YEREVAN (ArmRadio)–Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian sough to make the case for what many believe to be a failed foreign policy in a recent interview with a Ukranian Profile Magazine, where he touts the benefits of normalizing relations with Turkey and attempts to rationalize his administration’s approach to the Karabakh peace process, Armenian Public Radio reported Friday.
In the interview, presented by ArmRadio in translated excerpts, Sarkisian argues that normalizing relations with Turkey was “A civilized response” in “the contemporary world” to an unrepentant neighbor that “committed genocide” against the Armenians, “denied it for a hundred years,” and “took away our territories of vital importance.”
Sarkisian said that “cooperation without preconditions,” and the establishment of diplomatic relations, and open borders, was among “the most difficult steps” in his life, but will ultimately “benefit not only Turkey and Armenia, but also Georgia, Azerbaijan, and the region, as a whole.”
He brushed aside criticism of his conciliatory policy toward Turkey by many in Armenia and its large international Diaspora and argued that it would be futile to “wait until Turks themselves acknowledge the genocide” before resuming relations.
“Our people are emotional, every Armenian family was affected in those years. I know people who sometimes go out to the streets to express their protest against the policy of reconciliation with Turkey with unflattering words,” he said. “But I am glad that at last our people understood this idea. Now, I think very few people are left who believe that we were wrong.”
Sarkisian’s initiative was met with fierce opposition throughout the Diaspora. Late last year the Armenian leader attempted a world-wind tour of Armenian communities to placate concerns but was greeted in every community by thousands of protesters. His policies received a similarly cold treatment in Armenia, where tens of thousands of people marched the streets of Yerevan to demand an end to the President’s failing Turkish-Armenian protocols. Opposition to the protocols stemmed mainly from the dangerous position it placed Armenia vis-a-vis Turkey, endangering the independence of the Karabakh Republic and threatening to sacrifice rights to historic territories and justice for the Genocide.
Despite that, Sarkisian claimed his “initiative was dictated by a sober mind” and did not “contradict our national interests.”
“The desire to establish relations with Turkey without preconditions,” he continued, “does not mean that we abandon the process of international recognition of genocide, or go to some concessions.”
He said that every way conceivable had been tried to “make Turkey recognize the Genocide,” except reconciliation. “Once we started this process, unexpected things started [to happen] in Turkish society–young people started speaking about the Genocide,” he added.
“Of course, our relationship did not normalize this time. We signed the famous bilateral protocols but the Turkish side refused to ratify them in the parliament,” he said. “Now we are waiting for a political force or leaders to appear in Turkey who would be willing to show political will.”
Sarkisian also discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Azerbaijan’s efforts to influence Armenia through Turkey. “You know, I do not think the circle is closed, after all, negotiations are continuing. Yes, they are very difficult, but any bad peace is better than war. If there are talks, there is the possibility to achieve the final results,” he said.
“Armenia’s position–I am referring to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, is very simple. It is based on the rule of law, international law,” he added, explaining the history of the Karabakh conflict dating back to the forced transfer of Karabakh to Azeri rule by the Communist Party.
“In 1988, a movement started in Karabakh, and then by a referendum, Nagorno-Karabakh gained unilateral independence,” Sarkisian said, legitimizing that referendum by pointing to a recent decision by the The Hague Court to recognize Kosovo’s deceleration of Independence as internationally legal.
He said this decision is why the OSCE Ministerial Summit in Almaty this year made it clear that the three principles on which Armenia and Azerbaijan negotiate–the non-use of force or the threat of force, territorial integrity, and right of peoples to self-determination–are equal.
“We hope that we eventually come to a final just solution,” Sarkisian said. “If we proceeded from the fact that there is no solution, for us, and especially for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, it would be very hard to live.”
Sarkisian also commented on Armenia’s relationship with Russia and, in particular, a recently signed defense pact between the two countries ostensibly committing Moscow to guarantee the security of Armenia.
”No nation–even the strongest and largest ones or the smaller, weaker ones–is able to ensure its safety alone,” he said, explaining why Armenia extended the lease of a Russian military base in Gyumri “We are allies with Russia–strategic partners, not only bilaterally but also in the framework of the CSTO.”
“We live in a region where there are a lot of threats and dangers,” he said, explaining that some countries go so far as “to question the right of Armenians to live on their historic land.” Historical and contemporary factors, he continued, make “the probability of armed clashes in our region high.”
Sarkisian said the Russians, for their part, are interested in developing Armenia’s armed forces, “which is a strategic interest to Moscow in the long-term.” The agreement with Russia “is a major factor for the prevention of hostilities, and a good opportunity to re-equip our army in line with modern standards. Therefore, I think that this extension proceeds from our national interests.”
Sarkisian also commented on the contradictions over Armenia’s strategic relations with Russia and the CSTO and its growing involvement in NATO, which was traditionally the West’s anti-Russian military alliance. “NATO and the CSTO are not adversaries. These are security systems with their zones of interest, allowing countries to benefit,” he said, adding that it was important to see more than just black and white in life.
The Armenian leader said his country succeeded in harmonizing the two relationships. “We turn out to have very good relations on the one hand with the U.S., on the other with Iran, on one hand with Russia and on the other with Georgia, because we are pursuing a policy of frankness,” he said. “We are not trying to extract some benefits from the conflicts between other countries. The best thing for us is when U.S. and Russian interests coincide.”
“Cooperation with NATO provides an opportunity to modernize our army, to carry out reforms, seek a proper, modern way of building security systems,” Sarkisian said, noting, however, that Armenia had no plans to join NATO. “Not to see the positive results of cooperation with NATO, means to stick to the thinking of the Cold War.”
Sarkisian also made the case for Armenia’s strong relations with Iran, which he described as vital to Armenia’s economic prosperity. Armenia’s links to Iran helped it avert economic catastrophe in the early 1990’s, when its only other link to the outside world, Georgia, was experiencing instability. “Iran is also a country rich in energy resources; Armenia does not have them, and we are very happy to cooperate in this area,” Sarkisian said.