04, 2009

Press conference of President Serzh Sargsyan marking his one year in office

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President Sargsyan – I am glad to have this meeting and would like to propose to start the press conference without further ado.

Shant TV – Mister President, the conclusion of your first year in office coincided with the appearances in Armenia of the global economic crisis traits. It is said that due to a number of factors this one year was not short of serious situations and problems. How would you describe this one year in office and in general, what are in your opinion the greatest and achievements and the greatest disappointments?

President Sargsyan – You are right. This one year was full of events, problems, ups and downs which would be sufficient to make a chronicle for several years. At the same time, I believe that this year was a year of opportunities and I think that our state, statehood and society have become much more mature, more than it would be possible under regular conditions. The most important thing is that during this year we have been able to deepen our relations with our friends and partners. During this year we have been able to start, and I believe to advance considerably, our negotiations with Turkey, we have been able to make the NK negotiations more efficient. During this year we have also been able to create serious infrastructure projects, the implementation of which will change significantly the positioning of our region and our own positioning in the region.

I also believe that this year we were also able to introduce certain new elements into our internal life: I am speaking about the elevation of the role of the National Security Council, regular consultations with the political forces, and the establishment of the Public Council. Certainly, today the most important task for our society is to overcome the consequences of the crisis, and I am confident that we will be able to make these consequences more placid than previously anticipated.

Republic of Armenia daily – Mister President, in the context of mitigating the consequences of the global financial crisis: how do you assess the work of the Government? Are you satisfied with the activities of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet?

President Sargsyan – At this moment there is no government in the world that would say that this is a good time, and this is true of the Government of Armenia as well. I have already said and would like to repeat: the crisis is not only the Government’s problem, the crisis is not an Armenian phenomenon, we must be determined, stand by our Government to help it soften the consequences of the crisis. Our Government’s anticrisis program agrees with the similar programs of the other states on one hand, and on the other hand it has, of course, its peculiarities. This crisis becomes more severe for us since as you know our people receive financial assistance from Diaspora. Because of the crisis that assistance diminishes as well, the crisis hit Russia and the United States, and other countries. Second, you also know that a part of our adult population earns its living abroad, in the Russian Federation in particular, and because of job cuts a great part of those people stayed home. I think, we all should applaud the transparent work of our Prime Minister, his determination and confidence of our Government in tomorrow. I am glad that we were able to form a political alliance, a coalition before this crisis came, and to make right cadre decisions. I think that criticism directed at the Government and the authorities is quite natural, it should be that way. Every government, every authorities should be able to listen to criticism and should not be embarrassed by it or insulted but should rather draw conclusions. We have chosen that way and I think, that there is no easier or a more righteous way.

ARKA News Agency – Mister President, under the current global crisis conditions will the state carry on with the implementation of the All Armenian Bank, a new nuclear power station, the Armenia-Iran railroad projects?

President Sargsyan – Definitely, yes. The crisis has not undermined our resolve to continue with these projects, on the contrary, it compels us to put more efforts into the realization of these projects since they constitute a part of our anticrisis program. They possess a significant anticrisis potential, this is a large package dealing with the social issues and for that reason it will be definitely implemented. I can understand skepticism on behalf of some people because these programs are unprecedented for Armenia. These are multibillion programs, I am talking US dollars and Euros, but we will implement them. If you follow the official reports and make a little bit of analysis you’ll notice the progress. With this regard, I think in April we will have something new to tell our people.

RIA Novosti News Agency – Mister President, one of the problems which, undoubtedly, concerns many, is almost 25 percent depreciation of the Dram and decrease of people’s purchasing power due to considerable price hikes in the market. With this regard, what tasks do you set for the Government?

President Sargsyan – If I were you, I would say “near 20 percent” depreciation since difference in one, two, or three percent is very important in this case. I would like to say right away that the efficiency of any government must by judged by its ability to implement social programs. In this case, I believe the position of our Government is totally justified. We have switched to a strict budget saving regime without touching the social programs. You may remember that during the budget discussions for 2009, the Government was criticized and, as strange as it may seem, the criticism came from within. The criticism was for increasing pensions, social benefits, and wages for teachers and officers. I think, it was a step in the right direction, a right decision because crisis first and foremost hit the most insecure parts of the society.

Of course, I must say that the depreciation of the Dram has its positive as, without doubt, its negative sides. The negative part is the price hikes and with this regard the Government has a task in front of it not to allow the unjustified increase of prices. It means that the regulatory bodies must be very strict, principled and must act according to the letter of the law. However, I would like also to say that the depreciation of the Dram creates certain opportunities for the local producers, for the promotion of exports and attraction of investments. You may remember that one or two years ago the Government and the Central Bank underwent severe criticism because of the process of the Dram appreciation. We see how the most currencies of world fluctuate, appreciate and depreciate. You may have noticed how the USD-Euro rate fluctuated yesterday and today. Depreciation of the Dram per se is not a tragedy. If we are able to restrain the prices, it will not be a major problem. I would like to also say that it is not easy for the people to navigate in these circumstances. Much depends on you, in bringing the official statistical data to the different strata of our society. Our printed media puzzles me: I see one-sided comments, populist approaches and articles. Probably many of you present here and a large part of our society’s needy people will listen to my words with indignation, but if we are frank and if we look at the prices, we will see that it is not true that the prices have only gone up. The consumer index in our country, compared to March of last year, has increased by one percent, which I consider to be bad since it impedes the economic growth. Some may say that the President does not go to the stores or market and doesn’t know the real situation with the prices. Be assured that I look into that issue every day, and if you make a comparison, let’s say, of the flour prices in March 2009 and March 2008 you’ll see that there has been no increase. It is true that the prices for meat, sugar, and rice went up but look at the prices for potato, pasta products, and vegetable oil. Once again, overall I agree that the depreciation of the Dram resulted in the price hikes for many products, first of all, for the imported goods.

Hayots Ashkhar daily – Mister President, regarding the means to overcome the consequences of the crisis: there is a point of view that it would be worthy for a while to abstain from the introduction of law and order in the area of taxation, to wait and only when the crisis is over to start with strict administration. In this context the idea of “tax holidays” is being circulated. What’s your opinion?

President Sargsyan – My opinion is negative. I am sure if we were to vote right now, the majority would vote for bringing the tax area into order. Those who voice the opposite opinion are twisting their ideas just a little so that we do not understand them properly: what they mean is “since there is a crisis, let’s evade taxes.” If we do not pay taxes, how are we supposed to live? In reality, had there not been this crisis, we would have proceeded by the evolutionary way, we would have had a certain level of budget earnings, would have been able to make necessary spending, and would have tried to establish law and order in the tax area in 5, 6, or 7 years. The crisis forces us to expedite that processes. Law and order in the tax area means free competition, civilized interaction which we are striving for. All those who are talking about not paying taxes have something in the back of their minds. Naturally, I am well aware of this idea, we have looked into that. They are coming from businesses, from those who have not so good relations with the Customs and Tax administrations, as well as from the former employees, who were fired from those agencies. During this year more than 300 individuals were fired from the Tax Administration, dozens – from the Customs Administration. Of course these individuals will not champion the changes. My opinion of that idea is negative.

Novoe Vremya newspaper – Mister President, how the financial crisis affected the implementation of your pre-election plan? Today, one year later would you rather change something in that plan or maybe add something new?

President Sargsyan – Should I have known that such a crisis would occur probably I would have another plan, with new ideas. But I couldn’t have known about the global financial crisis. However, it is not a reason to shy away from the plan. My pre-election plan is designed for five years, and our team should be able to implement that plan in its entirety. There is a possibility that some timing changes may be introduced in the next year’s plans but I am confident that the plan will be implemented in its entirety.

Artashat TV – Mister President, during your pre-election campaign you promised to help young families with their problems and create for each of them possibilities to by an apartment and a car. Naturally, it depends on the financial resources of the country while the global crisis does not leave much expectation with this regard. In general, what modifications brought the crisis to your pre-election pledges?

President Sargsyan – Of course, the crisis has affected to some degree all of my plans and the one you’ve mentioned in particular. However, I would like to repeat that the crisis cannot be a reason, moreover a justification for canceling any program. That particular plan is being partly implemented at this very moment, for instance for a large group of the Yerevan State University young faculty members. I am not sure if you know this yet but the Ministry for Sport and Youth issues is compiling lists of young families which will get assistance from the Armenian Government to involve them in mortgage programs. We will carry on with these programs and we view them as anticrisis programs since the crisis has a very negative impact on young people, on young families.

Ankyun+3 TV, Lori marz – Mister President, in the context of the economic crisis, creation of new jobs, particularly in the regions, and the uninterrupted functioning of the enterprises is especially important. Valex Group has announced that for the improvement of the economic situation in Lori marz the actively functioning Teghut mine will be critical. Do you share that belief and if yes, how the authorities are planning to assist the mining industry, particularly, with regard to providing credits?

President Sargsyan – Establishment of any major enterprise is an anticrisis measure by itself, directed at the resolution of social problems. With this regard Teghut mine is no exception, we have already solved any number of problems and will be solving them now. It will allow to implement the programs of that major mining enterprise. I think that the company you’ve mentioned is capable of making the enterprise operational in the set time frame and as far as I know, the owner is currently negotiating very intensively with a certain bank to bring in some funds which will make it all possible. Problems have also arisen because our environmental organizations displayed rigid approaches which made the program more expensive. By the way, I don’t consider it to be a tragedy; probably it was a right step. Now the journalists should make some effort to bring home the idea that the construction of the plant was a right thing to do, we have been assisting this project and will be assisting further.

Tsayg TV, Gyumri – Mister President, will the economic crisis change the plan for housing construction in the earthquake area and in Gyumri in particular?

President Sargsyan – No, it will not change the plans. As you know, all the successive Armenian governments have been working to solve the problems of the disaster zone. I trust this is the right time and place to say that the second President of Armenia, Robert Kocharian was occupied with solving the disaster zone problems almost daily, and during ten years of his presidency remarkable progress was made. Unfortunately, not all the problems were solved. In 2007 the Government examined the situation and reached conclusion that it would be necessary to build additional five and half thousand homes to entirely eliminate the consequences of that devastating earthquake. As you know, this year the Government plans to build and handover in Gyumri alone one thousand apartments. The resources are there, construction works have begun and they will be concluded successfully. This program is an anticrisis program by itself, it envisions creation of 9000 new jobs. I am talking about construction workers and construction materials producers: on one hand new jobs will be created, on the other hand - social problems will be solved. At least in Gyumri the crisis will be mitigated. So, we will go on with that program, have no doubt, and not only in Gyumri but throughout the disaster zone.

Khustup TV– Mister President, the level of unemployment in Syunik marz is above the average. One of the opinions for creating new jobs in the marz could be the implementation of the pre-planned Armenia-Iran programs, in particular, joint construction of a railroad and a hydroelectric power station, which has been pre-approved. When will these programs be launched?

President Sargsyan – It is true, that the level of unemployment in Syunik is higher than the average. But let us put it straight. It is not because there are fewer industrial enterprises in Syunik than in the other marzes but because the number of urban population is high. As you know I have recently visited the marz and I am confident that Syunik’s leading enterprises – first of all mining enterprises – will not only continue to work but will also implement development programs. If I am not mistaken by the end of 2009 at the Kajaran factory the level of stone processing is to reach 16 million tons. This is two times more than it used to be during the Soviet times. Thus, the enterprises which are operational today will continue to work. The programs which we have planned, which you have mentioned, will be implemented. If not this year, I believe, next year we will start with the construction of the railroad. I have a great hope that this year we will be able to commence another major project – the construction of the Iran-Armenia final product pipeline to import from the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Republic of Armenia gasoline and diesel fuel. We will also begin the construction of the hydroelectric power station on Araks River. This project will solve a great amount of social problems: a powerful station, which has no analogs in the region. I am confident that these programs will be implemented and that they will solve social problems and not only in Syunik.

H-1 TV– Mister President, it is no secret that any issue, any positive change in our country the people relate to the authorities, to the President. What can our people look for the coming year, especially considering the fact that it is going to be a difficult year for our country and for the entire world?

President Sargsyan – Of course, people relate any issue to the leadership of the country. Maybe this is not a proper example but I am sure that if someone’s TV breaks they blame the President. I think, our society will continue to do it for some time. However, the time will come when our society will make a distinction what is the authorities’ job and what is not. I have said it before, I am saying it now: my main task is to make sure that the repercussions of the crisis are not harder on our people than on anyone else. At this point I would like to deviate a little and to tell that it is incomprehensible why the Government of Armenia and the President are being criticized for allegedly telling that there would be no crisis in Armenia, that the crisis would get around us. The truth is that we could not have possibly said such a thing since only a mentally disturbed person can say such a thing. What we have said and are saying now is that our task is to lessen the consequences of the crisis for our people, to create conditions to make it not worse than for anyone else. We have stated it regarding the price hikes for many goods in the world markets. As you saw in the end of last year, the inflation in Armenia was much lower than in the neighboring states and in the CIS.

Radio Liberty – Mister President, at the beginning of the year, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkissian announced that this year one of the Government’s priorities would be a proper taxation of the major businesses. In your opinion, what concrete steps have been made toward that end?

President Sargsyan – I think that that kind of statement should not be questioned soon after it was made. At least one year, a year and half is necessary to assess that kind of statement and efficiency of the conducted works. However, the steps that are being taken now are correct, starting with the requirement for external auditing up to the installation of cashier machines, the cashier machines have been removed from the storerooms of the major exporters, etc. I believe that the Head of the State Revenues Committee will fully follow my directive to announce during his each public appearance names of major entrepreneurs who have started to pay more taxes. And it should be done not only comparing the actual amount of the paid taxes, but according to the turnover of their businesses in different periods of time, their economic activities. We cannot bring the tax area in order unless major enterprises and taxpayers become champions of this cause (I use this word on purpose, mindful of its importance). We repeat constantly that we are going to be more demanding toward the major taxpayers and businesses. Probably, in some cases people think that we do it driven by populism. No, at least I am not driven by populism. I have high regard for large businesses, I consider them to be the locomotive of our economy, but at the same time I believe that they absolutely have to be available for taxation. Especially in times of crisis, major businesses must come to terms with the notion that there will be no huge profits. Certainly, business must have profit otherwise the entire idea of doing business is pointless. We will estimate the statement you referred to in the end of the year.

ITAR-TASS – Mister President, different ideas are being circulated regarding the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Some would say that the integration of the post-Soviet states holds no prospects; some would say that it is the only way for the post-Soviet states to survive. What do you think, especially now when our country chairs the CSTO? Is there a possibility that one day Armenia will join NATO?

President Sargsyan – Any organization can become what its members want it to become. If such opinion emanates from the members of the CSTO it is not good, if it is circulated by the others then it becomes their problem. The CSTO is in the process of making, this is a period of making. The core idea is collective security, meaning that aggression against one of its members is aggression against all the members. It is a very viable idea. The more we are able to implement the idea, to make it tangible, the more viable the organization will become. During the Armenian presidency some serious progress has been registered, you are all aware of it, you witnessed how painfully the others responded, which speaks for itself. This progress will go on, the next session of the CSTO Council will take place in June and at that session we will make decisions, which will concur with the ideas which I have just expressed. The peoples of the CSTO member states will see its value in more practical and tangible terms.
We believe that cooperation with NATO is a component of our security structure. NATO is the guarantor of security in Europe, we are a European state and must bring our participation as much as we can. We have good relations with NATO; we cooperate in the framework of the Partnership for Peace program and that cooperation has constantly been evaluated by NATO, not by us, as positive and sound. We will continue to deepen our relations, however it is well-know that we don’t aspire to become a NATO member, there is no such item on our agenda.

Erkir Media TV – Mister President, nowadays in the political and diplomatic circles of Turkey the opinion has been voiced that the process of the Armenian Genocide recognition in the US Congress and parliaments of other countries can hold back the normalization of the Armenian-Turkish relations. What is your opinion?

President Sargsyan – We have stated on many occasions that the process of the establishment of the Armenian-Turkish relations must preclude any precondition. We do not view the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey as a precondition for the establishment of relations and expect in return that the Turks will not view the abrogation of the process of the recognition as a precondition. The Americans themselves witnessed the Genocide. The United States had diplomats, missioners, businessmen, and they do not need us to convince them that the Genocide was a fact. I would like to mention numerous discussions at the Committee for Foreign Relations at the US Congress on whether recognize the Genocide or not. There are almost no statements that would argue that there had been no Genocide and you should not raise that issue. The majority of the speakers would say that the Genocide did take place; some of them would say that the US must recognize it, the others would argue that it is not the right time to do it. Thus, if the US is convinced that the Genocide’s recognition today could become a factor which will stop genocides elsewhere, if that recognition is going to help fight terrorism and other crimes, then they will recognize it but not sooner than that. I do not link this process to our relations. I do not make a link because otherwise it means that with every new instance of the Genocide recognition the relations can deteriorate. It is not us who urge the US to recognize the Genocide.

Iravunq De Facto newspaper – Mister President, in your well-known Munich speech you expressed the idea that there was a possibility that soon our region might witness some unorthodox solutions. What do you mean by unorthodox solutions?

President Sargsyan – We should get rid of confines, we must find new solutions, should think about constructive steps rather than struggle to preserve the status-quo, leaving the existing problems for future. It is very simple, and it is no secret: every person, every leader must be ready and at this moment I do see some leaders in this region, who are ready to search for and find solutions out of these confines.

Mir TV – Mister President, what’s your opinion of Iran’s participation in the CSTO as an observer?

President Sargsyan – The Collective Security Treaty Organization is an open organization and becoming its member requires some legal proceedings. I am not familiar with the statement of the Islamic Republic of Iran on its aspiration to become a CSTO member. If there is such a request, then Armenia as a member of the Organization and a friendly state will certainly express her opinion. But I am unaware of such a statement.

Armenian Reporter newspaper – Mister President, all three Presidents of Armenia with regard to NK conflict resolution mentioned three conditions on which Armenia will not compromise: Karabakh cannot be part of Azerbaijan, Karabakh must have land communication with Armenia, and there must be security guarantees. With regard to the Armenian-Turkish relations what concessions can Armenia make?

President Sargsyan – Once again: we don’t consider any preconditions for the establishment of relations. We have stated and will reiterate that we are ready to establish relations without preconditions. Now, in my opinion, the ball is in Turkey’s court, and if we are talking about “football diplomacy” it should be noted that the ball cannot stay in the court forever since any match has a specified time limit. Is it possible we made mistakes in our estimates, that the Turks may adopt a different position and will try to set forth a precondition? Of course, it is possible, it cannot be hundred percent ruled out. I think, even in that case we will emerge from the process stronger. We stressed it time and again and the international community witnessed our readiness to establish relations without preconditions. If you call the readiness to establish relations without preconditions a concession or assess it as such, I have no problem with that. I would like to repeat that our position is, and it cannot be any other way, that relations should be established without preconditions.

Mediamax news agency – Mister President, if the Armenian-Turkish dialogue was that easy, why hasn’t it been done before? What was it that allowed you, the Armenian side, to start the dialogue?

President Sargsyan – I can speak for myself. I strongly believe in it and this belief was not formed after I became President. All of you are well aware of it, you can pick up the National Security Strategy, or look into my previous assessments of the Armenian-Turkish relations. I sincerely believe that we have to establish relations with Turkey and I think that a sophisticated diplomatic structure such as the Turkish one is capable of evaluating the degree of sincerity. This is one factor, the other one is of course the total of different international factors. These are the factors that allowed us to arrive at that point today. It is not a difficult issue.

Azg newspaper – Mister President, on Azeri and Turkish web-sites Turkish officials link the establishment of the Armenian-Turkish relations and border opening with the process of international recognition of the Armenian Genocide and resolution of the NK conflict. Where are the Armenian-Turkish relations today?

President Sargsyan – I really want our public first and foremost trust our official statements. Many times my spokesperson, the MFA spokesperson, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and I personally declared that we would establish relations without preconditions. We have also stated that during the Armenian-Turkish negotiation neither NK nor the Genocide issue was discussed. Last time such a statement was made last Sunday night. I can repeat once again: it is possible that the Turkish side will change its position and retreat from the reached agreement – I cannot answer for them or be responsible for their decision. I am responsible only for the Republic of Armenia and for myself. We never had and will not have other position. Out position in unequivocal – to establish relations without preconditions.

Is there a chance that the border will be opened?

President Sargsyan – Recently, I gave a number of interviews to foreign media and stated the following: for the next Armenia-Turkey football game I either pass through the open border or the border will be about to be opened. This can be viewed as an optimistic approach. It is possible that my optimism will not come true. But I would like to repeat that the process will not leave us hurt.

Hayastani Zrutsakits newspaper – Mister President, the issue of opening the Armenian-Turkish border and the consequences concern the local producers who think that the influx of cheap Turkish good could undermine local production; some even view it as a deliberate Turkish scheme. Do you share that concern?

President Sargsyan – No, I don’t share that concern for several reasons. I have had a number of meetings with our local producers, asked for their opinion and they told me clearly that for them the opening of the border means arrival of new opportunities. Huge Turkish market provides any number of possibilities for the Armenian producers. There is another problem. Today, Turkish goods sold in Armenia are brought not through the Armenian-Turkish border but from Georgia. What can they do? They are not impeded by the transportation expenses but by the regulations which can be altered any time. This is first. Second, I don’t want those regulations always be in force, I am for competition. If we are not able to compete with Turkish producers how are we going to compete with European producers? All right, let’s us close all our borders, declare that we want to be self-sufficient and try to produce Mercedes or similar cars. Aspirations are good but if we cannot compete with the Turks in producing tomatoes or grapes, what do we want? Why should the Turks be able to produce better candies or tobacco? Or more inexpensive ones? Let the consumers decide what they wants – cheap goods, of inferior quality? Though I may add that there are Turkish goods which are second to none. My point is that it is a matter of competition and we must be able to withstand that competition. On the other hand, we just like many other countries, have many instruments at our disposal that can be used. We insist that goods should be inexpensive, on the other hand we argue that we do not need cheap products…Let me give you an example. Couple of days ago, local producers who have greenhouses and grow tomato complained to the Government that inexpensive Iranian tomato in great quantities was being imported to Armenia and that the executive must do something about it. This was something new for me, so far there has been no such signal, and I decided to look into it. In 2009 so far a little more than 100 tons of tomatos have been imported, which is a negligible amount. Afterwards, it became clear that it was prearranged, the idea being that the taxi drivers would make a big noise, would bring in the farmers, and so on. As the Russian saying goes “The devil is not as black as he is painted”. I don’t think cheap products will become an issue.

Erkir newspaper – Mister President, rumors fly that nowadays the Armenian lobby in the US is waiting for a signal from Armenia to foster or to slow down the process of the Genocide recognition in the US Congress. Is it true?

President Sargsyan – It is not true at all and insults dignity of those people who for years, for decades have been serving the interests of our nation, of Armenia and Artsakh. These are mature and accomplished people and are in no need for a signal from Yerevan. I will not even think about it. Quite naturally we constantly conduct consultations with the leaders of the structures, constantly discuss issues but I don’t think such a thing can even exist. Those individuals are good citizens of the United States, they are national figures, accomplished personalities and it would be not right to give them instructions. I am sorry, but I think those who spread this notion want to drive a wedge, to tell that they want to do it but Armenia is holding them back or vice versa? Isn’t it clear what it is done for?

Armnews TV – Mister President, soon you will address the Armenian people and the world on the occasion of April 24. Taking into account the last year results what will be your central message?

President Sargsyan – I don’t think it is necessary to change anything. I cannot change my opinion or my approach in such a brief period of time. As I said, the establishment of relations does not imply questioning the fact of Genocide. We must express our grief for the millions of innocent victims, and we must wish that it never happens again.

Arminfo news agency – Mister President, what are Armenia’s expectations of the new President of the United States and new administration?

President Sargsyan – We want to deepen our relations with the United States and have said so on many occasions. I think that first signals are already there, and we will be able to achieve serious success with the new administration. Of course, we are familiar with the standpoint of the new administration, of the new President regarding foreign policy and Armenians in general, and we are confident that there is a solid basis for advancing our relations.

Novosti Armenii news agency – Mister Sargsyan, what are the prospects of the Armenian-Russian strategic, economic, and cultural cooperation?

President Sargsyan – I think, they are very good. This is one of those singular issues when our people totally trust the authorities and are happy with our policy. I am glad that with Russia we have a kind of relations which I can see only developing further. I am glad that we have a strategic partner like Russia. I think it would be appropriate to say that any country could be proud to have such a partner. I told Russian mass media that for me it would be difficult to judge what kind of partner is Armenia for Russia, but for us Russia is a reliable and good partner.

Interfax news agency – Mister President, the CSTO has decided to create rapid response forces. Baku is concerned that they can be used during a potential conflict. Has the issue of deploying these forces been discussed regarding the NK conflict and what was the idea behind creating that force?

President Sargsyan – I didn’t discuss that issue with the leaders of the CSTO member states. I hope that the issue will never be brought up and will remain in the realm of theory. One thing is clear: no serious actions can be taken in Nagorno Karabakh without Armenia or, if you will, without use of force against the Republic of Armenia. Use of force against Armenia means that the corresponding article of the agreement enters into force – aggression against one is aggression against all. I would like to mention that neither Azerbaijan nor anybody else should have any concerns since all have pledged not to use force against the others. In Karabakh’s case this concept is summarized in the Maydorf Declaration and all basic documents. The latest such document is the document adopted at the OSCE Helsinki summit in the end of last year in which three principles were defined: territorial integrity, self-determination, and exclusion of the use of force. Thus, there is no need to worry unless of course someone has something in the back of their minds. If there is something in the back of their minds, it will be a problem for them and not for the rapid response force.

Panarmenian.net internet site – Mister President, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia declared that Armenia can become Georgia’s strategic partner. How do you assess this declaration considering the fact that the two countries still have some unresolved issues?

President Sargsyan – We have more commonalities with Georgia than differences. Our commonality is based on our centuries-long friendship which the Georgian people witnessed on many occasions, and quiet recently too. We have warm feelings for the Georgians, and I would be only happy if our relations deepen and improve.

Regnum news agency – Mister President, could you please share some details of your upcoming visit to Iran?

President Sargsyan – We have friendly relations with Iran and it stipulates continuous political dialogue. My objective is to maintain that political dialogue and propose new programs. I plan to meet with the leadership of Iran and discuss development programs. I don’t think it would be appropriate to talk about them now otherwise what are we going to talk about when I am back?

Reuter news agency – Mister President, how do you assess the idea of creating new security structures in the region?

President Sargsyan – We gave a positive assessment to that idea and we believe that any structure which can bring more mutual trust to the region is entitled to existence, valid existence. If we are talking about the Turkish initiative then, of course, if as a result of their undertaking we are able to increase our trust toward the Turks we can only welcome it.

Armenpress news agency – Mister President, how would you assess the current stage of the NK peace negotiations? Is there any progress with regard to merging the positions of the two sides? There is information about your possible meeting with the President of Azerbaijan on May 7 in Prague. Has that meeting been actually agreed upon yet?

President Sargsyan – When the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group proposed to have that meeting we responded positively. Now call it what you wish: a preliminary agreement or a confirmed meeting, I don’t know. But that’s how it was. There is nothing new, we will go on with the negotiations based on our position and your wishes.

TV5 TV company – Mister President, could the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border obstruct the resolution of the NK conflict?

President Sargsyan – No, of course, not. It was said on many occasions, and I will repeat it now that our wish to open borders with Turkey does not pursue economic objectives. Our objective is not to lift blockade but to establish relations. After all, blockade is not the cause, it is a consequence. First we must deal with causes and not the consequences. Certainly, we must also try to remove the consequences but our main objective is to remove the cause. But for the NK problem there would have been no blockade, it means we must solve the problem rather than lift blockade or de-blockade ourselves. With this regard, establishment of the Armenian-Turkish relations could have a positive impact on the resolution of the NK conflict, and there is no way it can have a negative impact. We don’t want this situation to go on forever, it is impossible.

Francepress news agency – Mister President, OSCE mediators frequently say that in the course of negotiations the two Presidents are trying to view the situation through the other’s eyes. Have you tried to look through Aliev’s eyes and what did you see?

President Sargsyan – I saw a brilliant future for the South Caucasus. I am confident that my counterpart wants the situation to be resolved peacefully. As any normal person he too doesn’t want to fight a war the results of which are obvious for all of us – victims, devastation, losses. Viewing the situation through llham Aliev’s eyes doesn’t make me pessimistic, it makes me optimistic; it makes me see that the issue can be solved. Maybe this kind of attitude toward my partner sounds odd to you, considering the things that Azeri media is telling about me daily. But I don’t think that they are right, my approach is right.

Associated Press news agency – Mister President, the Turkish-Azeri alliance is doing its best to present Armenia as aggressor in different international organizations. Is Armenia going to make any countersteps?

President Sargsyan – If you think that Armenia should start doing something now, your understanding is incorrect. It is quite obvious that it should be that way, what else can they do? I am surprised that it causes surprise. Their goal is to present the NK issues as a territorial claim put forward by Armenia rather than a claim for self-determination since territorial claims are largely condemned while the right for self-determination is usually honored and granted. Thus, it is all quite normal, as normal is the fact that not a single serious organization recognized Armenia as aggressor. Have you ever heard the OSCE or the Minsk Group or any other structure call Armenia aggressor? The utmost that was articulated has been the “occupied territories”. I am confident that our act adequately and it will not come to that, since in reality there is no such thing as aggression. Did Armenia occupy Nagorno Karabakh? Did Armenia occupy those territories? No. The people of Nagorno Karabakh, supported by the people of Armenia, were able to resist the aggression unleashed by Azerbaijan which resulted in the situation we are having today. No one can call Armenia or Nagorno Karabakh aggressor or blame them for being able to defend themselves.

Yerevan TV – Mister President, Turkish and Azeri propaganda machine everyday disperses disinformation and spends millions for that purpose. What is our position on information security, what steps are being taken on that direction?

President Sargsyan – Issues of information security are constantly in the focus of my attention, it comes with my duty. We have taken certain steps and at the upcoming session of the National Security Council we will discuss the concept of information security. As you know, in Armenia certain structures were put in place to neutralize this disinformation, our friends and supporters are also engaged in that activity. I think we have some problems here, the scope of works is inadequate. On the other hand, the capabilities are not equal. It is one of the reasons we want to establish relations with our neighbors, to solve the NK issue. The goal is to spend money not to discredit each other but spend money to solve pending social issues. Any struggle assumes disinformation, slander, lies. Don’t you see it in our country? It is done, isn’t it? It is done by the journalists as well.

Erord Uzh Plus newspaper – Mister President, the upcoming elections for the Yerevan municipal Council generated great interest with some international structures, which up to now showed no interest in this kind of elections. Some analysts view it as the second round of the Presidential elections. Do you share that opinion?

President Sargsyan – I don’t think it is analysts’ view, I think it is the view of a group of people, and which is unacceptable for me. Presidential elections were held only a year and two months ago and the next elections will be conducted in time specified by the Constitution. The Yerevan Council elections have really generated some interest with international organizations which is normal and logical. It is interest toward the process of democratization in our country and we always view that interest favorably. All the participants in these elections should get ready, they will be conducted as any other elections, and there will be no runoffs. It will be a normal municipal election, even if in a large city.

Aysor. am internet site – Mister President, the Yerevan Council elections are being conducted for the first time and judging from the nominations there will be a heated political struggle. What is being done to avoid possible tension? As President of this country what would you like to say to its participants?

President Sargsyan – I would like to say the following: elections is a process and in order to hold them in legal framework everyone must be ready to act according to the law as well as to be prepared to accept the results – whatever they might be. We all ought to go to the elections with the purpose of deciding on a concrete issue – election of the Yerevan Council and then the Mayor, rather than going to the elections to discredit each other in pursuit of other goals. Let’s go to the elections, let’s elect the Yerevan Council which will elect the Mayor, who will serve the city. Today Yerevan is facing numerous problems which are demanding solution. We must satisfy this demand rather then try to create new problems. Certainly, it is a political process, the participating political forces are eager to show the public and prove to themselves their standing and reputation, which is normal. I call upon all to exclude any animosity and to go to the elections of the Yerevan Council to elect the Council and not to pursue other objectives. This is very important.

Kentron TV – Mister President, what’s your opinion of Levon Ter-Petrossian’s statement during the last public gathering that the opposition must act exclusively within the boundaries of constitutional law and reject revolutionary methods?

President Sargsyan – I think it’s very good. It is a wise approach, unfortunately it was not voiced on February 20, 2008.

Armenia TV – Mister President, what do you think of Levon Ter-Petrossian’s decision to lead the party list of the Armenian National Congress? Is former President making a bid for cooperation with the authorities, or is getting ready for the second phase of the authorities-opposition war?

President Sargsyan – As the President of the Republic of Armenia I have no problem with the decision of any citizen of Armenia.

Panorama.am internet site – Mister President, if as a result of the Council elections there is a change regarding public trust toward certain parliamentary forces, is there a possibility of extraordinary parliamentary elections?

President Sargsyan – I thought that the topic of extraordinary parliamentary elections was exhausted long ago. No, nothing can force me to do it. The Constitution states unambiguously the circumstances and the timing of the parliamentary elections in Armenia. Be assured that we will be acting true to the letter of the Constitution.

Noyan Tapan news agency – Mister President, tragic events of March 1 resulted in public crisis, there is an opinion that it has not been overcome yet. What must be done to overcome the crisis?

President Sargsyan – It is true that the consequences of March 1 have not been eliminated yet, it is true that there is no accord in our society for which I strive and wish for. I obviously have not mastered all the methods, since if I had then total harmony would have been reigning in our society. But the human being is capable of thinking and developing. I am capable of that too and I am thinking of other steps that I can take to bring accord to our society. Should I have known all the steps, I would have taken them by now.

Aravot newspaper – You were talking about the necessity to tear down the wall of intolerance between us, about public tolerance, harmony and other things. You have been President of this country for one year and during this one year do you think you have succeeded in tearing down that wall of intolerance? You didn’t want to or someone interfered with the process, if yes, then who, why and how?

President Sargsyan – You speak like a prosecutor. When I said that that wall must be torn down I naturally meant, and you all know it well, changes in our mentality. I think we have made a step forward. I believe that on the example of your paper (Aravot) we were able to show others that this life and this world in not just black and white. In my opinion, your paper once or twice a month is publishing rather unbiased materials. Of course, you will not agree, I am sure the staff of your paper will not agree either but look how calmly we tell it to each other. It means that we have already registered some progress. I think it is still too soon to tell that there are no walls in our society to be torn down. There are many walls, and neither the crisis nor political tension should be brought as an excuse, neither should it be told that we were interrupted or someone interfered. I don’t believe that we will be contributing to the removal of that wall by stating publicly what or who interfered with the process, on the contrary, I think by doing so we will be adding extra layers to that wall. You may have noticed that during this one year I didn’t insult anyone however I did not receive a similar response. Daily one may witness quite the opposite; however I realize that if someone assumed the responsibility of tearing down those walls he himself should serve the example. I truly want those walls to be destroyed. And we will do it with your help.

Public Radio – Mister President, wouldn’t you agree that one of the greatest problems of the authorities is being inconsistent. Nearly one year ago, the Chief of police and his deputies declared that there would be no more untouchable cars or drivers. However, the attitude lasted for only couple of months. Nowadays everywhere one can observe a situation when traffic violators are calling their patrons and after that we witness no punishment at all. Don’t you think these incidences undermine public trust in the authorities?

President Sargsyan – I would not agree with you that today there are many untouchable individuals. Every day on the streets of Yerevan one can witness a situation when cars are towed away, fines are imposed, etc. On the other hand we should understand that had it been so easy to overcome those problems in a short period of time it would have been done long ago. This problem is not only ours; it is a problem in many countries, particularly in the countries of developing democracy. I cannot also agree that the authorities or I personally are being inconsistent. You could have blamed me for inconsistency if I had changed my signals, if I had not sent a signal each time to the police that they must be firmer, that they must act according to the law, by the letter of law, that they must arrest those who take bribes, that the violators must be disciplined, etc. Had I failed to do it you could have called me inconsistent. But it should be understood that it is a difficult process and it requires time, much time. We should understand that the structures have developed “traditions” and it is a very difficult task to break them down. The important thing is not to despair and to continue our struggle. We may fail, but someone else will succeed. But we must bring our contribution to that process. The charge of inconsistency is not fair.

A1+ agency – Mister Sargsyan, spring session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will commence soon. What measures have been taken to comply with the requirements of Resolution 1643? Will you use your constitutional right to grant pardon and exercise that right in respect of those detained in relation to March 1 events?

President Sargsyan – As you know, the monitoring group held its meeting, and you are familiar with the statement and the conclusions. I fully share concern of our media and our public regarding the events of March 1, but I don’t share opinion of those who think that in our country we have unlawfully detained individuals. I strongly believe, and organizations monitoring the progress of our society share that belief, that there are no such persons. I also trust that President must exercise his rights at the time when the judicial process has been concluded. I do not rule out the possibility of pardon however I haven’t seen an authority that would declare in advance that it would grant pardon in a couple of days of weeks. We’ll see when the time comes. As for pardon, you know that 28 individuals related to the March 1 events appealed to me requesting pardon and the request was granted. I am ready to look into each and every of that appeals, but I will not interfere with the judicial proceedings.

Respublika Armenia newspaper – Mister President, during the meeting with the members of the Public Council you spoke about the tasks of the structure, however to make it work it necessary to engage not only its members but also the entire society. Will you appeal to the citizens of Armenia to participate in the works of the structure to make positive changes in our country?

President Sargsyan – I am hoping for success of the Public Council. I think we have chosen the right people and I believe that Vazgen Manoukian, Khosrov Haroutunian and the others will succeed in creating a structure which will be able to express the opinion of simple people. With this regard that works conducted by its members are rather public. I think I ought to step back a little, abstain from actions and see how this good initiative will evolve.

Hay TV company – Mister President, do you think adequate steps are being taken in our country to form political culture?

President Sargsyan – I think, yes.

Golos Armenii newspaper – Mister President, recently some measures to fight corruption have become noticeable. In particular, almost daily information arrives on the arrest of mid-level government officials. However the public doesn’t regard it as a genuine fight against corruption. Do you think the undertaken measures are sufficient?

President Sargsyan – If the public doesn’t view these measures as a fight against corruption why are you asking? It means that there is something in it after all. I understand the desire of our people, I understand that everyone thinks that the more people with authority and rights are arrested the better and if it happens that fight will be more genuine. To maintain our friendship with Aravot newspaper, I would like to remind that during the previous press conference that paper was talking about “big fish”. Of course, the bigger the fish, the better. However it would be better if we not just speak about getting big fish, it would be nice to also get some assistance, some help. I will not allow the leadership of the country to make a show and present it to the people pointing finger like “you, Minister, are a corrupt person, or you, tax inspector, are corrupt”, etc. I have considerable experience of work in law enforcement structures and know it well that a person can be charged with corruption only if you catch him red-handed. It makes the process difficult. In any such instance if the person who offered the bribe states that he was not giving a bribe but returning his debt, no court can prosecute that person. Would you like to have a president who would assume that “Minister Poghos” is a corrupt official, get him arrested and sentenced to 15 years in jail? Is it the way to fight corruption? In last seven-eight year a considerable amount of work has been conducted in our country to regulate these relations. These works have invigorated during the last year and I can assure you that during this one year we didn’t receive one piece of concrete information that was not investigated. In any case, I am ready to task a law enforcement body I trust to check on your information. But in our society nobody wants to speak in concrete terms, everybody just loves to speak in general. Of course, corruption in the country is first and foremost the President’s responsibility. I do not shy from that responsibility; however I would like to note that we should be able to assess the reality, to fight it seriously and not make shows.

Gazeta. Ru internet site – Mister President, first, I would like to salute your inventive foreign policy, but my question is about internal affairs. Recently, the number of criminal brawls and scuffles with the participation of government officials or their offspring has increased. Did you, Mister President, despite your high position, instruct the driver to stop at the red traffic light? How are you going to fight “mafia” since in you October 2, 2008 message to the National Assembly and the people of Armenia you made a special emphasis that nobody in the Republic of Armenia could consider himself to be untouchable?

President Sargsyan – I am confident that nobody in the Republic of Armenia considers himself to be untouchable. I share your opinion and accept your reprimand that some individuals are behaving insolently, that some individuals find themselves in the situations which they have no right to be, and that some individuals do not clearly understand the role of their children, friends and relatives in our society. Our population is only a little more than 3 million people and among them there are criminals, offenders, policemen and judges. With this regard it is difficult to assume the role of prosecutor for one hundred percent because any official can be reached within a couple of hours, common friends or relatives can be found. But all our officials, the leadership of the police force, prosecutors and judges must realize that they can fulfill their obligations only if they are able to say “no”. The second factor is that our society was formed in a way which allowed a lot of our citizens to illegally possess arms and ammunition. Despite the fact that during last years an enormous amount of arms and ammunition has been collected, some citizens still possess a considerable number of illegal arms. As you know, for young people and those who are not comfortable with the law, the weapon is a constant temptation. As it is said “if there is a rifle on the wall, it must go off sooner or later.” I am not trying to justify anybody, I am not trying to prettify the reality but I want all of you to understand that we are going to adopt a much harsher approach toward these instances. If any official’s child or relative is involved in this kind of activity, there will be a stern response. A kid or a relative of the official, even if innocent, must stay away from any skirmish, any conflict. Because our people believe that regardless of whether the person is guilty or not, if an official’s son is mixed up in the fight he is the guilty party and nobody else. Our officials must understand that. I have already instructed the Chief of Police on what our police must do to reduce gunshots in Yerevan. I think, some time later you will see for yourselves.

Hraparak newspaper – Mister President, with regard to our foreign policy it looks like you are implementing steps and programs articulated by the leader of the opposition. What prevents your assessments regarding the internal situation to be similar as well?

President Sargsyan – I don’t think that everyone’s opinion should concur with the opinion of the President of Armenia. This is a democratic country and we strive for diversity. On the other hand, any leader would be happy if the citizens’ opinion coincides with his. It is good. If opinions on foreign policy concur, it is good. I see no problem in having disagreement with anyone regarding this or that issue.

Azatamtutyun newspaper – Mister President, in reality the society is tired with the numerous representatives of the ruling elite. As the new President, do you aspire to totally change the present political elite and create a new one?

President Sargsyan – I don’t have any biased opinion, didn’t have it before the elections and do not have it now and said many times that I cannot just walk in and say “Guys, you leave, and you, guys, come in – we are making changes in our political elite.” I am for using the experience and expertise of those people who have them and are ready to employ them to solve today’s problems. At the same time, I think that those people who cannot keep up with my demands must just leave and do something else. You constantly witness changes, may be not to the extent you would like to, but I can do that much, this is my work style. We are very few in number, and if we change something every six months or every year, every citizen of Armenia will for some time become a Minister or Prime Minister.

Pakagits newspaper – Our society’s opinion regarding the judicial system is unequivocal and probably does not coincide with your opinion. If this is the case then what or who is responsible for the fact that the high profile assassinations in our society usually go unsolved and are usually performed against the employees of that very structures? When will we have the Armenia where the rule of law prevails? When will you surprise us?

President Sargsyan – I will not try to surprise anyone, neither am I that easily surprised myself. If you think that I am happy with our judicial system, you are wrong. In many instances, my opinion concurs with the opinion of our people. We have a lot of things to do in that area, and if you follow carefully, you will see that I allocate a considerable part of my time to that particular issue. Certainly, I also deeply regret that not all the murder cases are solved. I am not going to excuse anyone but this is universal truth: if all murders were solvable there would be no murders at all; if all crimes were solved it would be the greatest preventive factor. It is difficult to solve a kind of murder you mentioned but I repeat, I don’t mention it to justify anyone. The leadership of the law enforcement structures bear personal responsibility for those unsolved crimes. We must do our best to solve first of all this kind of murders, and not only murders but other crimes as well.

ALM TV – Mister President, would you agree that intolerance reigns today in the political life of Armenia. With this regard, do you think the formation of the third power is significant?

President Sargsyan – I must tell you frankly that I don’t understand what the “third power” is. In the political field in general I only see the authorities and the opposition. What is the “third power”? Which is part to neither authorities nor opposition? Or is it only partly with the authorities but not entirely? Or part of opposition but not a very tough part and is not striving for power? I cannot see clearly what it is, maybe my knowledge is not sufficient. Speaking about the third power I always imply those of our citizens who say “good” when they see something good, and say “bad” when they see something bad. If these people can be called the “third power” I will gladly do it. Unfortunately, we do not witness it in politics and I don’t think we will see it in foreseeable future. I appreciate the “third power” as I understand it, very much.

Tert.am internet site – Mister President, after the events of March 1, 2008 not a single policeman was charged with any wrongdoing. Do you think that the police were absolutely irreproachable?

President Sargsyan – I spoke on this topic for the first time when I was Prime Minister. At that time I

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