“Artsakh is Artsakh with the people living there” - Prime Minister’s interview to the Public TV
Petros Ghazaryan - Good evening, Mr. Prime Minister. Thank you for accepting the invitation. Mr. Prime Minister, processes will obviously follow the signing of the agreement. It is just a document about peacekeepers; there will be serious processes in the future not only in political terms, but also in terms of the inherent potential; we have faced few processes which had to do with the future generations and the state.
In the political field, in fact, the opposition is isolated from the ongoing crucial, complicated processes; it does not participate in the solution of a vital problem for the nation. Moreover, it seems that the National Assembly is not doing anything, and it is up to you to decide the issue. Is this fair, is it right for the whole political system, the political field, to be isolated from making these important political decisions?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Thank you. First of all, a joint statement, not an agreement, this is a very important nuance. Secondly, you have to take into account the circumstances in which that decision was made, and as I said, the decision was made based on an in-depth analysis of the military situation.
And as I said in my yesterday’s address to the nation, the cornerstone that led to our signing of the statement was the fact that Stepanakert would be left defenseless after the fall of Shushi. If we did not stop the war, Stepanakert could fall, followed by Askeran and Martakert, that is, 20-30 thousand of our soldiers might automatically turn out to be under siege, depending on various scenarios. And why are the figures different? Because depending on the configuration, it would happen. And, moreover, it is quite possible that those soldiers, who were under siege, could not influence the situation themselves. Why, because they were on the front line, while the imminent blockade was coming from behind? This was not the instance where an order is issued to organize a circular defense, because in that case the front line would be completely destroyed, and we would face such a situation.
You see, you say why the issue was not discussed in the National Assembly, with the opposition, etc. This, in fact, happened in the logic of operative control of hostilities. Because it is almost the same, if you say that we assume that our subdivision withdrew from some area or decided to attack in some area, why was this issue not discussed in the National Assembly, not discussed with the opposition?
Petros Ghazaryan - Mr. Prime Minister, there are no military operations going on now. There are peacekeepers on the ground. But it is obvious that a process will start, because we know that there are many open questions.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Sorry, I will continue along this logic. But at that time there were military operations still going on, and, as I said, very critical military operations. And again, I wish to say that there is a lot of talk about what was handed over with this signature. But the reality is that this document is at least not just about handing over, but preserving assets, because it was created in a situation when the predictable losses, which, in fact, should have inevitably occurred according to military estimates, the predictable losses were simply recorded to save the lives of about 30 thousand Armenian soldiers.
The document is open now as the hostilities are over; the logic of whether or not to discuss the issue is already working, and everyone is discussing it now. At the same time, the logic of that discussion must be understood: what is proposed to be done as a result of the discussion, to turn back, to resume hostilities, or what scenario to follow? Now a wider discussion is taking place.
Petros Ghazaryan - The opposition is staging demonstrations, their leaders are detained for breach of the state of emergency. How can they influence the process? In that case, it turns out that the government is leading the process on its own. Who are they discussing with now, where are the discussions being held? The opposition is cut off from this process and has no chance of political influence.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - You see, again in this context, we are talking about the context of hostilities, in fact it is much the same as to ask concerning hostilities, some attack or retreat, success or failure why was that not discussed with the opposition in advance.
Petros Ghazaryan - I am now asking you.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - In fact, now the discussion, as such, has just started, it is a diplomatic discussion. And the discussion will take a very long time. Because I want to draw the attention of all of us to the fact that this is a document on the cessation of hostilities.
Petros Ghazaryan - But there are days and dates mentioned there.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Yes. They have to do with military issues, military tasks. I mean, this is not a document of political settlement; there are terms, sentences that need to be interpreted in order to get a political content. At that stage, of course, discussions will become possible, and the discussions will take place. But in that case, of course, the main format of discussion will be within the government, because diplomacy, foreign policy, and the diplomatic corps is represented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Petros Ghazaryan - And when the opposition says that there are deadlines, we can cancel, we can change. Why do you not listen to them, you see, people may know how to change the situation.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - However, no matter what you say, because this is being done in public. For instance, I have not heard them talk about cancellation. Moreover, we can just take that paper, tear and throw it aside. But one should think about the consequences…
Petros Ghazaryan - How to cancel it after all?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - In other words, there is no problem, but we must have some idea of consequences. This means that we are returning to the situation in which the document was signed. And that means that whatever we say, we actually say let our 30,000 soldiers remain under siege.
Petros Ghazaryan - Why did the National Assembly fail to hold a sitting? After all, we live in a parliamentary country; the oppositionists came to the National Assembly waiting for your faction members to discuss this issue in the most important political institution.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - You know, I do not think this issue should be discussed in the most emotional state.
Petros Ghazaryan – Let us have a cold discussion.
Prime Minister Nikol Psashinyan - To have a cold discussion one must first calm down and only then discuss the matter.
Petros Ghazaryan - It should not be discussed in this atmosphere.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Not in this situation, but in an emotional atmosphere; I do not think it is possible at this point of time.
By the way, as I was talking about why some failures could not be discussed in advance, say, with the National Assembly, I meant that during hostilities failures do not happen because you want to. They happen for specific objective and subjective reasons. In essence, what you want to happen or what you plan to do is being discussed with the National Assembly or the opposition. While due to a number of factors, processes took place very quickly in this case, under conditions when the General Staff, the political leadership of the Artsakh Republic stated that it was necessary to stop this process as soon as possible.
Petros Ghazaryan – If you were an oppositionist now, would you stay at home with such a document, in a situation like this? Would you say we should observe the martial law, let us stay at home and see what the government is doing?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - You know, as an oppositionist, as a member of the National Assembly, I went to Nagorno-Karabakh as a volunteer in 2016, at least I did not hold rallies.
Petros Ghazaryan - But the situations are incomparable.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - You know, “if” questions are not usually the best questions.
Petros Ghazaryan - Mr. Prime Minister, there are many questions as to why this happened. You see, on different levels, from Artsakh, rumors keep coming that it was not well organized, there were problems, there was a mob problem; there was a blockade problem, and so on. Does it not mean that the government at least failed to carry out proper organizational work?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Many organizational problems may arise in any war. And yes, there were problems in this case as well. And these problems were not only of a purely organizational nature, but also of an institutional nature. I said in one of my messages that it turned out that the system we have with the mobilization resource to help the army in terms of the plan to use our armed forces is not very effective. And we need serious reviews here, of course. We need to think seriously about supplies and changes in the structure of our army.
By the way, I want to say that during the war, for example, the new food supply system, in fact, fully justified itself. And that was an important nuance which really showed that the reform was really effective. But there were other organizational shortcomings as well, particularly in the context of mobilization, which showed that the existing mobilization plans did not comply with our realities. I want to say that the current mobilization plans are traditional ones. They do not change once a year, every two years. They are of institutional items that have been established and developed over many years, but the gaps could not be seen in the past since there has been no practice of using them on this scale; we were guided by the assumption that it was just a working system. But it is an old system which cannot work in these new conditions.
In particular, I mean for instance that this war demonstrated that mobile forces are more powerful during hostilities. By the way, it has been considered as the next key reform to be implemented since 2018. It was planned and started in the middle of 2019, when the Special Forces were to be reserved a central role in the army as a strike force. But unlike the food system reform, the war prevented this reform from coming to its logical completion. And in that sense, there are a lot of organizational shortcomings in this area.
Petros Ghazaryan - Politically, your opponents say that you have not been able to secure proper relations with Russia during the past two and a half years. Moreover, your government was perceived there as pro-Western, anti-Russian, if there was another government here, the Russian side would assist us with a different quality, and at a different speed.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - We are talking about our positions on the Karabakh issue. And I must state with certainty and confidence that the position of the Russian Federation on the Karabakh issue has not changed for the past 4.5 years. In other words, today the position of the Russian Federation on the Karabakh issue is the same as it was 4.5 years ago. There are realities that correspond to those ideas, in particular, the presence of Russian peacekeepers. And we must consider the issue from this perspective, because we are not talking about the relations between Armenia and the Russian authorities, we are talking about the position of the Russian Federation on Nagorno-Karabakh.
Petros Ghazaryan – Are they not sometimes interconnected?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - In this case, not. Because if they were connected, this position would change after May 2018, it would be different from the one they had before May 2018. But they have not changed, I can say it officially. But, on the other hand, I can say that there are normal working relations between the Armenian and Russian authorities.
Petros Ghazaryan - During this time you have had many contacts with the President of Russia. How well are your relations now?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan – In working order; very good.
Petros Ghazaryan - There are also many criticisms and questions about the fall of Shushi. Because the Public TV officially announced that we were liberating Shushi. We gave it for a day, but we took it back. And the next day it was announced that Shushi had fallen, after which you signed the well-known statement. People are asking us how come? If we took it back, if we were fighting, Shushi is such an impregnable fortress, etc., how did we surrender Shushi?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Look, let me tell you, yes, Shushi first fell, followed by two attempts to retake and liberate Shushi. The first attempt did not work at all. During the second attempt, one group managed to enter into and take positions in the town. But that group did not manage to build on the success, and in fact, Shushi remained under Azeri control.
I can tell you something else. There are many myths about Shushi. For example, in those days I was informed that there was a group of 50 people who were still holding on. In the meantime, we knew that Shushi had fallen. And, of course, I asked for contact with the person that had provided the information as I wanted to know who those 50 people were. And, of course, I passed it on to the military as I had it through another channel. Further clarifications revealed that the informing individual was in Stepanakert. As a matter of fact, many pieces of information were simply played down after being corrected.
Petros Ghazaryan - The opposition says that during these 40 days they kept telling the government to hand over the power to the committee formed by opposition forces in order to make a breakthrough in the current situation. Why did a dialog not take place to that effect?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Sorry, but the question arises here: Who should have determined the composition of the committee? What powers should the committee have?
Petros Ghazaryan - Military-Political Committee.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - I mean, who would decide that the committee had authority in the Republic of Armenia? Who would make such a decision? That is, it means the abolition of state institutions. Let us set up a committee. And which article of the Constitution we should look at in order to understand what powers the committee might have and how it should work.
Petros Ghazaryan - Mr. Prime Minister, when did you realize that the situation is critical, what are we dealing with? Political forces say that you have met with them several times, you have presented that the situation is difficult, this is it. Why did you not address the nation and the society at that time? You like talking to people. Why did you not apply to the people and say, dear citizens, this is the situation. If we continue this way, there will be more victims and more losses tomorrow. And you would have stopped the war just then. Political forces say they did not speak out to let the Prime Minister work. It turns out that everyone was silent, knowing what was going on.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Here we have to consider two circumstances. First, is there any prospect for changing the situation, and second, what is the price of stopping the war? This is very important, because look how painfully we all could have perceived the fact that, say, 3 territories should be surrendered. How painful it would be, moreover, in a situation where according to the estimates of both the General Staff and the political leadership of Artsakh, it was obvious to me that in fact it was impossible to keep those territories, or at least part of it. For example, we could save part of Karvachar, but the whole territory of Artsakh might be lost. It would definitely be lost. In other words, that decision was made at a time when it was obvious that it was useless to fight any longer. There has never been a situation before that where the struggle did not make any sense. And our army, our armed forces, the General Staff, the Defense Army, they fought to the end, to the last second, to the last minute.
Petros Ghazaryan - Do you mean that the military told you that day that further fighting was useless?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - I was told in those days that it should be stopped urgently. Of course, we faced resource-related problems before that. But we had tried to solve the problems associated with supplies, air defense, etc. You need to understand the political problem correctly? Understand our political problem correctly. When we saw that there were failures on the frontline, we set ourselves the task of making a breakthrough. And we did everything possible.
This decision was made when we realized that it was pointless to formulate such a task. What is the point where we recorded it? That point is the fall of Shushi. I want our society to know that before Shushi, all possible scenarios that implied stopping the war Shushi had to be surrendered without a fight. Now I say this, I understand that, on the other hand, the conspiracy...
Petros Ghazaryan - Human lives would be saved.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - No. For example, I said I could not surrender Shushi. We could not give up Shushi, because Shushi was of special importance. And if we even on the 1st day, the 2nd day...
Petros Ghazaryan - Well, it is clear what they were going to say.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Look, I asked a question here: we need to understand what we are dealing with in general, what we are talking about in general. Where has the history of the Karabakh issue led us by 2020?
For example, in the negotiation process on the Karabakh issue, there are many uncertainties in the negotiation texts, as well as in the statements we signed, where we need to comment. It can be interpreted in this way, it can be interpreted in a way where, in fact, 90% of the content of the negotiations, a good 80%, 70%, are vague formulations that give rise to comments and need to be interpreted.
There is only one point that has been certain throughout the negotiation process: I have spoken about it publicly, namely that the first objective behind the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue was the return of regions to Azerbaijan. In fact, this wording had been on the table for 25 years, and we did not say no for 25 years. This was the only definite point. But for example, the status of Nagorno-Karabakh was yet to be discussed. And what does that mean in practice? For example, Azerbaijan has always commented that it should be self-determined. The status of Nagorno-Karabakh, what does it mean? It can be a, b, c, d, and so on. In other words, what we have on the negotiating table has yet to be clarified.
The only thing that did not need any clarification was the thesis that the 7 regions should be returned to Azerbaijan. And, in fact, the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, who have worked for a very long time to achieve a result ever since 2015, in fact came to a consensus that since there is a specific issue beyond discussion, and there is a lot of misinterpretation concerning the other ones, let us solve the issue of territories according to the 5 + 2 formula.
This is, in fact, a situation in the air, which very often in the past and now has been discussed under the logic of what could be called as a scenario-driven war. Now let us see what is so special about this war? The peculiarity of this war is that the Armenian side at least did not seek to implement that scenario, but rather to resist it. This is the most important detail in this story that you should know.
Petros Ghazaryan - Mr. Prime Minister, people are depressed; people are in despair, people are grieved. They are not adequate and need unity. Many of them are apolitical; they have different views, and say, look, the formers and the present are drawing divides, etc., we all knew that, but the fact is that the statement was signed in your time. You can evoke lots of things, right, wrong, but since you signed this, Shushi will be surrendered, and you cannot be that unifier anymore. Is it not the right time to hold snap parliamentary elections?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Let me first say that we are all facing difficult times which are our shared burden, no matter who played a role in this story. This is our burden, and we must carry that burden nationally. But on the other hand, we have to think about our future, because at this stage it is crucial for us to have a vision of the future – a vision of Nagorno-Karabakh’s future.
Today we must send clear messages that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenians must return to their homes, because the struggle for Karabakh did not end at all. It would be very good if the Karabakh issue could be settled definitely, not at this point. Unfortunately, the Karabakh issue has not yet been finally settled.
Now the next question is as follows: do we continue to fight for the people of Karabakh, for their rights? The clear answer for me here is yes. What should be done for this at the first moment? First of all, our compatriots in Artsakh must go and live, start living in their homes.
Petros Ghazaryan - How? I mean roads, finance, infrastructure…
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - We have a session in the government today to discuss these issues. Because it is obvious that destruction must be repaired, infrastructures must be restored, investments must be made, a natural environment must be created for creative and peaceful life.
There are now peacekeepers who ensure the security of Armenians in at least part of Nagorno-Karabakh. The right of our compatriots to return to the other sections is recorded. Now we must endeavor to help them exercise that right and ensure their dignity and security. A road will be functional along the Lachin corridor, that is, there will be no problem of road communication between Armenia and Karabakh.
Will people be able to travel through the corridor provided by the Russian peacekeepers as usual? In other words, at least the part of Artsakh that is under the control of the Artsakh authorities, normal life there must be restored as soon as possible.
Petros Ghazaryan - But people are scared, people are in uncertainty. You see, we believed in the idea; we built it for 30 years, invested but lost it all in 40 days. How to invest there? Let us humanize how a person can take his family, his children there, surrounded by Azeris, in this depressed state. What guarantee, what future should he see there?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - That is why the presence of peacekeepers in the region is becoming one of the most important factors, which is a guarantee that at least their presence will not let any side start a new war, or at least, add momentum to renewed fighting, if any. The peacekeepers’ goal is to ensure people’s safety. This is the environment in which Artsakh must be reborn. You say, who will invest there? First of all, one should think about making state investments there. People should be supported so that they can rebuild their homes, their living environment will be restored, at the same time having free communication with the Republic of Armenia. As for the rest, the most important task at this stage is to ensure internal stability and security, after which, in a completely stable situation, as I have already said, the immunity of the people’s power in the Republic of Armenia must be guaranteed. What do I mean? I mean, the political objective is that we must keep the political environment in Armenia so as to ensure that the citizens of the Republic of Armenia enjoy their unequivocal right to form a government. Our first task today is stability in these conditions, because stability can be in different dimensions.
Petros Ghazaryan - And? After that…
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - After that we can talk about the rest.
Petros Ghazaryan - Mr. Prime Minister, the vision of the people is very important for that stability. Before the war we knew what we wanted to do. We wanted Artsakh’s independence, we felt pride, we wanted to make Armenia a democratic state; one thing worked, while the other ones did not work. Now that vision of our country, the feeling of security is impaired in every individual. They do not know what the security of our country will be tomorrow. We saw the aggression of a monster Turkey and people realized that it was just impossible to counter it on our own, and that force was real. Now we have what we have in Artsakh, which is surrounded. We have a statement that raises more questions than answers.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Now, first of all, our job should be to concretize the uncertainties of that statement, to make those uncertainties a reality that will make the environment accessible for living. Second, what do we want? Our wishes, in fact, have not changed.
What we wanted strategically, or at least in terms of content, we want now. I have already said that it is obvious now that our army and our state need serious institutional transformations in general.
We must build a new type of army with new benchmarks and parameters. In particular, I stated above that the level of mobility should increase many times over in the army. We had a corps, brigades, regiments, battalions, which in fact, did not work that well, instead the following two factors won the war: mobile groups and drones
The first is the army reform, in the context of which it is necessary to consider, by the way, the possible increase of the level of women’s involvement, which, I think, is very important in this context. Second, we need to develop a high-tech military-industrial complex at a much faster pace than we can do today, which should eventually become the locomotive of our economy.
The educational reform is the key element in this story. And finally the clarification of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh that used to be in the past and which is still standing now.
Petros Ghazaryan - People say, look, we are in for new negotiations, and you just said that there are some items to be clarified. Your opponents say that since you signed a document of defeat, you cannot negotiate effectively, you cannot sit down and say, one way or another, because you will be told, brother, you are loser. In case the government changes, a new person will come and will strengthen our negotiating position starting from a new point. In other words, this is not a problem of individuals - it is a problem of statehood.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - I have already said that the change of government in a democratic country implies specific mechanisms; our task is to have a stable situation, after which we will be able to appeal to the people.
Petros Ghazaryan - But the negotiations are starting soon, aren’t they?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Negotiations will start, and we will negotiate…
Petros Ghazaryan - Do we have any ideas as to what do we want? There are many important points there: reopening of borders, roads...
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Yes, of course. What do we want? We want, for example, an Armenia-Iran railway to operate through Nakhichevan. We are talking about unblocking transport infrastructure.
Petros Ghazaryan - Does it refer to Turkey? I mean the reopening of the border?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - No. Because Turkey is not part of this agreement. We want to have not one, but possibly several ways leading to Russia and if, for example, we achieve our goals following negotiations, fancy what a turning point will be open for Armenia, if eventually the railway becomes a real factor connecting our country with the Persian Gulf and Russia. These are goals that may or may not be achieved through this document.
Petros Ghazaryan – As they were mentioned in the statement, is there a preliminary agreement to that effect?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Not a preliminary agreement, but an understanding. It is formulated, which means that there is understanding. But it is definitely a matter of negotiations, an item on the table of the forthcoming negotiations.
Petros Ghazaryan – Now let us talk about social and economic problems. We have COVID-19, we are in for winter, and the economy is obviously under threat. There are tens of thousands of families and children displaced from Artsakh. What needs to be done in social terms?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan – We must obviously support those people socially and materially. But I think they should get that support in Artsakh. Not in Armenia, but in Artsakh.
This is a very delicate nuance, because as I have already said, Artsakh is Artsakh with the people living there. And our biggest task is to ensure that our compatriots return and live in Artsakh. In cooperation with our partners from Artsakh, we will implement as many government programs as possible - social, economic, educational, etc.
Petros Ghazaryan - Is there money?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - We will have money. We will work and generate the needed money.
Petros Ghazaryan - Thank you for the interview.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan – Thank you.
Petros Ghazaryan - Dear TV viewers, we were talking to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. See you soon.