Armenian Deputy FM on Pope’s visit, Karabakh and relations with Turkey

Interview of Shavarsh Kocharyan, Deputy Foreign Minister of Armenia to German newspaper “Die Tagespost”

Question: Armenia accepted Christianity in the year of 301 as the official religion of the kingdom and its people. How would you describe the role of Christian faith for the identity of Armenia today?

Shavarsh Kocharyan: Christianity should be viewed as a system of values, which forms the basis of modern-day democracy, rather than a mere religion. The fact of being the first to adopt the Christianity as its state religion back in 301 played a crucial role in the history of the Armenian people. As history testified, the Christian system of values became an integral part of the Armenian identity, and, amid suppression of external powers, the fight for preserving identity became a fight for the system of values and the Christian faith.

Question: During the history, Armenia has been threatened by superior adjacent powers most of the time. How has the Armenian national identity been able to survive?

Shavarsh Kocharyan: It will not be an exaggeration to compare all the nations of the world with the tip of iceberg. Numerous nations have become extinct, and first of all we mean not a physical extinction as itself, but rather the loss of identity and assimilation with other nations.

Despite numerous destructive campaigns and yoke of major powers, the Armenian people survived due to its struggle for the preservation of its identity based on Christian system of values.

Question: Is Armenia today again in a struggle of survival, provoked by Turkey and Azerbaijan – in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh?

Shavarsh Kocharyan: Different Armenian states existed throughout its millennia-old history. However, for centuries the Armenians lacked statehood. In the 20th century, the Armenians were twice blessed with a unique opportunity to regain independence. The First Republic of Armenia, established in 1918, lasted just under 3 years and was then forcibly integrated into the Bolshevik Russia, as a federative unit.

Nagorno-Karabakh or Artsakh, mentioned as part of historic Armenia by ancient authors including Strabo, Plutarch, Pliny, Claudius Ptolemy, Dion Cassius and others, had all the attributes of sovereignty in 1918-1921 and was recognized by the League of Nations as a disputed territory. In 1921, by the decision of Bolshevik Communist Party’s Bureau, Nagorno-Karabakh was incorporated into the newly Sovietized Azerbaijan, in stark contrast to the will of the people of Artsakh.

In 1991, both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh held independence referendums in full compliance with the International Law and the Constitution of the still existing Soviet Union, which served as the bases for the establishment of modern-day Republic of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

Following the collapse of the USSR, the two Armenian states have pursued a democratic path of developing their societies. Nagorno-Karabakh faces additional challenges of overcoming the consequences of Azerbaijani aggression unleashed against the self-determined Nagorno-Karabakh at the beginning of 1990s, the constant tensions maintained by Azerbaijan along the Line of Contact with Nagorno-Karabakh and the threat of resumption of military actions, as witnessed in early April this year.

Armenia will guarantee the security of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh within its full capabilities in case of any military aggressive action against the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic strives for international recognition, however, as of now, not a single state, including Armenia, de jure recognizes the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, not to undermine the ongoing negotiation process, mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs. One of the key elements of the process is the determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will of its people.

The barbaric acts committed by the detachments of the Azerbaijan Army during the recent aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh, i.e. the shelling of schools resulting in innocent children being killed and wounded, brutal torture, mutilation and murder of three elderly persons, including a 92 year old woman, the ISIL-style beheading of three captive soldiers of the Nagorno-Karabakh armed forces, as well as the awarding on the Presidential level of the perpetrators of such war crimes reveal the very fact why Nagorno-Karabakh cannot be part of Azerbaijan.

The President of Azerbaijan has started to present territorial claims to the Republic of Armenia, declaring that the territory of Armenia separates Turkey and Azerbaijan, and that the affiliation of those territories to Armenia is a historical injustice.

And when it comes to Turkey, it fully supports Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.

Question: How contaminated is the relation between Armenia and Turkey: due to history and due to the partnership of Turkey and Azerbaijan?

Shavarsh Kocharyan:
Two factors hinder the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia. The first is Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide, committed by the Ottoman Empire in 1915, and secondly, Turkey unilaterally closed the border with Armenia in support for Azerbaijan’s policy of blockading Armenia. Thus the Turkish-Armenian border is the only closed border in Europe.

By the initiative of Armenia and support of mediator states, Protocols on the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey were drafted and signed in Zurich in 2009. The Protocols were aimed at a step-by-step normalization of relations between the two states without any preconditions. However, the Turkish authorities undermined the process of ratification of the Protocols, by putting forward preconditions related to the denial of Armenian Genocide and presenting pro-Azerbaijani claims with regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. As a result, Turkey, in support for Azerbaijan, continues the blockade of Armenia and by its statements encourages Azerbaijan to further toughen its already destructive position in the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiation process. In its turn Azerbaijan more fiercely denies the reality of Armenian Genocide committed in the Ottoman Empire. This is caused by the fact, that Azerbaijan is the inheritor of the Ottoman Empire’s genocidal policy against the Armenians, which was proven by the pogroms and ethnic cleansings against the Armenian population in Sumgait, Baku, Kirovabad and in other places, committed in response to the will of Nagorno-Karabakh people to exercise their right to self-determination.

Within this context, it is not a coincidence that the Head of Azerbaijan declares the Armenians of the world as his country’s number one enemy, and glorifies and rewards the criminals who killed Armenians, as was the case with murderers who axed an Armenian officer in his sleep during NATO-sponsored training seminar in Budapest and beheaded captive Armenian soldiers during the April aggression.
The ratification of the Armenian-Turkish Protocols, along with the refusal to deny the Armenian Genocide was testing Turkey’s actual readiness to integrate into Europe and adopt the European system of values. It is not a coincidence that failure in this test overlapped with Turkey’s backtracking from the European path.

Question: What does the Genocide mean for the identity of Armenians (in Armenia as well as in the diaspora) today?

Shavarsh Kocharyan: One and a half million Armenians became victims of the Armenian Genocide and hundred thousands of Armenians lost their homeland, spreading all over the world. And there is almost no Armenian who has not been affected by the Genocide. And the pain of Genocide grows deeper as we are still facing its denial.

The Armenian people, the survivor of the first Genocide of the 21st century, believes that the recognition and condemnation of genocides is not only an issue of restoration of justice towards the peoples who have undergone it, but also a necessity for the whole humanity, aimed at the prevention of possible genocides in the future.

It is not a coincidence, that Armenia initiated the Genocide Prevention Resolution adopted by consensus in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, co-sponsored by more than seven dozen states, and on the proposals of which the UNGA declared the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime. The Resolution considers attempts of denial and justification of the crime of genocide as major obstacle to the steps on genocide prevention.

The Global Forum “Against the Crime of Genocide”, launched within the framework of the commemoration of the Centenary of the Armenian Genocide and held on a regular basis in Yerevan, serves the same purpose and has transformed into a platform for exchanging views on the issue between genocide scholars and representatives of different states.

The Armenian nation, a survivor of genocide, and a witness of new attempts to commit genocide, as well as of new strategies of its denial, is confident that today, just like a century ago, the issue of prevention of crimes against humanity remains an imperative.

Question: Russia seems to be the protective power of Armenia. But at the same time Moscow promotes the armament of Azerbaijan. What role does Russia play concerning peace and stability in this area?

Shavarsh Kocharyan: Let’s emphasize that Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh first and foremost rely on their own abilities in defense and security issues. At the same time, Armenia considers the deepening cooperation with various countries and international institutions as a restraining factor against the attempts to undermine the regional stability. Armenia’s military-political cooperation with Russia servers the same purpose.

Russia traditionally considers the South Caucasus as a zone of its influence and tries to pursue a balanced policy with other regional states, stemming from its own interests. Its balanced policy is also rooted in its involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process as one of the three OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs.

It was the mediation of Russia that produced the trilateral agreement on armistice between Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, signed in May, 1994, which serves as a basis for peaceful negotiation process under the aegis of OSCE Minsk Group. The ceasefire was violated this April by the aggression unleashed against Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan. And again, with the mediation of Russia a verbal agreement was reached on April 5 to restore the ceasefire regime of 1994.

Question: What do you expect Europe to do for stability and self-determination of the Armenians?

Shavarsh Kocharyan: The Republic of Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, two Armenian states self- determined in 1991, highly value the stance of European countries on settling the Nagorno-Karabakh issue exclusively through peaceful means, and on preserving peace and stability in our region. At the same time it is important for the international community to make targeted statements on the escalation of the situation in the region, considering that Azerbaijan perceives the tolerant statements based on European system of values as a carte blanche for its intolerant politics. This perception was behind the recent large-scale aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh with the use of heavy weaponry, artillery and air force.

Europe can have its input in preventing Azerbaijan from withholding the agreements reached on May 16 in Vienna between the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Those agreements propose the implementation of OSCE supported mechanism for investigating ceasefire violations along the Line of Contact between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan and Armenian-Azerbaijani border, which will provide an opportunity to identify the initiator of each incident of ceasefire violation.

The implementation of this mechanism, as well as the expansion of the monitoring team of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-In-Office and enhancement of its capacities will contribute to the strengthening of the ceasefire and prevention of new hostilities, which can create necessary conditions for the effective implementation of the negotiation process.

Question: What do you wish and hope for Pope Francis’ visit to Armenia?

Shavarsh Kocharyan: The visit of Pope Francis to Armenia has a pan-Christian importance, as it is the visit to the first Christian country.

The enthusiasm with which Armenian people expect the visit of the Pontifex is caused by the fact that on April 12, last year, during the Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica dedicated to the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the Catholic leader shared the pain of the Armenian nation and urged Turkey to face its history and pay tribute to the descendants of the Armenian Genocide.

This visit also creates an opportunity for our people in Armenia and Diaspora to express gratitude to Pope Francis for his principled stance on the Armenian Genocide, which was demonstrated before his election as a Pope.
At the same time, I avail myself of this opportunity to thank all the countries that recognized the Armenian Genocide and, specifically, Austria, the Parliament of which adopted a statement recognizing the Genocide on April 22, 2015, ahead of the Centenary.

Question: Could Pope, who will visit also Georgia and Azerbaijan in September, contribute to reconciliation between the neighboring powers?

Shavarsh Kocharyan:
Despite all the attempts of Azerbaijan to add religious dimension to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the escalation of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations, it is not the case. The essence of the issue is rooted in the right of the Nagorno-Karabakh people to self-determinate and decide their own destiny and future, and in the response of Azerbaijan manifested in violence, ethnic cleansings and large-scale war.

We believe that the Pope’s visit to Armenia and the upcoming visits to Georgia and Azerbaijan in September symbolize a message of tolerance and peace to the whole region.

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