15 October 2006

1134) We are not afraid of war, but we don’t want it: Armenian Defense Minister

The Secretary of the presidential National Security Council, Defense Minister of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan has given an interview to REGNUM news agency (Russia) and El Pais newspaper (Spain).

Mr. Minister, what do you think about the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh? There is a view that Armenia is unwilling to cede Nagorno-Karabakh but is unable to develop it. Is it true? . . . .

This may be just one of the numerous personal views that do not reflect the real situation. What do they mean: Armenia is developing or not developing Nagorno-Karabakh? Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is an independent state and its economic growth is quite comparable with that of Armenia. In Armenia the annual GDP growth is 12%. Of course, we seek even better results but, you must agree that not all post-Soviet republics have such a rate.

Perhaps, those who express such a view think that Armenia should more actively support Nagorno-Karabakh? I don’t dispute that. And Nagorno-Karabakh residents, people who live in NKR, certainly, think likewise. However, you should understand that the situation “neither peace nor war” is not attractive for investors and businessmen. On the other hand, Nagorno-Karabakh is steadily developing. The situation you could see some few years ago is quite incomparable with what you can see now. The difference is obvious.

You have qualified the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh as “neither peace nor war.” For how long can this situation last now that Azerbaijan is quite actively strengthening its economy?

The Azeri economy is really developing, but in 2005 Armenia had bigger economic growth. This year, due to growing oil revenues, Azerbaijan is developing a bit more actively.

However, it would be wrong to say that the economic growth in Azerbaijan may force the Armenian side to capitulate. On the contrary, it may urge us to work better and to seek improvement not only in the economy but in other sectors — to become a developed state with a modern, highly efficient army. Only this will allow us to effectively oppose Azerbaijan in case of new war.

I would like to say that one can't built an efficient army on money only. Besides, Azerbaijan does not have an overwhelming economic advantage over Armenia. It will take Azerbaijan several decades to attain the advantages it had in the early 1990s. As you remember, even then, despite its big advantages, the Azeri side lost the war. So, I would like to advise all those relying on money to come to their senses and to consider the lessons of the war Azerbaijan has once unsuccessfully unleashed against the indigenous population of Nagorno-Karabakh.

However, can we say that today Nagorno-Karabakh is supported by Armenia’s national budget?

To tell the truth, I can’t say exactly how much Armenia has subsidized to Nagorno-Karabakh for 2007. At the same time, we should not forget that Nagorno-Karabakh is an independent republic, who can freely dispose of its incomes. I mean that NK’s budget consists not only of Armenia’s subsidies but also of own incomes: tax revenues and other payments. The greater part of the humanitarian assistance comes from the Diaspora — Armenians living outside Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Nagorno-Karabakh lives the life all democratically developing states normally live.

In one of you interviews you have said that Armenia has 45,000-strong army and it is much for the country. How much does Armenia budget for its army?

In 2007 Armenia plans to spend 3.5% of its GDP on military needs — some $270mln-280mln, depending on the rate of the national currency — AMD. This may be much for Armenia, but, compared with some other countries, this is not enough for building a modern efficient army. As they say, everything is relative.

Do you think that the Nagorno-Karabakh problem can be resolved by peace?

Of course, it can. Perhaps, my comparison is a bit primitive but — any peace agreement implies agreement of the sides. This is like marriage. There is no marriage without mutual agreement. So, if we seek to solve the problem, while Azerbaijan — not, we can't help it. We believe that this problem must be solved exclusively peacefully on the basis of compromise.

What kind of compromise will it be? Can you imagine the return of refugees from Azerbaijan to Nagorno-Karabakh?

When we say peaceful resolution, we mean stable peace. Of course, at some time in the future I see some possibility of the refugees’ return. After all, we can’t isolate our countries from each other, we can’t build “a Great Wall of China” and say that we will not contact with Azerbaijan any more, can we? History has shown that we can’t. We have had conflicts and wars before but we still continued our contacts: after some time, Armenians and Azeris returned and began living together.

However, now that the problem is yet unresolved, now that people have not yet healed the wounds they got during the war, the return of refugees is impossible.

You know, the compromise is not about this. The people who left Nagorno-Karabakh 14-15 years ago have long settled down in new environments and are hardly prepared to leave everything they have there and to go back to Nagorno-Karabakh. The compromise is about something quite different – about Azerbaijan's recognizing the right of the Nagorno-Karabakh people to live independently, so they can feel themselves really secure and no longer rely on the security zone. There are other important components, too. The compromise must concern security — only then it will lead to stable peace.

Why does Armenia strongly object to the transfer of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to the UN. Aren’t you interested in discussion?

Armenia objects to the transfer of the problem to any instance from the format of its present discussion. What can this transfer give us, after all? We have OSCE Minsk Group, whose members are all on the UN Security Council. What will the transfer change? Do you really believe that people representing, say, Somalia or some other far-away country are sufficiently competent of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem to give us sensible advice? I think that the whole point is that we should not prevent the work of the OSCE MG who is expert in the matter…

Azerbaijan is trying to involve GUAM in the peace process. You in Yerevan say that, by doing it, Azerbaijan is leading the negotiating process into a deadlock. Do you think that under such conditions Nagorno-Karabakh may be involved in the process and at what stage?

Nagorno-Karabakh's involvement in the negotiating process will be beneficial at any stage.

Then why isn't it involved in the talks?

Azerbaijan does not want it to. They say that, if Nagorno-Karabakh is involved in the talks, they will stop the negotiating process. We had to choose: either to negotiate without NK or not to negotiate at all. Judge yourselves what is better. You know, when there are no negotiations, the situation is fraught with new war. I have repeatedly said that we are not afraid of war, but we do not want it to resume. We do not fear this war, but we realize what catastrophic consequences it may have for both nations.

Is war possible in the coming five years?

I have always said and am saying now that Defense Minister, especially the Defense Minister of Armenia, must be always ready for war and must show high responsibility for his country's security. On the other hand, I believe that there will be no war in the near future. First, I am deeply convinced that today the Azeri army is not capable of waging a large-scale war. Second, the world community will strictly react to such actions as, in fact, a new war in Nagorno-Karabakh will spur up new wars in very many other places. We must know it and must think about security.

What exactly has the OSCE MG achieved, so far? Does it have any achievements?

Of course, it has. For 12 years already there has been truce in the region — there is no war. And this is the most important thing. What the international community wants is to prevent the resumption of the conflict, to prevent people from killing each other. And we have it. Second, once we were very close to solution. This problem is so difficult that one shouldn’t expect a magician to come, wave his magic wand and solve it. One should work hard to solve it. The people involved in the peace process should be well informed of the situation.

Could you specify when exactly the sides were close to solution?

I think we were close to solution in Bucharest, in Paris, then, there was Key-West. One can’t say that today Armenia or Azerbaijan reject the MG’s proposals pointblank. On the other, show me any single person who really believes that the problem will be solved the moment it is put on the UN agenda. If there are such people, let’s listen to them.

You mean if there is no war, it is already good?

Of course, it is.

The Turkish and Azeri sections of Armenia’s state border are blocked. It is clear that Azerbaijan will not open the border until the Nagorno-Karabakh is resolved. And what about Turkey? Has Armenia negotiated this problem with the Turkish side?

We have repeatedly and firmly said that we are ready to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey with no preliminary conditions. I think that diplomatic relations are established exactly like that. However, the Turks are setting some conditions, avoiding dialogue – what can we do? Unfortunately, the initial talks have been stopped, and we still have no diplomatic relations.

Do you have any contacts now?

No, we have no serious official contacts. In the last three-four years there have been several contacts between our foreign ministries but these were once-time actions that can hardly be qualified as state relations.

Why is Ankara so persistently refusing to establish relations?

You know, it is a thankless thing to comment on the questions that are beyond my competence. Obviously, they in Turkey will give you a clearer answer, though, speaking personally, I have not heard anything specific from them, so far.

I think that we must express our position and the Turks theirs and the international community should judge who is right and who is wrong. The international community should decide who complies with the principles of the European community and who does not. I would like to say once again – our position is very clear: Armenia is ready to establish relations with Turkey with no preliminary conditions. Even more, we believe that the talks for Turkey’s admission into the EU may be useful for Armenia. You know, we want to have predictable neighbors.

Today the situation over Iran is quite controversial. What consequences may its aggravation have for Armenia?

Naturally, this will have negative consequences for Armenia. I don't even want to think about it as the situation will be really hard. First, Iran borders on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. Second, for Armenia, Iran is an outlet into the outer world. So, any instability there is quite undesirable for Armenia.

Armenia has good relations with Iran. How can you explain this – what is the formula of these relations? Are the tensions over Iran having any direct or indirect influence on the atmosphere of Armenian-Iranian relations?

There is no such influence. Concerning our relations, I have already said that Iran immediately borders on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. Besides, Iran is Armenia's key economic partner. It is rich in energy resources and it is extremely important for Armenia to effectively plan its energy security.

On the other hand, Armenia is signatory to the agreement on nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and strictly complies with all of its requirements. That's why our priority in relations with Iran is economic cooperation, while, in security, we just exchange views and regular visits. We always remember that, though being an Islamic country and an OIC member, Iran shows restrained position on our conflict. Few countries in the OIC show similar stance.

Could it be otherwise?

Of course, it could. We should be realistic.

Will the blockade of Iran exacerbate the blockade of Armenia?

Of course, it will. If this happens, we will have only the Georgian road left.

And what if the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia worsens…

It will be very bad, too. Any instability in Georgia is a threat for stability in Armenia. Our main road runs via Georgia. As a matter of principle, landlocked countries often get in such situations.

Will Georgia’s aspiration to join NATO have any impact on Armenian-Georgian relations or, particularly, on the prospects of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement?

I don't think that Georgia's aspiration to join NATO will have any impact on the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Besides, I don't think that we should tell Georgia which security system to join or how to ensure its national interests. I hope that, whatever security system Georgia joins, it will preserve friendly relations with Armenia. I think we are very close neighbors. Besides, Georgia is home to quite many Armenians who are citizens of that country.

Do you have similar arguments for Azerbaijan’s joining NATO?

I would like to say once again — Armenia welcomes the predictability of the policies and values of its neighbors. I see nothing bad in our neighbors' aspiration to join an organization propagating human values. The richer our strategy the better.

Do you recognize the territorial integrity of Georgia?

We have long recognized Georgia as a state, exchanged instruments, demarcated borders.

I mean in the light of the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia…

It is Georgia’s business.

Do you mean it is Georgia’s internal affair?

We do not permit ourselves to give any assessments of the matter. We are not involved in those processes, and I see no sense in talking about them.

Does Armenia expect any advantages from its participation in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)?

This organization is exactly for giving its members advantages. This is a collective security treaty, which means that its signatories should collectively oppose the challenges each of them may face. On the other hand, the signatory states are not yet fully prepared for sending their troops to each others’ territories should any of them suffer from aggression or face a challenge.

If Azerbaijan attacks Armenia, will you ask the CSTO for help? Will they help?

I think you better ask this question to the heads of the CSTO states – they may give you an exhaustive answer. I can’t answer in their stead. In any case, one can hope that if he is a member of some organization, he has the right to rely on its partners. In the modern world, one can’t build its security on one’s own. Even a strong country like the US does not act alone and leans on its partners. We all know that.

That’s why one can’t ensure one’s security without integration and collective efforts. Do you really think that 45,000 soldiers can ensure Armenia’s security. Of course, they can’t. By the way, we will shortly complete a strategy of national security. An inter-department commission has been working on it for already a year. Its basic principles have been approved by leading professional world centers, particularly, by the Academic Committee of the US National Defense University and was considered by a NATO international expert commission. Shortly, we will send the document to Moscow for the consideration of an expert group of the Russian State Administration Academy. Armenia’s National Security Strategy clearly says that international integration is a guarantee of Armenia’s security.

Do you mean integration on the Caucasian level?

I mean both regional and global integration, cooperation in the widest possible context.

Is it possible for Armenia to integrate with Azerbaijan and Georgia on the Caucasian level?

Why not. Integration with Azerbaijan will be possible only after the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Until our soldiers are confronting each other in trenches, we can hardly speak about any serious integration. On the other hand, we can see some signs of integration within international organizations. For example, joint participation in BSEC and the CIS. With Azerbaijan and Georgia we are also integrating in the framework of NATO, particularly, under the IPAP. All the three countries are involved in some groups and indirectly cooperate within peacekeeping actions. However, full integration will be possible only after the resolution of the conflict, when we will stop regarding each other as enemies. As regards Georgia, we already cooperate on very many issues.

Being CSTO member, Armenia actively cooperates with NATO. Experts see some contradiction in it. What is your position on the matter?

You know, if I thought that these two directions contradict each other, I would not be hear. I take part in this process and consider that it is very important.

Judge yourselves, why can Finland be outside NATO but, at the same time, be EU member and have normal relations with Russia? By the way, members of the PACE monitoring commission visited us yesterday and one of them was from Finland. One more example is Austria. Of course, I don’t say that in development and expenses Armenia is on the same level with developed European countries, but we will reach their level some day.

Under the NATO IPAP we plan to raise our armed forces to the world standards by 2015. Why should we think that we can’t do it. If we go back to the 1990 – then people could not even imagine that Armenia might some day have an army it has today. We are receiving very favorable reports about our forces in the Balkans and Iraq. We have to bring our whole army to this level.

© 1999-2006 REGNUM News Agency
October 14, 2006


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