Aug 3, 2009


Vartan Oskanian's interview (translation below) to Radio Free Europe
(FM 102, Yerevan) was aired on Saturday, August 1, 2009 at 7 P.M. Click
here to listen on line.

http://www.civilitasfoundation.org/cf/inter views/199-vartan-oskanians-interview.html

RFE/RL: On debating members of the Armenian National Congress

VARTAN OSKANIAN: I have no problem debating anyone. I'm happy to
debate any issue, but that debate must serve a purpose. Specifically
on the topic of Nagorno Karabakh, I see no reason to engage in that
debate because the opposition's issue is not with me, but with the
administration. So the opposition's invitation to debate should be
directed to the administration, to those conducting negotiations
today. Of course we can sit and talk about history, about the past,
about the last 17 years.

Civilitas convenes such discussions. Perhaps in the coming months
it will be possible to convene one on the topic of Nagorno Karabakh
and all those who wish to participate can come and do so. But right
now, there would be no purpose to my debating the opposition. Their
fundamental target should be today's government.

On being responsible for the Madrid Principles

Each administration is responsible for its period in history. Today,
there has been a change in administration, there is a new
administration, and t hey have decided to continue the negotiations
from where we left off.

Therefore, today, the authorities are responsible and the debate
should be between the administration and the opposition. I think that
for 18 months, the opposition hasn't understood this and it continues
to try to conduct a debate with the past administration. I think it
would be more useful if the

administration and the opposition actually did debate the issues
which concern our people.

On the Madrid principles.

During the whole of the Nagorno Karabakh negotiations process, all
comprehensive solutions have been based on four fundamental principles.

Those have never changed. The first is the status of Nagorno Karabakh,
the second is the return of territories, the third is the return of
refugees, and the fourth is security guarantees. I want to repeat this:
from the first day all comprehensive proposals have been based on these
principles. I assure you that it will be the same in the future. In
other words, if Madrid fails - and we're already talking about the
Krakow principles, if they fail - and in the future, there are new
documents, they too will be based on these same principles. If the
Armenian side would really rather not see the return of territories
or the return of refugees in future documents, in other words, if we
are to be lead by the "not an inch of land" principle which, really,
of course, would be a great solution, and in that case I have nothing
to add, then at that time, either Armenia or Nagorno Karabakh or both,
as the Armenian side in the negotiations, must reject negotiations. If,
however, we are engaged in negotiations, then these principles will
be there.

As for negotiated proposals, the content of the Madrid principles
is disproportionately advantageous in comparison with that of all
previous proposals. On this, there is no doubt and no argument. As
regards the status of Nagorno Karabakh, in the past, the worst
proposal was high autonomy within Azerbaijan, and the best was a
horizontal link between Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan within a
common state, but the content of the Madrid principles specifically
offers self-determination for the people of Nagorno Karabakh, and
this naturally and obviously means Nagorno Karabakh independence or
reunification with Armenia. So, the Madrid principles in comparison
with those which came before are disproportionately better, without
doubt. And I would hope that you would agree with me that I'm one
of the very few people who is thoroughly familiar with all previous
documents and can make such a comparison.

As to the other principles - territories, refugees and security -
I can say the same. The formulations are such that they offer the
opportunity, when the details are negotiated prudently, to truly
arrive at an outcome that is advantageous for us.

Principles are, of course, important but more important are the
details that must be negotiated. We did not succeed in arriving at an
agreement on the details with the Azerbaijani side because Azerbaijan's
demands were unacceptable for us, and our demands were unacceptable
for them. There was no common ground. We had our benchmark, based
naturally on our national interests, and we were unable to arrive at
an agreement within range of that bar.

Today, the focus, the debate should be about that benchmark. Today's
leadership is not the same. Serzh Sargsyan is not Kocharian,
Nalbandian is not Oskanian. There are clear policy changes. I am
frequently blamed for criticizing foreign policy just because I was
foreign minister for 10 years.

Yes, I was minister, but the administration has changed. Certain
policies being implemented today re fundamentally different from
the policies we implemented, so there is room for criticism. When
there are things with which I disagree, I criticize. That's why
today I will repeat, and in fact I call on the opposition as well,
that their task today is to clarify what the benchmark is. Our bar
was high. I have concerns about where the bar is today. Azerbaijan
says whatever it wants to say, Bryza talks about the return of six
or seven territories, Aliyev rules out the independence of Nagorno
Karabakh - and our leadership is silent. This is my20concern.

This is what the opposition should be worried about today, and our
public too. And we must specifically challenge the authorities, raise
questions and ask that they clarify where that bar stands today,
to quell our concerns.

The opposition's issue isn't with me, but with the authorities.

On Matt Bryza's explanation that Nagorno Karabakh's non-participation
in Nagorno Karabakh talks was the result of a decision by the
Armenian side

Bryza does not appear to be thoroughly informed. He's probably unaware
of the background. Nagorno Karabakh's participation was interrupted
in March 1997, when the Minsk process itself stopped. In other words,
when I was appointed foreign minister, Nagorno Karabakh was no longer
in the process. But there was an ongoing process between presidents,
ministers and meetings between the advisors of the presidents of
Armenia and Azerbaijan.

It's true, in those days, we were faced with a choice - to continue
the Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations, or to raise the Nagorno Karabakh
participation issue. It was decided that we would continue to
negotiate, because the alternative was that the talks generally would
be stalled. So the decision was about whether to continue or not,
and not whether Nagorno Karabakh would participate or not. That's
absurd. So the truth is that Nagorno Karabakh's participation was
interrupted in 1997.

Today, of course it's desirable that Nagorno Karabakh return;
everyone understands that without Nagorno Karabakh there cannot be
a final agreement.

So the sooner Nagorno Karabakh enters the process, the more engaged
they become and their wishes taken into consideration, their consent
on a final agreement will be more likely. Presenting the Nagorno
Karabakh authorities and people with a fait accompli will make it
much more difficult to bring them on board. There's no doubt and
Azerbaijan too must realize this - that the sooner Nagorno Karabakh
enters the process, the more the process will benefit.

On an assessment of the 1998-2008 negotiations period

In 1996, there was the Lisbon statement by the OSCE Chairman-in-office.

It's true it's not a binding document, and only a statement, but it
was done in the name of all OSCE member states, with the exception
of Armenia. In 1997-98, it was very difficult for us to break down
that wall because those countries were convinced of a Lisbon-based
solution. The documents of 1997 regarding the Nagorno Karabakh
resolution, especially the first one which was comprehensive
and referred to the status, was completely based on the Lisbon
principles. President Ter-Petrossian categorically rejected that
proposal. Later, when it was clear that agreement on the status would
be complicated, they brought forth a step-by-step proposal, about
which Ter-Petrossian made a public statement, wrote an ar ticle, and
the rest is history. But that the notion of autonomy was reinforced
among states was unequivocal. When I say we were struggling against
that, it was not against a document that we were struggling, but
against that perception. We did, in fact, succeed in changing that
perception. I'm not in competition with the former administration. I
believe that between 1998 to 2008 Armenia's diplomacy succeeded to
break down that wall on autonomy and reach codification of the right
of self-determination that we have today.

I consider that a success. When I hear these arguments which target
individuals or former administrations, I think sometimes we are blinded
by these arguments and motivated by revenge and don't think about what
we're saying and doing. I say this with great conviction - if we lose
this one principle, the principle of the right of the people of Nagorno
Karabakh to self-determination, it will be very difficult to revive it.

Indeed, the negotiations can go off in a completely other direction
and the principle of territorial integrity may be reinforced. Today,
we are at an advantage over Azerbaijan, specifically because of the
existence of the self-determination principle, and that is why we
must be cautious in our statements and criticism.

I want to repeat this - we must understand how far we can go in our
concessions, because without concessions there will be no resol
ution, since the situation now is more complex than in the past,
and this complication is the consequence of our miscalculated
foreign policy. Today, the Armenia-Turkey situation affects the
Nagorno Karabakh issue, pressure has increased, so all seem to
be in a hurry on the Nagorno Karabakh issue, in order to make it
possible to also resolve the Turkey-Armenia border issue. Under that
pressure, it is possible to take steps that are not necessarily in
our national interests, especially since during this year and a half
this administration has taken such steps, that is why there is room
for concern.

On the Turkey-Armenia process and the seeming absence of an Armenian

In my time, there was a clear agenda. I think there is one today
as well.

But to what extent the Armenian side can bring on discussion of that
agenda, or impose that agenda, that's another matter. There's always
been an agenda, I'm sure there is one today. The problem is that
Turkey was able to make its own agenda more prevalent during this
time. In other words, as of today, Turkey has gotten what it wanted
from this process. I don't know what will happen in the future, but
the Armenian side has so far gotten nothing. From the first day, I
said there was clear miscalculation here. And more and more, we are
convinced of this. The president's last statement does not correct
the situation. The presi dent continues to leave a window open. I
believe the president should state more clearly that if the border is
not open by the time the football game takes place, then I can't go
to Turkey. But he has still left this window open and that's exactly
what Turkey wants. They've received what they wanted, they continue to
reap dividends, and I don't know when our leadership will be convinced
that the Turkish side is exploiting the situation. They should been
convinced of this long ago and so long as the process continues the
way it's been, the Armenian side will continue to lose.

On the 'artificial' and 'false' nature of Armenia's democracy

If government is not formed through free and fair elections, then we
will never be able to create the right checks and balances within our
political system. Without such balance, we can't solve our problems,
and impose the rule of law. Fair and free elections are necessary
but not sufficient conditions for democracy. There is no doubt about
this. I'm not saying anything new: this is the international practice
and the experience of democratic countries. Without normal elections,
your democracy is incomplete, and not serious. So our focus should
be on that and we need to find the mechanisms to make that happen.

On national mobilization in the context of domestic tensions,
reciprocal distrust and a deficit of legitimacy

In my statement at the Stepanakert conference in July, I said that
the same factors that make mobilization imperative also obstruct
such mobilization.

Here the authorities have a huge role to play. I believe they must
take minimal but specific steps to improve the political environment
in the country, to inspire hope that something will change and to
create clear mechanisms to solve problems. Under such circumstances
it may be possible to collaborate on our most pressing problems.

There seems to be an impression that independent of everything,
however bad the situation internally, however much we may be opposed
to each other, when there are external threats facing the state,
we will come together. In extreme situations, I am convinced that is
indeed the case. But we must also recognize that we are also faced
with political threats. The situation may become such that there will
not be war but that there may be efforts to impose on us conditions
that go counter to our national interest. So we must recognize that
there are not-so-obvious internal and external political threats and
dangers around which we must also rally together. The authorities
must take a leading role in this and recognize that there are such
issues. Because, at the end of the day, it is the rule of law, a
healthy political environment and appropriate checks and balances,
that will make it possible for us to solve our problems.

Armenia is a very politicized country, everything is politicized
and we have problems everywhere. And as much as those problems may
be social, at the end, everything is political. So the solution
to these problems must be sought in the political arena. We will
only succeed in solving them if we can create the right political
mechanisms. Recently, I proposed creating a second political pole,
commensurate to the existing power pole. I believe that's the right
path. Both the administration and the opposition should think about
that because that is in our national interest. The authorities must
support this, or at the very least, not obstruct it, in order for
such a pole to emerge.

On March 1, 2008 and accusations about willfully re-interpreting
that day

I disagree. That day I had nothing to gain or lose. That day I took
upon myself a great responsibility, more than could be expected of a
foreign minister. I sensed the dangers of that day and it was with that
awareness that I spoke out. It would have been easy to refuse a press
conference that day, but that would not have been the responsible thing
to do. If only other political figures, from both sides, who were the
key players that day, had also demonstrated such responsibility. If
each had done what he could, I am convinced we might have avoided
one of the blackest days in our nation's history. My conscience is
clear that I did my20part. It didn't succeed.

But I stood before our people and called on the authorities and the
opposition to sit and talk.

On entering the political arena

In my interviews, my statements, I am already perceived as someone
who is in the political arena. That has not been formalized by a
declaration or an organization. Nevertheless, I am in politics. I
can't be indifferent to the events that transpire in Armenia today,
and I will do everything to be able to have input and become useful,
especially to help form a healthy political environment in our country,
and to work with everyone, to reach at least a bi-polar political
system - one that would noticeably reinforce our democratization

Vartan Oskanian's interview to Radio Free Europe (FM 102, Yerevan)
will be aired on Saturday, August 1st, 2009 at 7 P.M. Click here to
listen on line.