04, 2010

Interview of the President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan to the German Der Spiegel weekly

Mr. President, in 2008 along with your Turkish counterpart you attended the football match of your two national teams. At the time it was a sensational event. Are you having any regrets about inviting your Turkish colleague to Armenia?

No, I believe that cooperation of the Armenians and the Turks has no alternative. We wanted to dispel centuries-long animosity. However, from the very beginning I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

In his interview with Der Spiegel, speaking about the Genocide which took place during World War I, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that “there can be no talk of genocide.” Why cannot your neighboring country come to terms with its own past?

Mr. Erdogan once also said that the Turks couldn’t have possibly committed genocide and that Turkish history is “bright as the sun”. The Turks are opposed to the definition of the event as Genocide. But no matter how ferociously Turks oppose it, Ankara is not the one to decide on this issue.

Now Erdogan is even threatening to expel thousands of Armenians, who reside in Turkey illegally.

Unacceptable statements such as that one stir up in our nation the memories of the Genocide. Unfortunately, such statements articulated by the Turkish politicians come as no surprise to me. Statements like that one can be found in not so remote history – similar statements were voiced in Azerbaijan in 1988 and as a result dozens of Armenians became victims of the massacres conducted in Azerbaijani towns Sumgait and Baku.

How should the international community respond?

The international community must respond resolutely. The US, Europe, as well as Germany, all those countries that have been involved in this process of Armenian-Turkish rapprochement should unequivocally state their position. Had all the states recognized the Armenian Genocide by now, the Turks wouldn’t talk like that. It is however inspiring that many young people in Turkey stood up against that statement. A new generation is growing up in Turkey and the political leadership of that country should reckon with their opinion.

Turkey accuses you of maintaining a tough position on setting up a joint commission of historians. Why do you oppose the creation of such a commission?

How can such a commission work impartially if in Turkey people are persecuted and tried for using the very term Genocide? For Ankara it is important to protract the process of decision-making indefinitely so that when parliaments or governments of other countries undertake the adoption of a resolution on the Genocide recognition, they can say, “don’t meddle, these issues are being sorted out by our historians.” Creation of such a commission would have meant to cast doubt on the veracity of the Genocide perpetrated against our people. It is unacceptable. Had Turkey admitted its guilt, the creation of the commission would have been justified. In that case the scholars could have studied jointly the causes that had triggered that tragedy.

The Genocide took place 95 years ago. Why its recognition is so important for Armenia?

It is a matter of historical justice and it is also a matter of our national security. The best way to prevent the repetition of such horrendous events is to condemn them unambiguously.

From the windows of your office one can see the symbol of Armenia – Mount Ararat. Today, it is on the other side of the border – unreachable. Turkey is afraid of territorial and retribution claims. Do you want Ararat back?

Nobody can take it away from us: Ararat is in our hearts. In every Armenian home, in every corner of the world you will find the image of Mount Ararat. I believe that the time will come when Ararat instead of being the symbol of divide will become the symbol of understanding between our two nations. However, I would like to clarify the following: no official in Armenia has ever presented any territorial claims to Turkey. The Turks themselves ascribe such claims to us, probably out of guilt?

Your borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed; Iran and Georgia are difficult neighbors. Won’t it be a better trade-off to break through that isolation instead of arguing indefinitely with Turkey about the Genocide?

We don’t link the Genocide recognition to the opening of borders. And it is not our fault that the rapprochement is not getting through.

Turkey wants to link the opening of the border with the progress in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict resolution. The Armenians held up in the war unleashed on that territory, which is predominantly populated by Christian Armenians, but towards which Azerbaijan have been laying claims since the break up of the Soviet Union.

Turkey constantly wants us to make concessions, but it is impossible. The most vital issue is the implementation by the people of Nagorno Karabakh of their right of self-determination.
If Azerbaijan recognizes the independence of Nagorno Karabakh, I believe the issue can be solved in a matter of hours. Unfortunately, it looks like they have opted for the military solution of the problem. They still believe that they should bring Nagorno Karabakh back, while returning Nagorno Karabakh back under Azerbaijan’s control would mean that before long Armenians’ existence on that land will become impossible - Nagorno Karabakh will be rid of its entire Armenian population.

What kind of solution would you propose?

If Azerbaijan recognizes independence of Nagorno Karabakh, the issue, I believe, can be settled in the matter of hours. Why the republics of the former Yugoslavia were able to become independent? Why must Nagorno Karabakh be denied the same rights? Is it just because Azerbaijan has got some oil and gas and a patron like Turkey? We don’t consider it fair.

Would you agree to Karabakh’s existence as part of Azerbaijan with a high decree of autonomy, as it was, let’s say, in Soviet times?

Certainly not. Karabakh’s return to Azerbaijan means that very soon it will be rid of all Armenians.

Nagorno Karabakh never was part of Azerbaijan. Only in 1923 under Stalin’s pressure, the Caucasian Bureau of the Communist Party adopted a decision to attach the region to Azerbaijan. And now for Karabakh to go back to Azerbaijan it would be at least necessary to restore the Soviet Union. I don’t believe anyone would want that.

Turkey has been striving to get into the European Union for decades. Has Armenia also set a goal of joining the EU?

European values are very appealing for the Armenians. Because of that we have been reforming our system of public governance by the European standards. We do realized that in order to become a full member of that structure we need to solve a number of issues. The duration of that process depends on us but it also depends on the European Union.

Your country is bordering with Iran: What do you think of the Tehran-international community confrontation?

We follow the process with concern. Iran is one of the land routs linking us to the external world. Everyone in Armenia knows that had Iran during the war closed the border, our citizens would have had sustenance problems. Situation like that occurred in 2008 during the five-day war, when rail link via Georgia was disrupted. Now, we are building a pipe-line and a railroad with Iran.

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