Vartan Oskanian

Speech of the
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Armenia

Vartan Oskanian
at the international conference on the

South Caucasus.
Political debates and developing projects.

Berlin, November 12 2003

I appreciate the opportunity to speak before you on our political challenges, on resolving conflicts and perhaps most importantly, on development.

When I’m at the OSCE or at the Council of Europe, I speak with my foreign minister’s hat on. Here, in this more theoretical forum, I’d like to use the opportunity to speak a little more openly and freely and to draw back the curtains so we can look at the larger picture.

One of our reporters asked me last week what our foreign policy credo is, as we prepare to enter a new calendar year, and at the beginning of what is a new five-year term for President Kocharian. My answer was, economic development.

And if today, you are asking me what the prospects are for resolving the Nagorno Karabagh conflict, my answer again revolves around regional economic development.

In Armenia, the debate about our future no longer spins on Karabagh. Instead, it focuses on the task ahead: raising the population’s standard of living to a level worthy of Europe by the year 2020. Last month, Armenians from all over the world – economists, analysts, financiers, government officials – gathered in Yerevan to study the various scenarios which might help us reach the goal by sustaining today’s double digit rate of growth. Armenia is proud of this pace. We know we started from a very low point of departure. Nevertheless, we weren’t the only ones at rock bottom.

We are however, the only one moving at a rate that, if maintained, can by the year 2020 provide our population with a stable, respectable lifestyle. The pillars of growth are not economic alone. Such consistent and deep-seated expansion demands a renewed focus on education and on social and moral values.

It requires that democratic processes take deep root in our everyday life and develop in parallel to the economy. And of course, significant, sustainable economic development for us means an export-led economy, access to markets, even greater economic liberalization, high rates of investment in infrastructure, relatively inexpensive but productive labor and the strong driving role of the private sector.

Economic growth is our guiding light and we believe it should be the region‘ s as well. After all, globalization begins with regionalization. The countries of Europe and the European structures talk to the Caucasus, visit us, consider our problems and progress, our needs and accomplishments, all together, in one breath. This is not just because of our geographic proximity to each other, but because we also share economic and social commonalities.

It is as if we are all on a cruise, together. We are all on the same boat, going in the same direction. The songs we each like to sing, the way we pray to our common God, the history we remember and retell may all be different.

Some may have more money in their pockets than others, but in the end, if the boat sinks, rich and poor will all drown together.

As far-seeing, visionary, bold leaders, we must see to it that the boat does not sink. Azerbaijan’s oil will not be its salvation, nor will Georgia’s sea ports. We can list a number of oil-rich but otherwise poor countries. And the world’s continents are full of countries with coast lines, whose peoples stand in bread lines.

What is required for each of our three countries in this region is to adopt the right all-inclusive economic, social and political policies which will lead to a life of dignity for our peoples.

We can each go it alone, or we can journey together.

Of course, there is the third way and that is that each of us can obstruct the other’s path. But that is suicidal. That path won’t lead towards any kind of prosperity — individual or regional – nor will it usher in European integration.

Here, Europe has a huge role to play. Europe’s standards force us to reexamine our own conduct and behavior. We will build functional, responsive, responsible societies in this neighborhood not through an imposition of force, but because we want to be a part of a greater Europe. Europe’s experiences in regional cooperation, regional conflicts, regional compromises, influenced by the successes of the last 50 years can provide examples and guidance.

Europe has a responsibility to signal that the Caucasus belongs to Europe. In the Caucasus, where Armenia and her neighbors live with unresolved conflicts, such a signal will influence and determine how conflicts are resolved. This would not be a simple affirmation of cultural and religious affinities. This would be the framework within which we would view our futures, our borders, our neighbors. The Caucasus in Europe means a Caucasus where all neighbors quit trying to settle scores, where borders are no longer viewed as barriers.

The matter of closed borders is one that our western neighbor, Turkey, must also confront and overcome as European structures consider its integration into Europe.

We believe that the facts show that the utility of sealed borders has diminished. On the contrary, their continued existence tends to lessen Turkey’s credibility as a positive, active, regional player.

The promise of European engagement can serve to diffuse the old conflicts and prepare the ground for new relationships, new patterns, new attitudes,new perspectives.

We want to make the leap into Europe. We want to live alongside the three-four dozen countries among whom there is hardly a pair of neighbors who don’t have some border issues between them.

Are Spain and France without any disagreements? Spain and Britain? Italy and Austria? France and Germany? Germany and Poland? Poland and Ukraine? The list is long. Yet all of them have relations with each other, trade with each other, participate and cooperate in various degrees in international forums, even as they continue to talk through their serious differences.

At some point, each of these countries, and each pair of countries together, made the conscious, difficult, serious political decision to move on – not to ignore, dismiss, minimize or trivialize the differences, but to prevent those divisions from becoming the defining aspect of their relations.

It is probably fair to criticize us all and to say that since the ceasefire established in 1994, we did not take advantage of the absence of bloodshed and gunfire to actually work on healing the wounds.

We allowed time and distance to naturally develop scar tissue. But there was no active engagement to try to bring Armenians and Azeris into closer proximity, nurture at least some of the tolerance of the soviet years, and to create the environment which would lead to a lasting solution.

I think my Azerbaijani colleagues feared that such interaction would justify or legitimize the status quo, and would lead to a conclusion that was not of their making.

But, we have no choice. Armenians and Azeris must move on. Somewhere, sometime, we have to draw the line on our differences and our past, and move on to a future that is ours together.

The obvious question is at what point do we all say: what we have is our starting point, and we will move forward from this ground to normalize relations.

The outstanding dispute between us is the Nagorno Karabagh conflict. Let’s look at the facts. Nagorno Karabagh’s population has always been – and is today — overwhelmingly Armenian. Linguistically, religiously, culturally, the population of Nagorno Karabagh is Armenian. Legally and historically, Nagorno Karabagh has been Armenian for centuries.

At the point of the collapse of the Soviet Union, within the provisions of the law, it took advantage of its legal right to self-determination and resolved its own Armenian future. For the last decade and a half, they have been masters of their own destiny. Except for the 75 years of Soviet Azerbaijan’s imposed dominance, Nagorno Karabagh has never been associated with Azerbaijan.

Therefore, expecting that Armenians will give Azerbaijan authority over Nagorno Karabagh itself, when it has never legally nor historically belonged to Azerbaijan is unrealistic. Expecting Armenians to live alongside Azerbaijan in peace, without a military buffer zone is fully realistic and worth pursuing.

Next year, on the 10th anniversary of this, the only self-imposed and self-maintained cease-fire in the world, perhaps we can present our peoples and those concerned around the world with a scenario for a region of peace and prosperity.

That is, we can advocate bold new initiatives, within the European context, with a common vision for our region. That I believe, is our salvation. It is the images, values and experiences of Europe that allow Armenians to conclude that we can indeed resolve our conflict, put behind us the period of war and animosity, and address our present and our future not with the war-ravaged eyes of today’s sometimes jaded leadership, wounded in its pride and bent on revenge, but through the cool eyes of future generations.

1 Organized by the Ministry of Cooperation and Developing of Germany

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