STRASBOURG (PACE)–In his speech to the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on Wednesday–President Robert Kocharian addressed the domestic opposition’s efforts against his administration–the Mountainous Karabagh conflict and Armenia’s relations with Turkey. The 20-minute speech was followed by a question-and-answer session. The two PACE parliamentarians representing the Armenian opposition boycotted the speech and were not on hand to pose questions. Azeri and Turkish lawmakers–however–attempted to grill the president. Asked by one of the Azeri parliamentarian whether he had any role in the war over Mountainous Karabagh–Kocharian replied–"Yes–I took part in the war. My children were hiding in a basement for three years and had no childhood. I am proud of my participation in the war."
The following are excerpts from the speech:
Mr President–members of the Parliamentary Assembly and ladies and gentlemen–it is an honor and pleasure to address you. The last time that I addressed the Assembly was on a very significant day for Armenia–the day of our accession to the Council of Europe.
There have been three demanding years of reforms since then that have touched upon all domains of life in our country and necessitated the full-time employment of all our efforts. Today I am here to announce proudly that Armenia has fulfilled the vast majority of its accession commitmen’s. For the few outstanding ones–there is a timetable agreed–with a deadline for conclusion fixed at the end of this year. If I were asked what the single greatest achievement was–I would definitely point to the perception Armenian society has about its own future. The people of Armenia are now more involved in the everyday life of the country. There is more attachment to the values of freedom and democracy and the formation of the civil society is burgeoning.
Does this mean Armenia has achieved the desirable level of democratic freedoms? The obvious answer is no. Democracy has a long way to go in any country that has a high poverty rate. To assure the peoples’ full participation in the democratic process–it is essential to have at least minimal social guarantees. This is precisely why we strived to synchronize reforms in the economy–political system–the judiciary and the social field. In essence–Armenia has completed the process of dismantling the former centralized system of power and economy–which allowed for total control over the society.
The Armenian economy has undergone radical transformation both in terms of diversifying areas of economic activity and of liberalizing property law and regulations. The scope and depth of the reforms allowed for a full-scale enactment of the market economy. At present over 85% of Armenia’s GDP is produced in the private sector and over 38% of it in small and medium enterprises. Annual GDP growth has averaged 12% for the last three consecutive years–despite the blockade implemented by two fellow members of this very Organization.
Our biggest problem is the unacceptable difference in levels of income in our society. Our dynamic economic growth has allowed us to develop a long-term poverty elimination strategy. For the first time in Armenia–this governmental program was developed in close co-operation with international financial institutions and the wide involvement of society. That strategy now guides us in political decision-making and in choosing our budget priorities.
Fighting corruption is yet another important step towards effective democracy. The Government of Armenia’sees corruption as a systemic evil–which cannot be eradicated merely through rhetoric or model prosecutions. We concentrate on the systemic change aimed at ruling out the sources of corruption. That is exactly why we have joined the Greco group–the Group of States Against Corruption–where we can learn from the experience of other states on combating corruption. Through a wide discussion including the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe–the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund–we have developed a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy. A few weeks ago I established an Anti-Corruption Council. We count on the international community to help us combat this scourge.
Ladies and gentlemen–I know many of you wonder: what was happening in Armenia last spring? What fostered the activity of the opposition to replace parliamentary work with revolutionary rallies? You are right to wonder–since you have been all informed by the monitoring group of rapporteurs–who had visited Armenia only very recently–in January–that there have been significant advances in fulfilling the commitmen’s accepted at our accession. Most of those dealt with advancing democracy. Recently–Resolution 1361 of the Assembly was adopted–setting out the extent to which Armenia has fulfilled its commitmen’s. Expert evaluations of Armenia by international financial institutions are more than optimistic. Double-digit economic growth figures and budgetary surpluses are not fertile ground for revolution. Moreover–there are three full years before the next parliamentary elections. Therefore–there were no internal factors that would explain the increase in political activity. So what happened?
The answer is easy. The opposition–encouraged by the results of the "rose revolution" in neighboring Georgia–decided to duplicate it in the Armenian reality–which–however–had nothing in common with the Georgian one. They disregarded the fact that Armenia’s economy–as opposed to Georgia’s–is undergoing dynamic advance. Our government is efficient and our democratic achievemen’s are safeguarded by institutional structures–including a law enforcement system capable of protecting public order.
History has often demonstrated that inspiration from foreign revolutions never results in positive outcomes. Unfortunately–learning often comes only from people’s own mistakes. That also happened in our case. The opposition left the parliament and organized rallies in the streets. They openly declared their goal was to destabilize the situation in the country–attract the maximum possible number of participants to street action–surround the building of the Presidency and force me to resign.
Once the opposition witnessed the lack of public interest in their action–they decided to increase the tension–most probably to attract attention. They blocked the busiest boulevard of the city of Yerevan. That resulted in disruption of traffic and prevented the normal functioning of the National Assembly–of the Administration of the President and of the Constitutional Court. In the area they blocked off–there are four embassies–the National Academy of Science and one of the biggest schools. The organizers called on the public to undertake civil disobedience. The police were left with no choice; public order was restored quickly–without any significant damage to the health of the participants.
Calling on the police for such operations is always regrettable. Still–authorities have to protect the society from political extremists. That is particularly important in young democracies–which still lack the advanced traditions of the political and legal culture–and even more so when part of the population lives in poverty and can be easily manipulated by populist rhetoric.
I would particularly like to mention that the parties comprising the ruling coalition have many times offered co-operation to the opposition. Unfortunately–those offers were rejected. The opposition probably thinks that co-operation would undermine the revolutionary temper of their supporters. Our proposals were announced in the press and on television and were made in writing and orally but they were rejected.
Our country is at an important stage of its advancement–and I am confident that there are many things that need to be done jointly. We have offered to work together with the opposition on the most important issues: constitutional reform and the new electoral code. The offer is still valid; however the discussions must be held in parliament–not in the street.
I would not refer to all this but for the last Parliamentary Assembly resolution on Armenia. I regret that the Assembly was dragged into the discussion. I am convinced that the Council of Europe is not the best forum in which to clarify relations between the domestic authorities and the opposition; that should be done in one’s own parliament. I regret that–and I felt duty-bound to comment on what has been happening in Armenia.
Let me now turn to one of the priority interest issues for Armenia. At the time of accession Armenia undertook to take steps towards peaceful settlement of the Mountainous Karabagh conflict. We have done so because we greatly appreciate the necessity of friendly relations among neighboring states. However–the ability to secure a long-lasting solution requires a deep understanding of the essence of the conflict. I would like to outline two important characteristics of the Karabagh conflict.
First–Karabagh has never been part of independent Azerbaijan. At the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union two states were formed: the Azerbaijani Republic on the territory of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic–and the Republic of Mountainous Karabagh on the territory of the Mountainous Karabagh autonomous region. Establishment of both these states has similar legal grounds. The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan henceforth has nothing to do with the Republic of Mountainous Karabagh. We are ready to discuss the issue of settling that conflict in the legal domain.
Secondly–the war of 1992-94 was launched by the aggression of the Azeri authorities–which attempted to implement ethnic cleansing of the territory of Mountainous-Karabagh with the purpose of its annexation. The situation in place today is the result of a selfless fight of the Armenia’s of Nagorno-Karabakh for survival on their own land. It is a classic example of both the implementation of the right to self-determination and misuse of the "territorial integrity" concept as a justification for ethnic cleansings.
The people of Karabagh have prevailed in their striving for independent life in an egalitarian society. Independence of Karabagh today has sixteen years of history. An entire generation grew up there that can think of no other status for the country. The Mountainous Karabagh Republic today is an established state–in essence meeting all the Council of Europe’s membership criteria. It is the reality which cannot be ignored. That is exactly why we insist on direct participation by Mountainous Karabakh in the negotiations–in which Armenia actively participates.
The solution will emerge from the substance of the conflict–not from the perception of the possible strengthening of Azerbaijan through future "oil money." The "oil money" approach is the formula of confrontation and not of compromise. Armenia is ready to continue and advance the ceasefire regime. We are ready for serious negotiations on a full-scale solution for the conflict. That is exactly why we have accepted two last formulas of solution offered by the international mediators–which–unfortunately–were rejected by Azerbaijan.
I want to comment on Armenian-Turkish relations–or rather on its absence. Those relations are shaded by the memories of the past: the Genocide–its consequences and the lack of repentance. Nowadays the situation is worsened by the blockade of Armenia by Turkey. I would like to outline two principles which in my view are crucial to finding the way out of this impasse.
First–the development of practical ties and deliberations over the inherited problems must take place in different dimensions–and one must not influence the other. Secondly–Armenian-Turkish relations must not be conditioned by our relations with a third country. No prizes for guessing that I am referring to Azerbaijan. Any precondition terminates all positive expectations.