President of Armenia

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

thanked the President, the Secretary General and members of the Parliamentary Assembly for their welcome. He expressed his gratitude for the crucial role that the Council of Europe had played in the process of democracy in Armenia. He considered it an honour to be able to address the Assembly today.

On 21 September 1991, Armenia had declared its independence. That was the fulfilment of a dream of many centuries. It reunited Armenia with the community of nation states. Since Armenia had joined the Council of Europe in 2001, it had been able to reaffirm its cultural history with other member states. He recalled the milestones in this process and the achievement of the people of Armenia. Armenian citizens had experienced oppressive regimes and were aware of the price of freedom. Freedom and peace had been their dream for centuries and it had been a long struggle to achieve those goals. Nevertheless, Armenia was now firmly on the right road and the people of Armenia had made an important and irreversible choice.

Armenia’s journey to membership of the Council of Europe had been unique and there had been some obstacles in the process, notably the artificial and illegal blocks experienced from some of its neighbours. However Armenia was aware of where it was going and considered this process to be a homecoming to Europe and the cultures and traditions to which it had belonged for centuries. The Council of Europe was the embodiment of this, as it defined Europe not as a geographical term but as a series of common values. The people of Armenia had paid a high price for believing in those values and at many points in their history had been silenced in brutal and violent ways. The Council of Europe was important in ensuring that such events did not recur and had played a vital part in the strengthening of democracy in Armenia. In Armenia, some people joked that the political system had three components: the government, the opposition and the Council of Europe. That reflected the strong involvement of the Council of Europe in the process of change under way in Armenia.

"I am convinced that a shared future is emerging, based on peace and stability, and without divisions or divides"

In 2008, Armenia had experienced serious problems and challenges to the process of change, but steps had been taken by the government to overcome this. In March 2008, there had been discussions with a number of partners, including the Council of Europe. Sometimes, there had been disagreement, but Armenia had nonetheless benefited from the wisdom of dialogue, which had been constructive. Without this process of dialogue, it would not have been possible to move forward. He expressed his thanks to Lord Prescott, Mr George Colombier and the Venice Commission for their constructive and consistent engagement.

The Armenian Government was consistent in its aim of ensuring progress along the democratic path. No doubt had been cast on its commitment to the democratic process, even at the darkest points in its history. This determination was at the heart of the government’s comprehensive and continuous programme of reform of its institutions. Armenians had learned to listen and to respect the views of others: the government and opposition no longer viewed each other as enemies and they were aware that strength did not lie in elimination of the other side. The government had learned not to reciprocate insults and was now consulting widely with stakeholders on key issues. The government did not shy away from constructive criticism; it had learned to live by another set of rules. This might seem an obvious approach to those member states of the Council of Europe for whom those principles were deep-rooted, but it remained an approach that it was absolutely critical for Armenia to adopt. The process of reform required a high degree of effort and perseverance but Armenia was committed to the process and ready to take all opportunities available to them.

Armenia was proud of its achievements in the last two decades when there had been a wide-scale building of democracy. Particular efforts to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law had been made following the constitution’s adoption in 2005. Armenia had seriously and irreversibly aligned itself with the principles of the liberal world. The Venice Commission and the European Commission had been indispensible in this process. The European Court of Human Rights was a unique structure promoting human rights in the country.

The 2008 political crisis in Armenia had demonstrated vulnerabilities in the democratic system and had provided a new impetus to the government’s efforts. As a result of the crisis, there had been major revisions, including reform of the police force and reform of the judicial system, which was necessary in order to safeguard the independence of those institutions. There were also changes being made to the criminal code. Legislation on freedom of assembly was also being revised and was now underlined by a new philosophy which undertook to guarantee freedom of association rather than restricting it. A comprehensive review of legislation relating to corruption was high on the political agenda and an anti-corruption monitoring commission had been created to as a result. A public service law would require disclosure of property and income along with any potential conflict of interest. It also set out a number of ethical rules. Work was also under way on laws relating to television and radio, and defamation laws had been revised in order to ensure freedom of speech. Reforms over the next three years would harmonise changes made in these various areas. However, further improvements would be necessary to ensure Armenia’s democratic development and no doubt some of these changes would be painful.

The people of Armenia had been the main driving force behind changes and he took pride in their attitude, as this would help ensure a speedy and comprehensive process towards freedom, democracy and the rule of law. The changes made would be consolidated within a framework of diversity. The next milestone would be next spring, when elections would be held. The government was committed to ensuring that the electoral process was both fair and transparent.

The establishment of free and fair elections would not be enough – they had also to be seen to be so. A new electoral code had been developed after a review of the findings of the Election Observation Mission and he was confident that the new code would help the process of achieving free and fair elections. If Armenia were seen to have a fair electoral system, that would in turn help to generate full acceptance of the election result by the electorate. Public trust was essential and if developed this would strengthen the government’s accomplishment. No effort would be spared by the Armenian Government to achieve this. It was grateful to the Council of Europe for its important advice in this area and would continue to co-operate with all the institutional stakeholders and accept the advice and support offered in order to ensure a transparent election. There would be no shortcuts in the process: the government was not looking for praise, nor would it attribute any failure to achieve a fair election to the unresolved conflict.

He asked that the Council of Europe apply fair and consistent rules when assisting member states. He was very grateful to the OSCE Minsk Group for its efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and he was hopeful that the involvement of the presidents of the member states of that group would help the situation. The most important contribution of the Council of Europe would be the encouragement of tolerance but it pained him that hotbeds of intolerance, xenophobia and racism existed within the lands represented by the Council of Europe. This was bad for the society there and across the whole of Europe.

In two days’ time there would be a trilateral meeting involving Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia and he noted that the co-chairs had exerted every effort to reach agreement on the principles of resolution. Armenia would be willing to make concessions but it could be difficult to persuade the people of Nagorno-Karabakh that all parties were equally committed. He wished to see progress and overall a safe future for young people. Final agreement would be implemented only when all racism was eliminated.

Surely no one would question the right of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to live freely in their own land; he expected that the Council of Europe had no desire to harm the process that could lead to the achievement of that aim. The talks of the OSCE Minsk Group could lead to peace and must not be jeopardised. He was sure that the vast majority of Council of Europe colleagues would express good will towards this aim. He urged all to exercise some restraint in their remarks until the full situation was known.

He was certain of one thing: Nagorno-Karabakh would remain part of Europe. It had to be remembered that Karabakh society was part of the European family. He thought that the time had come for the Council of Europe to ensure the protection of the Karabakh people, their human rights and their civil society, and the promotion of democracy and tolerance in that region. The Council of Europe should engage first with the people of Karabakh before talking about them, and include them in its talks. He noted that the collapse of the Berlin Wall had happened 20 years ago but the people of his mountainous region were still waiting for their wall to come down.

Two years ago, diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey had been established and he was grateful for the assistance in this of mediators from national communities, including senior members of the Council of Europe. He regretted that the two countries were still in deadlock and he was unsure when the next opportunity for negotiation would be. Armenia had started the process with good intentions based on the principles of living together peacefully. He considered that Turkey’s denial of the Ottoman genocide of 1915 was at odds with Armenia’s tireless efforts to gain international recognition of it. However, he was determined that the current conflict would not be left unsolved for future generations.

It was important for Europe to have peace, stability and co-operation and obstacles to achieving this had to come to an end. He believed in a peaceful Europe with a common platform for its shared values, extending from the Atlantic to the Urals. Europe should not tolerate new dividing lines and the Council of Europe should become the arena for European-wide discussion aimed at increasing European unity. Member states shared a common responsibility to the future generation.


Thank you for your address, Mr Sargsyan. Members of the Assembly have questions to put to you. I remind them that questions must be limited to 30 seconds. Colleagues should be asking questions, not making speeches. The first question is from Mr Vareikis, speaking on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania)

Mr Sargsyan, you mentioned in your speech your interesting experience investigating the events of 1 March 2008, but the investigation has not been finished. My question is: why? Do you not have the right people to enable you to finish it? If not, change them. Do you not have the legal basis on which to finish it? If not, change the legal basis. It is a question of your honour.

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

said that the investigation was not completed for the simple reason that the guilty had not been found. There were many reasons for this, which were generally understood. In Armenia, the best professionals had been engaged to work on the investigation and he had appealed to all institutions to help them. He was grateful for the expert help provided to Armenia by Commissioner Hammarberg. He had recently given a statement to the prosecutor of the case requesting that the authorities carry out a more detailed investigation and use all available resources to resolve the crime in a transparent manner. The investigation team would now be holding two meetings a month with the media and the public to ensure that all questions were answered transparently. If no arrests had been made by autumn, the prosecutor’s office would publish an interim report on the investigation.

Mr ROUQUET (France) (interpretation)

asked how optimistic the President of Armenia felt about the OSCE Minsk Group seminar due to take place on 25 June.

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

said it was hard to be completely confident that the seminar on 25 June would achieve a positive outcome but he was absolutely sure that the OSCE Minsk Group was the right forum to act as a mediator. He would attend the seminar in Kazan with the desire to reach a common denominator and shared the desire of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to have the quickest possible and fair resolution that would lead to lasting peace. The document under discussion in Kazan had been in existence for over a year and had been debated at many meetings. The document did not completely reflect the dreams of Armenians but it did provide an opportunity to embark on discussion for a general agreement that could be signed. Therefore there could be a constructive approach provided that Azerbaijan introduce any extra proposals.

Mr BUGNON (Switzerland) (interpretation)

said he wished to ask a question about the security of the people of Armenia and of the whole eastern European region. Fukushima had shown the risks associated with nuclear power plants, especially elderly power plants based in areas prone to earthquakes. Could the president guarantee the safety of his country’s own power plants?

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

said that it was not just the opinion of his government that mattered. It was with joy that he could announce that Armenia had been visited by the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose team of inspectors had come to a favourable assessment and found the situation satisfactory. For quite a long time, efforts had been made to improve the security and operation of Armenia’s nuclear power stations and the government would continue to work with the IAEA as part of the international regime to ensure global nuclear safety.

The operation of nuclear power in Armenia would continue as a matter of policy. It did not pose a risk to the people of the region. Much greater risks were posed by the hyper-profits generated by other energy industries which supported the unsustainable purchase of arms and ammunition. Energy supplies to Armenia were currently being blockaded by two countries and this meant that Armenia had to rely on its own supply of nuclear energy.

Mr PARFENOV (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

said he wished to return to the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh. His political group thought the issue was central to securing regional security. He asked what was preventing a solution being found through the work of the Minsk Group along OSCE principles.

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

said that Armenia had no problem coming to an agreement that would reflect the principles proposed in Madrid in 2007 to find a just and sustainable solution to the problem. There were three main principles. These were: the non-use or violence of the threat of violence; the territorial integrity of states; and the right to self-determination of regions. The problem was that Azerbaijan’s understanding of these principles differed from Armenia’s.

It was known that Azerbaijan had recently declared that it was willing to pursue a military solution showing that it was not abiding by the first principle. Armenia accepted the second principle which was why it had never presented any territorial claims either to Azerbaijan or to any international body. That was why the Republic of Armenia had still not recognised the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. The third principle was both understandable and acceptable. Indeed, acceptance of that principle had allowed many states to emerge over the last two decades. However, Azerbaijan’s understanding of that principle was different and it accepted only a particular interpretation with regard to Nagorno-Karabakh. It was only willing to allow the region’s independence as part of Azerbaijan. He believed that self-determination should allow people to be masters of their own destiny. He concluded that Armenia had no problem in fully accepting the Madrid principles.

Mr PETRENCO (Moldova)

I have two questions to ask on behalf of our group. First, many people remember that when you were elected there was a lot of violence. Unfortunately, 10 people got killed. Has anybody been convicted? Secondly, the Bureau of our Assembly decided to create an Ad hoc Committee on Nagorno-Karabakh, according to Resolution 1416 of 2005. The committee contains the heads of the national delegations from Armenia and Azerbaijan. Without the participation of the representatives of Armenia, the work of that committee is useless. What is your opinion on the committee and your further participation in its work?

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

said that he agreed with the question; the Armenian delegation’s refusal to participate in the committee made it impossible for the committee on Nagorno-Karabakh to conduct its work. This was something the Assembly’s Bureau should have thought about before it established and then later resuscitated the committee without consulting Armenia.

It was unclear what the Assembly expected this committee to achieve. Nevertheless, the Assembly did play an important role in promoting peace and stability in the region. There were steps that the Assembly could take to improve the situation. For example, within these walls, the Assembly should encourage the Azerbaijani and Armenian delegations not to file reciprocal allegations at each other. This would promote an atmosphere in which a solution could be found through dialogue and that was why it had been recommended in the 2005 report of the committee.

Some believed that the work of the committee had stopped because its chair, Lord Russell-Johnston, had passed away. This was not the case, as could be seen by reading documents or remembering what had been said. The committee had no access to the peace negotiations and possessed no institutional or historic memory so was not in a position to provide useful suggestions.

The Assembly had no mandate to intervene in the matter of Nagorno-Karabakh. The matter had been assigned to the OSCE Minsk Group, which contained three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. He could not think of a more credible body to discharge this role. He concluded that the committee would not produce a positive outcome and fully supported the decision of his delegation not to participate.


I call Mr Kox on a point of order.

Mr KOX (Netherlands)

I think the President was going to answer the first question from Mr Petrenco.

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (translation)

Please remind me what the first question was.


Mr Petrenco, would you please repeat your first question?

Mr PETRENCO (Moldova)

As many people remember, there was a lot of violence when the President was elected. Unfortunately, 10 people were killed. Has anybody been convicted yet?

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

said that it had been not just one person but many people who been arrested, including four police officers. He had gone into the details of the case in response to an earlier question. The reason the investigations had not been brought to a close yet was because not all the crimes had been solved.

Ms POSTANJYAN (Armenia) (interpretation)

said that Mr Sargsyan had told the Assembly that progress was being made in Armenia. She disagreed and said that elections had been rigged since 1995. She would like to ask when the government would act on the judgment from the International Court of Justice and hold extraordinary elections. She believed Mr Sargsyan should leave the country as it had been shown that authoritarian regimes never succeeded and so it would be easier in the long run if he left now.

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

said that he did not doubt that they had a difference of opinion. He had been kept informed of Ms Postanjyan’s views as her voice was often heard in parliament and she also took her debate to the streets and to the media, as she had a right to do. He respected her opinion but disagreed with her; people who make assertions should also be willing to listen to the response and it was important to hear the voices of both the opposition as well as those of one’s own colleagues. As the Assembly had heard, he had had meetings with senior officials of the Council of Europe and he was glad to report that their view was not the same as Ms Postanjyan’s.

He agreed that there was an important process of political reform under way and that it was useful to be open to criticism but critics should be in a position to offer specific and constructive feedback and inputs. He did not believe that it was necessary to hold an extraordinary election and, furthermore, the constitution of Armenia did not make this easy to arrange. He encouraged her to participate in the next ordinary elections, which would provide an opportunity for all voices to be heard. It was useful to have external input into elections and there would be monitors present from third-party countries to ensure that elections were conducted in a free and fair manner. He accepted that there was an atmosphere of mistrust towards elections in the country. Therefore, it was important that the elections were seen by the public to be free and fair.

Ms KEAVENEY (Ireland)

Gurbh maith agat, a Uachtaràn. Mr Sargsyan, you spoke about the promotion of tolerance and countering Armeno-phobia. Having researched the report on history teaching in conflict and post-conflict areas, which we passed here unanimously in July 2009, I wonder what efforts are being made in Armenian history teaching to support peace building and to develop a more positive image of the other for the next generation. Can you advise whether any collaboration with the Council of Europe and its very innovative work in this field in the past, present and, perhaps, the future might be deemed useful in Armenia or the wider region? Gurbh maith agat.

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

said that he appreciated the work of the Council of Europe. Armenia was still learning, both as a government and a society. It was important to ensure that its response to intolerance was not itself an intolerant one.

Regarding the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh, he himself was very aware of the issues involved, having worked as Minister of Defence for 15 years. Since 1993, Armenia had been talking in terms of mutual respect and compromise. He asked when anyone had ever heard Azerbaijan speak in those terms. He was aware of a sense of responsibility towards future generations and stressed that racism and xenophobia were unacceptable. Many of those who now formed the core of the Azerbaijani army had been born since 1993 and had been raised in an atmosphere of hostility and animosity towards Armenia. He asked how it was possible, in those circumstances, for confidence-building measures to take place on the front line. These would be possible only if all sides were convinced that they were necessary.

He very much appreciated the Deauville statement by the Presidents of the United States, of France and of Russia. He agreed that people should be preparing for peace rather than war. Armenia had an advantage in this respect in that, unlike Azerbaijan, it had taken this approach for the last 20 years. Nevertheless, he remained hopeful that there would not be a war if only because the number of casualties on both sides would be great. Rather than investing resources into preparing for war, resources should be directed towards resolving the issues peacefully. This was even more important in light of the fact that, although Azerbaijan was a relatively wealthy country, both countries were still in need of financial resources.


Thank you very much, Mr Sargsyan.

We must now conclude the questions to Mr Sargsyan. Mr President, on behalf of the Assembly, I thank you for your address and for the answers that you have given to the questions.