Swiss Ambassador to Armenia Lukas Gasser: Switzerland will try to contribute to a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict without questioning the established formats such as the OSCE Minsk process
ArmInfo’s Interview with Edward Sharmazanov, Vice Speaker of Armenian National Assembly, Spokesperson of Republican Party of Armenia
by David Stepanyan
In his latest interview, the second president of Armenia Robert Kocharyan specified the reasons why he is not running for presidency on Feb 18 2013. The key reason is that the rivalry of two Nagorno-Karabakh natives, longtime companions would put many of the voters before a hard choice and might cause active speculations. In the meantime, he criticized the policy of his successor. What do you think about the reasons of such assessment?
The ex-president of Armenia Robert Kocharyan has the right to express his opinion, to agree or disagree with the political course of the incumbent authorities, as well as to advance or not to advance his own nominee at the presidential election. It is the unalienable right of not only the first and the second presidents, but also the right of any politician. I think the opinion expressed by Kocharyan is nothing new, as he has regularly expressed it over the past few years. As regards the reason why he has not advanced his nominee for the forthcoming presidential election, I think it should be looked for in his interview; I am used to assessing a more realistic political situation. My opinion has not changed over the past few years. I believe that the only most-fancied candidate for presidency is the incumbent President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan.
Most analysts agree with your assessment of chances for the incumbent President. Yet, many spoke of a possible force majeure connected with Kocharyan. As a member of the Republican Party of Armenia, do you think force majeure is possible given the present realities?
I don't think that in the present situation the occurrence of a force majeure situation is possible. We were in the force majeure situation during the March events of 2008 accompanied by the moral and political crisis and human victims. The society was divided into two poles and was full of enmity and hatred. I personally participated in all those events and know firsthand how hard the situation was. At present such force majeure is not expected. During the past five years the authorities directly faced the reality and were working hard to have such a result. There are numerous problems in Armenia today which should be resolved. Today the level of pluralism, democracy, freedom of press and political culture cannot be compared with the level Armenia had 5 years ago. Neither Serzh Sargsyan nor the ruling party is guilty of the fact that today the society links settlement of problems only with members of the Republican Party of Armenia. Today just the president is answerable to the Armenian people for the negotiating process on Karabakh and for security of Armenia. And the man with long experience capable to stand against the above-mentioned force majeure situations should occupy this position. Just for this reason, today Serzh Sargsyan at the position of the head of state has no alternative. At the same time, undoubtedly, there are opposition politicians in Armenia, who can later come forward with interesting proposals.
Are these politicians among the other 7 candidates for president? Do you think the participation of 8 candidates in the elections is favorable for Armenia’s image?
Certainly, I do. The competition at the election is always positive not only for Armenia but also for any other democratic country. Today many mass media say there is no competition at the elections. In this context, I would like to say that artificial competition is more dangerous for the authorities than its absence. The competition is very much important, but as a rule, in any country the main fight is taking place among two-three candidates. As for the presidential election in Armenia on 18 February, here as well two or three candidates will fight for the second place, and the forthcoming election will be like that of 1991, when we had an absolute first-runner - Levon Ter-Petrosyan, and other not less reputable politicians: Ashot Navasardyan and Paruyr Hayrikyan.
Do you think the second round of elections is possible, at least theoretically?
There will be no need for the second round of the election. The campaign has not yet started but it is already clear that even in case of unification of the efforts of the rest 7 candidates, holding of the second round of the election is practically impossible. We have never had a task to gain victory in the first round of the election. It is very much important for the RPA, first of all, holding of transparent, free and democratic election. And today Armenia has really got a historical chance to organize the best election after which the society will not be divided into
ins and outs.
The sociologists really share your opinion, forecasting 70-80% of votes in favor of Serzh Sargsyan. If this happens, will it damage the international image of the authorities, taking into consideration how such high percentage is reached in the neighboring countries?
The society and nobody else will determine the percentage of confidence in the authorities. Armenia is very far from the Brezhnev times, when there was no pluralism, and saying that Sargsyan's opponents will fight for the second place, I do not mean that the incumbent president will gather 80-90% of votes. I just say that no other candidate except ours has a chance to gather 50+1% of votes. And as a ruling party, we have got a task to ensure all the needed conditions for the free will expression of our citizens. I am confident that foreign and local observers will get an opportunity to assure themselves of that.
The spokesperson of Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry Elman Abdullayev has stated that notwithstanding the presidential elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2013, the talks on the Karabakh problem will not stop. What do you think of that?
In the previous years of elections there was no progress in the negotiations on the Karabakh conflict either. However, the first obstacle to the progress has always been the non-constructive position of Azerbaijan. There will be no progress as long as Baku glorifies murderers, makes militarist statements, prepares the public for war and not for peace, and displays groundless maximalism, as well as recognizes only two or the three principles of the conflict's resolution etc. Armenia is committed to peaceful resolution of the conflict on the basis of the three principles of the International Law. Nevertheless, de-facto independent Nagorno Karabakh has already become an indisputable fact. De-jure recognition of this status is a matter of time. Armenia's official goal in the negotiation process on Karabakh is to achieve international recognition of NKR. Negotiations are held for the future status of Karabakh, which has been repeatedly declared by the Armenian party. However, Armenia will not make any unilateral concessions and the Karabakh people must decide the issue of their status. President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan has repeatedly voiced Armenia's official stance saying that no one has a right to decide the fate of the Karabakh people without reckoning with Stepanakert. Yerevan will never go on any steps contradicting the interests of Stepanakert, which are in harmony with the interests of Armenia and the Armenians worldwide.
What do you expect from the Jan 28 meeting of the Armenian and Azeri Foreign Ministers in Paris?
What I expect from Jan 28 meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Paris and from the general negotiations on Karabakh is an increase in pressing on Azerbaijan's maximalism. Otherwise, no breakthrough is possible in the peace process. I expect no serious achievements in the negotiations due to Baku's unwillingness to reckon with the three principles of the settlement process and Artsakh's removal from the process. In other words, I expect nothing serious from the Paris meeting.
Analysts consider the RPA to be an advocate of European integration. What do you think of the prospects for Armenia’s participation in European integration processes and in Moscow’s projects of integration in the post-Soviet space?
The Republican Party of Armenia is a supporter of not only the European integration. We are also active supporters of fulfillment of the foreign political line in all the possible directions. I would like to say that over all those years deepening of relations with our strategic partner Russia was a priority number one for the RPA. In the long-lasting prospect, Armenia links its security with the allied relations with Russia and the CSTO membership. At the same time, stemming from the state interests of our country, we have been actively forming the partner relations with the European countries and the USA. We think it is quite possible. In one of his interviews, the President of Armenia strictly said that the republic is a supporter of fulfillment of practically all the integration processes in the CIS territory. There is no other way, taking into consideration Armenia's interest in new markets and opportunities, which such integration may give. Being a part of Europe, Armenia has a similar viewpoint about the processes of European integration and has been developing partner relations with Europe.
So, you think the forthcoming signing of the Association Agreement with the EU does not contradict Armenia's possible membership in the Customs Union and later in the Eurasian Union.
In the foreign policy priorities the RPA members have always supported the policy "both...and", but not "either...or". In the current actively globalizing world Russia itself is actively cooperating with Europe. I think that economic relations cannot develop only in one direction, they should be diversified. Armenia is an active supporter of the integration processes in the post-Soviet territory.