HELSINKI (Armenpress)-President Robert Kocharian was in Finland Tuesday, where he spoke to the Alexanteri Institute at the University of Helsinki about Armenia’s continued economic growth and ongoing political reforms.
Below is the text of his speech:
Ladies and Gentlemen, I appreciate this opportunity of meeting you. A conversation with researchers, who professionally assess world and regional processes, is always interesting.
This is my first trip to Finland. The visit is called to further relations between our countries. We have continued the political dialogue and discussed issues of economic cooperation. We have also made plans to cooperate within the European integration processes.
Statehood of Armenia was re-established only 16 years ago, after centuries of interruption. By destiny of fortune we found ourselves in the bankrupted camp of the global ideological divide of the 20th century.
For us independence meant not only the formation of state structures, but also a fundamental reform of the economy, social sphere, and societal relations. Our efforts were complicated by regional problems and unresolved conflicts. We chose the European model of development, and therefore strived to merge into pan-European processes. Today we can state with confidence that major challenges of the transition period have been overcome. Armenia is in the phase of sustainable development.
A joint survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation, concluded that this year, Armenia ranked 32nd in the rating of states for the level of economic liberty–ahead of any other country of the region, as well as of the CIS. The effectiveness of the reforms is expressed in statistics. In last seven years the average annual GDP growth for Armenia has been above 12 per cent, with an inflation rate below 3 per cent. This achievement is even more significant when one considers that Armenia has no oil and gas, and the blockade imposed on it by Turkey and Azerbaijan continues.
Over 85 per cent of Armenia’s GDP is produced in the private sector and about half of it is from small and medium businesses. We are witnessing the formation of a middle class, in direct linkage with the rights and freedoms of an individual, as well as with the deepening of democratic processes We see how our successes each day strengthen the level of public trust and confidence in own future.
Our competitive advantage is the educated and entrepreneurial population with a strong feeling of national identity, based upon a rich cultural heritage and historic memory. We see the future of Armenia as the most organized and effective state in the region with a science-reliant economy and with an advanced field of intellectual services.
In developing its financial services, Armenia has positioned itself as a potential financial center for the South Caucasus. It is obvious that the financial attractiveness of Armenia is emerging as a factor to stimulate some major European companies–including those from the Scandinavian states–to explore our market. We would welcome interest of Finnish investors in the Armenian market.
Today we have identified the information technologies as one of the priorities for the development of our economy. I would like to remind you that the first Soviet computer was created in Armenia in 70’s. Major international IT companies already function in Armenia. The share of information technologies in Armenia’s GDP constitutes 2 percent. Considering achievemen’s of Finland in that domain, we could develop a mutually beneficial cooperation.
The mining, processing and chemical industries also have considerable potential.
It is obvious that there is still a long road ahead. However, the achieved progress has allowed our government to concentrate on addressing social issues. I would like to emphasize the Poverty Reduction Strategy plan, which was developed by the Government of Armenia in close cooperation with the international financial institutions and civil society. That experience is widely used by the World Bank as a success story for development of similar programs in other countries.
Talking about reforms, I started by addressing the sphere of economic transformations. I am confident that for an effective construction of a democratic system, it is essential to form its main carrier–the middle class. In Armenia we witness that the growth of the economy and improvement in the quality of life directly impacts the expectations of people for the strengthening of democratic institutes.
Our membership to the Council of Europe is a strong motivation for deepening the democratic transformations. The Reforms of the last few years have touched upon the electoral legislation, local self-administration, the whole complex of human rights issues, NGOs, etc.
Now the second stage of judicial reform is underway. It is aimed at forming a fully independent judicial authority.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Inclusion of Armenia in the European Neighborhood Policy of the EU has opened new opportunities of cooperation. It is a new benchmark for a continuation of the reforms and consistent rapprochement with European partners. Furthermore, the signing of the ENP Action plan took place during the Finnish Presidency of the EU, and this country has provided invaluable support to the countries of the South Caucasus in this stage of their European aspirations.
The Action Plan allowed for a new look at the processes, taking place in the country. It permitted to reevaluate our potential and real capabilities for furthering reforms. Since June 2007 we were given the right to align ourselves with EU statemen’s on common foreign and security policy. During my recent visit to Brussels we were pleased to note that our positions on most of these issues are identical.
We are firm on the development of a fruitful cooperation with all the European institutions, as well as on the advancement of bilateral relations with EU member-states. Such cooperation permits the intensification of the political dialogue, to ease trade regimes, to activate collaboration in social domain and between civil societies, as well as to further cooperation in the field of security. We look forward to furthering cooperation with Finland in this new context of our relations.
During the many years Armenia has conducted its foreign policy based on the principle of complimentarity. We consider it as the most effective approach in the context of current situation in South Caucasus. We try to benefit from meeting of the interests of our partners, rather than benefit from their confrontations. That is exactly why being a relatively small state in a very difficult region we have never been a cause for argumen’s between our partners.
This construction of our foreign policy allows for a simultaneous development of friendly relations with Russia, EU, USA and Iran. By the way, the approaches of Armenia and Finland in that regard are quite identical.
We are guided by the same principles in the development and implementation of our security model as well. On one hand Armenia is an active member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Meanwhile we have achieved a major progress in our cooperation with NATO. The Individual Partnership Action Plan paved a solid foundation for a long-term institutional cooperation.
The ethnic and religious composition of the South Caucasus makes it a difficult region. Although it is attractive in terms of its transit resources and carbonates, there are enough motivations for the clash of interests of great powers. This in turn always allows for a wide range of foreign policy choices.
The existing tensions in US-Iranian, Russian-Georgian and Armenian-Turkish relations do not fuel optimism. Maintaining stability is therefore the most rational formula of behavior in such a sensitive region. Continued efforts to preserve the existing balance are required. Patience and political will to synchronize reforms, allowing for a common development of the South Caucasus states is also required. We are obliged to be understandable and foreseeable first of all for our own neighbors. We welcome the EU policies aimed at preventing the formation of new dividing lines.
A proper regional cooperation can become the best instrument. Armenia is an active supporter of that. In search of the effective model, Armenia explores the experiences of other regions, including the Baltic. We are confident that the settlement of conflicts shall not be watched as a precondition for the establishment of dialogue and cooperation. To the contrary, regional cooperation shall lead to trust-building, which will help settle argumen’s.
We are convinced supporters of the peaceful solution for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We consider that the OSCE Minsk Group is the most optimal format for its settlement. It is noteworthy that Finland was one of its co-chairs in the early stage, and I am happy to acknowledge presence of Ambassador Talvitie in this audience. We therefore look forward for Finnish presidency in OSCE in 2008.
Regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, our principal position is that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh are entitled to the internationally recognized right to self-determination. They have legitimately exercised that right. Many currently existing independent states, including Finland, were formed as a result of a collapse of former empires. Independence of Karabakh was attained at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union and Karabakh has never been a part of independent Azerbaijan.
Nagorno-Karabakh has proven its right to exist through its successes in statecraft and by the advancement of a democratic society. A generation has already grown up, which considers itself to be the embodiment and safeguard of that statehood. We do not recall any case of a nation that willingly gave up the independence it had enjoyed for over 16 years. No one has the intention to do it in case of Karabakh. We speak about irreversible changes that took place in the people’s mentality. The Independence of Karabakh cannot be bargained in negotiations. No one bargains their own freedom and it is immoral to bargain someone else’s freedom.
Currently, active negotiations processes continue. If one judges based on the agreement on basic principles drafted and currently under discussion, one would get an impression that there is a positive chance. If one judges based on the military rhetoric of Azerbaijan–the optimism will diminish. I do not consider that we are close to a comprehensive settlement of the conflict, however, I believe in its possibility.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The transformation of a society is always a difficult road. We recognize that despite significant positive changes there is still much to do. We have a solid vision of our goals and an understanding that those goals can be achieved only through reforms and we have the political will to implement those reforms.
Thank you for your attention.