The Russian Military Diplomat Magazine recently interviewed Armenian Presidential Candidate Vahan Hovannesian during which many issues were explained and new ones were raised. Hovannesian is deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia, a member of the Parliamentary faction of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, and a member of the ARF Bureau.
Military Diplomat: Due to the kick-off of the Armenian presidential election campaign and the opposition supported by foreign players becoming more active, do you think a so-called "colored revolution" is possible in Armenia? Why, if it is?
Vahan Hovanessian: Firstly, let us see how ‘colored revolutions’ brew up, since they are not a mere mechanical implementation of political projects brought from without. In the post-Soviet environment, they are mostly grounded in the population’s dissatisfaction with its social standing and the lack of democratic rule in a particular country, in the first place. I dare say the popular protests, owing to which revolutions are carried out, are driven by the wish for justice and wellbeing, rather than by a steadfast striving for NATO or the European Union, of which the people certainly have a rather hazy idea. Leaders of such revolutions, who use the popular disappointment to pursue their own agendas and are supervised by foreign advisors, are quite another kettle of fish. Democracy and improving the people’s life standards do not top their agendas. All ‘colored revolutionaries’ in the former Soviet Union have showed this graphically.
I guess Armenia is not looking at a ‘colored revolution’ and here is why Firstly, this is because the first Armenian President, Levon Ter-Petrosyan – a figure very vulnerable in many respects – is claiming the role of the ‘colored revolution’ principal driving force. He will fail to lure the people with promises of a better life nit because the population of Armenia is happy with its current social status or because justice and democracy reign in the country, not at all. The Armenian people crave for a radical change in their life and in the country but they do not want the country led by the president named Levon Ter-Petrosyan. People have rightfully associated this name with the upheaval, political instability, crippling economic and social crises, mass emigration, etc.
Secondly, an important fact is the Armenian people’s historically established attitude to Russia that is still regarded by most Armenia’s as a true, reliable ally despite the seeds of dissatisfaction with the current Russian policies, growing within the Armenian society and encouraged by certain political forces. There are many reasons for that, which are grounded in the people’s memory of generation, and the instinct of self-preservation of the nation, and the spiritual kinship of the two peoples, and good judgment grounded in consideration of a whole range of geopolitical, historic and regional factors, national security issues and matters of the state’s smooth development. Therefore, ‘colored revolutions’ do not pose a threat to Armenia at present, and time will tell what the sweeping change stoked by onrushing global processes will bring about.
M.D.: The Dashnaktsutyun party, of which you are a member, has a presidential nominee of its own. What are the party’s domestic and foreign policies to be proposed during the election?
V.H.: As is known, Dashnaktsutyun is not the party in power, but it is loyal to it. Its loyalty is not due to Dashnaktsutyun being pleased with all of the policies pursued by the authorities. It cannot be pleased because it is a party of the socialist trend, while the current Armenian authorities continue the course of the first Armenian president for unchecked liberalism that has substituted civilized market relations and sacrificed competition for wild monopolism in all sectors of economy, which led to pauperization, the mass exodus of people from the country and lack of a real eradication of corruption and crime that engulfed the society.
Our party is determined, once it assumes power, to pursue policies in accordance with the socialist principles and mechanism of the state having a true market economy, healthy competition, determined struggle against corruption and strengthening of social justice. Dashnaktsutyun is loyal to the current authorities in the first place because the current foreign policy is generally in accordance with the party’s policies. I mean the recognition of the genocide of the Armenia’s by Ottoman Turkey – the issue vital to the Armenian nation, state and our party, as well as a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and setting foreign policy and national security priorities.
What is most important, Dashnaktsutyun, unlike newly fledged greenhorn parties, understands well the scope of responsibility for any political decision that could be fraught with unpredictable consequences for the country and the people. Given the current volatile situation in the Caucasus, coupled with the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh problem, rocking the boat in the political life in the country would be most careless.
M.D.: Russia is the principal strategic partner of Armenia. How do you envision the evolution of the bilateral relations, and how can it alter with a new person assuming the top post in Armenia?
V.H.: Armenia is integrated in the political, economic and especially defense cooperation with Russia. An abrupt change of its foreign policy might result in the collapse of the armed services and the whole of defense efforts of the country.
I am certain that the populists, who are proactive in trying to cash in on all things Western for the time being, realize this as well. A good case in point is Levon Ter-Petrosyan himself who can hardly be suspected of pro-Russian sentimen’s but who, when president of Armenia, signed the Treaty of friendship and cooperation with Russia and made Armenia an active member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Therefore, I am certain that any Armenian president to assume responsibility for the future of his country will have to consider the realities and follow the way ensuring the independence of his country and security of his people. To date, such a way, no doubt, runs via the cooperation with our tried ally, the Russian Federation.
M.D.: How do you see the ratio of proponents and opponents of Armenia’s accession to NATO in the Armenian society and in the parliament?
V.H.: First off, the Armenia’s see NATO’s presence in the region not in the shape of France, Belgium or Greece, but Turkey – the country apparently hostile to Armenia and the Armenia’s. However, the situation is not that simple. I think, the previous discourse have already answered your question to a certain extent. According to polls, the ratio between the NATO accession proponents and opponents among the Armenia’s remains in favor of the opponents so far. However, one cannot be dead sure that this will be the fact for along time, because shrewd technologies to plant most unexpected intentions into peoples’ minds have been used repeatedly in many countries, and Armenia is not an exception here.
In this connection I would like to note the hazy position of Russia that seems to believe that its former Soviet satellites are a given and it has not to keep on doing its best to preserve alliance with them. However, the events in the former Soviet Union in the recent years should have signaled that the situation has changed radically and that Russia has to do its utmost to prove to its formers comrades that they will benefit immeasurably from an alliance with it. Russia’should do it in any effective manner.
Does Russia do it in a sufficient fashion? I do not think so. At least, it does not do it with respect to Armenia. It is possible that this is due to unfavorable geopolitical factors enabling some in Russia to believe that they can deal shortly with Armenia because ‘it has nowhere to go’. There is, however, an old rule: he who decides that his ally is in the bag himself serves a reason for the ally to distrust him and motivates the ally to weaken the relations. The rule is effective even if oil revenues are on the rise.
Therefore, I am reluctant to say that the current upper hand the NATO opponents have among the people and in the parliament will remain for a long time.
M.D.: There is a trend towards the emergence of the Ankara-Baku-Tbilisi geopolitical axis. How feasible, you think, is the Tehran-Yerevan-Moscow axis to offset it? What part could SCTO play in this?
V.H.: You are right, there is such a trend, I would even say it is not just a trend, rather a looming outline and prospect of Ankara, Baku and Tbilisi’s economic and political partnership.
Establishing the Tehran-Yerevan-Moscow axis is important not only as a counterbalance: there is an obvious need for it, the need that is vital to Armenia. Unless measures are taken to oppose the countries of the former axis, the steps they make may well transform into cynical efforts to put the lid on all those who is not with them.
I think the recent frequent meetings of and concrete steps by the Russian, Armenian and Iranian heads of state, aimed at more close economic cooperation among the countries will produce a positive effect and will facilitate implementation of the projects conceived.
M.D.: On the one hand, Moscow strives for military-technical cooperation with Armenia; on the other, its economic and especially energy policies is too pragmatic with respect to its strategic ally, i.e. an increase in the price of gas and assuming control of Armenian industrial companies as an offset of the country’s national debt. Does this approach play into the hands of Russia’s enemies? How can the optimum combination of the national interests of the two countries be achieved?
V.H.: I believe, such an attitude to Armenia is the reason to think that Russia is its own enemy and that no other enemies can hurt it more than it can hurt itself. Of course, it is not up to us to tell our Russian colleagues what their interest and benefit lie in. it seems that everybody has interests and benefit of his own.
I would like to reiterate that it looks like Russia is following the way of countries, whose policies are derivatives of the goals of their major trade and industrial corporations, and its economic interests are beginning to prevail over political expediency. It seems that we have to get used to the new character of Russia, in which Gazprom or UES will determine its foreign policy, rather than the Kremlin, and we have to draw a conclusion.
By the way, these issues have been touched upon in virtually all sessions of the Interparliamentary Cooperation Commission set up by the National Assembly of Armenia and the Federal Assembly of Russia, of which I have the honour to be a cochairman. It is good that the Russian members of parliament raise the same question and not always share the position of their government with respect of their staunch allies.
Certainly, the optimum balance of economic and political interests can be struck. I would rather not offer rush recipes, but a mutually acceptable solution could be found by the politicians of the two countries, if they really want to, but they have to want it first. Maybe, they should learn, say, from the United States. In a word, they have to be willing to roll up their sleeves.
M.D.: The Minsk Group on settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been taking a lot of flak lately. What prospects do you think it is facing, and are there the alternative to it at present?
V.H.: Until recently, OSCE’s Minsk Group has worked fruitfully and given no rise to complaints on our part, until Azerbaijan started behaving at the talks in an inadmissible aggressive manner. This is explained by the fact that it is becoming ever more evident that Azerbaijan is not acting on its own; rather, it is controlled by a state that is not part of the Minsk Group de-jure but paralyzes Azerbaijan’s independent decision-making process de-facto. Turkey tells Azerbaijan to set up absolutely unacceptable claims; particularly, Azerbaijan has started guising maintenance of peace in the region as a concession on its part. Thus, hostile Turkey influencing the Minsk Group by proxy of Azerbaijan violates the original principle of involving neutral states in the Minsk Group.
This is happening with international organizations turning the blind eye to the fact. There is also the need of getting Nagorno-Karabakh back at the bargaining table. I think, if the two issues are settled, nobody will have to look for an alternative to the Minsk Group, which does not exist though.
Biography of Vahan E. Hovannesian
Born 16 August 1956 in Yerevan.
1978 – graduated from the Moscow Pedagogical University.
Historian, archaeologist, holder of an MA diploma.
1978-80 – serviceman of the Soviet Army.
1980-89 – researcher, Erebuni Museum section chief.
1989 – researcher of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Armenian Academy of Sciences.
1990-92 – participant in the liberation fight in Nagorno-Karabakh.
1995-98 – imprisoned on charges that were proven groundless afterwards.
1998-99 – advisor to the president of the Republic of Armenia, Chairman of the Local Government Commission.
1999-2003 – member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia, Chairman of the Standing Committee for Defense, National Security and Internal Affairs.
2003 to date – member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia
Since 12 June 2003 to date – deputy Chairman of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia, member of ARF, member of the Bureau of ARF.
Presidential nominee from ARF for the 2008 election.
Married, two children.