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Armenia's Prime Minister Pashinyan: 'Nobody promised it was going to be easy to reach peace'

Armenia's Prime Minister Pashinyan: 'Nobody promised it was going to be easy to reach peace'
Copyright euronews
Copyright euronews
By Anelise BorgesEuronews
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Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told Euronews that a road to reconciliation between Armenia and Azerbaijan is possible, but work needs to be done.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan says that peace is a must between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan, has been host to some of worst violence in the south Caucasus' recent history.  

After prolonged fighting between both sides over the mountainous enclave, a ceasefire was brokered by Russia in 2020. Since then both countries have been exploring avenues for peace.  

"Not only there can be, but there must be peace. This is my belief, my position. And this is what I believe in. But for this to happen, it's also important for the international community to be aware of important nuances," the Prime Minister told Euronews.

There have been two wars over Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Sitting down separately with both Prime Minister Pashinyan and Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev, Euronews' international correspondent Anelise Borges asked the same questions to both leaders - and offered them a chance to express their points of view without interruption or contest.

To watch the full Global Conversation interview with Prime Minister Pashinyan click on the player above.

Full transcript

Anelise Borges, Euronews:

This region has been the stage of some of the most violent episodes in the south Caucasus’ recent history. And the tensions have not really gone away since the 2020 peace deal. To what do you attribute the constant hostility?

Nikol Pashinyan, Armenian PM: First of all. The document was signed on November 9th, 2020. It is not a peace treaty or a peace deal, as you said, in its legal sense, but not so much as de facto, a number of its provisions are gravely, grossly violated. I agree with you that it can be and it is a certain concept of the future piece of architecture. And unfortunately, many provisions are regularly violated by Azerbaijan. They are currently violated. Now, you see, you said in your question, speaking of Nagorno-Karabakh - and everyone understands that - but Azerbaijan, for instance, continues to claim there is no Nagorno-Karabakh. Although the November nine trilateral statement, defines the existence of Nagorno-Karabakh as an entity, and the president of Azerbaijan signed that statement. 

Moreover, it reads that in Nagorno-Karabakh there is a line of contact, and Nagorno-Karabakh has a territory that is defined by paragraph seven of the trilateral statement. Moreover, paragraph seven of the statement provides that refugees and internally displaced persons shall return to the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and the related districts under the auspices of the UNHCR. Unfortunately to date, Azerbaijan has not secured it and this right has not fulfilled its obligation. Moreover, during the war, in a number of villages that the Armenian population was forced to flee from, they are carrying out construction works and Azerbaijan declares that it will resettle these territories with Azerbaijanis and all these factors, let alone that until now, in spite of paragraph eight of the trilateral statement, the prisoners of war, captives, hostages, other detained persons, other persons held have not been returned. 

There have been 33 prisoners, and recently two more persons got abducted. Now, turning to the Lachin corridor, which is mentioned in the trilateral statement to which you referred, the purpose of which is to ensure the link between Nagorno-Karabakh and the Republic of Armenia by signature of the President of Azerbaijan that this corridor must be under the control of Russian peacekeepers. The Lachin corridor, by the way, is not just a road. I want to draw your attention. It's a five-kilometre wide space. It is currently illegally blocked by Azerbaijan.

Anelise Borges, Euronews: We’ll get to the Lachin corridor later. I wanted to ask you about these peace negotiations. You’ve been back from Brussels where you met the President of Azerbaijan, you’ve been meeting several times under the mediation of the EU as well. These peace talks have been filling many people with hope of lasting peace in this region. From what you’re saying we’re wrong to be hopeful so can there be peace and what can you tell us about what came out of these talks in Brussels?

Nikol Pashinyan, Armenian PM: "Not only there can be, but there must be peace. This is my belief, my position. And this is what I believe in. But for this to happen, it's also important for the international community to be aware of important nuances. To be clear about why there isn't progress at a sufficient pace. Let me go back to our penultimate meeting in Brussels when European Council President Charles Michel was present and I and the president of Azerbaijan agreed, or rather, we reached an understanding that Armenia and Azerbaijan will. Mutually recognised territories: the territory of Armenia. 

The 29,800 kilometres and the 86,600 square kilometres of Azerbaijan. The territorial integrity of each other. After that, Charles Michel made a statement to that end. After which, when Armenian journalists asked me about it, I publicly confirmed the facts. Up to this point, the president of Azerbaijan has publicly not confirmed that understanding. He has not denied it either. Now, this is a subtlety that creates a certain lack of trust. And our understanding also is that between Baku and Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, the main city there, there must be a dialogue between Baku and Stepanakert about the rights and security of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh in the framework of an international mechanism. 

And that dialogue so far has not taken place but we need to follow up on this and we need to work for this. Nobody promised it was going to be easy to reach peace. If it were easy, it would have long ago been achieved.

Anelise Borges, Euronews: What about the mediation of the EU? Many international actors attempted to mediate this crisis, Russia, the US and now the EU has been playing a bigger role, what do they bring to the negotiation table?

Nikol Pashinyan, Armenian PM: I would like to start off by emphasising that the advantages of mediation have long been known to everyone. But all mediations come with certain shortcomings. They all have shortcomings, and each mediation has its peculiar shortcoming. And if you allow me, I'll speak about the shortcoming. Look for the Brussels platform, that's the problem we see and it's been a continuous problem, is that around the table we reach a certain understanding and we do this in the presence of the European Council President. And if either side does not honour that understanding, or does not deliver upon that understanding, this is not followed even by a public assessment or specific assessments. 

Here's a specific example in my presence and in the presence of the European Council President, back at the end of last year, Azerbaijan promised and undertook that in the next week to 15 days, and that was last year, they would let 10 prisoners of war. They have still not honoured that commitment. On the other hand, though, I assume that effective mediation is when the failure to honour and understand will be followed by at least a show of political attitude towards the one that fails to honour that commitment. At the Brussels platform, for instance, we are not seeing this. I keep raising this question. Let me even break a secret to you. We've even prepared a document that we called an audit, where we enumerate the understandings that were reached at the Brussels platform but were subsequently not honoured. And it's quite a thick package. It turned out quite a thick package, which is alarming.

Anelise Borges, Euronews: You’re saying that Brussels is not following up when it comes to the shortcomings of either side?

Nikol Pashinyan, Armenian PM: If without diplomacy, then yes.

Anelise Borges, Euronews: Do you think that the fact that the West has been playing a bigger role here, the US and Europe, has antagonized a more traditional, regional power broker Russia, or the other way around, the fact that Russia is more involved in a buck down in Ukraine has given more space to other players to come and help you and Azerbaijan and potentially find common ground.

Nikol Pashinyan, Armenian PM: Those episodes do occur when we see some geopolitical jealousy. We've seen this, but I'm glad to say that now the emphasis seems to have changed somewhat, and that change concerns what we hear from different sides’ statements that any platform that is going to be favourable for the peace process, they would welcome and they will continue to welcome such platforms. And this is very important. Let me remind you that these international competition scenes are not linked with us directly. Because the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs have been created for addressing the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But since February 24, 2022, the co-chairs simply stopped interacting. 

Some of them decided they do not want to interact with the other co-chairs, and that's when a problem came up. You're referring or what I call geopolitical jealousy that emerged after that date. Before that, such a genre did not exist. But on the other hand, it would be more productive if the international partners bring together their efforts. There have recently been signs that nevertheless, they are somewhat interested in this latter logic.

Anelise Borges, Euronews: President Putin has invited you and the President of Azerbaijan for another round of talks in Moscow. What would you say Russia’s influence in this region is like today?

Nikol Pashinyan, Armenian PM: Let me first say that I have not received any invitation yet, I have to emphasise that. Regarding Russia's presence, of course, due to the virtue of the events in Ukraine, not just Russia, but other geopolitical actors' interest in our region has been declining because in practice Ukraine is where all the international attention is focussed. And yes, that is a factor. But Russia is present in our region. Russia is present in Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia is present in the Republic of Armenia. 

But the EU is present too. Which is a new factor. The EU Civilian Mission on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the mission was supposed to be on both sides. Initially, that was the understanding which was reached in Prague on October 6, 2022, during the quadrilateral statement. That was when the EU mission first came to our region. Initially, it seemed that we had agreements to have the EU mission present on both sides of the border. But for unknown reasons, Azerbaijan withdrew or gave up on that.

Anelise Borges, Euronews: Let’s talk about the situation on the ground. You talked about the International Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights, the US, and the EU, which have all demanded guarantees for the freedom of movement in the Lachin corridor. What do you know about what’s happening in this which is a crucial gateway for the people inside of Nagorno Karabakh?

Nikol Pashinyan, Armenian PM: Regarding the International Court of Justice, I want to view it separately from the other factors that you listed, because the decision of the International Court of Justice is legally binding. That is the highest international court, the decisions of which have the highest legal force. Based on Armenia's application on 22nd February 2023, it decided that Azerbaijan must do everything within its reach to ensure the free movement of vehicles, goods and citizens in both directions through the Lachin corridor and on July 6, the court reiterate it, confirmed its decision. This is very important also for the logic of the international legal order because the international highest court's decision is not being followed in terms of law and legality. I think this is a bad message and it's food for thought for the international community. 

Anyway, we will be raising this issue in international instances. Now, what's happening in Nagorno-Karabakh, there's a humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh. What is a humanitarian crisis? No food is being supplied to Nagorno-Karabakh, no food. There's no external supply of food. A number of essential commodities are not being supplied. Baby food is not supplied, and medication is not available. No hygiene supplies. No other essential goods are there. Natural gas supplied to Nagorno-Karabakh was interrupted by Azerbaijani electricity supply to Nagorno-Karabakh, it was interrupted by Azerbaijan. The supply of fuel was interrupted by Azerbaijan. So in this sense, there's a real threat of hunger, as well as health problems and so on and so forth.

Anelise Borges, Euronews: You know that they deny all this, right? Azerbaijan keeps denying that the Aghdam road is accessible.

Nikol Pashinyan, Armenian PM: I don't know what you're referring to because I'm speaking about the document that I signed. Which is which has the status of an international document. It reads clearly that the Lachin corridor, which is under the control of the Russian peacekeepers. And it's not just the road, it's a five-kilometre-wide area. It must be out of Azerbaijan's control and it must ensure a link between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Well, in principle it may sound absurd, but the road from the moon to Nagorno-Karabakh is open too. But I cannot refer to institutions which are not known to me or from Mars or from the Moon or wherever else. I'm speaking about what is documented. A notion that is on paper now that road is now closed. If anyone doubts you can take a trip there and try to reach there. Go to Nagorno Karabakh. 

By the way, yesterday the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) made a statement saying it is no longer able to deliver humanitarian relief to Nagorno-Karabakh because of the closure of the Lachin corridor. What does this mean? This means that the ICRC officially declared the necessity of delivery of humanitarian aid to Nagorno-Karabakh. Otherwise, they wouldn't say that. Secondly, it's accepting that they cannot do it because the Lachin corridor is closed. Following that, I think Freedom House, the international institution, also made an appeal, saying it's necessary to ensure access to humanitarian goods in Nagorno-Karabakh. Yesterday, the government of Armenia decided today this relief is en route. 400 tons of humanitarian goods are currently en route to Karabakh. Let's see if that reaches Nagorno-Karabakh. Whether that's under the trilateral statement and the international court's decision that aid must reach them. Let's see if it reaches Nagorno-Karabakh. Going back now to the humanitarian crisis. Of course. Especially during this season here are some agricultural activities. 

However, the Azerbaijani army is shooting at farmers’ equipment who’re carrying out agricultural activities. After 2020, we had cases of a tractor driver being killed by an Azerbaijani sniper while carrying out agricultural work. There are no longer tractors operating now because there is no fuel. People cannot harvest the crop if by some miracle they harvest the crop. For instance, those goods, because of the absence of fuel the harvest cannot reach, cannot be transported to the flour mills. If by some miracle they turn it into flour, then because of the absence of fuel, it can not be delivered to the bakeries to bake bread. Diesel fuel, electricity, and gas are absent because of that. If by some miracle the flour reaches the bakeries, they cannot bake bread at industrial volumes. If somehow some bread could be baked, then again because of the absence of transportation, that bread is hard or impossible to deliver to the shops if it gets delivered to the shops. There is no public transport. And again, there was no private transport again because of the absence of fuel. So for people to go and to buy that bread in the shops if somehow they managed to get to the shop. 

Because of this blockade, all enterprises have shut down. All people lost their jobs. And people do not have the income to buy bread in the shop. If by some miracle, they have the income to buy bread, the queues are so long and the quantities of goods are so scarce that if by some miracle you reach the shop that limited quantity that by miracle, miracle after miracle reached the shop, after this chain of miracles and is being sold, they may never get to buy it because of the queue. Think of baby food. Imagine young mothers cannot feed babies with baby food. Many of them may have started off not breastfeeding the children, so they started off with formula. And then one day the formula just disappeared.

Anelise Borges, Euronews: I’ve spoken to a journalist inside Stepanakert who described pretty much the same you're saying painted a very bleak picture for people inside Nagorno Karabakh. I wanted to ask you about the 2020 war. Thousands of people have lost their lives, soldiers, and civilians. I was here in Armenia, I went to Nagorno-Karabakh during that time. I spoke to mothers of fallen soldiers, and I’ve witnessed also the pain and devastation of the other side through the work of my colleague in Azerbaijan. But I remember this one mother here in Armenia who told me that she blamed the death of her son on politicians who were trained in the art of diplomacy but still trapped in the war. Do you think that your mission is to win a war or to negotiate peace?

Anelise Borges, Euronews: You know, in any case, war is wrong. If there's a war somebody somewhere did something wrong or several people in several places, that something's wrong. But from the other side, what's the cause of war? The impossibility of reaching durable peace or of maintaining peace. And that impossibility is it genuine, is it real? Is it authentic, is the other question. Because you spoke about a parent, a mother who spoke about politicians. Well, of course, I understand. And I accept that I'm in no way contesting the fallen soldiers, mothers, wives, children or anything they say. But we forget the context. The politicians are human too. It's not like they are a special genetic breed. My son was in the war as well. My wife was in the war as well. But now you're asking a very serious question. It's a legitimate question indeed. But I think there is so much depth to it. Throughout our existence, humanity, humankind has spoken about the need to avoid wars, about the need to reach peace and... Let's assume, and this is the building where the politicians were bad are bad. 

What about the thousands of other buildings around the world? How come? Everywhere, in all places. That would be an easy explanation. And there are people who are people and there are politicians. So it's because of these bad politicians that they're not allowing these good people to get on with their lives, which is by and large, true. But with one misunderstanding. In a democratic society, they might switch places. The politician might become a human or the human could become a politician and a government official. And the problem is that these cycles have been going on for millennia.

Anelise Borges, Euronews: In a way you mentioned something which is very important. In a way, it seems to be in this region a very particular and tragic cycle. Where the triumph of one side can be achieved by the capitulation of the other side. Today I spoke to a young Armenian who told me she’s a generation of independence and she said back when she was young there used to be talks mediated by Georgia between Azeri kids and Armenian kids. And she says she remembers that very fondly cause they actually could talk. Do you think that if peace is brought up by the politician side, do you think it can be implemented in so much pain and heartbreak or instead should have been built from the bottom to up?

Nikol Pashinyan, Armenian PM: Yes, I believe. To continue what I said, let me draw your attention to nuance. Politicians create, they generate the public mood, but they also bear the public mood and they influence the public mood and they are influenced by the public mood. It's a very intricate, very complex system. But you spoke about young people. I do remember in 2018, I proposed that idea. And I could see in the social media Armenian and Azerbaijani users. And engaging. A very aggressive exchange of language. And in a public press conference, I urged Armenian and Azerbaijani users of social media, and this was mostly happening on YouTube – this is where they encountered one another under a video -they would leave comments, I said okay, we've cursed at each other so much, this is enough. We could use this platform for speaking for dialogue and not just cursing at each other. So I made an appeal. 

But later it turned out the appeal did not have sufficient results. Or maybe we did not follow up on it enough. And in regarding the war logic, we should never forget. Conditionally speaking, the factor of the first blood spilt is because whenever blood spills, there's a victim, and there's a casualty. It is a profound social, psychological, political and public moment. That's very hard for the public and for the politicians. Though, in reality, there is no such division, I reiterate: politicians do influence the public mood, but vice versa they're also influenced by the public mood. So it's very hard sometimes to opt for solutions, concessions and decisions which profoundly may be understood that those people who died in the past died for no reason. That's a problem. Everywhere. Everywhere. And it's never the problem of one side because. You spoke about the mother of the soldier who died. Imagine what an important factor it is such an important factor that in this discussion now you're bringing it up as something we need to discuss. But before that or after that even a question may come up. If you now make these concessions or mutual concessions, what about our children? What did they die for? Nobody has the answer to that question. 

Nobody can ever give the answer to that question. And you should know that. This question lies on the table of any politician, even when people understand it's important not to have any future casualties, they always know, they also have to get the answer to the second question. What about those who died in the past? What did they die for? Was it for no reason that sacrifice? Well, then again, the politicians will be accused of taking those people away and getting them killed. What would then be the purpose, the meaning, the mission of all that is happening? And it's very hard to explain to people that, you know, your son or your daughter died for future peace. How can this be explained to someone? How can you die for peace? If our whole purpose is peace.

Anelise Borges, Euronews: Do you lose sleep at night over what happened three years ago?

Nikol Pashinyan, Armenian PM: Obviously and naturally yes. Not that I think about it a lot. It's very hard to sit these thoughts aside for a second and then go work on doing your daily job.

Anelise Borges, Euronews: I’ve got one final question for you. I wanted to if you have a message to the other side, not the politicians you meet during the talks, but the people of Azerbaijan. Do you happen to have a message to those who are watching us right now?

Nikol Pashinyan, Armenian PM: Well, you know, I think it's not a good genre because when two politicians are speaking with one another, It's really the two peoples speaking, because on one side is the person elected by those people, and on this side is a person elected by these people. So, therefore everything that I said now, this is an international platform, this is also addressed to that people and if there's anything to communicate, I would say what I have been saying the from the start. Everything I said is also addressed to the Azerbaijani people, to the people of Azerbaijan. 

But in some cases, there are sentences that people normally say, oh, we have long lived here and we will long be living here. I think all the words have already been said. By the way, there is perhaps something which I would address equally to the public of Armenia and the public of Azerbaijan because the public of Armenia and Azerbaijan both must demand peace from their governments. It should be articulated as a public demand. And [there needs to be] peace, flexibility and skill to deliver that requirement.

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