09, 2008

Interview of President Serzh Sargsyan to the “Radical” Turkish daily

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The September 6 football match between the Armenian and Turkish national teams can be viewed as the most politicized sport event in our region. What expectations did you have politcswise when you invited President Gule to attend the game?
My primary goal was the normalization of relations between our two countries. In the congratulatory message sent by President Gule on my election as President he spoke about the possibility of developing our relations. Later, Prime Minister Erdogan spoke about the doors open for a dialogue. Reciprocally I also decided to use this opportunity. A good sport event is approaching. Our two national football teams meet for the first time in history. It can be an excellent opportunity for the development of our relations. The result of the game is not important; however I am hopeful that the viewers will enjoy the match. The excitement will run high. This match is going to be a remarkable event in our bilateral relations, and I believe that the presence of the Armenian and Turkish Presidents will make it even more remarkable. We are and will remain neighbors. I think that normal relations are advantageous for both nations. My invitation to President Gule should be viewed from that standpoint.

There are some concerns in Ankara related to this invitation such as the border issues and also how President Gule will be received in Yerevan. Do you share these concerns?
There can be no concern related to the organizational matters. If we have invited the President it means that all the necessary steps will be taken to give President Gule the appropriate reception.

I met with the representatives of the Dashnak party, they oppose your invitation. They say that if President Gule arrives to Yerevan they will do anything to make him hear their voice.
I think that the actions they will take to make their voice heard will not overstep the limits of the actions acceptable for this kind of official visits. Those who will display uncivilized attitude toward President Gule will display it first of all toward Armenia and myself since the invitation was issued by me.

What do you think of the energy and communication regional projects connecting Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan which in case of peace and stability in the region could bring prosperity? Would Armenia like to join these projects? Do you think that someday you will be received in Turkey just as the leaders of Georgia and Azerbaijan are being received, and leaders of Turkey will accept invitations from Yerevan without any hesitation?
You see, up to now I learned two lessons regarding the regional projects: First, if not all the countries of the region are included in the project or one of them is excluded, it creates new dividing lines. Second, when these projects are dominated by political rather than economic considerations, they are not achieving the expected success. It is like putting the horse in front of the cart.

Which project are you referring to?
For instance, Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad…There is a similar railroad, and it can be restored and made operational with minimal expenses. Too much money is spent just to keep Armenia out. Armenian leaders have visited Turkey before; I have also visited Turkey in different capacities. I would like to add that neighborly visits is a normal phenomenon and shouldn’t be regarded as a nice gesture. That’s what we are trying to get to.

At the launch of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad construction, in presence of Presidents Aliev and Sahakashvili, Abdula Gule said that Armenia can participate at the regional projects provided she respects the international law. Do you think he was referring to the current borders set in accordance with the 1921 Kars Treaty?
I think if you ask President Gule, he will give a more precise answer. I can tell only that Armenia upholds the UN Charter as well as to a number of other international treaties and respects her international obligations.

Let me put it in other way: there some circles in Armenia which call a part of Turkey Western Armenia, and have territorial claims based on the Treaty of Sevres. Don’t you agree that it is difficult to establish full diplomatic relations with the neighbors which challenge your borders? What’s your opinion and official position on the legitimacy and recognition of the Kars Treaty?
I cannot recall of any Armenian state official talking about territorial claims. But I hear them from the opposite side. I don’t think it is right to pick up isolated statements. It we adopt that approach then what about some statements coming from Turkey that there is no such state as Armenia? We don’t want any precondition in the relations with Turkey. I have heard concerns regarding Western-Eastern Armenia even from some Turkish officials, which is quite odd for me. These are geographical terms coming from the 19th century. To reject these geographical names would mean something similar to the rejection and elimination of the names such as Sparta, the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, or many other geographical names for that matter. If it were our official policy, our name would be not the Republic of Armenia but rather the Republic of Eastern Armenia. No Armenian official has ever said that. If there are diplomatic relations, these issues will be dealt with more easily. For instance, Russia had or has some border issues with China and Japan, but these issues do not obstruct diplomatic relations.

Since your invitation was sent to President Gule, many important developments have taken place in the Caucasus such as the Georgian-Russian confrontation. What is your opinion of Russia’s support for the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia?
Those were tragic events which claimed human casualties. It came to show once again where armsrace ends up in the situations of the kind. We are for solving these issues through negotiations. We are for respect of the right of people for self-determination based on the freely expressed will. Deterioration of the situation is regretful, we don’t like it. We believe that the implementation of the joint plan of President Medvedev of Russia and President Sarkozy of France, which is currently presiding in the EU, will bring peace and stability. If nothing else, 70 per cent of our trade is done via Georgia.

After Russians blew up the railway bridge in Georgia, Yerevan suffers shortages of gasoline. Is it true?
It is true. We hope that the issue will be resolved in two days. It is obvious that instability in the region in not in Armenia’s interest. It proves that we need stability. Instability lasting three months or three years will only add to our difficulties.

Your Minister of Foreign Affairs, Edward Nalbandian, has already positively responded to the proposal of the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan regarding the Caucasian platform for stability and cooperation. Could you provide some details regarding your policy on that issue?
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Edward Nalbandian, has stated that he gives positive assessment to Prime Minister Erdogan’s words regarding starting a dialogue for stability and security in the region. I think our Minister of Foreign Affairs has taken a right step. Should we receive such a proposal, it will be examined thoroughly and we will state our position.

Do you think that the issue of Nagorno Karabagh, which is a serious problem in your relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan, can be resolved any time soon? Do you envisage that reaching the agreement with Azerbaijan will elevate political and economic cooperation in the region to a new level?
We had a productive meeting with President Aliev in Saint Petersburg on June 6. The Ministers of Foreign Affairs of both sides were instructed to continue works based on the Madrid principles. So far three meetings have been held. I hope that we will find solution in a short period of time.

Can you give a date?
To make any predictions before the presidential elections in Azerbaijan wouldn’t be right. We will see what happens after the elections.

Do you see similarities between the situations with South Ossetia, Abkhazia and situation with Nagorno Karabagh? I am asking this, because you said that the right of people to self-determination must be taken into consideration.
All conflicts have similarities and differences. I think that instead of focusing on the similarities and differences it is necessary to learn lessons. It is obvious that attempts to solve the problem through military means results in unpredictable and dangerous consequences. I would like to know how many people estimated the consequences of the conflict before it started? Vigilance is essential.

From outside it looks like that relations between Armenia and Turkey entered the deadlock because of the Genocide issue. Is this an accurate impression? Do you think the Armenian-Turkish relations cannot move forward until the tragic events of 1915 are recognized as genocide? Is it a precondition?
There is not a one single Armenian in the whole world who doesn’t acknowledge the fact of genocide. However, for the normalization of our relations with Turkey the recognition of the Genocide is not a precondition. For that very reason we state that we are ready to establish relations with Turkey without preconditions.

What is your position on the creation of the commission of historians to study the events of 1915? Do you think that two commissions – one of the historians, the other aimed at the establishment of relations – can work simultaneously?
I think this particular issue needs a new approach. I cannot recall any nongovernmental commission created for the resolution of an interstate issue. The best solution is the establishment of diplomatic relations. In that case in the framework of the intergovernmental commission a number of subcommissions and groups can be created. Earlier such a commission was created at the United States. Did it yield any results? Second, it is necessary to create normal working conditions for the specialists and experts you have mentioned. That’s why normal diplomatic relations is a necessity. Works conducted in the existence or non-existence of diplomatic relations will differ significantly.

Do you believe that the ongoing closed diplomatic meetings between Armenia and Turkey will produce any results?
Undoubtedly I wouldn’t endorse them if I didn’t believe in them. On the other side, however I believe that the track of relations shows that we - the leaders of the two countries - have reached the point of decision making. These won’t be easy decisions. Not everyone in the Armenian society or in the Turkish society will welcome these decisions. But I am confident that the majority will welcome these decisions. I mean not diplomatic efforts but the atmosphere in general. The congratulatory message by President Gule, Prime Minister Erdogan’s words, my invitation to President Gule, even this interview with you, all are the elements of that atmosphere. I mean just that when I say that the time has come to make decisions.

How would President Gule’s coming or not coming to Yerevan influence the situation?
I think it will be essential for the situation; important decisions are not made easily. Personal relations are also important. Talking to the public and talking looking into the eyes of your vis-à-vis are two different things. Had I not believed in the importance of this meeting, I would not have invited President Gule. We are neighbors. We had difficult periods in our history. But today Armenia is ready to develop relations and expects the same from Turkey.

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