Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's speech at the presentation of the Government Action Plan at the National Assembly
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Honorable President of the National Assembly,
Dear Cabinet members,
I present the Government's Action Plan for 2021-2026 in extraordinary conditions. The grave consequences of the 44-day war in 2020, the 3773 victims we suffered during the war, the fact that the whereabouts of 243 soldiers is unknown, the fact that some of our captured soldiers have not returned yet, the thousands of displaced, the unusual and difficult socio-economic situation in Artsakh and Armenia, the growing security challenges around Armenia and Artsakh, the crisis situaation in the Sotk-Khoznavar area as a result of the illegal incursion of the Azerbaijani armed forces into the sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia, the regular violations of the trilateral declaration on ceasefire following November 9, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic make the environment where we have to discuss the Government Action Plan extraordinary.
This discussion, however, should be not only about documenting the problems and challenges, but also about their causes and origins, and, most importantly, should outline ways fo solutions in terms of short-term, medium-term and strategic perspective, because it is obvious that the Republic of Armenia is at a crucial juncture, at a point from which the future developments will be decisive for our state and statehood. And I hope that the style, content, depth and atmosphere of today's discussion will be in line with the agenda that our country is facing today. At least, our political team is ready for such a discussion, where there is no insult and swearing, with as little noise as possible, and as much argument as possible, analysis, yes, criticism, which, however, implies debate and not quarrel.
And in the light of the abovementioned, for the sake of the necessity to start on a positive note, I have to record that during the last months we recorded an important achievement in the sense of the institutional accomplishment of democracy and our state, and agendas that had been unsolved for years, finally received an irreversible solution by the early parliamentary elections of 2021.
Moreover, the institute of elections demonstrated a new content in the Republic of Armenia in 2021. The "average statistical electoral standard" in the history of the Third Republic was as follows - The publication of the official results of the elections was followed by convincing facts about the falsification of the elections by the authorities, and all this was accompanied by public and political unrest, resulting in political crisis or deepening of the crisis.
The early parliamentary elections of 2021 had the exact opposite effect. As a result of the elections, the atmosphere of public and political unrest was overcome, the internal political crisis was overcome.
Moreover, this is perhaps the most unexpected result of the elections, because after the catastrophic 44-day war, more specifically, from November 9, 2020 until the end of the campaign, the domestic political discourse was based on the accusations of betrayal, surrendering lands, selling lands and capitulation addressed at the representatives of the authorities, particularly the Prime Minister, his familiy members and the family members of other representatives of the leadership, and therefore, on the logic of punishing them, taking revenge, even publicly executing them, the practical manifestation of which we witnessed in the form of the assassination attempt against the Speaker of the National Assembly, currently the Minister of Foreign Affairs Ararat Mirzoyan, and the attacks on government buildings.
There are many historical precedents when governments in such situations either evade responsibility, or resort to mediators, or resort to force.
We resorted neither to mediators, nor to force. We turned to our people, initiating early parliamentary elections and saying that we will obey to any decision taken by the people.
I want to specially emphasize that according to the unanimous assessment of the international observation missions, the early parliamentary elections of June 20, 2021 were competitive, fundamental rights and freedoms were respected, the elections were free, the opportunities for campaigning were equal, the principle of equal coverage was ensured, the elections were in line with the principles of democracy.
I am saying this to demonstrate that it was fundamental for us not only to declare our readiness to obey the will of the people, but also to provide a real opportunity for the free expression of the will of the citizen.
The next exceptional factor that I want to mention in the context of the elections is the following. During the domestic political crisis and the pre-election period, there were virtually no pro-government TV channels, and instead there were at least five opposition-owned TV channels.
This is in the case when the TV frequency contest had taken place only months ago, which means that here, too, the political power ensured free and competitive conditions and had not set a task to have a controlled TV, nor has it made such an attempt.
Therefore, in this extremely difficult and turning point, the people of the Republic of Armenia assumed and performed the role of arbiter, judge, and problem-solver as the supreme power of the country, and this is the most eloquent manifestation of "power in the Republic of Armenia belongs to the people" thesis enshrined in the unchangable 2nd Article of our Constitution.
Why is that important to speak about all this today, from this high tribune of the National Assembly, on the very important occasion of the presentation of the government program?
Because the above shows that despite the newly emerged, complex and vital challenges that will be among the key topics of our discussion today, it should also be noted that in this post-war period, important institutional transformations have taken place, which show our opportunity to have a state of a totally new quality, and we have to see that opportunity and realize it.
Starting the presentation of the Government Action Plan from one of the last subsections, I have to emphasize that particularly after the 44-day war the discourse of Constitutional changes, or rather, the change of the government system has significantly intensified and acquired relevance in the public-political life Many have concluded that the war and its aftermath demonstrated the inadequacy of a parliamentary system of government for a country in a similar security environment, and according to that conclusion, it is necessary to return to a presidential or semi-presidential system.
Such claims cannot be considered groundless, of course, but against the background of the above, a question arises. Would the mechanism of overcoming the atmosphere of public-political unrest through elections work in the same way in the case of presidential or semi-presidential systems of government?
It is true that one should not talk about history with "what ifs", but I must dare to assume that the history of the Third Republic might have developed in a different scenario, if there had been an opportunity to hold snap elections in 1998 under the scenario of 2021.
In 1998, when the incumbent President resigned, it was a defeat for his political discourse and, in effect, a departure from domestic political life. This is not a problem by itself, but that it happened without the opinion of the people, without real public debates, and the Nagorno Karabakh issue was removed from the field of public-political discussions, moved from the "theorem genre" to the "axiom genre", which caused significant problems for our country.
Those problems, by the way, were and are practical. Since the start of the negotiation process on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan has clearly formulated its plan. According to the Azerbaijani discourse, Nagorno Karabakh is Azerbaijan, not to mention the surrounding regions. According to the Azerbaijani discourse, there is no Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region, moreover, there is no Nagorno Karabakh Republic.
They have always set the agenda of taking control of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding areas, and clarified that if this is not achieved through negotiations, they are going to do that militarily and, in parallel to the negotiations, they spent billions of dollars on acquisition of armaments and other military equipment. Moreover, there were no misinterpretations of this strategic line in the Azerbaijani society.
This kind of clarity was missing from the Armenian discourse. Yes, the issue of the international recognition of Nagorno Karabakh was formulated in our agenda.
But even this was already assessed by many people as a betrayal, citing the December 1, 1989 joint decision of the the Supreme Council of the Armenian SSR and the National Council of Nagorno Karabakh about the reunification of the Armenian SSR and Nagorno Karabakh, which was also quated in the Independence Declaration of Armenia on August 23, 1990. According to that viewpoint, Bagorno Karabakh should be recognized part of Armenia.
The next standpoint is the principle of ''land for peace'', according to which it's necessary to achieve international recognition of the independence of Karabakh in return of surrenderring the surrounding regions of Nagorno Karabakh. But there were also those who considered this viewpoint a betrayal, claiming that the resolution to cede territories was unacceptable to the Armenian people.
There was the concept of exchanging territories, which was about uniting Nagorno Karabakh with Armenia in exchange for ceding some territories of Armenia to Azerbaijan. This concept, too, to put it mildly, had a negative opinion in public and political circles, and many considered it a betrayal and a conspiracy.
But this is not the end of our problems, and in practice there were two very serious complications. If Azerbaijan's position was the same both during domestic discussions and during interactions with the international community, and at the negotiation table, by the way, they had a public consensus on that position, in our case the positions varied, our position varied in our public-political lif, in our interactions with the international community and at the negotiation table. And most importantly, we did not have, we had not formulated the answer to the most important question. And what will we do if we do not manage to reach a solution acceptable for us at the negotiating table?
By the way, please pay attention to the fact that I am not speaking about what different governments or leaders did or did not do, but I am trying to formulate the systemic problem that we have been facing in the context of Nagorno Karabakh issue since the beginning. This systemic problem has had a very serious impact on the whole course and relations of the history of the Third Republic. We, as a society, have not had a strategy for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, we have not recorded the need for it, and, consequently, the issue has been left out of the public political agenda, bearing the full impact of the contradictions of our approaches throughout history of the conflict.
By the way, the list of the contradictions I mentioned over the domestic perceptions of Nagorno Karabakh issue is not complete and that list can still be continued.
Returning to the topic of the adoption of a new Constitution or the dilemma of constitutional amendments, mentioned in the preamble of Chapter 5 of the Government Action Plan, I want to emphasize that it’s not a fact at all that the parliamentary system of government demonstrated its non-viability in the crisis over Nagorno Karabakh issue in 2020. I mean that we have to measure 7 times, cut once before making a decision to change the system of government, because it may turn out that it was the peculiarities of the semi-presidential system of government that launched the process that led to the deadlock. I am not saying this as an assertion or a conviction, but as a very important material for pondering over.
In the last three years, as well as in the last 10 months, however, a number of questions have emerged related to the functioning of the mechanisms provided by the current Constitution that need to be answered.
In particular, the situation was extraordinary when in February of this year the army was in danger of getting involved in politics following the well-known statement of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, despite the Constitutional arrangements, but the it took a long time to resolve this situation, more than a month. This is not about the comfort of the Prime Minister or the political power or the awkwardness resulted by its lack.
The problem is somewhere else: The developments of February-March, when the army had appeared in the center of political developments, aggravating impact on the security atmosphere could not be avoided, and we witnessed its bitter impact already in May in the form of the situation in the Sotk-Khoznavar section, which continues to this day.
There are also a number of questions about the correlation between constitutional regulations and the effectiveness of judicial reforms, the answer to which cannot be assessed as unequivocal, but over which a really serious discussion should take place among the public-political-expert circles.
If you have noticed, unlike the "Civil Contract" party's pre-election program, the topic of constitutional changes is not very specifically defined in the Government Action Plan.
This is explained by that the issue of constitutional changes is on the agenda of many political parties with various contents and this is an issue that first needs to pass through the phase of public-political debates, and the Government does not want to express a predetermined position on this. It is clear that the political responsibility for the issue falls on the incumbent government, but the most constructive method of the further process is to listen patiently to the views and try to form a common vision; a committmenet we assume as a government, as a political power.
Dear Chairman of the National Assembly,
Distinguished members of the Government,
Our Cabinet has been formed as a result of the absolute majority of votes received by the ‘’Civil Contract’’ Party during the June 20, 2021 early parliamentary elections. Definitely, the Government Action Plan formulated by the ‘’Civil Contract’’ Party had to be based on the pre-election program of the party.
In fact, that’s what we have, but one of the key pecularities of the early parliamentary elections was that we had an election campaign during which huge new political content was generated.
For me, it was not just or only a pre-election campaign, but an open and direct dialogue with the people, and particularly a dialogue, because during these elections our political team was in the role of not only the one says, but also listens. During the pre-election campaign and the period prior to that the people, the citizens of the Republic of Armenia formulated their own vision during the communication with us, and in fact, authorized us to be the one to raise their voice, and authorized to become the executor of that vision based on the results of the voting.
So what's that vision about? The standard political answer is the following – what is written in the pre-election program of the ''Civil Contract'' Party, which is right. But in fact 100% of the voters first of all remember and record, and in case of a survey will recall, 2 things, 2 oral obligations assumed by the political majority:
1. Dictatorship of law and right
2. Opening an era of peaceful development for Armenia and the region
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the brief description of the mandate received by the Government as a result of the people's vote, and we must state that the Government Action Plan was formed in the context of these two main tasks. Everything else is, in fact, in some way, directly or indirectly related to these two cornerstones, and the Government will act according to this logic….
And as it is stated in the prelude of the Government Action Plan, I quate, ''…The Government realizes that the solution of this problem does not depend only on the Republic of Armenia, but also on the attitude and desire of other countries in the region. The Government of the Republic of Armenia assumes its share and responsibility to open an era of peaceful development for the region''.
In the context of what has been said, of course, the most urgent issue is ensuring the security of Armenia and Artsakh. So how will the Government ensure that security?
To achieve this goal, the Government intends to use first of all the political and diplomatic toolkit, with the primary goal of stabilizing the security environment around Armenia and Artsakh.
In practical terms, the Government of the Republic of Armenia considers it important to resume the negotiation process under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs and welcomes the statements made by the Co-Chairs following 9 November 2020, the main emphasis of which is as follows: refrain from provocative rhetoric and actions, resume the negotiation process for a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs as soon as possible, without preconditions.
The Co-Chairs documented that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is unresolved and that a comprehensive and lasting settlement should be based on principles well-known to the parties. Let me remind that these principles are the following. non-use of force or threat of force, self-determination of nations, territorial integrity.
At the August 12 session of the Government, I stated that Armenia is ready to be involved in the negotiation process at both the high and the top levels, and we are looking forward to concrete proposals.
I must specially state that the Government Action Plan is designed and formulated with the intention and purpose of maximally fostering the recovery of the negotiating environment, and the Government is committed to the maximum constructive work.
The next important tool and platform for creating a favorable environment around Armenia is to intensify the activities of the working group of the Deputy Prime Ministers of Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan formed on the basis of the January 11 trilateral statement and the November 9 declaration with the goal to unblock the regional economic and transport infrastructures and to record concrete results. In the activities of this working group the Government sees a serious opportunity to break the 30-year-old blockade of the Republic of Armenia.
Of course, this is not a simple process at all, and it is exacerbated by the un-constructive and provocative statements of the Azerbaijani side about some corridors. I have said many times that neither in the relevant articles on the November 9 trilateral declaration, nor in the January 11 statement, which is entirely about the opening of communications, there is no expression, reference, formulation about the creation of a corridor through the territory of Armenia.
It's about something else. Like Armenia must get a road to the Russian Federation, Islamic Republic of Iran through the Azerbaijani territory for establishment of transport communication, in the same way Azerbaijan must get a road through the territory of Armenia to its western regions, for transport communication with Nakhichevan, and I have had the opportunity to speak about this several times.
But at the same time, we have not denied and do not deny that the issue of opening regional communications carries certain risks for the state interests of Armenia, and this is why we mentioned in the Government Action Plan that unblocking should be one of the priorities of Armenia's foreign policy, but at the same time this process cannot take place at the expense of other security and vital interests of Armenia and Artsakh.
This is, of course, true and even unquestionable. But we must also answer another question. Can this process take place only taking into account the interests of the Republic of Armenia, ignoring the interests of the countries of the region or ignoring the interests of those countries?
This is perhaps the fundamental question that I am afraid has not been raised so often in our 30-year history of independence. Our biggest task is to create a favorable environment in the region around Armenia. This is an issue that has always been on our state agenda. But in the context of a practical solution to the problem, we missed a very important fact.
If we want to create a favorable regional environment around Armenia, we must make Armenia a favorable environment for the region. By the way, on the principle of reciprocity; neither more nor less. The more we want the environment to be favorable for Armenia, the more we should make Armenia favorable for the region. This is our strategic security challenge. At this point I do not suggest any concrete and practical solutions, I just draw the attention of all of us on this key peculiarity.
I am convinced of one thing, I have publicly spoken about it many times, I am sure that the citizens of the Republic of Armenia also voted for the "Civil Contract" party and for me for this vision, and this vision is enshrined in the Action Plan of the Government, where the establishment of a stable regional environment and unblocking of the regional infrastructures are viewed as an important factor for ensuring Armenia’s security. Therefore, I am quoting, "Peace and stability in the region is our long-term strategy. Deepening or normalizing relations with neighboring countries will be one of the important directions of the Government's foreign policy. The deepening of enmity is a threat to the stability and security of the region. Overcoming enmity can become a core of the regional foreign policy agenda’’, end of quote.
This vision formulated by me in the spring has been criticized a lot and I am sure it will be continue to be criticized. But I expect the authors of the criticism to answer a very important and practical question. What do we want to do with our regional relations, in which there is a huge context and even potential of hostility?
Not at all, It is not about forgetting anything, disavowing, brotherhood, friendship, it is about finding an answer to a simple question. What are we doing or will do with the atmosphere of hostility? Will we deepen it, will we set a task to eliminate those, whom we consider enemies? Do we understan that they will set the same task? Even if they have already set that task, are we planing to make the preparation for controlling those risks part of our daily work and agenda?
This is a very important and complex issue, a complex issue that has deep historical, moral, political and geopolitical contexts and contradictions. And finding the answer to that question is not easy at all. But I suggest we finally look at ourselves from aside.
The other countries in our region do not have hostile feelings towards each other, although this does not mean that there are no issues in their relations that need to be resolved.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia consider each other partners and friends. We are friends with the Islamic Republic of Iran and Georgia. But the fact that we are the object and subject of hostility in our region inevitably affects our relations with the regional friendly countries.
And this, yes, is the issue of the regional, but also of our agenda, and I think that this agenda, the issue of managing and overcoming the atmosphere of hostility in the region, can become the axis and agenda of our regional foreign policy cooperation, which can be interesting also for other countries in our region as well.
It may be even uninteresting for them, but even in that case the issue should stay in our agenda, at least as a material for public-political discourse. But in order Armenia derives some benefit from those discussions, all the jangling and swearing should be silenced. Argumentation, analysis, rational judgment must speak out. This is a national security issue, the solution of which cannot be only part of the Government's agenda. All of us, all public and political circles, all people, all companies and organizations, inevitably deal with this agenda.
Our foreign policy efforts to unblock the region, in case of a constructive position from the other actors,, will lead to an atmosphere of peaceful, mutually beneficial coexistence in the region. From this point of view, the complete and unconditional implementation of the steps envisaged by the trilateral statements signed by the leaders of the Republic of Armenia, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Azerbaijan on November 9, 2020, and January 11, 2021 is of crucial importance....
Today, of course, the unstable situation in a number of Armenian-Azerbaijani border areas is a serious obstacle to the start of delimitation and demarcation work, and I think it is very logical, especially in the Sotk-Khoznavar section, to withdraw both Armenian and Azerbaijani forces simultaneously, using the mutually agreed maps of the Soviet Union as a guide. We worked according to the same principle in the Tegh-Meghri border of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of the citizens of the Republic of Armenia support the agenda of delimitation and demarcation agenda with Azerbaijan, and no matter how hard it is, Armenia is ready to move forward with that agenda.
Of course, maintaining stability along the entire Armenian-Azerbaijani border is extremely important for the process. I have said many times before that I see several options for maintaining stability, for example, the deployment of Russian border guards along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, implementation of the CSTO observation mission, the monitoring of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairmanship.
I am glad to note that there are active discussions on the deployment of Russian border guards, works with the CSTO continue, and the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs are also showing some interest in the issue. We will continue to work in these areas.
I would like to emphasize that we work and will work sincerely and transparently on these issues of the regional agenda with our international partners.
I want to particularly mention the case of the Russian Federation, with which the strategic alliance is one of the pillars of our country's security architecture…
We closely collaborate with Russia in the format of the working group on unblocking regional communications, Russia is involved in the discussions on the situation in the Sotk-Khoznavar sector, Russia is a Co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group and, of course, the presence of Russian peacekeepers is a key factor for ensuring security in Nagorno Karabakh.
I have to underline the fact that a powerful campaign and actions are being carried out against the peacekeepers of the Russian Federation in Azerbaijan, and I think the sentencing of our captives by the Azerbaijani courts to many years of imprisonment is also aimed at discrediting the peacekeeping forces and peacekeeping mission of the Russian Federation.
The problem is that the vast majority of Armenian citizens sentenced to many years of imprisonment by Azerbaijani courts have been captured following November 9, following the siging of the trilateral declaration and following the deployment of the peacekeeping forces. If we combine this fact with the fact that Azerbaijan has not yet signed the mandate of peacekeepers, it becomes obvious that this is a series of actions against peacekeepers, against Nagorno Karabakh and stability and peace in Nagorno Karabakh.
Therefore, in all areas of Armenia-Russia bilateral cooperation, including military-political, military-technical, economic, energy, transport, humanitarian, cultural spheres, Armenia will continue to strengthen, expand allied relations and strategic partnership with Russia. Steps will be taken to further strengthen the Armenian-Russian political dialogue at the highest level, to deepen cooperation with Russia in the EAEU, CSTO, CIS and other multilateral platforms.
I must emphasize the special personal role that the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin has played and continues to play in the development of the Armenian-Russian relations, the provision of security and stability in our region, the cessation of the 44-day war, the repatriation of our captives.
President Putin's personal involvement and the trustworthy atmosphere between us are the guarantee of the continious increase of the effectiveness of Armenian-Russian relations.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We attach special importance to our relations with the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries.
Armenia-US relations have risen to the level of strategic dialogue. The Government will continue to work consistenly to develop and deepen friendly partnerships with the United States, expanding cooperation in democratic reforms, the rule of law, the fight against corruption, as well as economic and political dialogue. I must emphasize the involvement of the United States, as well as the European Union, in particular, in the ongoing process of introduction of patrol police in Armenia. This is a very good example of really effective cooperation and success, which I am sure will continue. I must also emphasize the role of the US administration in the return of our 15 captives on June 12.
The recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the two Houses of the US Congress and President Biden is an extremely important decision and has significantly changed the situation over the international recognition of the Genocide. The agenda for the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide should serve to the strengthening of Armenia's security guarantees, and this will be among the Government's priorities. At the same time, the Government of the Republic of Armenia will make use of the internatioal recognition of the Genocide not for increasing regional tensions, but for easing tensions.
The Government will continue to strengthen the privileged relations with the French Republic. In parallel with the existing cooperation in the political sphere, concrete steps will be taken to deepen economic relations with France. The Government also attaches special importance to Armenia's more active involvement in the works of the International Organization of La Francophonie.
Speaking of Armenian-French relations, I can not but express my appreciation to French President Emmanuel Macron, who has a unique role in the development of relations between our countries, and we are now working in the direction of strengthening economic relations.
At the same time, President Macron, as the leader of an OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair country, is making serious efforts to establish stability in our region, and we are also working closely with him on this issue.
I have already spoken about the fact that the European Union, together with the United States, has played and continues to play a very important role in the process of introduction of patrol police in Armenia, of course, also in other reform agendas.
Within the framework of the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement between Armenia and the European union, the EU is seriously involved in Armenia's reform process, and in this sense, I consider our cooperation with Brussels to be effective.
Following the early parliamentary elections in Armenia, when our country's commitment to democracy became apparent, the EU took a very important and long-awaited step in support of Armenia's development agenda, announcing about readiness to provide Armenia with €2.6 billion in the sidelines of the Eastern Partnership within a period of 4-5 years for implementing 7 landmark programs…
I must emphasize that after November 9, one of the most important things we have to do is to reform and modernize our army and armed forces. I must also emphasize that some forces try to present our agenda of army reforms as evidence of our intention or decision to adopt an aggressive policy, to start a war.
This has nothing to do with reality, because the Republic of Armenia, like any peace-loving state, will develop and transform its armed forces not for aggression, but to defend itself from aggression, to defend its sovereignty for a legitimate and constitutional purpose.
In the field of the Armed Forces, the Government's goal is to implement continuous reforms that will ensure the fulfillment of the constitutional mission of the Armed Forces. The Republic of Armenia has no intention to conquer territories or start a war.
Strategically, the Republic of Armenia will gradually transition to a professional army, the structure of military service and conscription will be significantly changed. We also consider important the technological modernization of our army, the introduction of an automated management system, the increase of military service attractiveness through the new policy of salary and social guarantees, the significant improvement of the quality of military education, as well as the larger involvement of women in combat units. I must emphasize that the thesis on women's involvement has no ideological or anti-ideological basis, but is conditioned exclusively by pragmatic calculation…
In the process of army reform and modernization, we, of course, attach importance to cooperation with our strategic ally, the Russian Federation, and I can state that we already have concrete agreements with the Russian Federation in this regard…