Nikol Pashinyan talks to Al Jazeera
Robin Forestier-Walker - I was here without Aljazeera for those incredible few weeks in April-May of this year when the Armenian people rose up in their hundreds of thousands and brought down the previous government. This was something many people believed impossible, and it was done without a shot being fired. What have you achieved so far?
Nikol Pashinyan –The most important thing that we changed was the people’s perception of their own role, because before the revolution the most part of Armenian citizens considered that they did not decide anything: nothing depended on their position, but we made our citizens believe that their position, their voice is the most important factor in our political and social life, and that is the most important change we have made.
Robin Forestier-Walker – But you have still got to deliver on those important reforms. People want changes; they want functioning utilities, they want public services, they want a reformed police service, they want jobs. How are you going to deliver these to a public that is hungry for change and, based on history, there is not an awful lot of patience after revolutions: people wanted it yesterday. They do not have a lot of patience to wait around. You need to implement those changes quickly.
Nikol Pashinyan – We are now in process of getting new people involved in the Armenian economy. We are going to guarantee the equality, and now we can say that all people, all citizens are equal before the law in Armenia. We are going to make economic reforms to liberalize our economy, to make it more attractive to foreign and domestic investors. How are we going to do that? We are going to guarantee the security of any investment. We are going to create high-quality infrastructure, and we are going to make people believe and engage in the economy, create their own businesses, and to have a real opportunity to become successful and make the country more prosperous.
Robin Forestier-Walker - You do not have a huge amount of foreign policy experience; you are not a military man, and yet your country has this conflict ongoing with its neighbor Azerbaijan, and your team of ministers are even younger than yourself, and you are just 43 years old. So, are you qualified for this position and for this job?
Nikol Pashinyan – You know, when in our Parliament the Republican deputies tried to show that I was not experienced enough to become Prime Minister, I recalled the example of Nelson Mandela who had been just a prisoner for 26 years before becoming President of the South African Republic. So, I just said that I had been in Armenian politics since 1991. I was a journalist that wrote so many articles on military officials, on state officials and about political activity, and that was a huge university and huge experience for being a politician, for being minister, for being prime minister or president, because I followed all these people and I wrote many articles on what was right in their actions and what was not right in their activities.
Robin Forestier-Walker - Right now, you are an interim government. You need elections to have legitimacy. When is it going to happen? When are you going to have those elections?
Nikol Pashinyan - If our political situation remains the same, I think that we will have snap elections next year.
Robin Forestier-Walker – Okay, but initially you wanted snap elections, and those are not exactly snap elections. It is a year on from this revolution that is going to frustrate people. Isn’t it you need those elections sooner?
Nikol Pashinyan – Yes, but our important goal is to have really democratic, transparent and free elections. The problem is that for other political actors who did not expect to have such political changes it is an unexpected situation, and if we have snap elections now, it would not be an equal situation for other political actors. We want to give our political opponents time for preparing for those elections.
Robin Forestier-Walker – It is being consistently maintained that this revolution was not a color revolution: it was not manipulated or influenced by political forces outside the country, but in order to carry out the reforms and the changes you need you are going to need significant financial assistance from the European Union and the United States.
Nikol Pashinyan – We hope to have financial assistance not only from the United States and the European Union, but from Russia as well.
Robin Forestier-Walker - You have been to Russia twice in the last two months. As far as I know, you have been to Sochi and Moscow, and you have met with Vladimir Putin. You have just got back from Brussels. How are you going to balance that relationship between Russia and the West?
Nikol Pashinyan – I do not think that there is a need to balance this relationship. We are going to increase the quality of our relations not only with Russia, but also with the European Union, with the United States, with Iran, China, India, Georgia etc. And we are going to base those relations on the national interests of our nations.
Robin Forestier-Walker - Nevertheless, you depend on Russia strategically and economically, but you are yourself in favor of openness, transparency, democracy and human rights, and these are European values. How do you stay on the right side of Vladimir Putin
Nikol Pashinyan – You know, we saw during our revolution that our partners - I mean Russia, the European Union, the United States, Iran - all our international partners respect our independence, our sovereignty, and they did not interfere in our domestic affairs.
Robin Forestier-Walker – Just a few days ago, you had Russian military drills taking place in Armenia. They have military presence in Armenia. The Armenian people were upset, very upset by what happened it is a very difficult situation to be in where support for Russia is important to you as I said strategically, but at the same time…
Nikol Pashinyan – Russian military representatives have already apologized for that incident, and I think that it is an unacceptable incident. I have announced already that it was a provocation against the Armenian-Russian relationship, and it was a provocation against Armenia’s independence and sovereignty. An investigation has started, and I think that those guilty for that incident should be punished.
Robin Forestier-Walker - This is an example of the ways in which it can be seen, that Moscow can use its influence on Armenia when it needs to: it has Gazprom here monopolizing the energy market. It is the guarantor of security between Armenia and Azerbaijan…
Nikol Pashinyan – You know the situation is that many countries all around the world have tools to influence other countries and, speaking in absolute terms, there is no absolute independence for any country because all countries and the international community are interconnected very closely.
Robin Forestier-Walker - I mean in particular that Armenia is in a very difficult situation…
Nikol Pashinyan – Yes, we are in a difficult situation, and we are going to overcome this difficult situation. We are going to use the huge popular support that our government has. To manage this situation, we are going to increase the quality of our relations with Russia, with the European Union, with the United States.
Robin Forestier-Walker - Well, let us talk about your relationships with your immediate neighbors, and perhaps what is of even more critical importance, Turkey and Azerbaijan. Armenia fought a war over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in the 90s; that conflict continues to this day, albeit a frozen conflict as it is often referred to. What are you doing to bring peace to this region between Azerbaijan and Armenia? The first thing you did was go to Nagorno-Karabakh after becoming Prime Minister. Perhaps that sent the right signal to Armenians. Did it send the right signal to Baku?
Nikol Pashinyan - As any democracy, we are devoted to exclusively peaceful solution for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and it is very important because I am sure that democracy is the most important factor to create peace in our region. I am sure that there is no democracy willing to start a war or use force for solving problems.
Robin Forestier-Walker – People are concerned. Azerbaijan has seized some territory in Nakhichevan, an important area between Armenia and Iran…
Nikol Pashinyan – It is wrong information…
Robin Forestier-Walker - They are talking war; it is an aggressive language…
Nikol Pashinyan – Yes, it is another topic. I am sure that Azerbaijani became more aggressive after the Armenian Revolution because, as you may know, we had big success in making of Armenia a democratic country, fighting corruption, providing a level playing field, combating monopolies, and I think that Aliyev has some fears that people in Azerbaijan can be inspired by the Armenian Revolution in a bid to make similar changes in Azerbaijan. So, I think that the Azerbaijani government’s increased aggressive rhetoric is connected with this situation, and I am sure that the Azerbaijani government is trying to distract the attention of its own people from their own domestic troubles and problems to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. That is why I am saying that any aggressive move against Armenia is an aggressive move against democracy in our region.
Robin Forestier-Walker - At the same time, what are you going to do to bring lasting peace here? What are you prepared to give Azerbaijan back in exchange for lasting peace?
Nikol Pashinyan – You know, we are ready for peace talks, and I want to make clear that point. I am ready for negotiations with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev.
Robin Forestier-Walker – You are ready to meet him…
Nikol Pashinyan – Yes, of course.
Robin Forestier-Walker – Have you invited him to meet with you?
Nikol Pashinyan – You know, the problem is that we have a negotiation format…
Robin Forestier-Walker – Donald Trump does not mind breaking negotiation formats. He has met with the President…
Nikol Pashinyan – You know, I do not think that it is right to break something when you are not sure that you will be able to create something better. You know that there is a negotiation format…
Robin Forestier-Walker – It has been in place for many years, but nothing has come out of it.
Nikol Pashinyan – This format is very important for keeping peace and creating real opportunities for a truly peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Why? Because three very important and very influential countries – Russia, France and the United States - are involved as OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, and I think that this format is able to solve the conflict peacefully if the Armenian government and the Azerbaijani government have the political will for a peaceful solution. I can assure you and the international community that as any democratic government we have a real will and a real desire to solve this conflict peacefully, and we are ready for talks, but I want to insist that we are not going to do anything in the atmosphere of intimidation. You know, it is very important to create an atmosphere of peace in our region; you cannot hear any hate speech in Armenia connected with Azerbaijan and its people. But, unfortunately, every day we can hear hate speech from Azerbaijan toward Armenia, and what is very strange and dangerous is that we can hear such speech coming from the President of Azerbaijan.
Robin Forestier-Walker – With regard to Turkey; regardless of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan, how are you going to get the borders reopened with Turkey: proper relations re-established with Ankara?
Nikol Pashinyan – You know, the point is that it was not Armenia to close the border with Turkey. In fact, it was Turkey that closed the border. The border is actually open from the Armenian side, and it is up to Turkey to make a decision on reopening the border. Armenia is ready to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey without preconditions.
Robin Forestier-Walker – With all this happening at the moment, with all the international infighting that is going on; the European Union and the United States did not have a good relationship. At the moment, liberal democracies in the West are in crisis with the rise of the far-right Russia, and the United States has a troubled relationship; although Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin seem to be getting along just fine, how do you see the White House, in particular, led by Donald Trump, in terms of its impact on what happens to Armenia and the Armenian context? If you look at what is happening in Europe and in the United States and think how does this impact Armenia?
Nikol Pashinyan – You know, of course, we are concerned very much about the regional situation, about the latest developments around Iran, because Iran is our close neighbor and partner. We hope that all these issues and disagreements will be solved through peaceful negotiations. Armenia is of course ready to support these processes, and we are ready to be constructive in making our region more prosperous, peaceful and secure.