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Armenia: Facing New Challenges
Raffi K. Hovannisian
Armenia's first Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1991-92
and the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS)
founding director

Dear readers,

Between March 14 and 21, 2005, you had an opportunity to address your
questions on the Yerkir's website to RAFFI K. HOVANNISIAN, Armenia's
first Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Armenian Center for National
and International Studies (ACNIS) founding director. See the full
version of the interview in Armenian.

Thank you for your active participation: Spartak Seyranian,
editor-in-chief of "Yerkir" Weekly.

Hosein Tabatabaei - Dear mr. Hovhannesian. What is you opinion about
Iran - armenia relationship and cooperation ?

Raffi K. Hovannisian - Armenia and Iran share long-standing cultural
and civilizational traditions, which continue to this day. Iran plays
an important role in regional cooperation and security.

Hosein Tabatabaei - How do you think about similarities and diferences
in cultural view of piont ? shat shenoragalootion.

R. H. -- Real strength comes from respectful diversity.

Stepan - Dear Mr. Hovhannisyan, Could you comment on prospects of
Armenia as transit country, especially recent developments regarding
gas from Iran. Thank you

R. H. -- Armenia must strive to diversify its economic, energy, and
security strategy at home and abroad. New transit prospects flowing
from the Iran-Armenia line must be developed to safeguard Armenian and
regional energy security and the respective sovereignties of all
concerned parties.

Vatche Iskedjian - Mr. Hovannisian, According to you, what's the best
to tackle `corruption' in Armenia? How can we elect a parliament which
serves the people and not the oligarchs who `buy' their seats in
parliament by bribing voters?

R. H. -- Bribery, corruption, abuse of power, and the broader scourge
of conflicts of interest between public service and private gain have
become endemic in Armenia. It gives us no consolation that other
countries are corrupt as well. And the problem by no means resides
solely in the parliament. It is presidential, governmental, judicial,
oppositional, societal-in short, system-wide. Administratively,
Armenia continues to be a very vertical place, so the example `up top'
is crucial. If the president or a key official is corrupt, if they or
their family member or their staff pronounce beautifully on the rule
of law and a variety of anti-corruption programs but in reality abuse
their office for personal benefit, then the average citizen loses
confidence in his or her leaders and tries to beat the system as
well. A vicious circle indeed. What is needed are personal example;
political will; amendment of legislation to enable the formation of an
independent investigative and prosecutorial body that starts with the
presidency and moves down through every nook and cranny of the
administration and society; application of mechanisms for citizen
empowerment and public oversight; and finally, broad popular support
to stand together against the inevitable reactions of violence from
affected quarters both in and out of government.

Gevork Ter Astvadsadrian - Hello Mr. Hovannisian, I'd like to know
what Armenia's alternatives are in light of recent PACE pronouncements
, and what are possible consequences if Armenia is declared to be an
aggressor? What is the impediment to the recognition of the
independence of Atsakh, what are possible disadvantages if any, and
advantages. Thank you for your good work, and your efforts to get
recognition for Artsakh as Foreign Minister, and your commitment to
our homeland

R. H. -- Thank you for your kind words. I have always favored
Armenia's recognition of Artsakh's right to liberty,
self-determination, and decolonization?under international law,
domestic Soviet legislation, and historical-political
benchmarks. These legitimate advantages notwithstanding, we have not
done our utmost to design and pursue a comprehensive blueprint for
realization of its quest for freedom. Often we have sent out
conflicting signals and suffered from partisanship and parochialism
under both administrations. We need new leadership.

Eric - Are you going to participate in the upcoming presidential
elections in 2008?

R. H. -- Presidential elections are not an end unto themselves. I plan
to the best of my abilities to continue contributing to Armenia and a
dignified, democratic future for all of its citizens. Each of us must
do his or her part. For now, the best answer I can offer is that no
decision has been made nor any option ruled out. In any event, that
high office is not my raison d'etre.

Eric - Do not you think that with the current educational level of the
members of Armenian Government the country cannot progress with the
pace the rest of the world does? The Government consists mainly of
`strangersâ=80=9D in the areas they are responsible for.

R. H. -- On the whole I agree, though there are happy exceptions to
the rule. We must do our utmost to keep our best and
brightest-especially ouryouth-in the country and offer them
meaningful, contemporary avenues for self-advancement and public

M. Moradian - Do you think that Armenian government should approach
the US and the West in order to make closer ties with them or the
authorities should remain a Russian ally and base in Caucuses? Why?

R. H. - 21st-century Armenia should chart a course founded on its own
national interest, the absolute sovereignty of its state, the unity
and security of its nation, the democracy of its system, and the
liberty of its citizen. All else is in the derivative domain of
strategic and tactical implementation according to global and regional
developments, political consensus-building, and public confidence. A
successful, proactive policy of outreach would engage a variety of
partners on the basis of healthy competition, common causes, andshared
interests. Armenia's freedom to establish multilateral, mutually
beneficial relations, and not multilateral dependency, should
constitute the most telling index of its integral independence.
Against this background, a considered foreign policy for the Armenian
nation-state, requiring as it does the assumption of the hard lessons
that history has dealt, recognizes its sovereignty as a supreme value
to be treasured atall cost; defines maintenance of a peaceful
geopolitical environment as its vital national interest; and accepts
steady pursuit of dignified bilateral ties with all, near and far, as
the most effective modality for achieving national security. To these
ends, it behooves Armenia to cultivate a straightforward, sovereign
partnership with Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States; to
reconcile words and deeds in its attempt to integrate into European
institutions; to explore new connections in the Middle Eastern and
Asian dimensions; and to continue to bridge common domains with
neighborly Iran and transatlantic America. The world after September
11 avails Armenia of the ways and means to check and balance these
policy directions.

M. Moradian - If the border between Armenia and Turkey re-opens, what
would be the challenges that Armenian businessmen, farmers and people
will face?

R. H. - The frontier in question was closed unilaterally by the
Republic of Turkey in flagrant violation of the 1921 Treaties of
Moscow and Kars on which it so often relies-to the point that the
validity of those documents is now in deeper question than ever
before. This is Turkey's issue, though both nations stand to gain from
an open border and full normalization of relations basedon a brave
facing of history that includes acknowledgment, atonement, and
ultimate accommodation. Obviously, Armenian farmers, entrepreneurs,
and the people at large would gain in terms of access to markets and
consumer prices, but would benefit even more if Armenia found itself
in advance in a more developed state of economic
affairs. Self-confidence abroad requires first putting our own house
in order.

Zohrab keropian - I want to express my deep gratitude towards his
Excellency for the excellent job that he did while in office, during
that difficult times and not forgetting the raising of the Armenian
genocide issue in Constantinople Turkey. I want to ask his Excellency
on his political standings remembering the fact that during
presidential elections he supported the opposition candidate for no
clear reason thus can you give us a clear glimpse on your political

R. H. - Thank you for your kind words. The political precepts that
guide me are inalienable sovereignty for our republic, security in
unity for our nation, democracy for our society, and liberty for each
and every citizen. When by application of double standards and
fear-based presidential decreesI was denied my own civil right to seek
election, I decided not to sit in a corner, instead endorsing the
distinguished candidate from the opposition. I exercised this option
because I felt that, all things considered, he was the better
candidate. What do you think, will our generation ever witness a fair,
dignified election by which authority is transferred peacefully from
incumbent to challenger? Regardless of personalities, such a
transition is imperative for Armenia's future development. It is only
with a legitimate, democratic, and rule-of-right homeland that we can
expect fulfillment of foreign-policy objectives in the region and
beyond. Stealing the vote-and thus conscience-from one's own
citizens, brutally cracking down on them, and employing violence at
every turn are domestic realities directly connected with our national
capacity to seek and attain justice for other watershed issues in the
international arena. The unjust state of our state -which has lost 1.5
million of its citizens to emigration during the years of its own
independence-relates immediately to the efficacy of our demands for
justice in the name of the 1.5 million victims of the Genocide. The
world, in essence, has become one long chain and these are its
links-apparently distant, but intertwined nonetheless.

Gaytzag Palandjian - Would you consider a highly necessary post, as
Minister for Diaspora-Affairs? If and when created?

R. H. - The position, if one of substance and not of imitation, is
worth considering at the highest levels. I believe there would be
several candidacies better than mine. Kind regards.

Gaytzag Palandjian - Would you not consider as imperative
invigoration/Re-organization of the Diaspora, to become a
Super-structure with Head, i.e. a Supreme Council with five
departments:-1. The Legal-Political in Strasbourg(next to RA
rep.)2. The Economic in Geneva, CH with 16-field representing chambers
of Professional Colleagues Associations. The Executive in N.Y.,next to
RA 's U.N. Rep.4. The Social Services and Repatriation in
Moscow. Spiritual at St. Etchmiadzin in constant contact with Great
House of Cilicia? Thanking you in advance, Respectfully, g.p

R. H. - It reads well on paper and in concept. The Armenian reality
will probably prove otherwise. Still, the aspiration is commendable
and might contribute to an informed public discourse on both
individual and structural contributions to development of a
contemporary Diaspora working professionally for its own longevity and
for the Homeland's perpetuity. Strategy should be Armenia-driven.

Gevork (CAN) - Mr. Hovannisian what is, from your point of view, the
best recipe or mechanism by which Armenians worldwide can optimize the
level of involvement of the Diaspora in the homeland. Is it dual
citizenship? Or maybe just time is needed for Armenians to fully
comprehend the concept of state as well as the mentalities of each
other (spyurk and hayastan)? Or maybe there is something else that we
still have not understood? Everybody agrees that Diaspora has done a
lot to help Armenia, but I think most also agree that incomparably
more may be done if the proper conditions and settings are created on
both sides.

R. H. - You are right. Time, mutual respect, hard work, and an
uncommon ability to look beyond the limitations of one's own vantage
point are part and parcel of the `optimization formula.' Dual
citizenshipâ=80'which requires that thoughtful programs be tailored
for the discharge of civic obligations by dual-national applicants and
that minimum residency thresholds be set for exercise of electoral
rights-is one important measure for ascertaining greater involvement
and inclusivity. But standing alone it is not a panacea. A grand
design, which entails a unifying cause and mutual accountability, is
in order.

Gevork (CAN) - Mr Hovannisian, as the director of ACNIS, how would you
assess the morale of the citizens of Armenia today (is it more or less
similar to that of citizens in other Caucasian states). If you have
information about the same issue in spyurk I would be glad to read it
as well.

R. H. - As you know, we are a nation that cherishes individual thought
and enterprise. One can find a multiplicity of views and dispositions
across the Homeland-Diaspora divide. Despite our trials, errors and
tribulations, there still are points of light at both ends of the
bridge. Generally speaking, however, an independent analysis would
reveal relatively low morale and overall malaise both at home and in
our communities.

M. D. Ajemian - Mr. Hovannisian, Has ACNIS developed any reparation
scenarios in the event that Turkey (within the context of their 10
year or so E.U. accession talks) accepts the validity of the Armenian
Genocide? And would it not be a good idea to start a national
discussion on the various possible scenarios including defining and
delimiting Western Armenia? Much of the land of Western Armenia has
been abandoned due to the Armenian Genocide and Turkishpolicy over the
last 80 years.(It should be noted that 80% of eastern Anatolia is
owned by the Turkish government) Should we not start promoting the
fact that eastern Anatoila today is not as populated as the Turkish
statistics claim,making it easier for Turkey to give up these lands
which are not essential to the existence of the Turkish State?

R. H. - A national discussion is always a good idea, though we have
trouble from time to time in graduating beyond our partisanship and
parochialism to achieve that level. A comprehensive framework for
examining the Genocide, its legacy, and its consequences for Armenia
and the Armenian people-both historic and contemporary-is part of this
challenge. At the same time, we must take a critical, honest look at
the state of affairs in the small parcel of the Armenian patrimony
which survives today as the Republic of Armenia. We of all people do
not need double standards. We reject them when they are applied by
Turkey, Azerbaijan, and sometimes the international community. We
certainly should not accept them in our own nation-state and among our
leaders, whether elected or not. These cannot, and shall not, be the
criteria by which we make judgments on the matters of yesterday and of

M. D. Ajemian - Mr. Hovannisian, When I was a college student in the
late 70's and early 80's I attended many discussions on the future of
Soviet Armenia and the possibility of an independent Armenian State. I
was one of the few people who believed that the Soviet Union because
of its corrupt and economically mismanaged system would not survive
for long and that an independent Armenian State would emerge. Now most
take it for granted that Armenia is independent including those who
laughed at the idea. I for one believe that the Turkish Republic could
emerge into a different entity if all the players in Turkey's future
push hard enough to break the hold of the Kemalist elite. There are
ways to do it. It is a limited number of people who prevent Turkey
from being a European state. Should we not start making an effort to
start Turkish-Armenian conciliation with various Turkish groups in
Europe initially and as the E.U. process unfolds with groups in

R. H. - There is today an emerging Turkish voice, still in the vast
minority, seeking a brave reexamination of Turkish history, the
foundations of the modern Turkish state, and Turkish-Armenian
relations in particular. These beginnings of a crack in the official
wall of silence are gradually approaching the seminal crossroads of
the Armenian Genocide. Unbeknownst to them, this follows in the
exceptional tradition of thousands of Turkish families who in 1915, at
the risk of losing their own lives, endeavored to hide and save
individual Armenians from certain death. My grandmother owed her life
to one such righteous family of heroes, who to this day remain unsung
because of the official Turkish dialectic. Whether in Turkey or
abroad, this new generation of compelling, liberated Turkish thought
should be engaged on all levels. And, yes, potential Turkish and
Armenian accession to the European Union should become the major
causal thoroughfare for a truly European coming to terms with history,
a settlement of accounts, an inevitable normalization, and the joining
of forces for regional security and cooperation-both as neighbors and
as states member in the EU. No one should be the odd man out.
Feasibility or fantasy? The answer lies within.

See the full version of the interview in Armenian.
From: Baghdasarian