Since April this year, Serzh Sargsyan has been President of the Republic of Armenia. A former military leader, he wants to open meaningful channels of reconciliation – with Turkey to the West and Azerbaijan to the East. After the Georgian crisis this summer, things are moving in the Caucasus – and maybe in the right direction. euronews met this new figure on the international stage in Brussels during the last European summit at the beginning of November.
Christophe Midol-Monnet – European Affairs Editor, euronews: President Sargsyan, welcome to euronews. What were and what are the consequences for Armenia of the Georgian crisis?
Serzh Sargsyan, Armenian President: First of all, the Armenian economy has suffered greatly because of this crisis, because 70 per cent of Armenia’s trade passes through Georgia. We have been neighbours with Georgia for thousands of years, and with that comes certain responsibility. Personally, I am happy that the crisis has not damaged our relations. Certainly, we are also strategic partners with Russia, and that brings other responsibilities and duties. Responsibilities between neighbours are not the same as those as between strategic partners, and then you have to take into account the national interest.
euronews: According to you, should NATO play a role in the Caucasus?
Sargsyan: Yes, and that is why we in Armenia have a programme of co-operation with NATO. That is why Armenia takes part in NATO manoeuvres and other activities. We believe co-operation with NATO is integral to our real security.
euronews: But will one day Armenia apply to join, and not only cooperate with NATO?
Sargsyan: At the moment, that issue is not on the agenda. There are lots of countries, including members of the European Union, which are not members of NATO.
euronews: What should be the future of the relations between Armenia and the European Union?
Sargsyan: Armenians are Europeans. Even if Europeans do not consider Armenia to be a European country, Armenians themselves feel profoundly European. We are active in the development of European Neighbourhood Policy. Actually, we are trying to get more flexible conditions for contact – by freeing up visa rules so people can meet each other more easily and to bring about the best conditions for trade and commerce. We want to establish good relations with our neighbours, and to that end we are also hoping for help from the EU and European countries.
euronews: About the relations between Turkey and Armenia: talks have started to establish diplomatic relations. But what are the next steps?
Sargsyan: The establishing of diplomatic relations, the opening of borders and co-operation between neighbours – like many countries do. Of course, we have a difficult history with Turkey, of course there was the genocide (in 1915). But we do not think Turkey has to recognise that genocide before we can establish diplomatic relations.
euronews: And in this rapprochement, which is the driving force: Turkey or Armenia, or both?
Sargsyan: I think establishing relations is as much in Armenia’s interest as Turkey’s, so it is not really important to say which side took the initiative. The essential thing is to be able to establish relations without pre-conditions.
euronews: At a personal level, what are the next meetings planned between (the Turkish) President Gul and yourself?
Sargsyan: The only thing decided at the moment is the return football match between Armenia and Turkey in Istanbul next October – in a year. But I do not think we will let that year pass without meeting because negotiations underway at the moment raise the hope of an earlier encounter. It is highly probable that between now and then we will reach a mutual decision.
euronews: The Nagorno-Karabakh is a long standing bone of contention between Armenia and Azerbaijan. What makes now possible a solution in this frozen conflict?
Sargsyan: I would not talk about it in those terms because Nagorno-Karabakh itself has expressed its wish for self-determination. The people of Nagorno-Karabakh have expressed their wish, maybe to be re-attached to Armenia, maybe to become an independent country outside Azerbaijan. I think the declaration signed a few days ago with Presidents Medvedev and Aliyev really paves the way for a resolution to this problem. This declaration, even though it is just a declaration and not an accord, outlines a purely political solution, and rules out a military path.
euronews: In your relations with Azerbaijan, do you intend to use the diplomatic tool of football as well as for Turkey?
Sargsyan: Football is a great game, and the diplomacy of football could well prove fruitful. But we have already been negotiating with Azerbaijan for 14 or 15 years – and I think with the help of the Minsk group, presided over by Russia, the United States and France, these talks will deliver results such that we will not have to resort to these diplomatic methods.