“Civilization will triumph; a nation that has the will to live cannot miss the victory” - Prime Minister Pashinyan’s interview to France 24
France 24 - We are in the Office of Government of the Republic of Armenia, where Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has joined me. Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for being our guest. You came to power two years ago, and the people of Armenia were given great hopes following the Velvet Revolution. How much do you think those hopes were undermined by the outbreak in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - War is indeed a serious challenge. It is not that easy to talk about hopes during a war. But see, I would rather compare this war to a terrorist attack; a terrorist attack to which unfortunately the world has already got accustomed.
Why do I describe this situation as a terrorist attack? For a very simple reason, Azerbaijan has been promoting anti-Armenian hatred for many years, sowing hatred in its own society against Armenians, in general.
We saw many facts where people with Armenian family names, who were citizens of Turkey, Russia and different countries, were not allowed to enter the territory of Azerbaijan. And I can say that, for example, last year during the UEFA Cup final, Armenian footballer Henrikh Mkhitaryan was in fact refused to attend the final match because of that atmosphere of hatred.
I want to tell you about another case to make the picture complete. In 2004, an Azeri officer attending a NATO seminar axed an Armenian officer attending the same seminar in Budapest. A Hungarian court sentenced the Azeri officer to life imprisonment. After serving his sentence in Hungary for some time, the officer was extradited to Azerbaijan, the President of Azerbaijan pardoned him the same day, and a ceremony of glorification was held in Azerbaijan on his release. The Azerbaijanis actually made a hero of him.
Now let us see where we are at this point of time. We have a situation when mercenaries and terrorists recruited in Syria are fighting against Armenia and Karabakh on the side of Azerbaijan.
France 24 - You said that the Azerbaijani government has instilled an atmosphere of hatred towards Armenians. How do you think Armenians feel about Azeris? How do you feel about the Azerbaijani people in contrast to the Azerbaijani government?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - I think that the people of Azerbaijan are captives of a dictatorial regime; the Armenians have always been a convenient image of an enemy for Aliyev’s dictatorial rule, which allows him to bypass the problems related to democracy, freedom of speech, human rights and the living standards in his country.
Let us look at the current situation: today the social networks are strongly limited in Azerbaijan, in contrast to Armenia where social networks are open.
France 24 - Do you think that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan can be settled while the incumbent Azerbaijani regime is still in power?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan – It depends on what you mean by saying settlement? In fact, this conflict is not between Armenia and Azerbaijan, this conflict is between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. Just because the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh have been facing an existential threat ever since the conflict broke out in 1988, Armenia, the Armenian people, must stand by the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and cannot leave them defenseless. This is the whole truth.
France 24 - I would also like to ask about Turkey’s involvement in this conflict. You have been strongly criticizing Turkey’s bellicose rhetoric, its support to Azerbaijan. What evidence do you have about Turkey’s direct involvement?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - First of all, this war started following a joint Turkish-Azerbaijani military exercise. In August, Turkey moved troops to Azerbaijan and launched a joint military exercise, which did not end until the start of hostilities.
Secondly, high-ranking Turkish military officials are still in Azerbaijan at the command posts of Azerbaijan’s Armed Forces. This was actually acknowledged by the Turkish Foreign Minister, who wrote on his Twitter page that Turkey is by Azerbaijan’s side both in diplomacy and on the battlefield. Of course, I was told that he deleted that post after a while, but that doesn't really change much.
If we look at the public statements made by various Turkish officials in the last two months, there is no doubt about it. During the first days of hostilities, high-ranking Azerbaijani officials, in particular, the First Vice President of Azerbaijan, publicly thanked Turkey for support.
I think that the international community now has no doubts whatsoever about it because the European Union and France have clearly stated the fact of Turkey’s involvement in hostilities, as well as that Turkey has recruited Syrian mercenaries and transferred them to Azerbaijan to fight against Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Moreover, I can say that we have concrete evidence that Turkish F-16s were used in hostilities.
France 24 - And?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - I will demonstrate it now. These are the records of our radars for days, months, hours on their participation in the flight operations of Turkish F-16 planes.
Here you can see Turkish planes cross Armenia’s state border and infiltrate deep into its airspace on September 27 and September 28. By the way, they bombed villages in Vardenis. Of course, we will forward all this evidence to our international partners.
The problem is as follows: F-16 is a U.S.-make warplane, and the other day I called our American partners’ attention to this fact. I asked them whether they had conceived and handed them over to Turkey, so that the latter could bomb peaceful settlements and wage a war against people that are defending their own freedom.
France 24 - Russia is another power often mentioned in the context of the conflict. I would like to know whether you are somewhat disappointed that you have not yet received an offer of support from Russia, do you hope to get it after all? What is Russia’s role?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Russia is a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, just as France and the United States are. We keep in touch with our partners in Russia, France and the United States, and provide them with regular updates on the situation.
It is important for them to learn the truth, to have objective information about what is going on. We welcome the statement issued by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs at the level of their Presidents. We are pleased with the fact that they condemned violence and the launch of violence in the conflict zone in strongest terms, since everyone knows who started the hostilities. The French President clearly stated a reasonable assumption that the Azerbaijani side had launched the clashes.
France 24 - Russia is said to be not as much interested in supporting Armenia as before, since Armenia has embarked on a democratic path with a government that is more inclined to talk about delicate topics such as human rights, which are not that much popular in Russia.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - I do not think that those factors could play a role in the escalation of the conflict, because Russia did not start the war. Azerbaijan was the one to start it, and yes, I do believe that Azerbaijan’s authoritarian regime could have played a significant role in shaping the real motives behind the flare-up.
France 24 - Azerbaijan says you have surprised them with your less conciliatory rhetoric on Nagorno-Karabakh or Artsakh than expected. They thought that after the Velvet Revolution it would be different, and there would be an opportunity for peace. What is the difference between your own approaches and the former regime’s policy on Artsakh?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Assuming the post of Prime Minister, I proposed a formula for settlement. I said that any solution to the Karabakh issue should be acceptable to the people of Armenia, to the people of Karabakh, and to the people of Azerbaijan. Moreover, I kept saying that the order of listing did not matter here.
France 24 - Sorry, but it is not a formula; it is just a statement of intent for reaching a satisfactory settlement. Is there a real solution other than the aforementioned statement of intent?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - You know that to solve a strategic issue, we must first have a concept on the basis of which to handle the issue. It is impossible to solve any problem without a conceptual approach, because it will be a collection of irregular movements.
We need to know where to go. And I proposed this formula: I suggested that either the President of Azerbaijan should accept that formula. As a result, we could state that we have a completely new situation in the peace process. The President of Azerbaijan not only failed to back my proposal, but he kept insisting that the Karabakh issue should only be resolved in a way acceptable to the people of Azerbaijan.
France 24 – Did he?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Yes. He says that the settlement should not but fit the concept of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. What does that mean? This means returning to the status quo of 1988, that is, to the origin of the conflict. Is it possible to resolve an issue, a conflict by reaffirming the parameters that were at the roots of the conflict?
France 24 - Do you think there are such terms as you can offer in order to change their position, such as the right for the Azeris to return to Nagorno-Karabakh, or do you think this idea is completely unrealistic?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - You know, first we must state that Nagorno-Karabakh also has lost territories. Has anyone ever thought about returning those territories? Is Azerbaijan ready to return territories?
Second, we must record the reason for the development of these areas. What was the reason for the formation of these areas? Artsakh is a security zone. As early as in 1988, when the people of Nagorno-Karabakh decided to exercise their legitimate right under the laws of the Soviet Union, which provided that if any republic, in this case the Republic of Azerbaijan, might wish to break away from the Soviet Union, its autonomous units, in this case the Autonomous Region of Nagorno-Karabakh, should have the right to seek an independent status.
And benefiting from this law, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh absolutely peacefully and democratically tried to exercise their right. Azerbaijan responded to this by force, first by attacking and killing Armenians in Baku and Sumgait, and then, in fact, by carrying out an armed attack on Karabakh.
As a result of these armed attacks, Karabakh suffered territorial losses; the civilian population came under bombing and shelling, and finding no other way to defend themselves, its people decided to simply retaliate the aggression of Azerbaijan.
This is how the security zone was formed, which in the face of new armaments turns out to be not that effective, because if in 1994 the Azerbaijanis could not attack cities in Karabakh, now they can do so.
France 24 - This conflict had been frozen since 1994, but now it seems that it has erupted on such a large scale as had not happened ever since. How long do you think it will last? Are you satisfied with the current level of mobilization of Armenians; are you satisfied with the way it goes or do you expect a long-term war?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - I also said that the ongoing hostilities follow up on Turkey’s genocidal policy. Turkey returned to the South Caucasus 100 years later to complete the Armenian Genocide. At the same time, I wish to emphasize that this is not just a way to take revenge on Armenians or to quell Armenian hatred; the point is that we, the Armenians in the South Caucasus, are the last impediment on Turkey’s way to expanding its influence to the north, east and south-east.
France 24 - Do you really think they want to get rid of Armenia?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - I have no doubt about that. It is Turkey’s historical and strategic objective.
France 24 - You are talking about a NATO member.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Sorry, but just a couple of months ago that very NATO member attacked another NATO member, I mean Greece. Let us see what Turkey is doing in the Mediterranean, in Syria, in Iraq.
Today Turkey has set a clear-cut objective to reinstate the Turkish Empire. Don’t be surprised if that policy succeeds here. Don’t be surprised if they attempt to incorporate into their empire not only the Greek islands but to expand further into continental Europe. If Turkey succeeds in this, be prepared to meet them halfway in Vienna.
France 24 - Do you see no other solution than mobilizing as many people as possible and continuing the struggle?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - What should people do under the threat of genocide? They must defend themselves. A peaceful settlement of the issue cannot be seriously discussed unless the terrorists and Turkey leave the region with their far-reaching objectives.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate: “Let no one think that this is too far from Europe. This is not that far from Europe, and that is why I say Armenia and Karabakh are at the forefront of a civilizational confrontation, and if Turkey succeeds here with its imperialistic policy, you will have to meet them halfway in Vienna.
But let us not conclude on such a sad note, because I am convinced that civilization will triumph. Civilization cannot fail to win; a nation that has the will to live cannot miss the victory. There is no doubt that the Armenian people, who have lived on the planet Earth for several thousand years, have the will to live.
France 24 - Maybe you would like to say something to the people of Azerbaijan, who, too, have the will to live.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan – Here is what I would like to tell the people of Azerbaijan: ask yourself whether you know the truth about your own people, your authorities, their wealth, their transactions and their true goals?
One family has been ruling in Azerbaijan since 1994, just one family. This is what I mean by saying civilization. For instance, Nagorno-Karabakh has had 4 presidents during the same period. Just as many presidents have been elected in the Republic of Armenia. Instead, the same family has ruled in Azerbaijan since 1993, not 1994 as I said above, one year plus or minus should not matter much in such an oppressive arithmetic.