Raffi K. Hovannisian, chairman of the Heritage Party and Armenia’s first minister of foreign affairs, has returned from Baku, Azerbaijan, where he took part in the 7th General Assembly of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) between November 21 and 24. The meeting brought together 250 delegates representing 60 political parties from 25 Asian nations, together with a host of Azerbaijani functionaries, Press Service of the Heritage Party informs.
The full text of his speech, which keynoted the first plenary session on November 23, follows.
“Mister Chairman, distinguished colleagues:
I shall speak but once, so let it be crystal clear.
In a critical but good-faith search for peace, security, and reconciliation in Asia, I came to this beautiful city ofBaku, where hundreds of thousands of Armenians once lived before they were forcibly dispossessed and expelled in January 1990 and whose erstwhile presence has been reduced to one remnant church which has been shut down and transformed to foreign purpose. Virtually none remains today, and although our Azerbaijani colleagues make reference to the existence of several thousand ethnic Armenians, I have seen no evidence of that claim. I have asked the authorities here to arrange for me a meeting with even one Armenian who dares to identify himself as such in current-dayBaku.
I came here with a different, dialogue-driven spirit and intent, but have immediately faced a stark but expected reality of partisanship, selective propaganda, repetitive rhetoric, unparalleled l xenophobia, and an untruthful presentation of parochial positions—not only in society and political circles but also at the presidential level.
Everything that stands against the precepts and principles of ICAPP.
There can be no peace, security and reconciliation in our region as long as:
1) Azerbaijan launches a failed war of aggression against Mountainous Karabakh and its freedom-loving people, as well as against its own minorities living in its midst, and then blames the self-defenders for that failure;
2) Azerbaijan pursues an official policy of intentional destruction of cultural heritage, and most particularly the daylight destruction in December 2005 of thousands of hand-crafted khatchkars (cross-stones) at the medieval Armenian cemetery at Jugha, Nakhichevan—not as collateral damage of war, but 11 years after the ceasefire and hundreds of miles away from the conflict zone—and ever since has blocked all international missions to the site of this shameful desecration;
3) Azerbaijan continues to release and glorify convicted axe-murderers for the sole reason that the victim is Armenian, without even one voice of condemnation of this cowardly act of hatred in what the founder of ICAPP has referred to as “this inclusive democracy”; and
4) Azerbaijan, in a redundant war of words and terminologies, throws about at meetings such as this the loaded language of “occupation,” when in reality it was liberation, decolonization and everybody’s right to self-determination, and when “occupation” in fact applies most appropriately to Azerbaijani and Turkish control—through genocide, ethnic cleansing, and then the shame of official denialism—of large swathes of the Armenian patrimony from Shahumian and Nakhichevan to the western reaches of the Armenian Plateau.
Peace, security, and reconciliation are possible, however, when we all live by the same standards:
1) achievement of good, self-critical governance, public accountability, and the assumption of responsibility for safeguarding the equal civil rights and human dignity of our own constituents, opposition parties, non-governmental organizations, and minorities;
2) empowerment of the average citizen, civil society, and true democracy, not rule by dynasty or dictatorship;
3) recognition of the liberty, sovereignty, and integrity of all states, old and new, including the Republic of Mountainous Karabakh, whose return to the status quo ante is impossible, but rather whose recognition within its constitutional frontiers will enable a simultaneous, multilateral, and reciprocal right of return for all refugees of all nationalities—not only the displaced Azerbaijanis, but also the more than half million Armenian deportees from Shahumian, Nakhichevan, Artsvashen, and Azerbaijan proper, together with the descendants of the victims and survivors of the great genocide and national dispossession of the Armenian people;
4) protection of all cultural heritage and condemnation of all desecration of that heritage, whether Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, or other;
5) prevention and punishment of all genocides and crimes against humanity; and
6) the exercise of humanity and upholding of the common understanding that pain and suffering are universal and, in this connection, due remembrance of the thousands of righteous Turkish neighbors who demonstrated these virtues in saving Armenian lives, including my grandmother’s, during the Genocide of 1915, as well as the hundreds of Azerbaijanis of good conscience who attempted to do the same during the anti-Armenian pogroms in Sumgait and Baku decades later.
For this I am grateful. And hopeful for a better day for the sake of our generations to come.
I thank you for your kind invitation, hospitality, and attention to the whole truth, however terrible or uncomfortable it might be.