“The issue of Nagorno-Karabakh has nothing but a peaceful solution, and confronting the aggression will de facto prove it” – PM Nikol Pashinyan’s interview to Al Jazeera
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan gave an interview to Al Jazeera. Below is the full text of the interview.
Bernard Smith - Mr Prime Minister, thank you for talking to Aljazeera. Now, at this stage, when there is open confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, what are your preferred options: an increased military push back against Azerbaijan, or a call for ceasefire and talks?
PM Nikol Pashinyan - I would like to start by clarifying something about your question because in this particularly case Armenia is acting as the guarantor of security of Armenians' of Nagorno-Karabakh. And Azerbaijan launched a direct attack on Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia has certain obligations to provide the security of Nagorno-Karabakh and in this context Azerbaijan also started to strike settlements in the Republic of Armenia and the civilian population in the Republic of Armenia.
The September 27 offensive of Azerbaijan on Nagorno-Karabakh began with shelling of civilians settlements and this is a fact to acknowledge and it rests to answer the question as follows. When there is an attack on population, the first task is to protect them from aggression. After which only it will be only possible to talk about negotiations. In the situation when there is an aggression, I can say with confidence that the people of Karabakh will not retreat in the face of the aggression. At the same time it is necessary to acknowledge that the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh has nothing but a peaceful solution and confronting the aggression will de facto prove it.
Bernard Smith - Are you saying that before there is a peaceful solution you are going to make some military gains?
PM Nikol Pashinyan - As I said already our task is to protect the population against the aggression. And obviously the first task of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh is to defend themselves against this aggression.
Bernard Smith - What is the likely of a military-political aliens with Nagorno-Karabakh.
PM Nikol Pashinyan - We are discussing that possibility. This aliens de facto exists already. We said that Armenia is the guarantor of security of Nagorno-Karabakh. And we too think about feature development and have this point on our agenda. It is very important to note that this situation has created a new military-political reality in the region.
As I said after many years of developing military rhetoric, Azerbaijan attacked Nagorno-Karabakh and it happened with Turkey's obvious military support.
There are already reports in international media that in Syrian territories under its control Turkey is recruiting mercenaries and transporting them to our region. And we need to increase our cooperation with the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh in the field of security.
Bernard Smith - Are you going as far as recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh?
PM Nikol Pashinyan - There is that agenda as well. And the decision to take or not depends on the variety of factors.
Bernard Smith - You mentioned in your answer that Turkey has come up firmly on the side of Azerbaijan and is criticizing your approach to Azerbaijan. But do you have really evidence that Turkey is supplying mercenaries to Azerbaijan.
PM Nikol Pashinyan - The evidence of that is appearing in the international media day after day, one after another, including reputable sources such as Guardian, Reuters. The relatives of those mercenaries are telling their stories, their family members are telling stories. And specific individuals have testified that Turkey is recruiting those mercenaries and transporting them to Azerbaijan to take part in the war against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Bernard Smith - Let me repeat something written by Richard Cause, former US ambassador to Azerbaijan. He said that when the conflict started the poor people of Armenia and Azerbaijan are paying for the price of uninspired leadership in Baku and Yerevan. They refuse to see the opportunity to peacefully deal with the conflict. Is that right what could you have done different to prevent this from happening?
PM Nikol Pashinyan - Essentially everything that could have been done, has been done. When I took the office of Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia, I proposed the formula as a basis for my policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, saying that we have to agree that any solution to the conflict should be acceptable to the people of Armenia, to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, to the people of Azerbaijan. I proposed this formula as a basis for the settlement of the conflict.
Unfortunately, starting from mid-2000s Azerbaijan has been advancing the military philosophy and policy as an option for resolution. It is refusing in any way to engage in mutual concessions and I think what it significant here to state that dictatorial government such as the one established in Azerbaijan is not inclined to make mutual concessions. And only democratically governments are capable of engaging in talks over mutual concessions. Instead, the President of Azerbaijan said that the solution to the Karabakh issue will happen only within the frames of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, which means that the issue of Karabakh will return to the status quo where it began in 1988 in the soviet era. But it is impossible to resolve a conflict by returning to the point when it started.
Bernard Smith - I know that probably you don't have much time for reflection as you will be busy handling the situation but have you looked back and said: Could I have done something differently that would have stopped this outbreak of violence and the loss of life.
PM Nikol Pashinyan - For that, there is only one option to yield to Azerbaijan's blackmail and threats which cannot be acceptable to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Here is one example, going back to some well-known events in world history namely what the US Government could have done to prevent the 9/11 from happening. This may seem like an exaggeration, but two months ago an official representative of Azerbaijan's Ministry of Defense threatened to strike the Armenian nuclear power plant. What needs to be done is to prevent such threats from being uttered?
Bernard Smith - Well, when you came to power after the Velvet revolution, particularly from Azerbaijan we were hearing high hopes that after your predecessor there would be a move to peace. But what happened from that perspective? You didn't deliver their hopes.
PM Nikol Pashinyan - After the revolution that took place in Armenia there was much more hope in Azerbaijan. We hoped that the wave of democratization would reach Azerbaijan. Those hopes will not be fulfilled because the President of Azerbaijan continuously uses the issue of Karabakh to justify his dictatorial rule.
When the Velvet Revolution happened in Armenia, in Azerbaijani society emerged more hopes that a similar revolution would occur in Azerbaijan as well. But to prevent that revolution and to carry on with the dictatorial rule, Azerbaijan intensified its bellicose which led to today's situation.
Bernard Smith - If you have been in contact with Vladimir Putin during this time, can you tell us, please, the tone and the content of your conversations?
PM Nikol Pashinyan - Over this time I had phone calls with the President of France, with the Chancellor of Germany, with the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the UN Secretary-General, twice with Vladimir Putin. But I think that I will be having more phone talks with the French President and other leaders to discuss the ongoing situation and the development of events.
Bernard Smith - But what matters is Vladimir Putin. What he thinks and says is what matters most to you, doesn't it?
PM Nikol Pashinyan - Russia is an OSCE Minsk Group co-chair country. Russia and Armenia have deep partnership ties in the security field, including the availability of a Russian military base in Armenia. There are certain treaties that are in force and perhaps the agenda of our discussions is more diverse in that respect.
Bernard Smith - Do you want Moscow to be neutral? We know that Turkey's Erdogan has pledged his support for Azerbaijan. Would you like something similar to come from Vladimir Putin in your favor?
PM Nikol Pashinyan - Our position is that Russia is first of all a co-chair country and the Minsk Group take all necessary measures to ensure security and peace in the region and help resolve the Karabakh issue. Russia has with Armenia commitments in the security field, or to be precise, cooperation in the security field, and that is one of the items on our agenda.
Bernard Smith - Would you like to see Russia peacekeeper for example in Nagorno-Karabakh?
PM Nikol Pashinyan - You see, these issues could be discussed as part of a wider resolution within the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair.
Bernard Smith - President Aliyev said that you have been provoking him by settling Diaspora Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh or otherwise you have been encouraging it. He has been left no option. He claims that it is their territory and you have done nothing to resolve the conflict.
PM Nikol Pashinyan - You see, those allegations of the Armenian Government settling Diaspora Armenians are groundless allegations for 2 reasons because the Armenian Government has nothing to do with Nagorno-Karabakh's territorial development. And secondly, for many years both from Armenia and from Nagorno-Karabakh many people emigrated from their homes. And they live in many parts of the world in Europe, in Russia, in the United States of America, and I do not preclude that some of them might return to live in their homes. To portray it something unusual would be illogical.
Bernard Smith - Sorry, but President Aliyev didn't say “unusual,” he said “provocation.”
PM Nikol Pashinyan - You see if 15, 20, or 30 years ago some people emigrated and are now returning to their homes, is that a provocation? What is provocative about it, can you explain it to me?
Bernard Smith - Well, there are also allegations of war crimes committed by Armenian forces back in late 80s and early in 90s. The European Court of Human Rights has catalogued those cases...
PM Nikol Pashinyan - No, no, no. This is a misunderstanding. Where is that information coming from? It is Azerbaijani propaganda.
Bernard Smith - So, you believe that it is one of the tools of the Azerbaijani propaganda.
PM Nikol Pashinyan - So, I think so, the European Court of Human Rights has other judgments and rulings which blame Azerbaijan for specific crimes. Let us look at the case of Ramil Safarov who together with an Armenian officer was taking part in a NATO training course. He killed the Armenian officer while sleeping with an axe. For many years, Azerbaijan has been developing anti-Armenian propaganda and this is one of the consequences. And that act happened in Hungary, Budapest. The Court of Budapest convicted Safarov to life imprisonment.
After serving 8 years, he was extradited to Azerbaijan where Aliyev issued an order releasing him and there was a process of nationwide glorification. This one episode alone illustrates the history of the Karabakh conflict. The context of today's events can be described with this. Today many Ramil Safarovs have attacked many peaceful people sleeping in their homes.
Bernard Smith - Maybe on top of all what was said above, the UN General Assembly demands unconditional withdrawal of all Armenian forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan...
PM Nikol Pashinyan - Wait a second, please. Have you actually read the aforesaid UN resolution, I have read it personally. Whatever we are referring to or citing, we should have read it first. That text says that Azerbaijan has violated the ceasefire agreement and the situation that emerged as a consequence of a breach of international commitments by Azerbaijan. And that is very important.
The resolution that you mentioned actually refers to a specific event at a specific point in time. After that the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmanship was formed, and all the nuances of the Karabakh issue were discussed as part of negotiations underway within the OSCE Minsk Group format.
Bernard Smith - Ok. Last year, on August 19 you went to Nagorno-Karabakh and told the crowd "Artsakh is Armenia," which means reunification with Armenia. Do you regret that now?
PM Nikol Pashinyan - We should again note the facts. As I told you, I proposed a formula saying that resolution should be acceptable to the people of Armenia, to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, and to the people of Azerbaijan. I was the first Armenian leader involved in this conflict who said that any solution to the Karabakh issue should be acceptable to the other side as well.
The meaning of the proposed formula was to prompt the Azerbaijani President to adopt a similar approach, so it could lead to quite a new situation in the peace process. In response to that, the Azerbaijani President continued the bellicose statement, saying that the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh had only one solution that is Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan. And I note it to illustrate that the approach of the Azerbaijani President is inadmissible given especially that in 1988 the Autonomous Region of Nagorno-Karabakh through its Supreme Council expressed the will to join Armenia.
Besides, I would like to highlight that Nagorno-Karabakh cannot be part of Azerbaijan for a simple reason: at that time of the collapse of the Soviet Union just like Azerbaijan gained independence from the Soviet Union, in exactly the same manner the Autonomous Region of Nagorno-Karabakh exercised its constitutional right of the then Soviet Union to gain independence from the Soviet Union. And according to Azerbaijan, the Karabakh issue consists in restore the Soviet era status quo which is impossible.
Bernard Smith - Mr Prime Minister, let me ask you one more question before we finish. You still remain very popular in Armenia, of course not so popular as you used to be during the Revolution because there are some protests against the tax policies, educational reforms...
PM Nikol Pashinyan - Have you conducted an opinion poll?
Bernard Smith - No, I'm just telling what we have seen in local coverage.
PM Nikol Pashinyan - No, I'm not insisting. I just want to say that the protests happened after I became Prime Minister. By the way, in a democratic society protests, demonstrations and assemblies are not strange. It would be good if Azerbaijan had protests under the same circumstances and in the same environment as in Armenia.
Bernard Smith - My last question is whether you worry for your own popularity, but if you fail to handle this conflict, if it doesn't go your way and you yourself are going to suffer in your position of Prime Minister.
PM Nikol Pashinyan - You see, I reached the position of Prime Minister not to defend my popularity but to serve the national interests of my country and my people and to defend the dreams of my people and my country. And along this path I'm absolutely not interested in my person.
Bernard Smith - Mr Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, thank you for talking to Aljazeera.