Ahram Online, Egypt
May 30 2013

As Armenia celebrates the 95th anniversary of its restored statehood,
the country is working to improve its domestic development and security
in the region, writes Armen Melkonian [Armenian ambassador to Egypt]

Armenia today is celebrating the 95th anniversary of the restoration
of its statehood. The struggle for independence was not an easy one.

For six centuries, the people of Armenia, whose history and cultural
heritage go back millennia, making their ancestors the contemporaries
of the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians, were deprived of their own
state due to the continuous invasions of foreign conquerors.

Consecutive generations of Armenians sacrificed their lives to put an
end to the sufferings of their people and to achieve the sacred goal
of independence. Finally, on May 28, 1918, following the nightmare
of the atrocities of WWI and the Armenian Genocide under the Ottoman
Empire, which claimed as many as 1.5 million innocent lives, the First
Republic of Armenia was formed as an independent and sovereign state.

However, soon afterwards Armenia found itself integrated into the
Soviet Union as one of its constituent republics. Soviet Armenia
was not a sovereign state, but it played an important role in
the preservation of Armenian statehood until the aspirations of
independence were realised once again on the eve of the collapse of
the Soviet Empire with the emergence of the Third Republic of Armenia
in 1991.

Since then, and bearing the lessons of history in mind, Armenians
have been crafting their present and their path towards the future
on the basis of universal values and the principles of democracy,
human rights, social justice and the free-market economy. After 22
years of independence, we are able to speak proudly about irreversible
progress and the significant successes that have been made along the
path of state-building. We already have mature institutions of public
administration and local government, an emerging civil society and
free media, a growing economy and improving social conditions.

Notwithstanding these achievements, we are still pursuing policies
that will lead to a better, fairer, freer, and more prosperous country,
with the aim of overcoming the current challenges and moving forwards
towards a more dignified and prosperous livelihood for every citizen
and each family.

Economic development is a core priority in this regard. We are still
facing a whole array of problems, including unemployment, poverty and
emigration, the solutions for which are still to be found. However,
there have also been great achievements, despite the permanent blockade
imposed by Azerbaijan and Turkey.

GDP growth in 2012 was slightly more than seven per cent, which is one
of the best performances for that year in the world. We are looking
forward to 6.2 per cent economic growth in 2013. The government
of Armenia is promoting high-productivity industries utilising new
technologies, attaining favourable terms for domestic producers and
exporters in external markets, developing free economic zones within
the country, attracting efficient foreign investments, and systemically
reforming the business environment.

Armenia has also declared an "open door" investment policy. There
are no restrictions on the participation of foreign investors in any
economic activity in Armenia. According to the Heritage Foundation's
Index of Economic Freedom, Armenia's economy was the 32nd freest
economy in the world in 2012.

In order to increase the country's economic competitiveness and
ensure sustainable economic growth, the government has declared the
development of a knowledge-based economy to be its core long-term
strategic objective, while simultaneously developing a range of sectors
with strong export potential, like mining, metallurgy, machinery,
pharmacology, biotechnology, chemicals, precision engineering,
textiles, and jewellery.

There is also great potential for IT, agriculture, tourism, health and
education. Lacking fuel resources, Armenia places great emphasis on
the development of its own renewable energy sources, such as hydro,
wind and solar energy. About 40 per cent of Armenia's electricity is
produced by the Medzamor nuclear power plant.

The establishment of a fair state that will guarantee equal
opportunities, ensure and enhance competition, while at the same time
protecting the most vulnerable social groups, is another priority
for the government. A wide package of reforms has been introduced
to further consolidate democratic institutions, strengthen the rule
of law, protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms,
improve electoral procedures and relevant legislation, strengthen
the independent judicial system and expand the role of civil society.

The recent presidential elections in Armenia in February 2013,
followed by the municipal elections in the capital Yerevan in May,
were assessed by international monitors to be in full compliance with
the highest democratic standards. They are the most eloquent evidence
of the great successes of both the government and people of Armenia
in pursuing the on-going processes of democratisation and ensuring
full respect for the rule of law and for human rights.

In order to achieve our goals, extensive and dynamic engagement in
international political and economic relations is essential. Our
bilateral and multilateral international cooperation is progressing
steadily. We are advancing relations with all the power centres and
leading states of the world, strengthening our alliance and strategic
partnership with the Russian Federation, expanding and strengthening
our friendly partnership with the US and our rapprochement with Europe,
deepening our traditional cooperation with the CIS Member States
and our immediate neighbours of Georgia and Iran, while developing
relations with Arab and other friendly countries.

We are looking forward to expanding the already existing
cooperation with Egypt, to which we are tied by a traditional and
historically-formed friendship. Since the establishment of diplomatic
relations between Armenia and Egypt in 1992, there have been plenty
of activities, as well as official visits and contacts in different
fields and on all levels. More than 40 agreements and protocols have
been signed and joint governmental commissions of economic cooperation
have been set up.

The Armenian community, famous for its significant input into
the public and cultural life of Egypt, is nowadays also actively
contributing to the strengthening of Armenian-Egyptian cooperation
and friendship.

Armenia has become an active participant in leading international
organisations and political processes, including the UN, the OSCE,
the COE, the CIS, CSTO, BSEC, WTO and TRACECA. We are observers at the
AL, NAM and AU. Just two weeks ago, Armenia assumed the presidency of
the committee of ministers of the Council of Europe, a position which
the country will hold for the next six months. The priorities of our
presidency are combating racism, intolerance and xenophobia, promoting
intercultural dialogue and fostering democracy and human rights.

As part of our policy of creating stronger relationships with Europe,
we are actively involved in the EU Neighbourhood Policy Eastern
Partnership Programme, and we have already entered into the final
stages of negotiations on the Association Agreement, as well as on
the Agreement on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. We are
also contributing to international peacemaking: Armenian troops are
participating in peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo.

We are pursuing the issue of reinvigorating the process of the
international recognition of the Armenian Genocide and addressing its
consequences. In 2015, the international community will commemorate the
centenary of the Genocide. For us, the recognition and condemnation of
the Armenian Genocide is not just a matter of justice and retribution
or a moral debt to be paid to our ancestors: it also has a security
dimension. Without Turkey's sincere repentance, security in our region
will always be endangered. We believe that true reconciliation does
not consist of forgetting the past, but of the ability to cooperate
in the elimination of the consequences of past crimes.

Lasting peace and stability in our region very much depend on the
fair and peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. The
conflict started when Azerbaijan tried, by ethnic cleansing and then
by unleashing a large-scale war, to suppress the right of the people of
Nagorno-Karabakh to exercise their legal right of self-determination.

In the face of imminent elimination, the Nagorno-Karabakh population
resorted to self-defence and in the end forced Azerbaijan to conclude
a ceasefire agreement in May 1994.

Since then, Armenia has been exerting its efforts towards the
settlement of the conflict exclusively through peaceful means and on
the basis of the purposes, principles and norms reflected in the UN
Charter and the provisions of statements made by the three co-chairs
of the countries of the OSCE Minsk Group: France Russia and the US. We
believe that any settlement must be based on the recognition of the
Nagorno-Karabakh people's right to self-determination.

Like the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, which is the only
internationally mandated negotiating forum for this conflict, Armenia
has many times urged respect for the ceasefire agreement and abstention
from hostile rhetoric that fosters feelings of enmity and increases
tension. Unfortunately, the Azerbaijani side has rejected all the
proposals presented by the mediators, and it poses a threat to the
security of the region by constantly increasing its military build-up
and threatening the use of force against Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.

Azerbaijan rejects all proposals for confidence-building measures
and the consolidation of the ceasefire. It systematically provokes
violations of the ceasefire and performs ceaseless acts of vandalism
towards the Armenian historical and cultural heritage. Such an
approach is endangering the negotiating process and the fragile peace
on the ground. Instead of instilling anti-Armenian hysteria into its
own society and multiplying its military budget on account of its
large oil revenues, the leadership of Azerbaijan should realise that
there is no alternative to the peace settlement and it should adopt
a constructive position within the negotiation process.

Notwithstanding the existing problems, Armenia is confidently
developing, looking to its future and strengthening its role in
the region.

The writer is the Armenian ambassador to Egypt.