YEREVAN–Armenia’s Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian held his first press conference of the new year. In what has become a tradition, he summarized the global and regional political context of the previous year and spoke about Armenia’s accomplishmen’s and challenges.
He described the regional and international conditions within which Armenia conducted its foreign policy.
In no particular order, Minister Oskanian pointed to the continuing tension in Georgia-Russia relations and the resultant closed transport routes, the strains in Russia-US relations, developmen’s surrounding the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, efforts at non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, the continuing absence of relations between Armenia and Turkey and the resultant closed borders, unresolved conflicts in the region and beyond, especially in Kosovo, and the greater activity of the GUAM countries, political and military instability in neighboring regions — Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, energy related geopolitical struggles, and ongoing reforms in international organizations.
He explained that despite the constrictions created by these developmen’s, Armenia’succeeded in pursuing its foreign policy goals productively because of two factors. The first is that the long-established policy of complementarity remained effective. The second factor which made it possible for Armenia to perform effectively internationally during 2007 was the country’s enhanced standing as a result of the parliamentary elections which received the international community’s positive assessment.
Minister Oskanian summed up these significant developmen’s in Armenia’s foreign relations activities of 2007:
First, that in 1997 Armenia’succeeded in sustaining its foreign policy positions and there were no setbacks either in the form of international documen’s or developmen’s.
Despite the geopolitical challenges, it was possible to maintain favorable conditions for Armenia’s continued double digit economic growth.
Despite unfavorable developmen’s in the region, peace and stability, albeit fragile, was maintained in the region.
This was the year when projects of regional significance came to a culmination: the major phase of the Armenia-Iran gas pipeline was completed. Other significant projects moved from the conceptual phase to planning such as the oil refinery, the railroad with Iran, uranium extraction, and a new nuclear power plant.
The European direction entered a new phase as implementation of the European Neighborhood Policy Action Plan began.
The US government’s Millennium Challenge Program commenced with the first significant investment tranche.
Armenia has remained actively engaged in international organizations, and worked to advance Armenia’s policies as well as reforms of those organizations.
With traditional friends, Armenia not only maintained bilateral ties but, in the region and beyond, also further developed and deepened those ties.
Traditional programs and activities continued with the Diaspora, and in particular, the 4th Pan Armenian Games were successfully concluded. The new focus of Armenia-Diaspora relations was the Armenia Fund’s Rural Development Program, born in the Foreign Ministry, and around which Diaspora individuals and organizations are rallying.
Active cultural diplomacy efforts persisted, with the successful culmination of the Armenia Year in France, Armenian Culture weeks in Italy and Belarus, several exhibitions, as well as a vigorous effort to raise in international forums the issue of Azerbaijan’s destruction of cultural heritage on their territory.
Finally, there was continuing progress in the negotiations over Nagorno Karabakh, but more significantly, important issues such as the right of the people of Nagorno Karabakh to self-determination were not only reinforced in the negotiating document as a main element, but also became part of the discourse in the international community. Minister turned to expectations of 2008, citing the upcoming presidential election as the primary event with foreign policy implications. In case of good elections, he said, there will be further enhancement of Armenia’s standing. If the opposite happens, Armenia’s position will be undermined.
In the Nagorno Karabakh negotiations process, we will see serious activity, he said. There will be a new president and therefore new expectations. Minister expressed hope that the document which forms the basis for negotiations will be maintained. Even as we continue to search for a lasting solution, he said, Armenia’s will remind the world that 2008 is the 20th anniversary of the pogroms of Sumgait ‘s in other words, the 20th anniversary of the militarization of the conflict following the first case of ethnic cleansing in the region. With those memories of a government that perpetrated that kind of violence on people it considered its own citizens, we will continue to search for a solution that guarantees the safety and security of the people of Nagorno Karabakh, knowing as we know and as the international community now acknowledges, there can be no return to the status quo of 1988.
As for other developmen’s regionally and internationally, the Minister said Armenia will continue to monitor them, but will direct special attention to developmen’s surrounding Kosovo.
Minister Oskanian drew some parallels in the self-determination paths that Nagorno Karabakh and Kosovo have crossed. He pointed out that just as the international community finds unacceptable a reversal of Kosovo’s status to that before the outbreak of hostilities in 1999, so with Nagorno Karabakh, the people of Nagorno Karabakh find unacceptable a return to their Soviet-era status.
In terms of engagment in international and regional organizations, Minister Oskanian predicted an active year. There will be a NATO Summit in early April, to which partners will also be invited, and Armenia will attend. Armenia will assume the Collective Security Treaty Organization chairmanship in mid-year and the Black Sea Economic Cooperation chairmanship in the fall. In other organizations, Armenia will remain actively engaged in the debates on regional and international topics and will continue to bring its contribution to reform processes in those organizations.
2008 will also be a practical year for regional projects of strategic significance, he said. The Armenian segment of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline will be completed; other projects of significance such as the oil refinery and the rail line linking Armenia with Iran, as well as uranium extraction processes and a new nuclear power plant will move from conceptualization to the drawing board.
Diaspora activities will continue, with a strong focus on the Rural Development Program. Cultural diplomacy will continue, with William Saroyan’s and Victor Hambartsumian’s 100th birthdays being noted internationally by UNESCO.
Finally, the Minister noted that January 19 marks the one-year anniversary of Agos Editor Hrant Dink’s assassination in Istanbul. He said that as we remember the man, we must also remind the world that Hrant’s dream of normal relations between Armenia and Turkey have not yet materialized.