Unprecedented flexibility is needed to achieve the desired solution for us from the most important crossroads of the history of the Third Republic. Nikol Pashinyan
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan delivered remarks at the regular Cabinet meeting, before the discussion of the sitting agenda.
Below is the full transcript of the Prime Minister's speech.
“Dear participants of the Cabinet meeting, dear compatriots.
For three days now, the citizens of the Artsakh Republic have been deprived of natural gas supply. This happened as a result of Azerbaijan's intervention.
As you know, on March 7, the pipeline supplying gas to Artsakh was blown up in an area under Azerbaijani control. Under various pretexts, Azerbaijan did not allow the gas pipeline to be repaired and eventually Azerbaijan repaired it itself. As a result of the repair, according to our information, a valve was installed on the gas pipeline.
And so, on March 18, after restoring the gas supply to Artsakh for 4 days after 11 days, on March 21, Azerbaijan simply closed the gas pipeline valve without any explosions, thus proving that it was also the perpetrator of the March 7 explosion.
It’s particularly noteworthy that both gas supply suspensions are taking place under exceptional weather conditions. On March 7, unprecedented amount of snow fell in Artsakh in the last thirty years and the air temperature dropped to an unprecedented level. On March 21, the record of temperature drop and snowfall was exceeded and the snowfall in some places reached one and a half meters, in the capital Stepanakert 1 meter, the air temperature dropped to -8 degrees. And in these conditions, Artsakh was deliberately deprived of natural gas supplies that are vital for heating apartments, kindergartens, schools and hospitals.
It is enough to understand that as a result of Azerbaijan's actions, Artsakh is on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe. I have no doubt, that, of course, the heroic people of Artsakh will overcome this ordeal as well. But with this in mind, I must state that Azerbaijan, through its actions, also delivers service to the people of Artsakh, because this episode of the gas pipeline is a very accurate and concise description of the Artsakh issue for the international community. Thanks to this episode, the international community can understand the essence of the Karabakh issue without flipping through hundreds of pages and studying the nuances of history.
This unequivocally shows Azerbaijan's policy towards the Armenians of Artsakh, that is, to make it impossible for them to live in their own homeland. For almost a year and a half now, Azerbaijan has been boasting about a glorious victory in the 44-day war of 2020, but everything shows that the fact that after so much suffering and deprivation in Artsakh today, right now, about 117,000 Armenians live, Azerbaijan considers it its biggest defeat, the task is set to do everything to fully implement the policy of ethnic cleansing in Artsakh.
In this sense, the statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan the previous day, which said that the issue of gas supply to Artsakh is the internal affair of Azerbaijan, is very symbolic.
If we translate this statement from diplomatic language, it will mean “international community, don’t look here and let us bring to end the policy of ethnic cleansing and genocidal policy unhindered and unnoticed by the international community or under the guise of "counter-terrorism operations". This cannot happen. The Armenian diplomatic service, other officials, political forces, media, non-governmental organizations, individuals, through social networks, must present in detail the events of the last 15 days in Artsakh to the international community, to all instances.
Of course, many react to this situation by recalling and criticizing our policy of opening an era of peaceful development for our country and the region. But I want to state unequivocally that there is no alternative to the policy we have adopted. On the contrary, with these actions, various provocations, Azerbaijan is trying to divert us from the peace agenda, to delegitimize that agenda, to bring to life its policy of provoking new escalations in the region, new wars. But we should not give in to such provocations. I have said that we need strong nerves to implement the peace agenda, we must not deviate from our declared strategy in any way. Strategy is a strategy by that it should guide us in all situations.
You are aware, of course, that after the first explosion of the gas pipeline, a 5-point proposal for normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan was handed to the Republic of Armenia on March 10. On March 14, we responded very quickly to these proposals in a written form, and applied to the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, asking for assistance in organizing peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
And on March 21, 2022, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia voiced Armenia's general assessment of the proposals submitted by Azerbaijan, and that assessment is as follows. "There is nothing unacceptable for us in the proposals submitted by Azerbaijan on March 10. It is another thing that these proposals do not address all the issues on the Armenia-Azerbaijan comprehensive peace agenda. With our response to the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, we have completed the agenda, and therefore, we are ready to start peace talks on that basis."
On the evening of the publication of this position, Azerbaijan closes the gas pipeline supplying to Artsakh. Note that Armenia declares that Azerbaijan's proposals are acceptable to Armenia, but Azerbaijan closes the gas pipeline, this is the biggest proof that Azerbaijan's policy is to divert us from the peace agenda.
By the way, the radical Armenian opposition is also dissatisfied with our statement, criticizing us for agreeing to accept the principle of territorial integrity as a principle of normalization of relations. This criticism is more than strange, because Robert Kocharyan, who returned to Yerevan from the OSCE Istanbul Summit on November 19, 1999 and who voted for the Charter of European Security that defends the principle of territorial integrity, literally stated at Zvartnots Airport in Yerevan in response to a journalist's question. (I quote) "If we talk about territorial integrity in general, then we should not say that we are against it. We also have a territory, and we also believe that territory needs to respect such a principle”(end of quote).
After that, Serzh Sargsyan also negotiated for many years on the settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, accepting the principle of territorial integrity as one of the basic principles of settlement. Thus, no speculation is appropriate here.
We think that the Nagorno Karabakh issue was not a matter of territory, and it’s not now, it is a matter of rights and we will consistently protect all the rights of the Armenians of Artsakh, not disregarding the rights of other peoples, because, as Serzh Sargsyan rightly stated in one of his recent interviews, we are not fascists.
Dear attendees, dear compatriots,
The situation in the world and in the region is tense, and we consider ourselves responsible for reducing that tension and finding fundamental solutions. In this regard, yes, we think that the peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan should start as soon as possible.
At the same time, the need to accelerate the demarcation and delimitation of borders should be noted, along with steps to increase border security and stability. You know, of course, that we have proposed a simultaneous withdrawal of troops from the border, referring to the de jure established border of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Soviet times.
But I want you to know that in addition to the complete withdrawal, we have made proposals for local withdrawals, and here we are again waiting for Azerbaijan's response. In particular, in the Yeraskh section, we have suggested that they withdraw a few positions from our territory, and we withdraw a few positions from their territory, thus resolving the issue of one of the hottest points of the last 1.5 years. As I said, we are waiting for Azerbaijan's response.
By the way, after a number of recent events, we did not understand whether Azerbaijan wants opening regional communications or not. If they want, our proposals remain in force, and we are ready to start their implementation at any moment, literally at any moment. I have talked about the Armenian Crossroads project several times, now I do not see the need to go into details.
Now I want to turn to you. We know that the social situation in Armenia is getting worse. But we must know that the whole world is in the same situation, the world is in a stage of unprecedented high level of inflation, you can find out the reasons for that by watching the news at any moment. And Armenia is still in a better position in this sense, compared to many, many countries. And what is the Government's policy in this regard, was seen in 2019, when food prices were rising all over the world, and Armenia was one of the few countries in the world where the opposite was happening - food deflation. Because we eliminated artificial monopolies, today Armenia is a free country in terms of imports and exports, and as a result of the measures taken, the prices of a number of important goods in Armenia do not increase, in fact, will not increase, in some cases we have price reductions. I hope we will have price reductions for other products in the near future.
Of course, we understand that we should implement a policy that alleviates social problems, we do it as much as possible, as much as the country's budget allows, which is formed by the taxes we all pay. And how effectively we collect taxes is shown in the data of 2021, the most critical year for us, when the tax revenues of the state budget exceeded the planned by about 147 billion AMD. And if we count only the additional revenues received without legislative changes - about 110 billion AMD. In general, after 2018, our budget tax revenues have increased by about 35%, as I had promised during the Non-violent, Velvet, People's Revolution.
Of course, there are speculations, sometimes criticisms, that we are raising the salaries of law enforcement officers, and we are not raising enough, we are not raising pensions yet. Yes, but there are two things to keep in mind. First, it is one thing to increase the salaries of 500 people, 5,000 people, even 20,000 people, it is quite another to increase the pensions of 550,000 people, or the salaries of 600,000 people. These are absolutely different budget expenditures, moreover, these expenditures are not one-time, they must be implemented forever. And, of course, we do our best to make our pre-election promises and, the pre-election promises do not even matter, to make the necessary vital decisions as soon as possible.
On the other hand, we raise salaries in law enforcement, the judiciary, first of all for the sake of ordinary citizens, because law enforcement is concerned with the fate and rights of people, besides, the state of the country's economy depends on the quality of the work of these systems. In any case, dear compatriots, you must know unequivocally that as before, today more than ever, all your pains are in our hearts, all your needs are in our minds, all your dreams are in our souls.
Regarding the economy, I also want to talk about optimistic news. We must state that we have good grounds for maintaining economic activity. According to the data of the first 20 days of March, for example, the number of transactions registered by the cash register in Armenia, compared to the first 20 days of March last year, increased by about 510 thousand transactions, and the money turnover increased by 60 billion AMD, which is over 120 million dollars. Of course, this is not a fundamental indicator, but it is a certain positive signal, which is connected with the fact that in 2022 we have a large influx of people to the Republic of Armenia, this will create quite good economic effects.
It is important that we have an absolute record of 646,077 jobs registered in February, an absolute record for February, which is 10.3% more than in 2021, and 12.7% more than in 2019. The same applies to the average salary: the average salary of employees registered in February 2022 is 223,235 AMD, which is 9% more than in 2021, compared to February 2019 - 25.3%. I want to remind you that 2019 was our best year, and the comparisons are with that year.
But I must also say that, unfortunately, the socio-economic situation is not the biggest challenge facing our country.
Dear colleagues, dear compatriots,
You see what is happening in the world. What is happening in the world started with what happened to us, and what is happening today has and will have a direct impact on us.
We are at the most important crossroads in the history of the Third Republic, a point where the Armenian statehood has appeared more than once. And in order to be able to reach the desired culmination from that same historical point, we need unprecedented flexibility, a completely non-emotional state. We need new formulas of thinking. And we must take our ship, our boat in this stormy geopolitical ocean to a safe haven. And I'm sure we will do it, that's our historical mission.
Thank you. "