President of Armenia

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 23 June 2004

Mr President, members of the Parliamentary Assembly and ladies and gentlemen, it is an honour and pleasure to address you. The last time that I addressed the Assembly was on a very significant day for Armenia – the day of our accession to the Council of Europe.

There have been three demanding years of reforms since then that have touched upon all domains of life in our country and necessitated the full-time employment of all our efforts. Today I am here to announce proudly that Armenia has fulfilled the vast majority of its accession commitments. For the few outstanding ones, there is a timetable agreed, with a deadline for conclusion fixed at the end of this year. If I was asked what was the single greatest achievement I would definitely answer that it was the change in the perceptions in the Armenian society about its own future. The people of Armenia are now more involved in the everyday life of the country. There is more attachment to the values of freedom and democracy and the formation of the civil society is on the move.

Does this mean Armenia has achieved the desirable level of democratic freedoms? The obvious answer is no. Democracy has a long way to go in any country with high poverty indicators. To assure fully inclusive participation by the people in the democratic process, it is essential to achieve at least minimal social guarantees. That is precisely why we strived to synchronise reforms in the economy, the political system, the judiciary and the social field. In essence, Armenia has completed the process of dismantling the former centralised system of power and economy, which allowed for total control over society.

The Armenian economy has undergone radical transformation both in terms of diversifying areas of economic activity and of liberalising property law and regulations. The scope and depth of the reforms allowed for a full-scale enactment of the market economy. At present over 85% of Armenia’s GDP is produced in the private sector and over 38% of it in small and medium enterprises. Annual GDP growth has averaged 12% for the last three consecutive years, despite the blockade implemented by two fellow members of this very Organisation.

Our biggest problem is the unacceptable difference in levels of income in our society. Our dynamic economic growth has allowed us to develop a long-term poverty elimination strategy. For the first time in Armenia, this governmental programme was developed in close co-operation with international financial institutions and the wide involvement of society. That strategy now guides us in political decision making and in choosing our budget priorities.

Fighting corruption is yet another important step towards effective democracy. The Government of Armenia sees corruption as a systemic evil, which cannot be eradicated merely through rhetoric or model prosecutions. We concentrate on the systemic change aimed at ruling out the sources of corruption. That is exactly why we have joined the GRECO group – the Group of States Against Corruption – where we can learn from the experience of other states on combating corruption. Through a wide discussion including the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, we have developed a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy. A few weeks ago I established an Anti–Corruption Council. We count on the international community to help us combat this scourge.

As an urgent measure directed at the eradication of corruption in Armenia, I shall prioritise deepening the judicial reforms, improvement in tax and customs administration, and the formation of an effective civil service. All these are key tools for implementation of anti-corruption policies.

In terms of a broader effort aimed at reducing our vulnerability to corruption, I would like particularly to mention the importance of establishing a competitive climate, predictability of governmental action, simplification of procedures, transparency thereof and public control. Those are our current priorities, aimed at achieving the sustainability of the reforms and irreversibility of the democratisation process in Armenia.

Ladies and gentlemen, I know many of you wonder: what was happening in Armenia last spring? What fostered the activity of the opposition to replace parliamentary work with revolutionary rallies? You are right to wonder, since you have all been informed by the monitoring group of rapporteurs, who had visited Armenia only very recently – in January – that there have been significant advances in fulfilling the commitments accepted at our accession. Most of those dealt with advancing democracy. Recently, Resolution 1361 of the Assembly was adopted, setting out the extent to which Armenia has fulfilled its commitments. Expert evaluations of Armenia by international financial institutions are more than optimistic. Double-digit economic growth figures and budgetary surpluses are not fertile ground for revolution. Moreover, there are three full years before the next parliamentary elections. Therefore, there were no internal factors that would explain the increase in political activity. So what happened?

The answer is easy. The opposition, encouraged by the results of the “rose revolution” in neighbouring Georgia, decided to duplicate it in the Armenian reality, which, however, had nothing in common with the Georgian one. They disregarded the fact that Armenia’s economy, as opposed to Georgia’s, is undergoing dynamic advance. Our government is efficient and our democratic achievements are safeguarded by institutional structures, including a law enforcement system capable of protecting public order.

History has often demonstrated that inspiration from foreign revolutions never results in positive outcomes. Unfortunately, learning often comes only from people’s own mistakes. That also happened in our case. The opposition left the parliament and organised rallies in the streets. They openly declared their goal was to destabilise the situation in the country, attract the maximum possible number of participants to street action, surround the building of the Presidency and force me to resign.

Once the opposition witnessed the lack of public interest in their action, they decided to increase the tension, most probably to attract attention. They blocked the busiest boulevard of the city of Yerevan. That resulted in disruption of traffic and prevented the normal functioning of the National Assembly, of the Administration of the President and of the Constitutional Court. In the area they blocked off, there are four embassies, the National Academy of Science and one of the biggest schools. The organisers called on the public to undertake civil disobedience. The police were left with no choice; public order was restored quickly, without any significant damage to the health of the participants.

Calling on the police for such operations is always regrettable. Still, authorities have to protect society from political extremists. That is particularly important in young democracies, which still lack the advanced traditions of the political and legal culture, and even more so when part of the population lives in poverty and can be easily manipulated by populist rhetoric.

I would particularly like to mention that the parties comprising the ruling coalition have many times offered co-operation to the opposition. Unfortunately, those offers were rejected. The opposition probably thinks that co-operation would undermine the revolutionary temper of their supporters. Our proposals were announced in the press and on television and were made in writing and orally but they were rejected.

Our country is at an important stage in its advancement, and I am confident that there are many things that need to be done jointly. We have offered to work together with the opposition on the most important issues: constitutional reform and the new electoral code. The offer is still valid; however, the discussions must be held in parliament, not in the street.

I would not refer to all this but for the last Parliamentary Assembly resolution on Armenia. I regret that the Assembly was dragged into the discussion. I am convinced that the Council of Europe is not the best forum in which to clarify relations between the domestic authorities and the opposition; that should be done in one’s own parliament. I regret that, and I felt duty-bound to comment on what has been happening in Armenia.

Let me now turn to one of the priority interest issues for Armenia. At the time of accession Armenia undertook to take steps towards peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We have done so because we greatly appreciate the necessity of friendly relations among neighbouring states. However, the ability to secure a long-lasting solution requires a deep understanding of the essence of the conflict. I would like to outline two important characteristics of the Karabakh conflict.

First, Karabakh has never been part of independent Azerbaijan. At the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union two states were formed: the Azerbaijani Republic on the territory of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, and the Republic of Nagorno- Karabakh on the territory of the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region. Establishment of both these states has similar legal grounds. The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan henceforth has nothing to do with the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. We are ready to discuss the issue of settling that conflict in the legal domain.

Secondly, the war of 1992-94 was launched by the aggression of the Azerbaijani authorities, which attempted to implement ethnic cleansing of the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh with the purpose of its annexation. The situation in place today is the result of a selfless fight of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh for survival on their own land. It is a classic example of both the implementation of the right to self-determination and misuse of the “territorial integrity” concept as a justification for ethnic cleansings.

The people of Karabakh have prevailed in their striving for independent life in an egalitarian society. Independence of Karabakh today has sixteen years of history. An entire generation grew up there that can think of no other status for the country. The Nagorno- Karabakh Republic today is an established state, in essence meeting all the Council of Europe’s membership criteria. It is the reality which cannot be ignored. That is exactly why we insist on direct participation by Nagorno-Karabakh in the negotiations, in which Armenia actively participates.

The solution will emerge from the substance of the conflict, not from the perception of the possible strengthening of Azerbaijan through future “oil money”. The “oil money” approach is the formula of confrontation and not of compromise. Armenia is ready to continue and advance the ceasefire regime. We are ready for serious negotiations on a full-scale solution for the conflict. That is exactly why we have accepted the two last solutions formulated by the international mediators, which, unfortunately, were rejected by Azerbaijan.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of advancement of regional co-operation in the Southern Caucasus. There is a wide spectrum for potential cooperation: from synchronisation of legislation to restoring the interconnected transport systems, and to joint projects in the energy sector. We are confident that regional co-operation is the right route to the settlement of conflicts.

We have no doubt that the Southern Caucasus as a region of inclusive economic co-operation will be able to achieve much more than three states of the region can dream of doing on their own. We believe in peace and co-operation.

The Southern Caucasus has always been sensitive to external influences. Located at the crossroads of civilisations with vast potential in resources and numerous transit routes, it has always been a zone of increased interest. These considerations guided us in forming our foreign policy of “complementarity”. That policy is based on the concept of seeking advantages in smoothing conflicts between the global and regional powers, and not in widening the gaps. We are responsible for regional stability and our actions shall help to solve problems, instead of creating new ones. That approach allowed us to develop trustworthy relations with the United States, the European Union and Iran, and to strengthen the traditional kinship with Russia.

In this context I want to comment on Armenian-Turkish relations, or rather on their absence. Those relations are shaded by the memories of the past: the genocide, its consequences and the lack of repentance. Nowadays the situation is worsened by the blockade of Armenia by Turkey. I would like to outline two principles which in my view are crucial to finding the way out of this impasse.

First, the development of practical ties and deliberations over the inherited problems must take place in different dimensions, and one must not influence the other. Secondly, Armenian-Turkish relations must not be conditioned by our relations with a third country. No prizes for guessing that I am referring to Azerbaijan. Any precondition terminates all positive expectations.

Finally, I assure you that Armenia perceives its future in full-scale integration with the European family. A few days ago, the European Union decided to include Armenia in its “new neighbourhood” initiative. That will further advance our resolve to satisfy the European criteria, and to be able to contribute and benefit fully from the co-operation between our states and nations. We walk this road with deep belief and confidence, and we appreciate your efforts to help us in that uneasy but crucial effort. Thank you for your attention.


Thank you very much, Mr Kocharian, for your most interesting address. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you. I remind them that questions must be limited to thirty seconds. Colleagues should be asking questions and not making speeches.

I will allow supplementary questions only at the end, and only if time permits. The first question is by Mr Jaskiernia. He has thirty seconds.


Mr President, you spoke about democratic reform in Armenia. I want to ask about constitutional reform and electoral code changes, which are very important to the conduct of elections in our country. Can you tell us when those goals will be attained, and also whether there will be a chance of involving the political opposition in the dialogue about important legislative projects?

Mr Kocharian, President of Armenia (interpretation)

hoped that the electoral code would be enacted by the end of 2004. The draft constitution would also be ready by the end of the year. There would be a referendum on the constitution by the end of 2005. He stressed the importance of the participation of the political opposition in any process of reform, but the opposition had recently withdrawn from the Armenian Parliament. This was the only place where reform could be discussed. Reform of the judiciary, and local and regional authorities, were also central in strengthening reform.

Mr ATKINSON (United Kingdom)

Mr President, at our last part-session here in April, President Aliyev made it plain to us that Azerbaijan could not support independence for Karabakh. Thus, while we here support self-determination, no member state of the Council of Europe could support or recognise an independent Karabakh. Is there a solution such as maximum autonomy, based on successful models in other member states of the Council of Europe, that you and we could promote and support?

Mr Kocharian, President of Armenia (interpretation)

said that Nagorno-Karabakh had never been a constituent part of Azerbaijan and therefore the principle of territorial integrity did not apply. The collapse of the Soviet Union had resulted in the creation of two independent states. The issue could only be looked at in the round as part of a comprehensive settlement and not on the simplistic basis of territorial integrity. He also questioned whether there was a case for an independent Nagorno-Karabakh.

Mr ROCHEBLOINE (France) (translation)

Mr President, in 2001 the agreements concluded at the Paris negotiations and subsequently incorporated in a document at Key West gave high hopes of a prompt settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, especially as they offered a solution to one of the most important issues, namely the status of Karabakh.

With the new President of Azerbaijan, Mr President, is it possible to continue the negotiations on the basis of the progress already achieved?

Mr Kocharian, President of Armenia (interpretation)

said that the status quo had been in place for some time. There were no peacekeeping forces along the line of conflict and the ceasefire was holding. In any initiative there was the danger of upsetting the current balance with attendant risk to the ceasefire. He said that a comprehensive package was needed and that he had met twice with the new President of Azerbaijan. Both parties wanted a solution to be reached as this would benefit both countries.

Mr SALLES (France) (translation)

Mr President, at a time when negotiations on Turkey’s accession to the European Union are under way and the countries of the South Caucasus, particularly Armenia, are being included in the enlarged Union’s “new neighbourhood” initiative, as you pointed out, the border between Armenia and Turkey remains closed.

In your opinion, what might the European Union expect of Turkey in this context?

Mr Kocharian, President of Armenia (interpretation)

agreed that the border was closed and said that if Turkey wished to join the European Union it should conform to the norms of EU behaviour. This meant resolving conflicts with its neighbours, which should be a precondition to accession. That would provide an incentive for this problem to be resolved. Armenia had set no pre-conditions for talks on this issue.

Mr CHERNYSHENKO (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

asked whether there was public pressure in Armenia for the death penalty to be reinstated.

Mr Kocharian, President of Armenia (interpretation)

said that convincing people that the death penalty should be abolished had not been easy. NGOs and academics had been involved in the consultation process. The decision had now been taken and people had accepted the necessity for it. It had been disappointing that, despite the fact that opposition parties had supported the application to join the Council of Europe, some had tried to gain domestic popularity by opposing the abolition once the debate started in Armenia.


Thank you. As Ms Durrieu and Ms Vermot-Mangold are not present, I call Mr Kirilov.

Mr KIRILOV (Bulgaria)

I want to ask a question that I asked the President of Azerbaijan. The whole situation is clearly very serious. The whole Assembly is following the conflict and would very much like to reach a settled solution, or at least to have peace. Confidence-building measures are important because they create the atmosphere for a breakthrough. What would you suggest as confidence-building measures? For instance, how do you respond to proposals on a breakthrough in communications connections?

Mr Kocharian, President of Armenia (interpretation)

said that the Armenian view was that there needed to be a solution to the conflict before there could be significant cooperation. Nevertheless, Armenia had brought forward proposals to open up communications, for example, by facilitating the joint use of water resources and easing border crossings.

Mr SEYIDOV (Azerbaijan)

I very much regret that the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is recognised all over the world but rejected by one country. My question is a continuation of that of my colleague. Do you think that the liberation of seven of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan beyond Nagorno-Karabakh could be the biggest step towards the establishment of confidence-building measures and that it would truly integrate Armenia into Euro-Atlantic structures, as has been achieved by the official announcements on Nato and United Nations priorities by Azerbaijan and Georgia?

Mr Kocharian, President of Armenia (interpretation)

said that Armenia would be wary of a piecemeal approach to disputed issues. Armenia recognised the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. However, the settlement reached on the independence of republics from the former Soviet Union did not recognise Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.

Mr MOONEY (Ireland)

Mr President, notwithstanding the impressive reforms in your country, do you intend to take any steps to reinforce trust in the National Commission on Radio and Television in Armenia and the Supervisory Council on Radio and Television, which is reviewing its present membership and making appointments on the basis of transparency and accountability as defined in the recent amendment of radio and television law? The disappearance of A1+ from the broadcasting spectrum and the national commission’s repeated rejection of its application for a broadcasting licence has had a detrimental impact on diversity and pluralism in the Armenian electronic media. Finally, do you agree that the basis of any democratic state is a free, publicly accountable media that is independent of government?

Mr Kocharian, President of Armenia (interpretation)

said that there were misunderstandings implicit in the question. There were forty different private media companies in Armenia, twelve of whom were involved in broadcasting. Only one of these belonged to the state. The opposition parties had been involved in discussions about reform of legislation governing broadcasting. It was important that public statements did not give the impression that the Armenian Government was making decisions behind closed doors. The government was committed to freedom of speech and had had constructive discussions with the Council of Europe monitoring teams on this issue. The key test was whether the opposition had access to the mass media. He proposed that someone be sent to Armenia to assess the situation.

Mr BINDIG (Germany) (translation)

Mr President, the Council of Europe is calling on Armenia to make conscientious objection possible by introducing an alternative to military service. My question is, when will this be introduced and can you ensure it will not take the form of a punishment because people may have to serve twice as long as in the case of military service?

Mr Kocharian, President of Armenia (interpretation)

replied that a law on alternative service had been passed. There were differing views on the length of alternative service. It was not easy, given the situation the country was in. He hoped to go further down the path indicated by Mr Bindig, but there was a problem of security.

Mr AZZOLINI (Italy) (translation)

Mr President, in your statement, which I greatly appreciated, you touched on corruption, a problem that together with international terrorism and organised crime represents a threat to democratic stability, in particular in eastern Europe. What have your country and the Armenian authorities done to curb and quell these problems?

Mr Kocharian, President of Armenia (interpretation)

replied that there had been reform of the judiciary and the law enforcement authorities. In the Soviet Union the management by the state of natural resources was an opportunity for corruption. This was no longer a risk in Armenia. Another measure taken was to dispense with the use of prosecutors in civil cases not directly affecting the interests of the state. Action was being taken to snuff out the sources of corruption. The state was less involved in businesses. Steps were being taken to improve customs and tax administration. There had been improvements in tackling these problems in recent years and it remained a priority for the government.

Mr TOSHEV (Bulgaria)

Mr President, we welcome you to the Assembly again. You will be aware that recently I have tabled a motion for a recommendation together with many distinguished parliamentarians in this Assembly, including four leaders of the political factions, on the establishment of a stability pact for the Caucasian region. The Bureau has referred this to the Political Affairs Committee for a report. I know that you had a similar view on this a few years ago. What is your position towards our initiative in the Council of Europe and what is the commitment of your government in this respect?

Mr Kocharian, President of Armenia (interpretation)

said that the idea of a stability pact in the Caucasian region had been put forward at the Istanbul Summit. He welcomed Mr Toshev’s efforts to bring this to fruition. It was a very complex region, which would benefit from a stability pact.

Mr RAMOUDT (Belgium) (interpretation)

asked the President whether he was in favour of an EU partnership agreement with Nagorno-Karabakh.

Mr Kocharian, President of Armenia (interpretation)

said that there had been very active talks with the EU in which he had urged them to improve in this area. He hoped for better understanding. He hoped that such an agreement would contribute to the long-term resolution of that conflict.

Mr Mevlüt ÇAVUSOGLU (Turkey) (interpretation)

said that the Southern Caucasian region was a region of Europe where territorial problems had not been solved. He asked the President of Armenia what the plan was to resolve conflict in the region.

Mr Kocharian, President of Armenia (interpretation)

said he had a plan and this was based on the principles agreed in Paris. Nagorno-Karabakh had signed up to the plan but Azerbaijan had not. As a result, he was working to revise the plan. The parameters of the conflict needed to be considered. He was prepared to start talks tomorrow. Regarding Turkey, he also had a plan and was prepared to sit down with Turkish officials immediately.

Mr TEKELIOGLU (Turkey) (interpretation)

said that tensions between government and opposition groups in Armenia last April had not been resolved. He asked the President of Armenia whether the progress towards democratisation had been satisfactory, and whether he was now prepared to talk to Turkish officials.

Mr Kocharian, President of Armenia (interpretation)

felt the question being asked of him was very multi-layered. He had held meetings with Turkish officials in the past and was always prepared to meet them. No-one was subject to a directive that forced people to forget the past. The consequences of the past had not been eradicated. They needed to be practical. Armenia was neighbours with Turkey and they could talk separately about the past. Armenians could not understand why Turkey maintained its blockade.


People should in any case ask only one question, so that is sufficient. If you agree, I will allow one final question.

Mr Kocharian, President of Armenia (interpretation)

agreed to answer another question.

Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV (Azerbaijan)

Mr Kocharian, we are aware of your declarations in different mass media regarding the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Let me refer to your declaration on the ethnic incompatibility between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, which was immediately condemned by the Council of Europe. In your speech in Khankedi in March 2004, you mentioned that you were proud of your participation in the capture of Shusha town. In February 1992, you participated in the attack on Khojaly town during which hundreds of Azerbaijanis were massacred. In that light, are you personally really committed to settling the conflict between two member states?

Mr Kocharian, President of Armenia (interpretation)

did not recall where such statements were made. Such an idea had clear implications for encouraging the peaceful resolution of conflict. The President gave an example of when an Armenian officer had been attacked in his room because he was Armenian. He said this showed the extent of hostility towards Armenians. Hard work was needed, and courage, to work on resolutions to conflict and hostility.


We must now conclude the questions to Mr Kocharian. On behalf of the Assembly, I thank him most warmly for his statement and the answers he has given to questions. Thank you for being here, and I thank your whole delegation.