Interviews and press conferences
President Armen Sarkissian responded to the questions of the Sputnik news agency
Mr. President, allow to start with the most pressing issue – the coronavirus pandemic. What do you think of this extraordinary global situation? How will it impact Armenia and countries of the Eurasian Economic Union?
The virus is not unique, the situation it is developing in is unique. The world has become much more dynamic, unpredictable, and virtual; changes happen in all areas of human activities – from politics to simple human relations. One can say that coronavirus has speeded up these transformations but made no impact on their nature or substance. In that sense, coronavirus is the result of profound changes in the world but not their cause. For that very reason, it is necessary to look into the tendencies which started long before coronavirus.
The post-pandemic world is being discussed actively at all levels. Apparently there will be negative consequences for the global economy and a long recession. However, in my view, the pandemic has more profound consequences. First, the global community has realized its vulnerability in the face of global challenges, which, by the way, are of a quantum nature. Second, state and society alike understood how important it is to invest in science, healthcare which can save millions of lives.
As for the EEU, one can say that each country has chosen its way to fight the virus. It means, the outcomes will be different, too. Overall, I hope that this crisis will become a catalyst of a kind for integration and first of all, in the scientific and healthcare areas.
There will be cardinal changes in the labor area which turned out to be one of the most vulnerable areas in the face of the pandemic. A need for high-class work force will trigger the review of the educational policy. These crucial issues must be solved and will invigorate cooperation in three areas – science, education, labor. Synergy, which can be achieved through the combination of potentials of EEU countries in this areas, will allow to move forward in the resolution of these issues.
A global crisis in healthcare systems will probably shift accents from climate change as a key point of political agenda because concerns about coronavirus become more and more material. Besides, countries will make utmost efforts and will reveal their potential in the efforts to restart the economy which will in turn only enhance climate change and pollution and most probably the ecological regulations will be eased up or ignored all together.
Two years ago, when you assumed presidency, political system in Armenia was changed. In accordance with the Constitution, prime minister became the head of state. The reform coincided with a serious political crisis and as a result a bloodless change of power took place. Everybody remembers your participation to that complex processes. Was it call of fate? What new experience did you acquire as a leader?
The whole Armenian history is full of permanent challenges, which our people overcome with dignity, becoming wiser and stronger.
I was at the origins of the Third Republic and wouldn’t like to give assessment on this or that particular political process. My task as the President, who has made a long political journey, is to find solutions for systemic problems as well as to be the guarantor of the Armenian nation and inviolability of our statehood and to protect our vital long-term interests. That is where, in my opinion, lies the main task of the institute of presidency. At the same time, it should be crystal clear that my authority is defined by the Constitution, and I have no influence on political decisions and cannot give them any assessment.
I also understand that the ultimate success of our statebuilding depends on the creation of the system of checks and balances. I am confident that no political figure and no branch of power can singlehandedly solve the wide range of problems facing the country. A systemic approach is not only necessary but also has no alternative because we are at the crossroads of global changes which are taking place right before our eyes.
A great part of our problems is of a complex, intricate nature which compels us to exercise unconventional thinking to find the most efficient solutions. Otherwise, we might find ourselves at the periphery of history
What are your relations with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian? Do you interact outside the protocol?
In the process of statebuilding, interaction of the president with the prime minister and other political and public figures is a necessity, and the answer to that question is obvious. I would like to underscore once again that I, as the guarantor of the statehood and Constitution, cannot afford luxury of speaking of personal relations. President has to think in state categories only, striving to help in forming another political culture which have a direct impact on our future.
In your speeches you often say that potential of the Armenians all over the world should be used more efficiently. What practical mechanisms do you see for the implementation of this idea?
As it happened, we were deprived of statehood for many centuries, but Armenians in different corners of the world never gave up their dream to restore independent Armenia. Without that goal, which was passed from generation to generation, it would be much more difficult to conduct efficient statebuilding processes for the independent Armenia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Armenian Diaspora is phenomenal and is rightfully considered exemplary in the world for its attitude toward the fatherland – Armenia. Unlike many countries with rich but exhaustible natural resources, Armenian Diaspora is infinite potential, a constant source nourished by love and devotion to Armenia.
Armenians are exemplary, respected, and successful citizens of the countries they live in. Considering our geopolitical location, Diaspora serves as a bridge and link between Armenia and the world. There are 4 to 5 times more Armenians living abroad than in Armenia proper. As many Armenians live in Russia as in Armenia.
There are as many Armenians in Los Angeles, France, and Middle East as in Yerevan. I believe to use potential of the Diaspora more efficiently, especially their knowledge and experience, we need an institutionalized approach which will combine legal and practical measures, aimed at their expanded participation in the public, political life, especially in the economic and cultural development of the country.
Unfortunately, due to some objective and subjective reasons, we have not been able yet to find a necessary modern model for the creation of systemic long-term strategic relations with Diaspora. Probably, on one side, the problem is the lack of vision on behalf of Armenia, on the other side - in the communities whose identity is linked not as much to the Armenian statehood as to the tragic events of the Genocide. I would say that Diaspora is a bundle of powerful energy, restrained by pain and urge for justice. But I am confident that success and justice are to be achieved only through an active participation in the empowerment of our country which is the sole guarantor not only of security of the citizens of Armenia but of the Armenian national identity. Our mission is clear – to come to a network model of the nation through a strong state.
Let’s talk about cooperation with Russia. Which areas of the bilateral relations constitute a priority? In which area cooperation can be reinforced?
Russia is viewed not only as Armenia’s strategic partner and ally: we are also linked by the centuries-long warm relations which were solidified by the difficulties we overcame together and victories we achieved together as well as a natural desire to help each other in difficult situations. That’s the reason today these relations are unshakable.
I would like to note that in its relations with Russia, the Armenian state has a minimum and a maximum in its fundamental tasks. The minimum is to maintain the previous level of the strategic dialogue which is based on deep historical relations and common values. We should appreciated our common heritage and be guided by it while implementing this or that policy. It that case, we will stand clear of serious mistakes. The maximum is to bring our relations to a new level, to discover “untapped” areas and create new opportunities. Our philosophy should emanate from the formula of “fortifying each other” in bilateral and multilateral relations in the regional and global formats. Much depends on how we will manifest our strategic alliance in practice regardless of some problems. Among new directions I would single out the necessity of expanding cooperation at the level of regions, strengthening of cultural, humanitarian and educational programs. To be more precise, I would say we possess enormous potential.
Cooperation with Russian is multifaceted and encompasses the whole spectrum of our relations. Today we should be able to deepen these relations in the economic regional projects, especially, high technologies, artificial intelligence and innovation, food security. It is necessary to cooperate more closely in the area of energy, including nuclear energy. Our country’s potential can become pivotal in ensuring Russia’s food security.
Unfortunately, the new generation is not well-informed about the great Russian classical culture, has no opportunity to watch in Yerevan theatrical performances and listen to Russian music which once left a deep imprint on my generation. We should not forget about the importance of multiplying our common heritage.
I believe that bilateral relations could also become an important factor for the multilateral ties of our countries. Armenia can serve as a bridge for different integration projects and between regions, EU and Eurasian Economic Union, for instance
The Armenian side puts on the agenda of negotiations with Moscow issues like gas price, more investments, resolution of transportation issues. At the same time, some of the Russian companies, which do business in Armenia, are having certain difficulties. It was stated they did serious violations which made an impact on their activities and plans. Investigation has not yet yielded conclusive results. How do you assess the situation and how it should be sorted out?
Problems, misunderstanding and difficulties are quite normal when it comes to interstate and trade relations. Nevertheless, they should not affect the quality of our strategic relations. There is an important word - TRUST. The high level of trust between our countries should be the base for the resolution of any contentious issue. As a person, who is not too far from shaping the main strategic areas of the Armenian-Russian relations, including logistics, energy, and others, I will contribute my knowledge, abilities and experience to be helpful, in the framework of the authority and capabilities of the institute of presidency.
Military cooperation of Armenia and Russia in the framework of the CSTO becomes more relevant than ever considering the situation in the Middle East. What concerns you when you analyze the situation in Syria and around it?
Military and technical cooperation of Armenia and Russia in bilateral and multilateral formats is vital for us. I believe we are equally interested in the strengthening and expansion of the relations in the framework of the CSTO to be able to respond to all challenges and threats in a timely and efficient manner. Syria is a country we know well, considering the fact that it became home for hundreds of thousands of Armenians who fled the Genocide. Armenians were living in Aleppo and Kessab from the day these cities were born, and we couldn’t remain aloof by definition. You know that Armenia is the only country – member of the CSTO which along with Russia participates in humanitarian operations, including the dispatch of military doctors and miners. And we, of course, appreciate the role Russia is playing in the fight against terrorism.
It should be noted that Armenians and Armenian communities are unique parts of the Middle East mosaic, a symbol of co-existence of civilizations and solidarity between the Christian and Muslim worlds. We have to preserve the integrity of that mosaic.
Resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh issue has become a priority for the Armenian side long ago. How do you think the situation will evolve?
The conflict resolution is carried out by the government, and I would not like to speak about negotiations which the Prime Minister and Ministry of Foreign Affairs are dealing with. We are convinced that peace negotiations in the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group under the co-chairmanship of Russia, France and United States have no alternative. However, despite our peaceful intentions, we are ready and will defend the rights and security of the people of Artsakh if Azerbaijan tries to take military revenge.
The Republic of Armenia is the main guarantor of the conflict’s peaceful resolution and protection of the rights of the citizens of the Republic of Artsakh. Threat to use force and military scenario for the resolution of the problem are absolutely unacceptable and must be suppressed by the international community. We are living in unpredictable times of permanent “black swans”, and for me it is quite obvious that the military scenario will have unpredictable consequences for all. At the same time, I would like to underscore that the Artsakh issue reaches far beyond Armenia and is a very sensitive issue for the entire Armenian nation which is very vocal and influential at the global level. For us, the priority is a fair resolution of the NK problem based on the norms and principles of international law, establishment of a durable peace, security of the Armenian people, enforcement of the right for self-determination exercised by the people of Artsakh.
What do you think of March 1 trial in which serious accusations were made against former high-level officials you once worked with?
I don’t believe it is appropriate to give assessments, to interfere with the activities of other branches of power, including judicial.
I continue to follow the situation as a citizen and as the head of state and have no doubt that justice will prevail.
Do you have a dream as the President of Armenia which, if fulfilled, will make you think that your efforts on that position were not wasted?
Integrity of the Armenian statehood and absence of serious national divide – this is the most important mission the institute of presidency faces.
I have multiple dreams – from the recognition of the Genocide and elimination of its consequences up to the economically powerful Armenia which will have its worthy place in the region and in the world.
I want to see Armenia as one of the most technologically advanced countries, a leader in the development and introduction of systems with the use of artificial intelligence. I believe that course will allow Armenia to find its new place in the world and prove that a small country can be successful. That’s what the presidential initiatives are aimed at.