President of Armenia

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

I welcome this opportunity to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, our Organisation which represents 800 million Europeans. It is a great honour and responsibility for my country to hold the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers for the first time ever. During our six-month chairmanship we have aspired to make a contribution to strengthening the European value system as a means of confirming that Europe is a family of nations committed to common values, not just a geographical continent.

A few days ago Armenia celebrated the 22nd anniversary of her independence. The 22-year long path of building a free and democratic state has not been easy, with Azerbaijan constantly uttering war threats and instigating an arms race and Turkey closing the shortest route connecting Armenia with the world for so many years contrary to all international rules and norms. That has forced us to exert superhuman effort in developing a modern state.

Operating in this unique and complex set of circumstances, successive Armenian Governments and the Armenian people have remained focused on the pursuit of substantial reforms in all areas of public life in our country. The declaration of independence was the realisation of a dream held by my people for centuries and over generations. Accession to the Council of Europe restored our historic and cultural belonging to the European family of nations. Our society has always aspired to have a state system anchored in European values such as freedom, democracy and the rule of law. We view our membership of the Council of Europe and our co-operation with other European organisations as an important means of consolidating democracy and carrying out effective reforms in Armenia.

“Armenia has made great efforts to build a modern state”

The results of our joint efforts are visible and irreversible. Armenia today is a country of free speech and a free press. We safeguard the freedom of assembly. Civil society is vibrant and aware of its rights, and asserts and upholds them. These and numerous other achievements are essential for our future.

Armenia completed three major electoral cycles in the last 18 months. As a result of the May 2012 parliamentary election all the significant political players in Armenia gained seats in the parliament, making it a stronger and more viable political organ. The 2013 presidential election was conducted in a competitive environment. The Yerevan city council election was held in May. The Council of Europe had observation missions at all three elections. The first two were observed by the Assembly, while the Yerevan city council election was observed by the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. Delegations were able to observe the elections and produced reports containing relevant recommendations. I value these reports as representing the candid opinions of partners interested in Armenia’s future.

We have followed up on the recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly and other international partners regarding the organisation of free and fair elections. They are being rigorously considered and acted upon by a taskforce created specifically for improving the electoral process. A broad public consultation will be held in the next few days, focusing on the legal amendments proposed under the relevant recommendations, and with the participation of all stakeholders and the support of the international community.

We face a number of serious challenges, including unemployment, poverty and corruption. Our government is implementing comprehensive programmes to address them.

The rule of law is another important priority. Equality before the law is a sine qua non for our economic and political advancement. The ultimate objectives are human dignity and fundamental human rights and freedoms. The State, in turn, is bound by fundamental human and civic rights and freedoms, as that is the directly applicable law. These provisions, as enshrined in our constitution, predetermine the behaviour of individuals and State authorities in an effort to strengthen the rule of law and civil society.

Virtually all democratic constitutions enshrine the substance of the rule of law, but what matters more is its practical implementation, because for those in authority, being limited by law then becomes a rule of life. In young democracies, in particular, that requires a consistent and structured effort. It requires an independent judiciary and the impartial administration of justice. In that context, I believe that the conference held in July, under the auspices of Armenia’s chairmanship of the Council of Europe, on the rule of law and the scope of discretion of powers generated strong interest because it continued the process initiated under the UK’s chairmanship.

Our country has embarked on a new stage of systemic reforms in these areas. Long-term programmes are being implemented, all centred on safeguarding human rights and freedoms and creating an environment of tolerance, pluralism, non-discrimination, justice and mutual trust in the country.

Consolidating democracy and strengthening respect for human rights are our next priorities, and they are connected directly to the rule of law. Notable achievements in this field include a number of major amendments to the judicial code to improve transparency and fairness in the selection of judicial candidates. We remain focused on legal aspects of the appointment of judges, with a view to safeguarding their complete independence. The penitentiary institutions are being modernised and a probation service will be created. We have developed and started implementing the Armenia 2012-16 strategic programme of legal and judicial reforms, which I am sure will produce a judicial and legal system consistent with the standards of a modern democratic State. In that context, I attach much importance to the full implementation of the 2012-14 Armenia and Council of Europe action plan, which contains a number of important initiatives in this field.

We have had success, but we shall not stop there. I have undertaken a process of reforming the constitution of the Republic of Armenia with a view to further strengthening the safeguards for the rule of law and respect for human rights and freedoms, achieving an appropriate balance of powers and improving the effectiveness of public administration. We would be grateful if the Council of Europe, along with others, supported that process through the Venice Commission.

The European Union is one of Armenia’s most important partners. Wide-scale reforms in relation to human rights, democracy and the rule of law make up the core of our relationship. The Eastern Partnership instrument, created under the EU’s Eastern Partnership and in co-operation with the Council of Europe, is an important initiative. It covers a variety of activities in the participating States relating to electoral standards, judicial reform, good governance, corruption and the fight against cybercrime.

There has recently been much talk of the civilizational choice of the countries participating in the European Union’s Eastern Partnership. We have always stated that we are not prepared to view that matter in such a dimension. Armenia aims to continue its comprehensive and mutually beneficial partnership with the European Union. From the outset of the Eastern Partnership initiative, and even before, we have stated, and will continue to state, that we aspire to have the closest and widest possible relationship with the European Union, and that policy will continue. Armenia has a close allied relationship with Russia. Armenia has not built a new relationship at the expense of the relationship with her strategic ally, just as we would refuse to build a relationship with any partner that was aimed against any other partner. We will continue to match the relationships and interests with our key partners.

Peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs has been our priority, and it will remain so until we achieve a comprehensive settlement. We value the efforts of all those who support regional stability, but we also know that we must rely primarily on our own strength in order to contain the opponent in the event of possible negative developments and in order to maintain peace, especially as the leader of our neighbouring State continues to make public statements threatening war, declaring Armenians to be “Enemy No. 1” and boasting about disproportionate increases in military spending and the build-up of arms.

None the less, I believe that the people of Azerbaijan, or at least a significant number of them, do not share that mindset, because anyone in Azerbaijan who tries to recall candid memories of the past once shared with the Armenian people is publicly admonished, or threatened with having an ear cut off and being expelled from the country. Therefore, the actual mood of the people of Azerbaijan is not voiced. Whatever is heard is that which is demanded by the propaganda machine, hence the ineffectiveness of any attempt at confidence-building measures.

I am sure that our peoples will have a better future than the one contemplated by some leaders who preach hatred and war. As I have stated publicly on other occasions, I do not consider the people of Azerbaijan to be the enemies of the Armenian people. We are capable of respectfully resolving our disagreements and peacefully coexisting as neighbours.

Two day ago, my people mourned at the funeral of Sos Sargsyan, National Artist of the Republic of Armenia and one of the most gifted Armenian actors. The master’s last public statement was an open letter to the intellectuals of Azerbaijan, an appeal for peace, justice and reasonableness. The great intellectual wrote: “Are you really going to unleash a war, my dear neighbours? Nothing will come of it but innocent victims. Why? It is very simple: Karabakh for you is a territory, but for us it is a sacred fatherland.”

Indeed, we regularly appeal for sobriety, and claim firmly that the zealous incitement of xenophobia, unyielding threats of the use of force and the arms race will not do any good. Peace and co-operation are the only feasible means of building a prosperous future for the peoples of the region.

This is an axiom that requires no proof. International experience shows that democratic societies are best placed to resolve conflicts peacefully. In the past two decades, democratic institutions have been forged and continuously developed in Nagorno-Karabakh. According to well-known international organisations such as Freedom House, the level of democracy in Nagorno-Karabakh is noticeably better than that in some of its neighbours. Karabakh has been, is, and will remain a part of Europe. Its society is a part of the European family, regardless of its political status. Therefore, I believe that the Council of Europe could, regardless of status, initiate direct contacts with Karabakh in the relevant areas of its functions, especially as the Council of Europe has similar experience in other conflict zones.

As Armenians, we have been destined to become advocates in the fight against genocide. Genocide is not only a heinous crime against mankind, but a striking manifestation of fascism and intolerance and a grave encroachment on the right to life. People who have survived such tragedies have a distinct mission to prevent their recurrence. The best way to prevent atrocious crimes against mankind is to discuss those terrible pages of history and to assess the past in light of universal values.

Fighting against the preconditions that give rise to such heinous crimes is, in my opinion, of equal importance. Armenia is taking practical steps to mobilise the efforts of the international community for the prevention of the crimes of genocide, as well as combating their root causes. For years, Armenia has initiated various resolutions on the prevention of genocide in different international forums. Time and again, we have helped the United Nations Human Rights Council to adopt resolutions on the prevention of genocide. The aim of these resolutions is to keep the international community focused on the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and to remind the international community of the commitments made by States to eliminate crimes against humanity.

Armenia has declared the fight against intolerance, and propaganda inciting discrimination and hatred, as priorities for the term of the Armenian chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. We consider it shameful that such practices still exist in the modern era, and that in some countries they are even encouraged at state level. We have to be determined to eradicate such practices in any corner of the world.

Our societies are undergoing major transformations and face numerous challenges. What are our values in the 21st century? Which values are more prevalent today than others? Why do extremists and political currents and practices gain momentum? Why is social cohesion weakening? Why did the Council of Europe have to initiate a youth campaign against online hate speech? These and other questions are hard to answer in a few sentences. These practices are reprehensible. In an era of modern information technology, they can spread momentarily among millions of people. Swift and adequate responses are needed. It is our duty to strengthen bridges between nations, citizens, societies and religions, so that future generations inherit a much more peaceful and safer planet.

We remain focused on Syria. We are deeply concerned about the events happening there, which are causing the deaths of innocent civilians. There is a community of several thousands of Armenians who are an integral part of the Syrian people. Armenia unequivocally welcomes the Russian-American understanding on a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria, as well as the UN Security Council resolution adopted a few days ago.

We all have a duty to unite our efforts for the future. We need especially to engage the young generations in building our future. They are young, courageous and full of energy. Our societies will have a brighter future if we feed them the right ideas and educate them with true values that must be enriched by freedom and democracy and free from prejudice. As a unique Organisation setting and spreading standards of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, the Council of Europe has a crucial mission in this process. Its role in accomplishing our common objectives must be maximised.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you very much, Mr Sargsyan, for your most interesting address. Members of the Assembly have questions to put to you.

I remind them that questions must be limited to 30 seconds and no more. Colleagues should be asking questions and not making speeches. The first question is from Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.


Armenia had a final agreement with the Eastern Partnership and an association agreement with the European Union, but at the last minute changed its mind and joined the Russian customs union. Russia is putting a lot of pressure not only on Armenia but on Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan. In the case of Armenia, I understand that the pressure concerns security in Armenia and the support of Russia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. My question is this: did Armenia receive a so-called offer it could not refuse from Russia?

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

First, Armenia remains on track. The customs union is not the customs union of Russia; it is the customs union of several countries. From the very beginning of the negotiations we always told our European colleagues in the European Commission that our policy is one of matching interests, not conflicting interests. Our colleagues have agreed with us and said that the Eastern Partnership is not aimed against any third party, State or organisation. The Eastern Partnership can always supplement activities of other organisations, meaning that our interests could be complementary in this area.

We still stand ready to sign an association agreement with the European Union. Unfortunately, after stating our intention to join the customs union, our European Commission colleagues said that there was a direct conflict between the customs union and the free trade agreement, as well as different rules. We suggested that we should therefore sign the association agreement, which mainly relates to political reforms. We have said that we are ready and committed to carrying out those reforms, and we are continuing that process.

As to pressure, it would be redundant to speak of any. I can tell you frankly – I would not say anything publicly but the truth – that no official from the Russian Federation or the customs union has uttered even half a word about the need for Armenia’s accession. We were the ones expressing that desire, because we face a simple reality: for more than 20 years, we have been in a military-security system of countries that now form a customs union. We cannot isolate ourselves from the geo-economic area in which we have operated for more than two decades.

If time permitted, I could give you a much longer account of Armenia’s economic interests, but I repeat my reassurance that we will continue to co-operate closely with the European Union, which is what we want.

Lord PRESCOTT (United Kingdom)

Mr President, you will recall our four years of negotiations, with me as the rapporteur for this Assembly, relating to democracy, human rights and changes of law to create a better situation in Armenia. Thanks to your co-operation, that was achieved. However, are you aware that 29 people in your prisons are conscientious objectors who refuse to serve in your armed forces, which is clearly in breach of Council of Europe principles? Will you release them and offer them an alternative civilian activity?

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

Lord Prescott, I again thank you publicly for your co-operation. We did, indeed, negotiate effectively, and Armenia has benefited from that. You will certainly know that to achieve European standards for freedom of conscience, we carried out an immense amount of work and, showing political will, introduced legal amendments. We have already changed the legislation on alternative forms of service. People who do not want to serve in the army, because of their conscience, will be exempted from criminal liability under our procedures. There is a political will, legislative reform has been implemented and the process is under way.

Ms GUŢU (Republic of Moldova) (interpretation)

What have been Armenia’s expectations for the Eastern Partnership summit that will take place in Vilnius at the end of November since you became a member of the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan? Will Armenia wish to sign an association agreement with the European Union?

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

We will take part in the Vilnius summit and, in the run-up to it, our expectation is that changes will be made to the negotiating document.

We stand fully ready to sign the association agreement, but there are two facets – the association agreement and the deep and comprehensive free trade area. Since our European colleagues have told us that the DCFTA contradicts the customs union treaties, we anticipate that we will sign only the association agreement. The association agreement and reforms to be taken under it are the nexus of our relationship with the European Union. The main document is the association agreement, and we want to make use of its provisions. We are benefiting from the talks with the European Union on reforming our country. We would like to be in Vilnius and would like to sign the association agreement.

Mr David DAVIES (United Kingdom)

Mr President, your country has obviously received a large number of Syrians, including those of Armenian extraction, as a result of the conflict in Syria. Are you satisfied with their current living conditions? May I press you on whether you would be willing to support talks that involve all parties – I stress, all parties – now taking part in that conflict?

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

We support the talks and the formula for the agreement that has been reached. As for the living conditions and general plight of our sisters and brothers who have fled Syria, I can tell you that I have not been satisfied about the living conditions of some Armenian citizens for quite a while, because there is poverty and unemployment in my country. Despite that, we are doing our best to ensure that, as far as possible, Armenians fleeing from Syria feel at ease. We have provided housing to some and support to others. A special school has been opened in Yerevan, using the Syrian school curriculum, so that when the children return to Syria, they can continue their education in Syrian schools, because we believe that the situation in Syria will return to normal. We have launched a process with international organisations committed to supporting refugees from Syrian. Ethnic Armenians are no exception: we will do our best to ensure that our sisters and brothers coming from Syria feel protected in Armenia.

Mr PAPADIMOULIS (Greece) (interpretation)

My question is clear: do you want to maintain the status quo on Nagorno-Karabakh or are you prepared to look for a political compromise? In relation to bilateral relations with Turkey, are you in discussions with that country or planning to take any initiatives to reduce tension between your two countries?

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

As you know, the OSCE Minsk Group is dealing with the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. We have been negotiating for more than 20 years. From the outset, it was clear to us that the problem could be resolved only on the basis of compromise and mutual concessions. Without mutual concessions, there can be no solution.

In 2007, after lengthy talks, the OSCE Minsk Group proposed to us and the other parties a document that later became known as the Madrid Principles. The document proposes resolution of the conflict on the basis of three fundamental principles: the non-use of force or threats of force, the right of peoples to self-determination and the territorial integrity of states. After we received the document, we declared that it would be possible to resolve the conflict on the basis of those principles. After a pause, the Azerbaijanis also declared that they were ready to resolve the conflict on that basis.

From 2008, after my first presidential election, I became directly engaged in the talks with the President of Azerbaijan. We held talks for more than three years with the mediation of the former Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev. In the summer of 2011, some people believed that the parties were ready to sign an agreement on the fundamental principles. We travelled to Kazan in Russia to have a meeting to sum up the talks and sign a document. On the eve of that event, I made a statement to this Organisation and I said that I strongly doubted whether our counterparts were ready to sign a document. The international community believed differently. Unfortunately, I turned out to be right. In Kazan, instead of signing the document, the Azerbaijanis came up with 10 new amendments, which we naturally could not accept.

From that time on, the Azerbaijanis have created artificial obstacles to the peace talks and have escalated the situation by elevating the tone of their threats and building up their arms. Their goal, which they do not hide, is to solve the issue by force. They are thereby refusing to accept two of the three principles proposed by the co-chairs of the Minsk Group: the non-use of force or threats of force and the right of peoples to self-determination.

We maintain our opinion that the issue has to be solved on the basis of mutual concessions. The three principles have to be applied concurrently. We are ready to reach a solution on the basis of mutual concessions because we want peace and stability. We want the resources that are being spent on an arms race in the region to be redirected towards the prosperity of our peoples.

Ms POSTANJYAN (Armenia) (interpretation)

It is obvious that you are here not because of the will of the Armenian people, but as a result of an organised crime – the theft of the vote of the Armenian people on 18 February. You therefore cannot represent the will and authority of the Armenian people. I will therefore ask a question on a different topic.

Have you recently been in a casino in Europe? You are known to the public as a gambler. Have you lost €70 million? Who paid for the money that you lost? If that was not the amount of your loss in a casino, what was it?

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

I am deeply convinced, Ms Postanjyan, that I do represent the Armenian people. I am proud to do so. Unfortunately, your candidate was not able to display the kind of qualities that one needs to present to the Armenian people in a presidential election.

Your statement about a casino is another product of your imagination. I have never been in any casino in Europe. I do not gamble in casinos. Unfortunately, I could not afford €70 million. If I could, I would donate some of it to you so that you could be happier with your life and not have so much evilness in you.

Mr IVANOVSKI (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”)

According to the reports of our Assembly, Armenia has made limited progress in its democratic development. The judiciary lacks independence, the administration continues to be pressured by the ruling party and the levels of crime and corruption are not decreasing. Serious concerns also remain over elections. Voters report pressure and intimidation, and public resources have been misused in the ruling party’s campaign. What serious and concrete improvements will be made to democratic standards, particularly with respect to elections, to fulfil Armenia’s obligations as part of the Council of Europe, and when will that happen?

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

I am sorry; I do not know which country or faction you represent, but I see that you are hostile to Armenia. I invite you to read carefully all the reports on Armenia. I advise you first to read the reports of the international observation missions, which clearly state that Armenia has made progress. You should take the time and effort to go through those reports. I respect your right to express your opinion. I hope that your country has a greatly improving democracy, although I do not know which country you represent. If you are so deeply concerned about the level of democracy in Armenia, I am sure that you are a dozen times more concerned about the democratic processes in your country.

Mr FOURNIER (France) (interpretation)

My question echoes that of Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin. Armenia has said that it wants to join the customs union that was set up by Russia. That rapprochement has led to question marks being raised in the European Union, because at the beginning of 2013, your country said that it wanted to strengthen its links to the European Union and that it would sign a protocol to the partnership and co-operation agreement. This situation seems to be jeopardising the European free trade agreement that your country had been planning to sign at the Eastern Partnership summit at the end of November. What plans do you have for relations between your country and the European Union?

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

As I said earlier, we will continue to develop our relationship with the European Union. We will go to Vilnius. We are talking to our colleagues in the European Union about what kind of document we may be able to sign.

Let me reiterate, the policy is one of complementarity. From the very beginning of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership talks, we agreed with our European colleagues that our relationship with the Union would not be promoted at the expense of any existing relationship with our allies – our relationship with the European Union would complement our relationship with other organisations. For more than three years, that was the mutual understanding. I regret that our colleagues in the European Union deemed a free trade agreement incompatible with our accession to the customs union. The association agreement is about not only a free trade area, but, primarily and fundamentally, political reform. I declare that we will continue such reforms, and that we stand ready to sign that part of the association agreement in Vilnius.


How many times, Mr President, have I spoken with your wonderful diplomatic representation in Madrid, and how often have they given me the same answer that you have given us this morning about the four UN Security Council resolutions and the two adopted here in the Council of Europe? With complete respect and affection, therefore, what can we do to help you in this conflict? What initiatives could you take tomorrow? Otherwise we will continue for ever and a day talking about such initiatives. That is my question, thank you.

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia

In brief, on the four UN Security Council resolutions, this is the question that Azerbaijanis do not like to answer: why four resolutions? All four resolutions primarily required termination of warfare, stabilisation of the situation and then resolution of the issues. That is the reason: Azerbaijan never complied with the core requirements of the UN Security Council resolutions, which were about discontinuing the fighting. After each successive resolution, the Azerbaijanis would unleash or prepare a new attack and, as a result, they would lose more land, and then a resolution would be adopted by the Security Council. Eventually, the Security Council saw that Azerbaijan was not willing to stop the fighting, which is why it stopped adopting resolutions. Armenia diligently complied with those components of the Security Council resolutions that were relevant to Armenia: for Armenia to use its influence with the population of Nagorno-Karabakh to comply with UN Security Council resolutions. That is the situation.

What could the international community and you here in particular do? Each one of our states, by joining the Council of Europe, has assumed commitments. In 2001, we and Azerbaijan assumed the obligation to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by peaceful means. As you can see, we remain steady in declaring that the conflict must be resolved peacefully, but almost daily the leadership of Azerbaijan – at least weekly at the level of the president – is claiming that the conflict must be solved by military means.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe should ask Azerbaijan if it is really committed to its obligations. If not, there must be a decision; if yes, it should comply with its obligations. Most importantly, we should reach a conclusion, which should be that the conflict has to be resolved by peaceful means. I do not say that because Azerbaijan is building up more arms or has a greater population than Armenia, nor because we are afraid of losing a possible war. We are afraid of war and do not want to fight – we are not afraid of fighting, but we do not want a war. War will not solve the problem. We cannot engage in war forever – even the Hundred Years’ War ended one day – and, eventually, we will have to find a peaceful solution.

Through the co-chairs, the international community has conveyed to us that any solution has to be anchored in three fundamental principles. First, peacefully, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh have to be able to determine how they continue their lives; they have to decide if they are part of Azerbaijan, independent or part of Armenia. That is for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to determine, just as other peoples have decided their futures. Also, we agree that Azerbaijan should strive for its territorial integrity, but we do not have any territorial claims on Azerbaijan. Those are the three principles on which any solution of the conflict must be solved.

First and foremost, confidence must be built, and such confidence will be built when we – I refer primarily to the leadership of Azerbaijan – stop uttering threats. If the top leader utters threats, the bulk of society will repeat such threats, which is why no talks will succeed among the PACE delegates, among intellectuals or at any level. You should help to build an atmosphere of confidence. You should demand that we all honour our commitments.

Mr SEYIDOV (Azerbaijan)

Mr Sargsyan, you mentioned territorial integrity and claims. Azerbaijan has had 20% of its territory occupied by Armenia, including seven regions that never belonged to Nagorno-Karabakh. At the same time, you have territorial claims on Turkey and Georgia, and you are playing games with European integration and the customs union. Do you think that such policies have a future?

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia

The kind of policy you described does not have a future, but that kind of policy also has nothing in common with ours. We have never made any territorial claims on Turkey; if you can find a single speech or statement saying that, I would apologise to you, but you would be better collecting information. As to Georgia, you are breaking news to me, and that news is ridiculous – to us and to the Georgians. I do not know who you represent, but how could you possibly say that of two brotherly nations and try to incite a problem?

All European organisations, including the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, have consistently supported States in the sovereign expression of their will. It is up to the Republic of Armenia whether it joins the customs union, the European Union or, perhaps, the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation. Why would we have to report to you?

What do you mean by “playing games”? I am not an athlete. You may have done it in your youth, but we do not play games. We are engaged in politics and policy, and we pursue our politics in the best interests of our people. As for the claim that 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory is occupied, I ask you to update your knowledge of math. Then your attitude to Armenia should change. That is my request of you.

One of the four UN resolutions mentioned earlier states that Armenia was not related to the warfare in Nagorno-Karabakh. The UN Security Council set up a special fact-finding commission that looked into it. Today, we believe that the Republic of Armenia and its armed forces are the guarantors of the security of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. I declare here that if Azerbaijan were to unleash war against Nagorno-Karabakh, the Republic of Armenia would defend Nagorno-Karabakh with its full capacity. One should not unleash a war and then complain about occupation. Now Azerbaijan is threatening us with another war. I am sure that if that were to happen, after a few months, Azerbaijanis would be complaining that not 20% but 25% or 30% of their territory was occupied. Warfare should not be unleashed in the first place.

Mr RYABIKIN (Ukraine) (interpretation)

President, as we understand from what you said, a political settlement for Nagorno-Karabakh has been rather delayed and long drawn out, yet at the same time, the victims of the situation are those who live in Nagorno-Karabakh, of different ethnicities, who have been forced to abandon the area and are unable to return to their homes. What humanitarian initiatives have you planned for those people?

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

I think that all the people who left their homes due to the conflicts have the full right to return to their settlements – we support that – but the question is: to where can those people actually return? To what kind of country or territory would they return? Do they not need to know the status of the country in which they would be settling? Would it not incite further fighting? Do you think, if that territory is Nagorno-Karabakh proper, that the Government in Nagorno-Karabakh would be able to station a police officer or soldier next to every returning family?

Basically, what I mean is that a political solution is required. The conflict must be settled and resolved fully in order for those people finally and permanently to return to their homes. Otherwise, if they were to return today, due to the policies of Azerbaijan, there would be more fighting and new conflicts, and they would again have to leave the areas where they settled. Would that be logical? By the way, the Madrid Principles document addressed issues relating to refugees, among other things. A comprehensive solution is required, including to the problem of the return of people who had to leave their permanent residence due to the fighting.

Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova)

Mr President, foreign affairs and external relations are very important for every country. Given that Armenia faces some challenges in that regard, which I believe most members of this Assembly regret, and with the best thoughts in my mind, what can you say about your relations with Turkey?

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

Unfortunately, the effort that we have exerted to initiate a relationship with Turkey has yielded no positive outcome, because the Turks are not ready to initiate a relationship with Armenia. You know that we engaged in lengthy talks that ended with the signing of protocols on creating diplomatic relations and normalising relations, but the Turkish leadership subsequently refused to ratify those documents. I will not dwell on the reasons here, because they know them better, but I want to share my impression, which is that the Turks have no intention to ratify those documents in the foreseeable future. We are not the reason for the absence of a relationship. We believe that every country should be responsible about the documents that it signs. Unfortunately, in this particular case, we have not seen that responsibility, so there is no relationship today. The Turkish Government has tried through different channels to communicate proposals, but I believe that those proposals are mostly intended to calm the international community. If the Turks genuinely wanted to do something, they could ratify the protocols. We would then engage with them and normalise relations. We would discuss any issue of interest.

Mr JAPARIDZE (Georgia)

Mr President, there are many problems for security, stability and prosperity, especially in our part of the world. We in our region are interconnected and intertwined, in the sense that we cannot change our geography. Despite all the problems and conflicts, my question is this: is there any prospect of regional co-operation?

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

One of the main ideas or objectives of the Eastern Partnership, as you know, was to promote regional co-operation. I know that you of all people are very well aware of our relationship with Georgia, and you will know of our efforts. We have a brilliant relationship, with numerous joint projects. The latest example is the implementation of integrated customs and border control points. Regional co-operation will be inevitable, but any co-operation implies the presence of interested parties. If one party is not interested, we cannot co-operate, as hard as we may try. Co-operation is a two-way street. It cannot be a one-way street. We are ready to engage in any co-operation.

In terms of this co-operation, we suggested to Turkey that we normalise relations. Of course we are not going to change our geographical location. We are going to remain where we are and live side by side with the simple reality in mind that we have to engage constructively. We have to be able to relate, engage and build a relationship. However, with parties that are not interested, and parties boasting about their attempts to isolate a neighbour, it is hard to conceive of any form of co-operation.

We will maintain our good relationship with Georgia and we hope that, in any event, the day will come that others will join us.

Mr ZINGERIS (Lithuania)

Thank you, President. I am from Vilnius in Lithuania. I have spent 20 years in parliamentary activity. Previously, I was in the democratic movement. In 1989, I remember that we avoided Soviet captivity and Armenia declared independence. With respect, there is a question for your country and for you about internal consultations. Which type of internal consultations do you have with opposition members before making a statement and what is the possibility for a referendum in your country, before deciding not to join the pact joined by Ukraine and Moldova?

How broad is the consensus in Armenian society about the crucial decision of the 28 November meeting in Vilnius and on your signature, sir? Thank you very much for your contribution.

Mr Sargsyan, President of Armenia (interpretation)

This question has regularly been discussed with the political actors. If I were to tell you that all the opposition political forces have been deeply consulted, I would not be telling the truth, but the Armenian constitution reserves the power for the President to carry out foreign policy and allows the President to sign international treaties. All international treaties will have to come to the Armenian Parliament, where all the political forces are represented. If the Parliament of Armenia refused to ratify these documents signed by the President of Armenia, one could look for other options and give up on certain policies.

I hope that accession to the customs union will also be in the interests of the different political forces, because it is in the interests of our people. We are tied to the member States of the customs union by thousands of threads. One third of our exports is destined for the Russian Federation, and these exports are predominantly agricultural produce and processed goods. You might imagine, if the technical regulations were not met, how hard it would be for us to export agricultural produce.

The signing of the association agreement in Vilnius represents the opinion of the majority of our society. We are doing opinion polls now and I do not think that there will be a need for a referendum as things stand, but it is possible that at some point in future, if the political forces demand it, there may be one. Let me assure you that our surveys show that our decision reflects the interests and the wish of the majority of the Armenian people.


Thank you, President.

I am sorry, colleagues, but we have to interrupt the list of questions to Mr Sargsyan, because it is already 1.14 p.m. and I am sure that you all wish to have your lunch. You are invited to a reception at the exit of the Chamber directly behind me, kindly offered by Armenia.

I thank you again for your address, President, and for the answers given to questions.