Prime Minister: “The joint statement provides for the return to their homes for people living in the regions of Nagorno-Karabakh”
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Nikol Pashinyan gave an interview to the Russian TASS news agency. Below is the full transcript of the Prime Minister’s interview:
TASS: First of all, Mr. Prime Minister, I would like to thank you for taking the time to give an interview to TASS news agency during this rather difficult period. In accordance with the trilateral statement of November 9, a peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation is deployed along the line of contact in Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Lachin corridor for a period of five years with the possibility of automatic extension for next five-year periods.
On what basis is this five-year period determined and what should be done during this time?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan: This is a matter of political agreement, and it has been reached. Guarantees of security and stability in the region have to be created during the five-year period. But the Karabakh conflict is a prolonged one, so I do not believe that the presence of Russian peacekeepers will be confined to one five-year period. That is, the five-year period is the outset of a lengthy process. As you mentioned, there is the possibility of automatic renewal.
The primary issue at this point is to ensure stability in Nagorno-Karabakh and in the region and to ensure the safety of the citizens of Nagorno-Karabakh, and I think and hope that the Russian peacekeepers will act successfully and will be able to actually implement this mission.
TASS: The trilateral statement says nothing about the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. At the same time, you yourself explained earlier that the document does not imply a substantive solution to the Karabakh issue. Thus, the status remains uncertain. What are your approaches to the issue of the status of Karabakh in the current changed conditions?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan: As a matter of fact, there is consensus, at least among the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, and Armenia agrees with this viewpoint, that the negotiations must go on within the framework of the co-chairmanship of the OSCE Minsk Group and that the issues that were not resolved in the joint statement are to become a subject matter for discussion within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group’s co-chairmanship. You know Armenia’s position on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, and our position, of course, has not changed.
TASS: Regarding the OSCE Minsk Group. The road map you presented in the first paragraph indicates that the resumption of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process should continue in the OSCE Minsk Group format. Which way you believe the settlement process should evolve in this format?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan: I actually have already answered this question. The negotiation process must be fully restored. But at the moment there are more operational issues that need to be addressed. I mean that the exchange of prisoners and detainees should be completed. We face the problem of people reported missing, there is the question of the exchange of dead bodies. I think that at the moment we should focus on these issues.
Of course, some communication is going on in parallel, we communicate with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. I am in close touch with the President of Russia. We recently had a telephone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron. You may know that the election process is still underway in the United States, and I hope that the full working capacity of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmanship will be restored very soon.
TASS: The trilateral statement you signed led to violent protests in Armenia and even calls for your resignation. It was reported that you even temporarily left the country. Is that true? How do you assess the current internal political situation in the country and does it threaten to disrupt the agreements reached?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan: You know, we have political tensions at home, but the truth is that the calls made by the opposition have not received wide publicity in society. And I think that the issue of power, which was formed by the people, can only be decided by the will of the people. The fact is that the calls made by the opposition do not receive support from the Armenian society. This needs to be stated.
TASS: As regards the expression of people’s will, election is the most democratic form of it. There are also calls for early parliamentary elections. How do you look at this, how do you assess this opportunity?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan: Now the government and all political forces in Armenia have the primary task of restoring full stability and security of the Republic of Armenia. I mean not only internal, but also external security.
I have published a roadmap for a six-month period, and over the next six months we must work to stabilize the situation. I mean political situation, security situation, economic stability. After that, we will consult with our society, people, political forces and decide on further developments and the next steps, what we should do next.
TASS: As you said, the ongoing protests are not supported by a significant part of society...
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan: This does not mean that everyone is happy with the current situation in the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and so on. But, to be honest, I am not very happy myself, we are all unhappy with the situation that we have. But we need to understand what alternatives we have.
We should not make the situation worse, instead we need to stabilize the situation and improve it. And as I said, I mean both internal and external stability and security, economic security and stability; we must focus on these very issues. It does not mean at all that the government thinks everything is fine. On the contrary, we think it is necessary not to make the situation worse.
Now we are faced with issues related to the return of Artsakh’s citizens to their homes. We need to provide some social guarantees for the citizens of Nagorno-Karabakh and those people who have lost their homes.
We need to stabilize the socio-economic situation in Armenia. Unfortunately, as in the rest of the world, the pandemic is still on in Armenia. That is, our common goal should be to stabilize the situation, and after that we will decide which way to go.
TASS: Now I would like to ask you about economic and humanitarian problems. Are there any estimates of the economic damage inflicted on the republic? Another concern is issue of dead, missing persons, refugees and victims. Are there any estimates in quantitative terms, how many people have died, were injured or left homeless?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan: The death toll is updated on a regular basis. Unfortunately or fortunately, we have had cases when it was officially declared that a particular person had died, but it turned out that he was alive. We need to be extremely careful in this matter. Of course, we are not going to hide anything, and our citizens will have complete information.
Now about the missing persons: We had cases when people were considered missing, but then their whereabouts were established. It turned out that due to some factors they simply could not contact their relatives, friends, or the public structures. That is, there is now a process underway to clarify all these issues.
A lot of work is being done to identify the whereabouts of missing people. As I said, the exchange of prisoners and detainees is crucial at this point. We are working closely with the Russian government on all these issues. I keep in close touch with the President of Russia, and the peacekeepers currently deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh are quite actively involved in this process.
I believe that it is not the right way to publish the figures at the moment, since they may prove inaccurate. I mean our policy should not focus on the figures. Instead we must first make sure that those reported missing will not return in the following hours. To avoid such instances, we need to check any piece of information, double-check it and so on, because we are actually dealing with human destinies, emotions, and we need to be very careful.
TASS: What economic damage was inflicted on the country: are there any estimates?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan: The economic situation is obviously challenging in our country just as elsewhere in the world, and it developed even before the war due to the coronavirus pandemic. We have to assess what impact the war had on the economy. Now we must not only estimate the damage, but also take specific steps to restore economic stability. We are working to that end, and the roadmap I have published features concrete steps aim at reinstating economic stability. We are working and will continue to work on it, and I am confident that concrete action will lead to concrete results.
TASS: The return of refugees is one of the priorities specified in your roadmap. Can you tell us what specific steps the government intends to take in order to alleviate the living conditions for those left without housing and a job as winter is approaching?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan: We have already made specific decisions, and these decisions relate to financial support for those people who need it. Two programs have already been approved, and five more social programs will be adopted in the coming days. We are working on a daily basis, and I am confident that we will be able to stabilize the situation.
I am happy about the good dynamics of repatriation of Nagorno-Karabakh residents. The President of Nagorno-Karabakh said two days ago that 25 thousand people have already returned and we are sure that the majority of Nagorno-Karabakh residents will be back by the end of the year. And of course we are going to create all the necessary conditions for that.
I consider it important to state that the Russian Federation intends to take steps to ensure the return of Artsakh residents to their homes. Of course, there are many houses destroyed, and restoration work needs to be started, but our idea is that first we need to provide prompt financial assistance to these people so that they could meet their primary needs as they are on the way back to Nagorno-Karabakh. This process is actually going on, as a matter of fact, and this is really good news.
TASS: Do you also expect refugees to return to their homes in those villages that have come under Azerbaijan’s control?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan: Yes, this concerns the regions of Nagorno-Karabakh, and our joint statement provides for the return of such people to their homes. It is precisely on this point that specific mechanisms and specific security guarantees need to be created and the entire process is to be properly organized. This should become a priority during the negotiation process.
TASS: With your permission, I would like to return to domestic political issues. I mean whether the aforementioned protest moods may threaten to undermine the agreements that were reached on November 10?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan: I do not think so, because the Armenian society agrees that when the statement was signed, there was no real alternative that would be better for us. That is, in my opinion, it is just the overwhelming understanding of the signed document in our society. Another question is that we still need to analyze, understand and answer the questions of why things went wrong and why we came to such a situation. But I do believe that the Armenian society acknowledges the fact that we had simply no better alternative at the time the November 9 statement was signed.
TASS: The joint statement sets a task to unblock all economic and transport links in the region. Can it be considered as a starting point for gradual normalization of interstate relations with Azerbaijan?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan: You see, this is a crucial point. I think we should focus on it in the near future, because we need to take concrete steps as we talk about economic stabilization not only in Armenia, but also in the whole region.
We are talking about the economic situation faced in Armenia, but it should be stated that the economic situation is not too good in all countries in the region and around the world due to the pandemic. This is a global challenge; this is a regional problem, and of course, the political agreement on unblocking transport communications can become a starting point for changing not only the economic situation in the region, but also the entire logic of economic development in our region...
And I hope that we will be able to implement the political agreements stipulated in the joint statement. In particular, I mean unblocking economic infrastructure, railways and so on.
TASS: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan: Thank you.