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Statement by Raffi K. Hovannisian
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Republic of Armenia

At the Council of Europe Meeting
Istanbul, Turkey
September 10, 1992

Madame Secretary General, Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Colleagues:

It is my privilege to represent the Republic of Armenia before this special meeting of fellow European Foreign Ministers. I am especially proud and honored to be here with you today because this meeting represents a home-coming of sorts for my country.

At the cross-roads of Europe and Asia, Armenia has, over the centuries and through tremendous sacrifice, demonstrated its loyalty to its European heritage. With its newly-gained independence, Armenia, after having been kept away so long, can once again come home. Home to Europe. Indeed, one of the very first acts of the newly independent Republic of Armenia was to request membership in the Council of Europe on October 9, 1991.

Today, I would like to outline Armenia’s importance to Europe, the role cooperation between the Council of Europe and Armenia can play in promoting European values and interests, and Armenia’s position with respect to two factors, Armenian-Turkish relations and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which formally and informally have been offered as obstacles to Armenia’s induction into the Council of Europe.

There can be no doubt as to Armenia’s importance to Europe. This has been true historically and it is no less true today.

In maintaining its commitment to European values, Armenia has through the ages suffered occupation, partition, massacre and deportation. Armenia has served as both buffer and doorkeeper to Europe. In this sense, a vulnerable Armenia has often meant a vulnerable Europe. Sometimes in the past European failure to understand this has resulted in a substantial contracting of European geography, culture, values, and security—whether in connection with the battle of Manazkert in 1071, the crusades a while later, or the rise and fall of the first Armenian Republic from 1918-1920.

The new Republic of Armenia, which I represent today, presents a new opportunity for Europe and for the Council of Europe, an opportunity to strengthen European civilization and values. Armenia’s full integration into European institutions is the best guarantee for its security. And Armenia’s security today, no less than in Byzantine times, means security for Europe and for European values.

It is here where the Council of Europe has a special role to play. If Armenia is to be economically, politically and internationally strong for Europe, Armenia’s European partners must help it in this mission. The Council of Europe can help strengthen Armenia’s internal political, social and economic structures, its democratic institutions, its commitment to the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms and its access to international fora. A stronger Armenia means a stronger Europe and in this respect Armenia and its European partners should attach great importance to its participation in the Council of Europe.

Although Armenia has only just regained its statehood after seventy years of Soviet and Communist rule, from the very first days of its newly-rewon independence it has pursued a path of constitutional, legislative and administrative reform and demonstrated commitment to the rule of law, pluralist democracy, the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and economic reform. Armenia is toady a multi-party democracy with over twenty-five political parties, seven of which are represented in Parliament. There is a vocal opposition and a vocal opposition press. Freedom of speech, association, conscience and religion is guaranteed by legislation recently adopted by Parliament. That body also has ratified all the basic international conventions and declarations on human, civil, and political rights. Eighty percent of the agricultural sector has been privatized and ambitious programs are under way for privatization of the industrial and service sectors en route to a fully free market economy.

From the beginning, Armenia’s domestic and international policies have been characterized by realism, moderation and pragmatism. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, in its quest for sovereignty, Armenia shied from confrontation with the central government in Moscow and opted for the gradual and constitutional road to independence. Once independent, Armenia sought to solidify its democratic foundations and to normalize its relations with all its neighbors, including Turkey.

Yet, Armenia’s relations with Turkey have sometimes been mentioned as an obstacle to Armenia’s admission to the Council. Armenia has always understood that the normalization of Armeno-Turkish relations is important not only for future Armenian and Turkish prosperity, but also for European stability and security. Despite the tragedy of the Genocide, President Levon Ter-Petrosian has actively sought good relations with Turkey. To date, however, Turkey has rejected Armenian initiatives on the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border. Rather Turkey has from time to time impeded the shipment of humanitarian aid to Armenia and has failed to maintain neutrality, thus becoming involved, in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Turkish military advisors and officers are in Azerbaijan; reports abound that arms have flowed to Azerbaijan through Turkey; and Turkey has played a less than constructive role in the CSCE-sponsored talks on Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia has a different vision for Armenian-Turkish relations from that prevailing today: a relationship characterized by thriving interaction, mutual prosperity and unsurpassed creativity. Istanbul, where we meet today, evokes such a happier past for Armenian-Turkish relationship.

Much of Istanbul’s magnificence is due to that relationship. Before the Genocide, Constantinople played a special role in the renaissance of Western Armenian culture and its thriving Armenian community influenced all aspects of life and culture in Ottoman Turkey. That influence is evidenced by the Dolmabahche Palace, the work of the Armenian architect Garabed Balian, where we will dine tonight.

It is unfortunate that Turkey has advocated a reserved approach to Armenia’s special guest status and ultimate membership in the Council of Europe. Turkey likewise sought to impede Armenia’s induction into the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. Such a position serves neither Armenia’s nor Turkey’s interests, and more importantly for this body, does not serve European interests.

Turkish obstacles to Armenian participation in European institutions are indeed ironic. According to many, Turkey, despite its being a senior member of the Council, has yet to meaningfully demonstrate its commitment to European values. Grave human rights violations in Turkey were the subject of concern in a resolution recently adopted in Budapest by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Similarly the European Parliament has reaffirmed by a resolution on the situation of the Kurds in Turkey that a peaceful solution of the Kurdish question is essential to democratization in Turkey.

In short, despite the fact that some suggest Turkey be a model for the new states in Central Asia, Turkey cannot yet claim to be a model of European values and cultural identity. From our point of view, Turkey is clearly in no position to oppose the admission to the Council of a country, which, in a very brief period since independence, has already demonstrated commitment to those values and that identity.

Another obstacle that has been raised by some to Armenia’s participation in the Council has been the ongoing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. In fact, the Secretary General of the Council two weeks ago indicated in a letter to me that substantial cooperation between the Council of Europe and Armenia was impossible as long as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict continues. This position is inappropriate. It appears to stem from a misunderstanding as to the nature of the conflict.

Armenia has clearly stated in numerous fora such as this that it has no territorial claims on Nagorno-Karabakh or on Azerbaijan. The conflict is over one of the principles of the Helsinki final act, self-determination, and is between Azerbaijan and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Armenia, not (unlike) Turkey, is of course an interested third party. At the same time, Azerbaijan has tried hard to drag Armenia into the conflict through both its illegal and devastating blockade and its attacks across Armenia’s borders. By drawing in Armenia, Azerbaijan hopes to change the nature of the conflict from the struggle of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh for self-determination to a territorial war between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

We regret the human tragedy caused by the conflict on both sides, and seek a lasting cease-fire and a political solution through direct, meaningful negotiations between the two parties to the conflict, Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. Armenia is committed to do all that it can to facilitate this process. Unfortunately, the 350,000 Armenian refugees expelled from Azerbaijan and the 160,000 Azeri refugees from Armenia have not constituted enough of a sobering reason to compel Azerbaijan to join Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in their recent agreement to cease-fire, or to accept UN, German, and other initiatives to dispatch military observers to the zone of conflict. It is time for everyone to understand what state-building, not confrontation, is what is needed to construct strong democracies out of the ashes of empire.

Because Armenia, like Turkey, is not a direct participant in the conflict, and in view of my Republic’s history of constructive initiatives for cease-fires and mediation, the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute cannot be raised in good faith as an obstacle to cooperation between Armenia and the Council of Europe. We are convinced that Council decisions with respect to cooperation with Armenia, as well as all other newly-independent European states, will be based solely on the merits. Armenia’s status within the Council cannot be artificially tied to a conflict beyond its frontiers or to the status of Azerbaijan, which lags substantially behind Armenia in demonstrating commitment to European values.

I would like to make a few additional comments with respect to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In pursuing a military solution to the conflict, Azerbaijan has attempted to block from international fora and from negotiations the one key party that along with Azerbaijan must agree to any peaceful resolution, Nagorno-Karabakh itself. This position contrasts strongly with that of the government of Cyprus on negotiations with the Turkish community. The Cypriot government is talking to that community about its claims. Cyprus is of course a very different case, especially since the Turkish community’s claims derive from and are backed by the occupation of territory by a foreign army.

In Nagorno-Karabakh, there is no occupying army. The people of Nagorno-Karabakh voted in their independence through a referendum in December 1991 monitored by international observers, and, when attacked, organized a popular resistance to defend that independence. Unlike the Turkish community in Cyprus, Nagorno-Karabakh is an entity meeting all the criteria for statehood under international law. And yet Azerbaijan will to talk to the legitimately elected representatives of this entity. Sadly, this position has met with some support by the Council of Europe which would shut Nagorno-Karabakh out of the peace process by insisting on formulations that prejudge a solution to be worked out at Minsk.

Azerbaijan insists that Nagorno-Karabakh is part of its territory. Nagorno-Karabakh says that it has exercised its right to self-determination and is independent. This is the conflict. It is by no means an open and shut case.

Yet in its March 11 Declaration, the Council’s Committee of Ministers insisted on referring to Nagorno-Karabakh as an “area of the Azerbaijan [SIC] Republic.” While making no references to the Helsinki principle of self-determination, the Committee maintained that a solution must be based on respect for the inviolability of borders. Such one-sided formulations make participation of Nagorno-Karabakh in the Minsk Conference all the more difficult since they prejudice the results of the Conference at which the ultimate status of Nagorno-Karabakh is to be decided.

Although the newly-coined term “ethnic cleansing” has long been familiar to the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, and its capital Stepanakert is an eerie splitting image of Sarajevo, Europe has not extended to Nagorno-Karabakh the same swift and effective measures it has taken for Bosnia-Hercegovina. Still it and the Council must at least refrain from further aggravating the situation. This they can do by maintaining neutrality on political questions which the CSCE has already determined will be decided at Minsk.

I closing, I would like to say a few words about self-determination. We are all concerned about what applications of the concept of self-determination will mean for stability in the new Europe and in the world. Yet ignoring the problems posed by the right to self-determination will not make them go away. We cannot pretend that self-determination is not at the root of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and think that the nature of the conflict and its solution will fit into patterns convenient for us. We must reconcile ourselves with the fact that struggles for self-determination in Europe and elsewhere are here to stay, and it behooves us to recognize them for what they are so that we can work to find creative and timely solutions to the problems they raise. Self-determination is proving to be the final stage in the decolonization process and our ability to properly deal with this problem will say much about the new Europe and its values.

Finally, the Republic of Armenia would like to express its deep appreciation to the Republic of Turkey, to the beautiful and, for Armenians, always mystical and special city of Istanbul, and to our dear colleague and good friend Hikmet Cetin for their hospitality and the fine preparations for this meeting.

Thank you.

The National Citizens’ Initiative is a public non-profit association founded in December 2001 by Raffi K. Hovannisian, his colleagues, and fellow citizens with the purpose of realizing the rule of law and overall improvements in the state of the state, society, and public institutions. The National Citizens’ Initiative is guided by a Coordinating Council, which includes individual citizens and representatives of various public, scientific, and educational establishments. Five commissions on Law and State Administration, Socioeconomic Issues, Foreign Policy, Spiritual and Cultural Challenges, and the Youth constitute the vehicles for the Initiative’s work and outreach.

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