karabagh conflict. * * *

The factor of confronting Russia, however, is only one of the many
motives conditioning the West’s behavior, and certainly not the main
one. The main factor is Serge Sargsyan’s weakness and the
unprecedented opportunity to exploit it. The presence of such levers
as the absence of legitimacy, the degree to which he is corrupted, and
the vulnerabilities that exist in his moral character, are like a
treasure the West has found. Which other leader of Armenia would agree
to jump to the West’s embrace so unreservedly, to deepen the
cooperation with NATO, to turn its back to Russia, to contribute to
its exclusion from the Minsk group, to endorse the creation of the
forgotten proposal of a commission of Armenian and Turkish historians,
which would raise doubts about the factual veracity of the genocide
and torpedo the process of its international recognition, to agree to
hold trilateral Armenian-Turkish-Azerbaijani negotiations, and
finally, literally to put Nagorno-Karabagh up for sale?

In exchange for all of this, the West is naturally ready to turn a
blind eye on Serge Sargsyan’s all aforementioned flaws, to forget the
scandalous elections of February 19 and the atrocity of March 1, to
pretend not to see his dictatorial domestic policy, to tolerate the
curbs put on constitutional liberties and the wide-spread human rights
violations, and to have the resigned attitude toward the fact of the
existence of political prisoners in Armenia. Serge Sargsyan has in
essence received a green light from the West to do as he pleases in
domestic affairs, which is evidenced by the recent escalation of
police violence against the people. This behavior of the West, aside
from being immoral and demonstrating that the West is ready to
compromise on its values for a very low price, contains an element of
conspiracy that is being hatched against Karabagh.

Serge Sargsyan either does not feel this danger, or he cannot imagine
another method of retaining his power. He has gotten himself into the
cauldron of a geopolitical game, the consequences of which are going
to be if not catastrophic, then at least unfavorable for Armenia and
Karabagh. After the presidential elections in Azerbaijan on October 15
the West and Turkey are going to increase the pressure on Armenia and
to speed up the process of resolving the Karabagh conflict,
simultaneously, as I already mentioned, trying to exclude Russia from
it.

Russia will certainly try to counteract against such developments,
which are undesirable for it, but how effective, and how beneficial
for Armenia Russia’s steps will be, is not clear. We should not ignore
the Iranian factor either. Although it is the only country, which has
to date pursued a balanced policy in the South Caucasus, having tried
to maintain normal relations with Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia,
the increased Western and Turkish activism cannot cause a certain
level of anxiety there. And it has already done so, which is evidenced
by the hastily organized visit of Armenia’s Minister of Foreign
Affairs to Iran.

Only God knows how Serge Sargsyan is going to figure a way out of this
complicated geopolitical situation. If he thinks that by ingratiating
himself to the West he can win time and even evade a resolution to the
Karabagh conflict, and later somehow mend the fences with Russia, then
he really does not understand anything in politics. And if Sargsyan is
pinning hopes on the idea that being preoccupied with presidential
elections and with the problem of dealing with the financial crisis
America is not going to engage in a serious effort to resolve the
conflict, he is going to be disappointed, because resolving the
conflict in the newly created circumstances is not going to demand too
much of the USA. One also cannot fail to take into account the
possibility that the outgoing American administration would like to
crown its departure with such a success as the resolution of the
Karabagh conflict and the normalization of the Armenian-Turkish
relations. * * *

Thus, it is perfectly obvious that we are standing on the brink of a
resolution to the Karabagh conflict. It is also beyond doubt that the
Madrid proposal, which the Minsk Group gave to the parties in
December, 2007, and which is based on the idea of reconciling two
principles of international law ` the right to national
self-determination and the principle of inviolability of territorial
integrity ` will be the basis of the new proposal. As for the essence
of the resolution or the specific program, it will consist of
approximately the following points:

1. Withdrawal of Armenian forces from the Azerbaijani regions
surrounding Nagorno-Karabagh;

2. Resettlement of these regions with Azerbaijani refugees;

3. Return of Azerbaijani refugees to the territory of Nagorno-Karabagh
itself;

4. Provision of an overland link connecting Nagorno-Karabagh to
Armenia through the Lachin corridor;

5. Deployment of peace-keeping forces on across the borders of
Nagorno-Karabagh;

6. Demilitarization of the territories that have been returned to
Azerbaijan;

7. Lifting of the blockade of Armenia’s and Karabagh’s external
communications, and reopening of the Armenian-Turkish border;

8. Definition of an interim status for Nagorno-Karabagh Republic;

9. Conduct of a referendum on the final status of Nagorno-Karabagh in
some undefined, future date;

10. Provision of international financial aid for the restoration of
the conflict zone.

Considering also that apparently an effort is underway to resolve the
Karabagh conflict and normalize the Armenian-Turkish relations in a
package, we should not rule out the possibility that the package will
include the question of the creation of a commission of historians to
study the genocide. Since Serge Sargsyan has swallowed the hook on
this issue, they are not going to let go of his collar.

Of course, we can discuss which of the points listed above are
beneficial for Azerbaijan and Turkey and which ones for Armenia, but
it is a pointless endeavor, because they can only be appreciated in
their entirety and interconnectedness. It is more essential to figure
out which points are going especially to complicate the negotiations.
Points 3, 4, and 9, which respectively deal with the return of
Azerbaijani refugees to Karabagh proper, the definition of the legal
status for the Lachin corridor, and the conduct of a referendum in
Nagorno-Karabagh are going to be the hardest to resolve. But taking
into consideration the latest geopolitical developments, I think these
difficulties are not going to be insurmountable for the mediators.

What we need to understand is that if up to recently the co-chairmen
of the Minsk Group have followed the principle of achieving an
agreement among the parties, now the West has the opportunity to
impose its preferred solution, i.e. to implement the Dayton
variant. It is sad that the same Dayton logic implies that
Nagorno-Karabagh will not participate in the resolution process, and
its interests in the upcoming fateful negotiations will be represented
by Armenia, as the interests of the Bosnian Serbs were represented by
Yugoslavia. Soon we are probably going to become the witnesses of
Armenia and Azerbaijan participating in a Dayton type conference
initiated by the USA and Turkey, where Russia and France as
co-chairing countries of the Minks Group will participate, but at best
as observers. In this regard, I don’t think the timing of adopting a
final resolution on Armenia by the Parliamentary Assembly of the
Council of Europe ` January, 2009 ` is chosen by coincidence. That is
how much time has been given to Serge Sargsyan to fulfill the promises
he has given regarding the resolution of the Karabagh conflict,
otherwise the threatened sanctions will finally be imposed.

Of course, Serge Sargsyan alone should not be saddled with the
responsibility for the current situation. In the final analysis, this
is the consequence of Kocharyan administration’s eight-year-long
deplorable policy on the resolution of the Karabagh conflict and the
normalization of the Armenian-Turkish relations, and for which the
responsibility should be shared also by the all coalition governments
that came one after the other, the criminalized National Assembly, the
official press, the intelligentsia that was fed from the government’s
trough and the pocket political parties. Today we are eating the
bitter fruits of that policy, as well as the criminal behavior of the
kleptocratic system created under Kocharyan.

* * *

It is beyond doubt that the West is not going to miss this most
convenient opportunity to resolve the Karabagh conflict, which
threatens to confront the Armenian authorities with extremely serious
problems. It is not clear from the latter’s behavior and statements
whether they realize the seriousness of the situation, and if they do,
what measures they are taking to confront this dangerous
challenge. Meanwhile, there are certain obvious steps that can be
taken to blunt the external pressures and to improve the Armenian
authorities’ positions in the upcoming negotiations. By measures I do
not mean the empty calls to unity directed at the Armenian nation,
which Serge Sargsyan recently made in his address to the
representatives of the Armenian community of the USA, but very
specific political initiatives, such as:

1. Alleviating the political and social tensions in Armenia, ensuring
the primacy of the law, ceasing to put curbs on democratic freedoms,
stopping the unrestrained violations of human rights, uprooting the
wide-spread corruption, stopping the plunder of the country’s wealth,
which goes on unpunished, getting rid of unscrupulous and criminalized
officials, restoring the independence of legislative and judicial
branches of power, starting a constructive dialogue with the society –
in a word, neutralizing all those things that have become levers in
the hands of the outside world for putting pressure on Armenia;

2. Improving the relations with Russia and work out the disputes that
have lately arisen in those relations. Doing everything to prevent
Russia’s exclusion from the Minsk Group on the basis of the simple
realization that violation of the balance between the West and Russia
in the process of settling the Karabagh conflict promises nothing
good;

3. Making an effort to achieve clarity on the issue of the referendum
on Karabagh’s status, demanding specificity on the following points in
particular:

‘ Who is going to organize the referendum? The UN, the OSCE,
Azerbaijan, or Karabagh?

‘ When is the referendum going to take place?

‘ What territory is the referendum going to cover?

‘ Who is going to participate in the referendum?

‘ What is going to be the formulation of the referendum question?

‘ What kind of legal consequences is the referendum going to have?

4. Abandoning the discredited practice of Armenia speaking on behalf
of Karabagh in the negotiating process, and demanding instead to
restore the previous format of those negotiations, where, following
the decision adopted during OSCE’s Budapest summit in 1994,
Nagorno-Karabagh was recognized as a full party to the conflict. It
should not be allowed to decide Karabagh’s fate without its
participation, because one can hardly imagine a worse violation of the
right to self-determination than that.

5. Taking into account the disconcerting fact that after the
recognitions of Kosovo, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia the problem of
Karabagh in a certain sense has been left out of the general context
of resolving the frozen conflicts, perhaps it is time to think about
the possibility of the National Assembly putting forward an initiative
to recognize Karabagh’s independence. Serge Sargsyan should not feel
obligated to react to that initiative. But having the National
Assembly’s decision, while leaving the question of ratifying that
decision suspended, he will get a big opportunity to maneuver in
response to the external pressures during the upcoming
negotiations. The situation is not an ordinary one, and hence it
demands extraordinary steps, diplomatic magic and flights of
imagination.

* * *

Being one of the most influential forces in Armenia’s political life,
the Popular Movement or the Armenian National Congress has an
obligation to outline its position in this situation. If you remember,
in one of my previous speeches I had stated that in our political
struggle we put national and state interests above everything, and
that in case of a military threat against Karabagh I would appeal to
the participants of the movement and ask them to suspend their
activities and take up the sacred cause of the national struggle. The
imminent resolution of the Karabagh conflict is equivalent to a
military threat given the dangers that it contains, and, therefore, I
think it makes the fulfillment of that appeal imperative.

We are not talking, of course, about a complete suspension of the
activities of the movement, but only about a temporary stop to the
mass rallies and marches throughout the republic. Especially, since
the suspension is not going to last long, because the untangling of
this process is a matter of two-three months. And if that process is
extended due to new circumstances, for instance, because of the
deepening of the international financial crisis, we will always have
the opportunity to make corrections in our strategy and resume the
actions of mass protest whenever necessary.

I confess that this is a momentous decision, which is difficult to
accept at first glance, and which will become subject to all sorts of
judgments. It should therefore be easier to understand how serious and
well-founded the reasons are that have determined the need to make
such a decision.

To appreciate that need we have to take into account the
following. The activity of the movement automatically weakens Serge
Sargsyan’s positions and expands the opportunities for putting
pressures on him from the outside in the current context of a sharp
turn in the process of resolving the Karabagh conflict following the
Russian-Georgian conflict. In other words, there is danger that the
opposition can unwittingly become a tool in the hands of the external
forces. The behavior of these forces, therefore, could be considered
as doubly immoral: on one hand they tolerate, or one could even say
they encourage the repressions unleashed against the opposition by the
Armenian authorities, and on the other hand they are trying to exploit
that same opposition’s activity to their sinister ends.

To fall into this trap would be an inexcusable mistake and a case of
political shortsightedness. Moreover, it would fundamentally
contradict the Popular Movement’s main tenet, which rests on the
principle of the primacy of state interests. Consequently, being
sincerely in favor of both resolving the Karabagh conflict and
normalizing the Armenian-Turkish relations in a speedy manner, we do
not want to prevent the Armenian authorities from solving these
problems. By suspending our activities we only want to shield them
from external pressures and from the need to make unnecessary
concessions. There are also certain tactical considerations for taking
this step, but I do not consider it necessary to reveal them, since as
I have had the opportunity to point out before, if tactics are
revealed they cease to be tactics.

I realize very well that the governing camp is going to scoff at our
decision to stop even temporarily the actions of mass protest, and
that there are going to be complaints and doubts in the ranks of the
popular movement. But I want to dash the hopes of the scoffers and
calm the doubters. Looking for elements of retreat or a deal with the
authorities in our decision is not a serious endeavor. In a few months
everybody is going to be convinced how justified and well-founded this
decision was.

The suspension of rallies and marches throughout the republic does not
mean that the Movement is pulling out of the struggle or withdrawing
the demands that it has put forward, which include the immediate
release of the political prisoners, the establishment of a real
democracy and the rule of law in the country, the conduct of pre-term
presidential and parliamentary elections. To the contrary, we are
convinced that this move is going to accelerate the realization of
these goals.

In the upcoming months the Movement is going to concentrate its
activities mainly on organizational work and on the formation of the
structures of the Armenian National Congress in order to prepare for
the founding convention of the Congress, which is going to become an
important event in the political life of Armenia, and which is
simultaneously going to prepare the grounds for even more populous
public events if organizing them becomes necessary. Parallel to that,
we are going to continue with smaller acts of protest, with
participating actively in the political trials, with endorsing and
defending our own candidates in the local elections, with the campaign
of raising public awareness through the distribution of DVDs and
through the print media, with our own investigation into the crime of
March 1 and the revelation of the real culprits of that crime.

It is significant that we are taking this decision not when the
Movement is in decline, but when it is in ascendancy, i.e. during the
most populous rally since March 1, which is the best manifestation of
both the power and the capacity to restraint of the Armenian National
Congress.

Thus in the upcoming months we will become witness to very important
events connected to Karabagh and to the fate of the Armenian
statehood, which in this juncture make internal political problems
secondary. We are going to follow very carefully the progression of
those events, to assess how adequate the Armenian authorities’ moves
are given the situation, to keep the society informed on the process
of resolving the Karabagh conflict, and to try to prevent or minimize
the threat to the interests of the Armenian side. We expect the same
kind of concern from all the healthy political and civic
organizations, which care about the future of the nation and the
state.

In the end I would ask you not to make hasty conclusions from my
speech, but rather to form an opinion about it after reading it in
tomorrow’s newspapers. I hope that this speech will finally jump start
a long overdue debate regarding the Karabagh problem, in the process
of which many things will become clearer to you.

I thank you for your attention.

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