President of Armenia

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 25 January 2001

Mr President, Mr Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen, Armenia’s entry into the new millennium is signified by highly remarkable events which attest to its rich history. This year, we mark the tenth anniversary of Armenia’s re-established independence. Having embraced, firmly, the values of freedom and democracy, we committed ourselves to transforming our society to this end. We are also celebrating one of the most important milestones in Armenia’s history, the 1700th anniversary of the adoption of Christianity as a state religion.

It is a celebration of persistence in our beliefs and our values. They have survived the test and turbulence of history. The past ten years were a period when we rediscovered Armenia’s identity. With its rich historical and cultural heritage, the Armenian nation always considered itself part of European civilisation. Soon after having gained independence, we declared our objective to engage Armenia firmly in the architecture of the new Europe. It is indeed symbolic that at the beginning of the new millennium, a time so meaningful for our nation, we are here today to celebrate Armenia’s accession to the Council of Europe. This is an impressive illustration of the link between Armenia’s past, present and future.

Armenia has always associated itself with Europe, its history, values and culture. Throughout past centuries, European history has been fuelled by a common anxiety about the future. As a result, the continent has produced a reliable and unique system of interdependence. Contemporary Europe has been transformed into an area of sustained security and peace. It has opened extraordinary opportunities for providing prosperity for its people.

European structures of co-operation have secured a louder voice for smaller nations. They have pooled European sovereignties so that they might, in concert, cope with the challenges and demands of the modem world. Most importantly, Europe has vividly demonstrated that prosperity and security are firmly linked with the democratic system of governance and strict observance of human rights.

The priorities and objectives of Armenia are in full conformity with the values and practices of Europe and its institutions. It was with that vision in mind that we tabled our application to join the Council of Europe and engaged ourselves in the long accession process. We view our membership as a crucial juncture on the road to Armenia’s comprehensive integration within Europe. We believe that the present institutional developments in Europe offer considerable and promising opportunities for Armenia. I have been most delighted to observe the overwhelming consensus across the political spectrum in our republic about our accession. In confirmation of that fact, the leaders of all the political factions in the Armenian Parliament have joined me today to celebrate this remarkable event.

We have already benefited greatly from our co-operation throughout the years of the accession process. That process has not been easy, but it has been most instrumental in the democratic transformation of Armenia. A considerable amount of national legislation has been upgraded to European standards, with expert advice and assistance from the Venice Commission and the Secretariat. The Council of Europe has supported various Armenian public and government organisations in raising the awareness of the democratic principles and human rights. Our reforms have taken place under the close scrutiny of the Parliamentary Assembly, and the Council of Europe has contributed significantly to strengthening the trust and confidence in our region of the South Caucasus.

Throughout its history, our region has known strife and destitution as a result of colliding empires and complex interethnic relations. At present, the South Caucasus is still challenged by unresolved conflicts and the pressure of transition. However, we in Armenia are confident that by formulating and pursuing common interests for all three states in the region, we will be able to surmount the present difficulties.

In other words, along with reassessing the individual potential of each of our countries, we should also pursue the advantages and benefits of regionalism. With the accession to the Council of Europe of Armenia and Azerbaijan – and earlier of Georgia – we can confirm the commitment of the entire region to the common values of democracy and human rights. The history of Europe and its present achievements offer the best encouragement for reaching that objective.

Armenia welcomes the initiatives of the Council of Europe aimed at consolidating our society and promoting regional co-operation in democracy building. We attach the utmost priority to establishing comprehensive security in the South Caucasus. Regrettably, we still remain a weaker link in the wider system of European security, but Armenia’s policies are aimed at preventing the risk of new dividing lines and a confrontational situation arising in the region. We have clearly stated our views and objectives in that regard. The promotion of the concept of regional security will become a consolidating framework for resolution of regional conflicts, including the one in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Nagorno-Karabakh peace process has, in the past few years, acquired certain new and positive elements. Although the present format of the OSCE’s (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) Minsk Group remains most appropriate for the peace process, there is an ongoing dialogue between the President of Armenia and the President of Azerbaijan. We have established a good level of understanding. Within the framework of our current visit, we intend to meet again. These bilateral meetings have also extended to the level of foreign and defence ministers, which is important for strengthening the cease-fire regime.

Furthermore, because of the efforts of the international community, including the Council of Europe, there have been growing contacts between our public and government organisations. Such contacts contribute to a better understanding within our society and to reduced feelings of hostility towards each other, and they improve the climate in which the search for compromise takes place.

The peace process requires patience and time, but certainly has prospects for success. At the same time, Armenia’s position is determined by the necessity to secure the legal equality of the parties to the conflict, and to acknowledge the realities concerning Nagorno-Karabakh. This requires a broader formulation of the notion of sovereignty.

With those considerations in mind, we continue to value the principles reflected in the proposal of the Minsk Group’s co-chair for a common state. With its full accession to the Council of Europe, Armenia is registering a considerable degree of progress in democracy building. We realise that we are still only half-way there. Meanwhile, Armenia is committed to full and timely observance of its post-accession obligations.

I take this festive opportunity to thank all those in the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly and the presidency for their commitment to assisting Armenia throughout the years of the accession process. I am overwhelmed with joy and pride for my people, as the Armenian flag is raised at the Council of Europe. That re-establishes Armenia’s rightful place in the family of European nations. Europe has institutionally extended its borders to where they belong. We are here to make our own efforts in achieving the sense and meaning of being European.