Prime Minister of Armenia

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Thank you, Madam President. I shall deliver my speech in Armenian, so please adjust your headphones, colleagues.

(The speaker continued in Armenian) Honourable Madam President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, honourable Mr Secretary General of the Council of Europe, and honourable members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, high-ranking guests who speak from this rostrum commonly start their statements with the following sentence: “It is a great honour for me to speak from the rostrum of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.” It is indeed a great honour, but allow me to say that speaking from this rostrum has particular meaning and significance for me. I will now try to explain the reasons why.

In the summer of 1999, as editor-in-chief of the Oragir daily newspaper, I was awaiting the judgment in a criminal case instigated against me. The case had been triggered by an article published in Oragir, as I was its editor. The prosecutor demanded that I be convicted and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. Back in those days, it was virtually impossible for a court to depart from what a prosecutor claimed, but then something like a miracle happened. Although I was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison, the court imposed the sentence in such a way as to postpone my actual imprisonment.

It later emerged that there was only one reason for that. As Armenia was preparing to become a member of the Council of Europe and as the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Lord Russell-Johnston, was about to visit Armenia to discuss matters related to accession, the authorities had come to appreciate that jailing an editor would not set a very positive background for the visit of such an eminent person. During his visit, Lord Russell-Johnston did indeed discuss my situation and the authorities apparently promised not to put me behind bars. In fact, after Lord Russell-Johnston’s visit my conviction became conditional, and because Armenia proceeded to accede to the Council of Europe in the rest of 1999 and 2000, I managed to stay out of prison during that time.

In subsequent years, criminal proceedings were launched against me on several occasions, but my actual imprisonment was always postponed. It eventually happened after the well-known events of 1 March 2008, when the unlawful actions of the authorities led to the deaths of 10 Armenian citizens, including eight peaceful demonstrators. At that time, thousands of opposition supporters were taken to police stations just for participating in a demonstration. Moreover, about a hundred political leaders and activists ended up behind bars as political prisoners. Citizens who had been deprived of the right to assemble, politicians who had been jailed and their relatives, and the relatives of the victims of 1 March 2008, invested all their hope and faith in the Council of Europe and this Parliamentary Assembly, because after 1 March 2008 the constitution had been essentially repealed in the Republic of Armenia and people had neither any hope nor access to any effective legal remedy.

The five resolutions adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in connection with those events brought a breath of fresh air into Armenia. They gave the people hope and a belief that not everything was lost. I had been held in pre-trial detention since 2009, and I was convicted and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment in 2010. However, I spent only two years in prison before I was again freed, owing to the support of the citizens of the Republic of Armenia but also the support of the Council of Europe.

In winter 2011, I was visited in prison by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg. That visit was essential in drawing international attention to the general plight of political prisoners in Armenia and to my plight in particular. Not long afterwards, the European Court of Human Rights declared my case an urgent one and two months after that the authorities in Armenia released me under an act of pardon, knowing all too well that otherwise the Council of Europe’s next step would have been officially to declare me a political prisoner.

The next stage of my engagement with the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly was in December 2018. At that time, I was already the Prime Minister of Armenia, a position that I had achieved as a result of the non-violent, Velvet people’s revolution that took place in April and May of 2018. In December 2018, it was time for the next milestone in the revolution – the snap parliamentary election in my country. In that election, our political party received over 70% of the vote, but more importantly the PACE observation mission concluded that the election was democratic. It said, “Owing to the Velvet revolution and the political will demonstrated by the authorities, it has been possible to conduct democratic elections in Armenia.” The other international observation missions also recognised December’s snap parliamentary election as a free, fair, democratic and competitive election, an assessment that had never been made of any previous election in Armenia. It was the first time that the official outcome of a parliamentary election in my country was not challenged in the constitutional court. It was also the first parliamentary election in Armenia to produce a result that was unreservedly accepted by all the political forces and the general public.

Now, standing here as Prime Minister after being elected by the people of the Republic of Armenia, I wish to extend my gratitude to the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly for their support of human rights and the development of democracy in Armenia. Democracy has now prevailed in Armenia. It has happened because of the non-violent, Velvet people’s revolution that took place in Armenia about a year ago. I want to underline clearly that the revolution was conceived in the soul and heart of the Armenian people. No foreign power was involved in any way whatsoever in our revolution. It had no geopolitical content nor any geopolitical undercurrents.

So how did this revolution take place and how did it succeed? In 2015, near the end of his second presidential term, Armenia’s then de facto leader, Serzh Sargsyan, implemented constitutional amendments that would transition Armenia from a semi-presidential form of government to a parliamentary system by April 2018. When Serzh Sargsyan was initiating those constitutional amendments, he publicly promised never again to aspire to the position of Armenia’s leader, which was also the position of Prime Minister. In 2018, however, it became clear that he was the ruling party’s candidate for the position of Prime Minister.

When we learned about that, my friends and I started a march on 31 March 2018 from Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city, to the capital city, Yerevan. En route, we urged Armenian citizens to prevent Serzh Sargsyan from carrying out his political swindle. We walked for 13 days and over 200 kilometres, with the whole process being covered live on social media. In Yerevan, countless school children – boys and girls – were the first in the city to join our movement. They were followed by their elder siblings – their brothers and sisters – and then by their mothers and fathers, and finally by their grandfathers and grandmothers.

On 17 April 2018, Serzh Sargsyan was elected by the Parliament as Prime Minister, and on 22 April 2018 I once again found myself in prison. However, the very next day Serzh Sargsyan was forced by popular pressure to release my friends and me, and to resign as Prime Minister. Fifteen days later, on 8 May 2018, that same parliament elected me as Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia, because that was what the Armenian public demanded. That is how our revolution took place, which we came to call the revolution of love and solidarity because from the outset it was based on the logic of a non-violent struggle. Open palms and open hands raised in the air were the symbol of our revolution. They signified our repeated pledge that even if the police and the incumbent were to use violence against us, we would not under any circumstances respond to violence with violence. Love and the belief in non-violent struggle truly prevailed in Armenia over the oligarchic and corrupt system that had ruled the country for years. They prevailed with no violence and without a single victim. They prevailed without any weapons, just open hands raised in the air.

Vast political changes are happening in Armenia. We have managed to root out systemic corruption, eliminate the monopolistic structure of the economy and create real prerequisites for everyone’s equality before the law. Every day we are further reducing the grey economy. Over the last 10 months, more than 50 000 jobs have been brought out of the shadow economy or created in Armenia. That is the equivalent of 10% of the total jobs in the labour market. Our fiscal revenue has significantly exceeded targets. In 2019 we plan to collect at least €70 million more in fiscal revenue – the equivalent of 2.6% of total fiscal revenue. Those additional funds will be used to build roads, invest in education and healthcare, develop regions evenly and increase wages. Our government’s activities are transparent and accountable, and our power stems from the expression of our people’s free will.

Today, Armenia is unequivocally a democratic country with absolute freedom of expression and of assembly. The chapter of election rigging and systemic corruption in our country has been closed definitively. Our government continues to take steps to enhance respect for human rights. However, our democracy needs to be reinforced with economic and institutional safeguards. The development of democratic institutions, the existence of an independent judiciary and the creation and strengthening of anti-corruption institutions are all key areas in which we need the support of the Council of Europe. All that is important not only to consolidate the outcomes of our political revolution, but to succeed in our recently launched economic revolution, which primarily is aimed at encouraging our citizens’ economic activity, creating real opportunities for them, and making Armenia even more attractive for investments and tourism and a true pioneer in technology. We are convinced that we will succeed in this difficult mission because our people have regained faith in our own strength and future.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains a serious challenge for our whole region. Like any democratic government, the Armenian Government is committed to the principle of a peaceful settlement of the issue. However, the democratic changes that have taken place in our country have added some new shades to our understanding of how the issue can be settled. It is crucial that we have managed to launch a rather constructive and positive dialogue with Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, but I am convinced that mere dialogue between leaders is not enough to settle the issue. It is important to launch a dialogue between societies, so that we prepare our respective societies for peace, not war. In my recent press conference in Yerevan, I stated that social media could serve as an important platform for such dialogue, although Armenians and Azerbaijanis unfortunately continue to use it to interact using the language of obscenity and hate.

Over the 30 years of conflict, we could have exhausted the vocabulary of hate and obscenity, helped one another to understand our respective positions and at least attempted to find the reasons that keep us from understanding one another. I initiated that discourse by stating in the Armenian Parliament several times that any solution to the Karabakh issue must be acceptable to the people of Armenia, of Nagorno-Karabakh and of Azerbaijan. That statement was unprecedented and outlined the formula that could pave the way to a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh issue. Unfortunately, we still have not heard similar statements from Azerbaijan. I hope that this message, conveyed from this rostrum of peace, will earn an adequate response in Azerbaijani society.

There is a reason I just called this Assembly’s rostrum a rostrum of peace. I believe this is the place where obscenity ought to be replaced with dialogue, and provocations with constructive engagement. Unfortunately, the rostrum of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is, at times, used to instigate wars. I must note that the discussion on Nagorno-Karabakh that took place here in January 2016 became a prelude to the four-day war unleashed in April of the same year. It created a fertile ground for Azerbaijan’s armed forces to launch an attack. I could not confidently assert that they were doing so consciously, but still, the authors of those discussions and documents triggered a war that cost Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan several hundred lives. To this day, on other international platforms as well as this one, unfortunately there are attempts to drag such organisations into geopolitical games and conflicts, attempting to turn them into parties to conflicts. That behaviour is absolutely contrary to the mission and essence of these organisations.

Needless to say, each conflict must be examined in terms of its merits and essence. Passing judgment on any conflict without understanding its origin, causes, nature and peculiarities would be tantamount to playing with human lives and destinies. That is why we continue to believe that the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs should be the only ones to deal with the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, together with the three parties to conflict. That is the only format in which the participants have information on not only the status quo but the whole history and subtleties of the negotiations from day one. The OSCE Minsk Group was established as a platform for dialogue between all the parties to the conflict – Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan and Armenia. We are taking measures to reinstate dialogue between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan through the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.

That does not in any way mean that there is no role for the Council of Europe to play in the Karabakh conflict zone. This Organisation, which promotes human rights and democratic institutions in Europe, has paid no attention whatever to supporting non-governmental organisations operating in Nagorno-Karabakh. PACE has taken no steps whatever to promote the consolidation of democratic institutions and the development of civil society in Nagorno-Karabakh. The explanation given has been that there are ambiguities and discrepancies regarding its status, and it is not internationally recognised as a state, but the engagement of PACE has nothing to do with sovereign status. Nagorno-Karabakh is still not recognised internationally as a sovereign state, but is there international debate on whether the people living there are human beings? For the Council of Europe, a global pioneer in the protection of human rights, should documents prevail over real people?

From this high rostrum, I appeal to the Council of Europe – and all organisations in Europe working for the promotion of human rights, protection of the freedom of expression, and the strengthening of democratic institutions – to help the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to improve their laws and institutions, and to promote human rights, the rule of law and independence of the judiciary. Human beings will benefit from that. Humans are worth much more than any documents, or any political or group’s interests. I am convinced that the Council of Europe and this Parliamentary Assembly will be guided by their values.

Honourable President, Secretary General and members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, it has been very important and a true honour for me to address this Assembly on the first anniversary of the Armenian revolution of love and solidarity. Declaring Armenia country of the year in 2018, The Economist posed the following question: will Armenia be able to advance the success achieved in 2018? I am honoured to declare from this high rostrum that democracy in Armenia is irreversible, for the simple reason that its victory in our country was secured not by political leaders or parties, but by the people, the citizens, the youth. They know now that they are the driving force of all progress. They will certainly not miss this exceptional opportunity to turn Armenia into a beacon of democracy, rule of law, transparency and tolerance. Armenia can and will remain a source of good news for all those who believe in democracy. Thank you.

The PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you for that wonderful appeal launched from this rostrum of peace, as you have called it, Prime Minister. You have described your country’s situation, and spoke about the Council of Europe’s past role with regard to Armenia. That reminds us of how weighty our responsibilities are. We must continue to defend the values of this Organisation.

I give the floor to members who wish to put questions to you. I remind members that they have only 30 seconds to put a question, and should not make a speech. I call Mr Vareikis.

Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania), Spokesperson for the Group of the European People’s Party

Prime Minister, you have said a few sentences about your relations with Azerbaijan, but you have other neighbours, with whom relations are probably also problematic. Are you happy with your relations with neighbouring countries? If not, what improvements can you make to them?

Mr Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia (interpretation)

Thank you for the question. We do indeed have neighbours with whom our relationship is not so good. We also have neighbours with whom our relations are very good – Georgia and Iran, with whom are relations are at a high level, and with whom we have high-level engagement and dialogue. We are trying to develop those relationships further. As for our relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey, unfortunately, essentially we do not have diplomatic relations with them at all, and that says it all. The situation with Azerbaijan is I think evident to all of us, but with Turkey, things are somewhat different, because Turkey links the establishment of relations with Armenia to Armenia’s relationship with Azerbaijan. Armenia has not changed its position; we have said that we stand ready to establish relations with Turkey without preconditions.

As to our relationship with Azerbaijan, I provided a general outline of how we see it moving forward. I underline that our relationship with Azerbaijan and our other neighbours is seen by us as part of an agenda of peace. I am happy that through our actions, our government has been able to put on the table an agenda of peace.

Mr SCHÄFER (Germany), Spokesperson for the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group (interpretation)

Prime Minister, you described very impressively your country’s move to democracy in recent years. I congratulate you on that. Will any politicians there go on trial, and will there be a fully independent judiciary?

Mr Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia (interpretation)

Thank you for the question. The question of the judiciary is one of the most urgent and important ones for our government. There has been a revolution in Armenia’s political system, but a revolution has not taken place in our judiciary. I can assure you of one thing, without any sentiment: it is vital to us to have a 100% unconditionally independent judiciary whose decisions and judgments are trusted by Armenian society and the international community.

Recently, a delegation of the European Union came to Armenia, and we discussed our position on having an independent judiciary. The delegates posed a very direct question to me: “How far are you willing to go to make the judiciary independent?” I gave a very direct answer. I said that en route to an independent judiciary, we are ready to go to the very end. We understand that without a truly and unobjectionably independent judiciary we cannot guarantee or safeguard, irreversibly and ultimately, the continuous strengthening and consolidation of our democracy and institutions.

Do we have such a judiciary today? Unfortunately, I cannot give you a 100% assurance on that, but I do give you a 100% assurance that our government has eliminated the alleged practice of the judiciary being steered by government. We have completely given up on this practice. This may sound a bit strange, but I do not have 100% confidence that the other levers of influence over the judiciary are all gone. I am not fully confident that there is no corruption in our judiciary because about 10 days ago, a judge was arrested in Armenia as he was taking a bribe. It is clear that we are fully committed to the agenda of having an independent judiciary. Please rest assured on that.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom), Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group

Prime Minister, I would like to push you some more on the question of your relationship with Iran. Iran has a very chequered relationship with Europe. How do you see that relationship developing? How do you see it playing out in the context of Europe?

Mr Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia (interpretation)

I can tell you that in all my exchanges with senior European officials, I have noted that our European counterparts understand the importance of the Armenian-Iranian relationship; and they agree that we should pursue our vision of maintaining and developing positive, good relations with Iran. As to the international situation we have over Iran, that is rather challenging. In this political controversy, we have our friends on this side of the line and our friends on that side of the line. Of course, our hope – our appeal and wish – is that political disagreements with others, including this one, are resolved through dialogue. Dialogue is the only way in which we can pursue the solution to these problems in the 21st century and at our current level of civilisation, and we should do so. To be frank, in the exchanges with all our European counterparts I have seen an understanding and appreciation of the situation. I have not yet spoken with everyone personally but when I speak with our European Union partners and the other countries of Europe, I see that we have an appreciation and understanding of this vision.

Mr van de VEN (Netherlands), Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe

In April 2018, this Assembly adopted my report on fighting organised crime by facilitating the confiscation of illegal assets. I know that fighting crime, including high-level crime, is one of the priorities of your government. Can you say how your country will co-operate with international partners on the better use of the positive international experience and legal mechanism in this field?

Mr Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia (interpretation)

Thank you for that question. It is very important that such a question is asked here at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, because we are currently discussing in Armenia whether it can be acceptable for our country to have the non-conviction-based confiscation of assets. There are some serious concerns in Armenia with respect to this, which come from different corners including some from the previous government. It is important for me to note that this practice is unacceptable internationally. Since 2015 it has been one of the international commitments of Armenia, which include a commitment to the Council of Europe. I recall that this mechanism was mentioned in the money-laundering proceeds investigation and the Council of Europe project on combating terrorism financing, as well as the United Nations Convention against Corruption. Armenia undertook some commitments regarding this mechanism in 2015, within the framework of the Council of Europe’s Moneyval.

To be frank, I believe that this mechanism really could and should be implemented in Armenia but, as I said, ours is a democratic country and its decisions are not taken by one person. We need to have broad public consultation on this institution and that will result in any decision to be taken. It will be very useful for us to engage further in this area with the Council of Europe because we want to ensure that no one tries to interpret or present it as a tool for persecution. As I said, this chapter is irreversibly closed in our country.

Mr HUNKO (Germany), Spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left

Last week in the German Bundestag, we had a very good debate on a new agreement between the European Union and Armenia. Nobody spoke against it; indeed, speakers in that debate emphasised how positive it was that Armenia has positive relations with Russia as well as the European Union. They welcomed that because it is unlike other agreements, where all too often countries have to decide between Russia and the European Union. Can you explain how it has been possible for you to maintain good relations with both sides? Perhaps Armenia could serve as a model in these times of confrontation.

Mr Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia (interpretation)

As you perhaps noticed, I emphasised in in my speech that no foreign power was involved in the revolution that took place in Armenia. Sometimes the public have a very strange debate on this. During my visits or press conferences, they try to allege that I – or we – have had in Armenia a colour revolution. Every time, I find it necessary to emphasise that we have had not a colour revolution but a revolution of love and solidarity. These words are not really about the colour; they are just about love or solidarity, and the political context. The point of the matter is that in our revolution, there was really and truly no engagement of any foreign power – none whatever. It is impossible for anyone to show any external involvement in our domestic processes.

I have always said that for us, this is a matter of national dignity. To me, it is a matter of personal dignity as well. It is very important to note that democracy stems from the mindset of our people. That is the exact reason why today we have the situation that you describe. I must be frank with you: what I have just said has been questioned by colleagues. To this day in the international media there are publications and allegations about this and that. There are allegations of a potential geopolitical and foreign policy context. But I believe that with every passing day, people realise that everything happened exactly as I just described.

The revolution in Armenia has not been against any country or organisation. The people of Armenia carried out a revolution for a free and happy future. We are determined to develop our relations with all our international partners. Armenia is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union; we currently have the presidency of that organisation and will do whatever we can to make the EEU more effective. We have a strategic relationship with Russia and we will do whatever it takes to develop it. We are a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and we will do our best to make our participation in the organisation and the organisation itself more effective. We currently have an excellent relationship with the European Union, and there is a specific reason for that. The Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement that we have signed with the European Union overlaps squarely with my government’s reform agenda, which we have intended to pursue all along.

Mr ŠEŠELJ (Serbia), Spokesperson for the Free Democrats Group

Thank you for addressing the Assembly today and taking the time to share your views, Prime Minister. As I recall, the main goals of the Armenian chairmanship in 2013 included promoting European values through inter-cultural dialogue; strengthening European standards on human rights and the rule of law; fostering democratic societies; and reinforcing the role of the Council of Europe in the European architecture. Do you feel that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has moved towards accomplishing those goals since then?

Mr Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia (interpretation)

When I am asked this question, I always underline – I hope I will be perceived correctly here – that whenever we speak about democracy, human rights and freedom of expression, we first say that those are European values. Naturally, I agree with that. But allow me to say that in our perception they are no less and equally Armenian values. We do not see democracy as something we have imported; it is a value system that rhymes with how our people think – it is in line with the mindset, aspirations and wishes of our people. If we agree on that fact, we can conclude that today our engagement with the Council of Europe is based on a shared understanding of what democracy is and what its pursuit means.

As I said in my speech, no foreign or external power was involved in our revolution, but Armenia’s 18-year-long membership of the Council of Europe and the work we have both carried out in that time has significantly contributed to the consolidation of democratic institutions in Armenia. From that point of view, the Council of Europe’s engagement with Armenia has been productive. As I said, there is a personal element to this. Once I managed to stay out of prison thanks to the Council of Europe and once I was freed from prison thanks to the Council of Europe and others. So I consider our co-operation to be very productive and successful.

The PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you, Prime Minister. As we move on, I suggest that we take three questions and then give you the floor to reply.

Ms DALLOZ (France) (interpretation)

Prime Minister, large sections of public opinion are convinced that the leaders and families of some former republics of the Soviet Union become very rich very quickly. Your government has started a plan to fight corruption, and it would appear that a former president has been imprisoned because of corruption. What concrete measures have you adopted to fight corruption? Is your country already feeling the effect of the fight?

Ms AGHAYEVA (Azerbaijan)

On its accession as a Council of Europe member in 2001, Armenia expressed its devotion to a peaceful settlement of the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, the ongoing occupation of which is an open violation of international law and fundamental human rights by Armenia, as well as a major threat to regional security. You are speaking today from the podium of this very Assembly. Could you please tell us how and when you intend to practically undertake this commitment and implement the obligations arising from numerous resolutions and other relevant documents of international organisations?

Ms TOMIĆ (Slovenia)

Prime Minister, in November last year, a conference of LGBTI Christians, which was to have been held in Yerevan, was cancelled because of death threats and incitements to hatred, including from public figures and opinion makers, who were unconcerned about the safety of the participants. That illustrates the wider problem faced by LGBTI people in Armenia in exercising even the basic rights of freedom of assembly and expression. What measures is your government taking to address that serious failure of human rights?

Mr Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia (interpretation)

Thank you very much for those questions. Personally, the greatest thing I can do against corruption is for me personally to remain outside corruption. The most reliable tool for me to fight corruption is to show my commitment to that fight. It is important that people see that and believe it.

There is no Prime Minister in any government who says, “I intend to gradually become corrupt.” Everyone says that they are not going to be corrupt but fight corruption. It is important for the government and those in power to speak credibly and practise what we preach. That is why I always underline that my status as leader of the country makes sense for as long as I enjoy the trust of my people. Trust is the most important prerequisite for fighting corruption. We all understand that corruption, which prevailed for many years in Armenia, and has leverage and financial resources, can react if we tackle it in an environment where there is no trust between the government and the public. You are right.

The very first thing is that I, my family and my relatives must be scrutinised even more closely than others, and it is very important to me that transparency should be a key aim in Armenia. I will not say that it is 100% successful, but it is leaping forward with giant steps. About 10 days ago a criminal case was initiated against one of my close relatives. I do not want to jeopardise their right to the presumption of innocence, but the fact is that the case is going to be investigated entirely lawfully and impartially. This further testifies to our commitment to stay on this path.

As for the Karabakh issue and our commitment to a peaceful settlement, I just reiterated our commitment to that from this rostrum. I said more generally that I believe in the recent past the peace agenda and peace resolution proposals we have tabled in discussions with our Azeri counterparts and the public have been a key objective, and I am happy we have managed with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev to have a direct, candid and constructive dialogue. Unfortunately, we still do not have a common understanding of the details and mechanisms for resolving the Karabakh issue, but we have been able to create a candid atmosphere for a constructive dialogue.

We believe a number of essential issues need to be addressed today to institutionalise the peace agenda, and one of them is to have the OSCE Minsk Group format work as effectively as it can, which implies the participation of the representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh in the peace process. It is hard to imagine how we can resolve the conflict without the main party to the conflict being involved in the peace talks and without talking to them.

As I said in my statement, we will continue to try to reinstate the dialogue within the OSCE Minsk Group between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh. Many of you might not know this, but there was a direct meeting between a leader of Nagorno-Karabakh and a leader of Azerbaijan in the past, so there is precedent. Elected representatives from Nagorno-Karabakh were almost always involved in the negotiations. It is said that that was the case was up to 1998, but I can tell you that up until 2018 Karabakh’s representatives were present in the peace talks. Let us not forget that Robert Kocharyan before he became President of Armenia was elected president of the republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. Thereafter Serzh Sargsyan represented Armenia but he was also one of the leaders of Karabakh. So Nagorno-Karabakh was represented at the negotiating table throughout the negotiations, and it is our objective today to create the conditions for this dialogue between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan not to be interrupted. This is an important undertaking.

As to the LGBT community, I mentioned that Armenia is committed to the rule of law and all citizens have the same rights and obligations in the Republic of Armenia. I heard about the case mentioned, but to be frank I cannot tell you the reasons why that event was cancelled, or why it was planned, when it was planned and what event it was. I honestly only know about the problem from a couple of posts on social media. I am afraid I do not know enough to give a more detailed answer.

The PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you, Prime Minister. The next three questions are from Mr Aydin, Mr Ariev and Mr Masiulis.

Mr AYDIN (Turkey)

Mr Prime Minister, your election raised expectations for a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but I am concerned that your recent statements asking for a change in the negotiating format could be perceived as a step backwards. Can we count on you to use your popularity to forge a peace front in Armenia and lead your country to peace despite the unsubstantiated arguments and pressure from the diaspora outside the country and oligarchs within the country?

Mr ARIEV (Ukraine)

Armenia permanently votes against United Nations resolutions condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. Would you like to change Armenia’s position on this issue and, to ask a very concrete question, who does Crimea belong to?

Mr MASIULIS (Lithuania) (interpretation)

I congratulate you most warmly, Prime Minister, on the changes in your country. Will your country in future be more pro-European and less pro-Russian, and how do you assess the Russian military presence in your region?

Mr Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia (interpretation)

Thank you for your questions.

The first question was about the negotiating format and it was said that I was wanting to change it, but I have already explained that we are absolutely not expecting or demanding to change the format. That is not our wish or our logic. The format within which the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks are taking place is the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs’ format. Let us look at the history and background of the creation of that format: it was meant to have Karabakh representatives present in the negotiations, and not only was that the intention, but it is what happened as I have just explained. I do not have the precise dates, but there was a meeting between Azerbaijan President Heydar Aliyev with Nagorno-Karabakh president Robert Kocharyan, I assume at some point between 1994 and 1996. It was a meeting in Moscow and we have documents at hand showing that communication, within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group trilaterally, and these documents were sent not only to the three co-chairs, but there was participation from representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh. So we are absolutely not raising the issue of changing the format of the negotiations; we are suggesting we use the same format to continue the discussions.

The problem is straightforward, and to us it is not a precondition or just our wish. Some people try to present it as a non-constructive position but it is the opposite of that. Do we want to resolve the issue or not? If we want to do so, how do we see it happening? How do we see the Nagorno-Karabakh issue being resolved without the involvement of Nagorno-Karabakh?

The word “occupation” is used quite frequently, but the people who live in Nagorno-Karabakh were born there. They live there, as did their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents – I could go on. How can someone occupy the land where they, their children and their ancestors were born, and where their ancestors are buried? That is why I said in my statement that every conflict and situation should be examined, because there are many nuances. Our proposal is to come together around the table with all the parties to the conflict and discuss all the subtleties, and to agree to talk in order to resolve the conflict. We have an agenda of settlement, not mutual destruction. That is how people in the 21st century – and member States of the Council of Europe – should do things.

I recently did something that might seem strange. In a press conference, I publicly asked a rhetorical question: do Azerbaijan’s President and leadership have nothing to say to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and the people of Armenia? I would like the opportunity to speak to the people of Azerbaijan. I can do that today, but I do not want it to be one-sided and I want to ensure that it is not perceived as an act of provocation. I want to initiate such discourse with government, people and young people. Our agenda is one of peace, and we do not propose to change the format.

Along the same lines, I would like to answer the questions about Crimea. I assumed the leadership of my country only recently, and I was a member of parliament before that. I find it strange that people use platforms that were created for peace to incite hostility, instigate wars, escalate tension and intensify conflicts. I believe that we must remain within the framework of dialogue, no matter what; I do not think that violence is the solution to any conflict. International platforms and forums must be used for their intended purpose, and we are doing our best. I am not certain that we always succeed, because we often find that our friends are on different sides of a conflict, and it is hard for us to choose between two friends. We are sometimes forced to make a choice, but globally our choice is pro-peace, pro-dialogue, pro-stability and pro-development.

Are we pro-Europe or pro-Russia? When I was a member of the opposition, I declared that I did not accept that Armenia or any other country ought to be pro-Russia, pro-Europe, pro-America or whatever. I consider myself to be a pro-Armenia politician. I think that French politicians are pro-France, Ukrainian politicians are pro-Ukraine and Russian politicians are pro-Russia. What does it mean to be pro-Armenia, in the international arena? It means that we must build a constructive relationship with all our international partners and try to resolve the issues that arise.

The PRESIDENT (interpretation)

We must now conclude the list of questions to Mr Pashinyan. I thank him most warmly for his answers.