“We share with the Greek people some of the most tragic pages of the recent past, we both suffered from the genocide and crimes against humanity, defended shoulder-to-shoulder our right for life and stood by each other in the difficult times,” Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said, speaking in the Foreign ministry of Greece. The Minister’s full speech is provided below:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank for this opportunity of meeting with such respectful audience and share with you our views with regard to the Armenian-Greek partnership, the regional issues and some of the Armenian foreign policy priorities.
I am glad to be back to Athens, one of the cradles of civilization, home of Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum, an ancient city whose legacy still widely shapes the cultural and spiritual values of the modern Europe. Armenian nation has embraced and contributed to this, leaving alongside with the Greek people our footprints in the world history.
The relations between our people go deep into the history. There are references to the Armenian people in the works of Herodotus and Plato. Xenophon of Athens passed through Armenia in the fifth century B.C. and called it “a prosperous land”. The ancient Greek geographers such as Strabo and Ptolemy knew well the indigenous people of our region and the boundaries of their states. It would be good for those who try to rewrite the history and make cultural and territorial claims nowadays to familiarize themselves with the works of these great scientists.
We shared also with the Greek people some of the most tragic pages of the recent past, we both suffered from the genocide and crimes against humanity, defended shoulder-to-shoulder our right for life and stood by each other in the difficult times. There is no doubt that we are more than just historically friendly nations, this is a true brotherhood.
25 years ago the diplomatic relations were established between the newly independent Republic of Armenia and the Hellenic Republic. The regular high level visits gave new impetus to our partnership and outline the main areas of cooperation. In this regard I would like to highlight the visits of President Serzh Sargsyan to Greece in 2016 and the visit of President Karolos Papoulias to Armenia in 2014. We meet frequently with the Foreign Minister and my good friend Nikos Kotzias in different international formats. Recently I hosted Minister Kotzias in Yerevan and now I have the pleasure to be in Athens to continue our discussions.
In the past quarter of a century we managed to develop robust interstate relations and solid bilateral agenda ranging from the active political dialogue to the partnership in different fields of mutual interest. We have developed a solid legal framework that could serve as a basis for the further enhancement of our ties. We closely work in the framework of international organizations. We explore the possibilities of cooperation between sizable Armenian and Greek Diasporas for the benefit of our nations.
Greece is one of our key partners in the Armenia-EU relations. The past weeks were very remarkable in this regard. On November 24th Armenia signed a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with the European Union. Being an active member of the Eurasian Economic Union, Armenia develops its relations also with other integration formats. We hope that such pragmatic and result oriented dialogue will be the driving force of the cooperation for all in our wider region.
The signing of CEPA is not a stand-alone example of the Armenia-EU partnership. In the past two years we have been able to deliver in different fields of mutual cooperation, namely joining COSME, “Creative Europe”, HORIZON 2020 programs, initialing the Agreement on Common Aviation Area and signing the Protocol on High-level Mutual Understanding on extending the Trans-European Transport (TEN-T) network to the Republic of Armenia, to name but a few. We are looking forward to the new endeavors, attaching particular importance among others to the launch of visa liberalization dialogue. We anticipate further support of our Greek partners to the Armenia-EU cooperation.
Of course we are looking to the opportunities of expanding bilateral economic ties between Armenia and Greece. The work of the intergovernmental commission and the organization of the business forums could be helpful in this regard. As a result of Armenia’s accession to Eurasian Economic Union, new possibilities emerged for the trade and investments. Today, Armenia is a tax-free gateway to the 170 million strong Eurasian Economic Union’s market. Armenia enjoys preferential regime with the EU, US, Japan and others. We hope that the opportunities provided by the political developments would allow making full use of economic cooperation with our neighbor Iran with its 80 million strong market. The projects on Persian Gulf – Black Sea transport and connectivity routes could be illustrative in this regard.
In a couple of days I will head to Kiev to assume the chairmanship of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. During Armenia’s chairmanship we will do our best to ensure that this Organization fully serves to its goals of boosting the regional economic cooperation between the member countries. It is our firm conviction that those who misuse this platform to advance their narrow political objectives at the expense of the economic cooperation not just contradict the goals of the Organization but are not genuinely interested in developing the regional economic partnership. And those who remain faithful to the objectives of the BSEC such as Armenia and Greece should strive to preserve the purely economic and non-politicized nature of this Organization.
Two weeks ago Armenia assumed the chairmanship of the Ministerial Conference of the International Organisation of La Francophonie, which unites 84 countries, including Greece and will have the honor of hosting its Summit next October in Yerevan. The mantra of the Summit will be “Living together in solidarity, sharing humanistic values and respecting diversity as a source for peace and prosperity”. We intend to organize in its framework a business forum of the Francophone area and would like to draw the attention of the business circles of the Hellenic Republic to this event.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In 2015 upon the initiative of Armenia the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a unanimous Resolution on the Genocide Prevention. In its development again upon our initiative the UN General Assembly assigned December 9th as an International Day of Commemoration of the Victims of Genocide. Since 2015, 9 December has become a solid platform for manifestation of our collective resolve against the recurrences of this heinous crime. It also bears an important mission of raising awareness and promoting education about the crimes against humanity.
Three days ago in my statement on the occasion of the International Day of Commemoration I stressed that “we join our voice with all those who strive to ensure that “never again” is a solemn promise that is universally respected and kept”.
It is a moral obligation of the people that endured through the horrors of Genocide, to stand at the forefront of the international efforts for prevention of the genocides and crimes against humanity. Our efforts are gaining an international recognition, as recently the United Nations Under Secretary General Mr. Michael Møller stated, “Armenia has become a leading voice for safeguarding the importance of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On the next December 9th the International Day of Commemoration will gain even more significance since it will coincide with the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. On this occasion Armenia is going to host the Third International Global Forum Against the Crime of Genocide in Yerevan.
70 years passed after the adoption of the Convention, but the world is not immune from this “odious scourge”. It is imperative to redouble the international efforts aimed at reinvigoration of the prevention agenda. What is happening in front of our eyes, in the Middle East particularly, related to the identity-based crimes against ethnic and religious groups vividly manifests the relevance of the Convention, which clearly establishes the punishable actions, including the complicity.
Armenia has been among the first to raise this issue with the aim of strengthening the international mechanisms in this regard. The further development of effective measures to counter hate crime and discrimination against Christians and members of other religions was the main focus of the recent high-level conference in Yerevan, co-organized by the OSCE Chairmanship and ODIHR with the support of the Armenian Foreign Ministry.
The violence in the Middle East has not bypassed Armenians, who for centuries has constituted a part of the multicultural and multi-religious mosaic of Syria and the wider Mediterranean region. The Armenian settlements, churches, schools and cultural institutions were destroyed. Many of our fellow Armenians lost their lives in terrorist attacks, others were forced to flee. Armenia has received more than twenty two thousand refugees only from Syria, making our country the third largest recipient of Syrian refugees in Europe on per capita basis. We have also tried to reach out to the people who need assistance in Syria by continuous provision of humanitarian aid.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As the threat to security and stability continues to spread in different parts of the world it is crucial to make international joint efforts in countering them more efficient and effective. It is with this understanding that Armenia has participated in a number of UN and UN-mandated Peace Operations, thus actively contributing in the most direct way to the building of international peace and security. The United Nations Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations stated in this regard that “Armenia’s support is important not only for its contribution but also for the Armenian history and the challenges overcome during it”. Indeed, history teaches us that security is a common endeavor. The geography of our engagement in the past and present missions in Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Lebanon (UNIFIL), Mali (MINUSMA) vividly demonstrates our attitude towards peace operations.
We remember with deep appreciation that Armenia made its first steps in the field of the international peace operations with generous support of the Hellenic Republic.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am sure you also should be interested in our views with regard to the Armenian-Turkish relations. As you know it was the initiative of the President of Armenia to start the normalization process with Turkey that resulted in the conclusion of the Zürich protocols in October 2009. However, up to now, those documents have not been ratified, since Turkey came up with groundless preconditions that run counter to the letter and spirit of the Protocols. These documents can not be held hostage forever and that is why the President of Armenia declared in September from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly that Armenia will declare the Protocols null and void since they continuously lacked any positive progress towards their implementation and we will enter the spring of 2018 without those Protocols.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It goes without saying that the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is among the highest priorities on the Armenian foreign policy agenda.
In the margins of the OSCE Ministerial Council, on December 6th in Vienna I had a meeting with my Azerbaijani colleague, which was the sixth one in the course of one year and it lasted more than four hours. It generally passed in a positive atmosphere. However, after the meeting I said that we have to see how the situation will develop. Why? Because, the last Summit of the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Geneva this October also passed generally in a positive mood, however, just after it Azerbaijan again returned to its usual groundless accusations and warmongering.
Last week at the OSCE Ministerial Council I made a detailed speech on the settlement process. The heads of the delegations of the mediator countries Russia, France and the USA, the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, issued a statement on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution. Armenia was ready to join them, however, Azerbaijan rejected and, as a result, we did not manage to have a joint statement of Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Co-Chair countries. This situation has continuously repeated during the OSCE Ministerial Councils.
The Co-Chairs’ statement reiterated once again the three principles of the international law that form the basis of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution, namely the non-use of force or threat of force, territorial integrity, and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples. These principles were elaborated by the Co-Chairs together with the elements of the conflict resolution as an integrated whole. Here, in Athens all OSCE participating States, including Azerbaijan endorsed them during the December 2009 Ministerial Council. However, since then Azerbaijan has made a step back and refused to reaffirm them. On numerous occasions Armenia has continuously reiterated its readiness to continue negotiations based on these principles and elements with the aim of the exclusively peaceful settlement of the conflict.
The statement of the Co-Chairs referred to the October 16 Geneva Summit that took place after about sixteen months’ interval in the meetings on the highest level. For the first time in about four years at the Geneva Summit it was possible to adopt together with the Co-Chair countries, although quite brief, a joint statement. This joint statement reflected what Armenia has been long advocating for: to take additional steps to reduce tensions on the Line of Contact. These steps have been identified in the statements made at the Vienna and St. Petersburg Summits of 2016 and were continuously rejected by Azerbaijan. It raises a question: how it would be possible to reduce tensions if Azerbaijan rejects to confirm its commitment to the 1994-1995 ceasefire agreements? How it would be possible to reduce tensions if Azerbaijan rejects to implement the establishment of the mechanism for the investigation of ceasefire violation? The Geneva statement also stressed the necessity to intensify the negotiation process, and this too has always been strongly advocated by Armenia.
In their last statement the Co-Chairs once again urged to accept the expansion of the existing Office of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and emphasised the necessity of implementation of other decisions adopted during the Summits in Vienna and St. Petersburg in 2016.
Azerbaijan pretends as if the agreements reached during the previous Summits are preconditions put forward by the Armenian side. Armenia has not used preconditions, but that does not mean that the reached agreements should not be implemented. The Co-Chairs’ statement at the Ministerial Councils in Hamburg and Vienna proved that the Azerbaijani attempts to reject the implementation of the agreements reached at the Vienna and St. Petersburg Summits are doomed to failure. The pattern of refusal by Azerbaijan to honor prior agreements seriously questions Baku’s credibility as a negotiating partner.
The Co-Chairs encouraged the Parties to avoid the unnecessary politicization of the important humanitarian steps. For many years Azerbaijan has been refusing to implement confidence building measure, both in humanitarian and military spheres. After Paris Summit of October 2014 Baku has claimed again that the confidence building measures could be possible to implement only after the conflict is resolved. However, it is clear that after the settlement there will not be equally high demand for confidence building measures. Even if Azerbaijan gives agreement to a any confidence building measure then as a rule Baku transforms it to the instrument of confidence destroying propaganda.
The Co-Chairs reiterated their commitment to mediating activities to promote compromises on the working proposals submitted to the parties. These proposals are well known and are reflected in the five statements of the presidents of the Co-Chair countries issued since 2009. The core of these proposals offers a package deal that includes the future determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh.
I would like to once again reiterate Armenia’s firm commitment to the exclusively peaceful settlement of the conflict based on the proposals of the Co-Chairs. There is no alternative to the negotiation process.
It is evident that what has been proposed by the Co-Chairs and supported by Armenia has been rejected by Azerbaijan and this is the main reason that hinders the advancement of the peace process.
An agreement was reached by the initiative of the Co-Chairs to organise a meeting between the Ministers of Foreign Affairs in the second part of January. As always we are going to such kind of meeting with the constructive approach.
If Baku abides to the calls of the Co-Chairs to strictly respect the ceasefire, implements previously reached agreements, reiterates its adherence to the principles of the conflict resolution proposed by the Co-Chairs and constructively engages in the negotiations that will pave the way to move the peace process forward and change the status-quo.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,
Here I will stop my introductory remarks and will look forward to your questions.