ArmInfo. Hovhannes Igityan, Deputy Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly of Armenia on Foreign Relations, comments in an interview to ArmInfo on the latest trends in Armenia's foreign policy. He shares his own vision of the Armenian agenda in the Karabakh settlement in the light of changes in the international perception of the country. He also discloses the agenda of the initiatives of the Armenian delegation to the PACE.
In your opinion, what changes, both positive and negative, can be registered in Armenia's foreign policy a year after the change of power in the country?
To begin with, in a world in which democratic values and human rights are a priority, attitude toward Armenia has changed drastically during the year. The attitude to our country has changed dramatically, for example, in PACE, where I represent Armenia as part of our delegation. Earlier, Armenia was sharply criticized for the elections, however, finally those who criticized said something like "the elections still became a step forward." Then we waved this "step forward" like a flag at every corner. Today, in terms of the level of development of democratic institutions Armenia holds one of the leading positions among the countries, in which elections were recently held. If we consider all the negative reports that had been voiced on Armenia in PACE, related to any issue, we will see that the statement of inferiority of the formation of power in Armenia has always been at the core of them. As a result, such reports negatively and significantly influenced any European projects in Armenia, primarily economic ones. Thus, a year after the change of power, we can state the transition of Armenia from imitation policy to real politics. We began to talk with partners in the same civilized language within the framework of the common principles and values.
The overall atmosphere is clear, and what about realpolitik? For example, demonstrating a tendency to improve relations with Israel?
Relations with Israel are determined by changes in our relations with another part of the world, where values often not related to human rights are considered dominant. This world is called the post-Soviet space and here we used to have a completely different problem. I do not think that the leadership of Armenia used to ask the advice of Russian counterparts on all issues. But many steps of Yerevan were caused by fears of misinterpretation or even condemnation by Moscow of this or that foreign policy manoeuvre of Armenia. Such practice derived from the policy of the former Armenian government. Today the most important thing has changed - a legitimate government has been established in Armenia, which, undoubtedly, affected its freedom of action, political courage and initiative. There is still pressure on Armenia today, but the times when our country changed its political orientation or gave up a piece of the economy as a result of one call, are already in the past. And outside of our long-term, in some cases, enslaving, foreign policy commitments (a special thanks to the Republicans for that) today we can take independent steps. As part of these steps, we can constantly develop good neighborly relations with Georgia, and they will not be directed against Russia. Similarly, we can develop relations with Ukraine. As for Israel, relations with this country have indeed always been considered by Armenia with great cautiousness. Today, these relations can be developed and, I think, will develop regardless of whether a country enters this or that political or military bloc.
There is a certain confidence of the partner countries in relation to the Armenian authorities, in general, and Nikol Pashinyan, in particular. In your opinion, what are the reasons for that? In our conversations with partners, the taboos have been withdrawn. Armenia conducts an open policy both in relation to the West and in relation to Russia. And this is very important, because it is this openness that gives independence to our actions. The former government whispered in Moscow about its adherence to a strategic alliance with Russia, and then whispered about its adherence to the European value system in Brussels and Washington. And such practice was called Armenian complementary policy. Relations with a country or bloc do not develop with the aim of infringing on relations with another country or bloc. This is a very simple formula of our government, which is still not fully understood by some partners of Armenia. Within the framework of this formula, Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan speaks openly from the rostrums in Europe about the excellent relations of Armenia with Russia. After that, from the rostrum in Moscow, he also openly voiced his intention to deepen relations with the EU within the framework of CEPA, relations with NATO within the framework of international peacekeeping, relations with Iran, etc. As a result, no one will think out more than what has already been said, to look for some kind of discord, in other words, to look for something that does not exist.
The need to clarify the Madrid principles and the return of Artsakh to the negotiation process is also part of this open policy of Yerevan, isn't it?
Let's not call this document "Madrid Principles". This document has been reviewed and shortened by the parties to the conflict so many times that, by and large, they do not exist today as the three principles and the six elements of a settlement. In my opinion, the time will come when even such an elementary issue as the demarcation of the borders between Artsakh and Azerbaijan will not be resolved without Artsakh. The position of Armenia on this issue is very clear and logically substantiated - the Karabakh issue is being discussed, so the Karabakh people should be among those discussing. The leaderships of Armenia and Azerbaijan are meeting to discuss the prerequisites necessary for the resumption of negotiations, and not to announce their victory at the end of the meeting. Armenia declares the need to prepare societies for peace, because it is impossible and wrong to go on negotiations with hate moods. Armenia is ready to discuss the implementation of humanitarian steps. First of all, stop shooting at civilians and allow relatives to visit people in captivity. And there are no problems related to the implementation of such steps, only will is needed.
By the way, why did they stop shooting?
They don't shoot not because Azerbaijan has suddenly changed and has suddenly become different. The agreement on the need to create conditions for the observance of the ceasefire regime between the leader of Armenia elected by the people and the leader of Azerbaijan, claiming to be elected by the people, is already an obligation at least in the presence of the Minsk Group co-chairs. And this does not require signatures and seals under it. Armenia made a democratic breakthrough and it is impossible to reject this factor. And in this new situation, any oral statement by the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan cannot be considered imitative.
It seems that today Baku is making significant efforts to prevent the implementation of the Armenian agenda of negotiations. At first it turned to Moscow for help, now, judging from Mammadyarov's statement, to Washington. Or are there other factors?
Azerbaijan continues by inertia to make statements aimed primarily at domestic consumption. That is why the actions of Azerbaijan in Vienna or Moscow and the statements made in Baku do not have logical connection. By inertia, the authorities of Azerbaijan continue to demonstrate to their own population that they keep everything under control, they have money, they buy weapons, and Russia and Israel are interested in such a client. In my opinion, today this component is no longer as effective as yesterday, if only because the Azerbaijani laundromat has already become an international term specifically used when talking about Azerbaijan. And I do not think that Moscow or Washington like the demonstration by Azerbaijan of its alleged ability to organize meetings of foreign ministers by just one statement. It never happens like this anywhere; it's a mauvais ton and a violation of diplomatic ethics. Baku today is also trying to draw parallels between Karabakh and the territorial problems of other countries in order to demonstrate that they are members of one club affected. We have already started working in this direction and we already have the first successes. These are completely different issues and it is wrong and impossible to consider them in the same light. First of all, it harms Ukraine and Georgia, bringing to Azerbaijan only a short-term and illusory advantage.
Let me ask a rather complex question for the MP representing the ruling party. In recent years, Russia has been slowly but consistently losing international influence and the ability to determine the agenda even in the post-Soviet space. Is it reasonable for Armenia to deepen and develop strategic relations with Russia against the background of such trends?
First, many of our obligations to Russia are based on a legal framework. Secondly, Armenia was able to avoid identifying Russia's international problems with Armenian-Russian relations. These are two completely different questions. As for security issues: energy, economic, political, geopolitical, regional and even military, Armenia, of course, needs diversification: diversification in order to have answers to possible challenges. And here the security of Armenia is not tied only to the CSTO, only to Russia, or only to the EAEU. Our security relies on diplomacy and the army, on the development of the country, reforms in the economy and the army, and of course it is associated with work with other organizations and countries.
Mr. Igityan, with what new initiatives have you personally returned to PACE after a long break?
The first thing that our delegation did in PACE at meetings with colleagues from other countries and the leadership of the Council of Europe is that the Armenian delegation did not come to Strasbourg to fight the Azerbaijani. At the same time, we voiced full readiness to compete with colleagues from a neighboring country in matters of the level of democracy, because in the Council of Europe countries are united by the values of democracy and human rights. And these were not just words. At the last two sessions of the PACE, delegates were surprised to see how Azerbaijani colleagues always jumped from their seats and explained problems with freedom of speech and arrest of journalists in Azerbaijan by the occupation of 20% of territories and a million refugees. Previously, the Armenian delegation jumped in response, ran to the microphone and blamed Azerbaijan in Sumgait, Maraga and other sins. Our delegation prefers to simply ignore such antics of our colleagues. We prefer to talk about the development of democracy in Armenia, about our vision of Karabakh settlement in terms of regional development, development of civil society, etc. In other words, our activity fully meets the goals of the PACE, and it is not directed against Azerbaijan. We consider PACE as a place where you can search for common ground with Azerbaijan, and I hope that in time we will manage to teach this to our Azerbaijani colleagues. In any case, we came to PACE with this. For the time being, Azerbaijan faces certain difficulties in PACE - democracy and human rights are definitely not its platform.