Third President of the Republic of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan gave an interview to ArmNews TV channel, referring to the negotiation process for the settlement of the conflict of the Nagorno-Karabakh, the diplomatic and military-political failures of the Republic of Armenia in the recent Artsakh war, the reasons and consequences of the capitulation, the way out of the current situation and future programs.
Mr President, there is much to ask you, but today I will try to ask questions of primary concern to society and I suggest that we conditionally divide the interview into two parts. In the first one, we will talk about the peculiarities of the negotiation process during your term in office and over the past three years, as well as about the reasons behind the war, while in the second part we will talk about the military-political realities, the war itself, its result, and the reasons for our defeat.
Let us start from April-May 2018: Did the Velvet Revolution and your resignation have to do with the Artsakh issue? After all, in the spring of 2018, we found ourselves in a very difficult geopolitical and regional situation. It could be seen clearly. For the first time in Armenia’s history, power was being sought by people who had nothing to do with the Artsakh movement as the First President did; they did not come from Artsakh as the Second President and you did.
They did not hold any state position before that; they did not participate in the negotiation process, that is, by and large, they had no idea about the negotiation process or were only aware through media publications. What was your reason behind handing over power to them? Why did you resign so easily in such a difficult situation?
First of all, I must say that in my opinion, there is a direct connection. In other words, what happened in the spring of 2018 was in essence an anti-Karabakh movement, I must honestly say, not only against Karabakh, but also against the people of Karabakh. A situation arose in which I preferred to resign rather than try to offer the public one of the many solutions available at that time. I can never agree with the idea that you voiced, namely that I handed over power to them.
No, first of all, I handed over power to Karen Karapetyan. I understand that people have the legitimate right to think that I handed over power to them. But the point is that based on the geopolitical realities, I had the conviction that if the chief negotiator changed, there would be changes in the negotiation process that would be fatal for our country.
During the interview we will touch upon it from different aspects. That is why I agreed to be elected Prime Minister, because no one could have predicted that their movement, their initiative could get such a strong momentum in Armenia.
I also understand very well all those people who are retrospectively asking why all the appropriate measures were not taken from the very outset; why no sufficiently tough measures were taken when they broke into the Public Radio Headquarters, but on the other hand, I want others to understand me. I say again that there was no precondition that this movement could gain such momentum.
Mr. President, you say to have transferred power to Karen Karapetyan, but there is a widespread version, and you have definitely heard that the incumbent Prime Minister of Armenia is your own project. I want to know if that is the case or not. Did you have any contacts during the Revolution, maybe before that, or after the transfer of power, other than the televised one which only lasted a few minutes?
First of all, let me say that this future Capitulator appeared in my field of vision in the early 90s, and more precisely, in the late 1993, when I was Minister of Defense for a few months. At that time, we had some problems on the battlefield after many success stories. By citing untrue facts and unnecessarily criticizing, he was simply hurting us, not only me, but also my comrades-in-arms.
So, you recorded his name as early as in the 1990s.
No, I did so on November 9, 2020, assuming that you mean the Capitulator.
I mean that person, that is, when he appeared in your field of vision.
Yes, he then appeared in my field of vision for the first time. We met for the second time in court in the late 90s, and for the third time we met in 2018 at the Marriott Hotel.
Has there been any other meeting between you?
There was no other meeting or a mediated contact.
Any telephone conversation?
No, not over the phone. I say, there was not even a mediated contact. I repeat, I have seen that person three times.
Did he not have any desire to contact you during his tenure, directly on the Artsakh issue?
No, for which I am glad, for I had no such desire.
But would you accept that offer if it were? Such readiness was shown to you and other ex-presidents during the war.
You know, it is a different circumstance, when with the former presidents, yes, we had such a desire, but I would never meet him face to face. No, I did not have that desire. As for the fact that the Capitulator is my project, it is just a joke, I would not want such a project even for my enemy, where was it, that I should scribble such nonsense for me.
The main motivation is that you avoided going for painful solutions to the Artsakh issue, leaving it to someone else.
The Capitulator is not my project. And besides what you said, I know other implications, I just want to say once again that he is the project of the forces with which I could never have anything in common. I had disagreements and contradictions with them in the sense that my ideas on the development of Armenia and Artsakh were largely different from those forces’ views.
Mr. President, if we talk about a change of government, it can take a long time.
Sorry, I have to say the following: the Capitulator was elected by the people, our deceived people under the direction of the aforementioned forces, and let all those who are disseminating this thesis not try to put the blame on me. I was faced with a dilemma, whether I should use force, and as you may remember, there were many children and women on the street (it was clear that it could result in losses; it was clear that it would make Armenia vulnerable in the negotiation process, just as in all other respects), or I should make a decision on the transfer of power, giving the country the opportunity to settle the matter over time.
Do you feel now that it was a mistake?
The most famous phrase in the text of your resignation is that he was right, and you were wrong. Did you mean the wrong choice of your successor?
No. I just think that the April, 2018 events had better be discussed in a separate televised interview or a press conference, which is closer to my heart. I think it can be held in a foreseeable future. As for what I said, which received public interest, I can only say the following: I have edited that statement three times: For the first time, I added a few sentences on the morning of April 23, then I put the text of the statement aside, I calmly meditated for 30-40 minutes, then I struck off some sentences to simplify the text, considering that an overloaded text could have aggravated the situation even more. After a while, when the text was already in its final form, I invited Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan and asked him directly, saying the following:
“Dear Karen, Mr. Prime Minister, I think the solution may be my departure. Are you prepared to assume responsibility in this situation”
He immediately said yes, which I appreciated. I said, then let us agree as follows: we have to go to the presidential office after a while (there was a consultation with the participation of His Holiness), immediately after that consultation you can go to the isolation ward to tell them that I am going to resign later today, let them defuse the situation. Note that the next day was April 24. So, agreed!
Was there any talk about handing over power to them?
No, it was about my resignation.
Mr. President, they celebrated it as their victory on April 23. Maybe Karapetyan told them something else?
I do not think Karapetyan could have told them anything else. Karapetyan did not talk to them about the transfer of power. Karapetyan told them that I was resigning. After that, I showed Karen Karapetyan the text of my resignation, and removed a paragraph at his request. This was the third edition.
I feel that we are just making a smooth transition to the events of 2018 with questions like this.
One clarifying question and let us summarize this topic. Mr. President, as I said at the outset, the occasion of our meeting is mostly different. Releasing the current authorities from prison on April 23 through the mediation of Karen Karapetyan, you made it clear to Karapetyan that you were not handing over power to them, but you were handing over the government to Karapetyan. Can you say that it was the message, and your message to Karapetyan was that you did not hand over power with the calculation of transferring it to the incumbent government, but you trusted him to run the state?
That is it. Besides, I was Prime Minister on April 23, while Karen Karapatyan was the First Deputy Prime Minister. I do not mean at all that I am not to be blamed for bringing them to power. No, I am just telling the truth and I am saying it directly, without blaming Karen Karapetyan.
That is it. Besides, I was Prime Minister on April 23, while Karen Karapatyan was the First Deputy Prime Minister. I do not mean at all that I am not to be blamed for bringing them to power. No, I am just telling the truth and I am saying it directly, without blaming Karen Karapetyan.
Well. Negotiation process. Mr. President, the Prime Minister has repeatedly stated that he allegedly inherited a negotiation package from you, in which it was no longer possible to start or continue substantive negotiations. He literally said that all opportunities were exhausted, and therefore he started from his own point, not from your point. There was no possibility to negotiate Artsakh’s status, and it was only about the unconditional surrender of 7 regions, moreover, there was no guarantee that Azerbaijan would not present new conditions or demands. That is, in fact, in April 2018, the negotiation process was at a deadlock. That is it.
No, definitely not. What he said speaks only about the fact that he, even after working for almost 3 years as Prime Minister, that is, being the chief negotiator, did not understand the meaning of the negotiations, in general. He made such statements after the capitulation, and the representative of one of the co-chairing countries, Mr. Popov immediately hit back at his allegations.
You may not believe me, but we have no reason not to believe Mr. Popov, because if what Popov said did not correspond to the truth, the other co-chairs would immediately try to correct him, because no matter how much the USA, Russia and France have contradictions.
They agree on the Artsakh issue.
At least this was the question, because they cooperated, they did not hide anything from each other. I want to address the issues of principle, to say the following: that we have never negotiated about what we will give, we have always negotiated about what we will get. But the negotiations were a matter of giving or not giving for these people, which is nonsense, nonsense, maybe to some extent typical for such people. Our red line was that Nagorno-Karabakh would never be part of Azerbaijan. That was our red line, and we defended that line until April 23, 2018.
You see, the Prime Minister published an article entitled “The Origin of the 44-Day War,” where he evokes “your tenure,” the April War, and asks a rhetorical question, saying that if you were to prevent the war, then why did you not prevent the April war, why did you not provide us with a victorious outcome in the two years following the April war?
Now, look, Mr. President, is it possible to agree with the observation that the 2020 war was the continuation of the suspended April war, because at what cost did we stop the April war? You know better than me that, for example, there is information that we have verbally agreed to cede 7 regions at the cost of stopping the April war.
No never. Such an opinion has nothing to do with reality, and David, sorry, where did you get that information? In reality, such a thing did not happen. The April war was stopped with the mediation of Russia, which Azerbaijan accepted because it was inflicted upon a powerful counterattack during the hostilities, and, having suffered great losses, had to sit at the negotiating table. I said this in detail during my August press conference.
That is, the Armenian side has not paid any price.
We were expected to sign a new ceasefire agreement, with which we did not agree at all, we said no. You know, if we had other agreements there, because that meeting was a trilateral one, the third party, that is, co-chair Russia, would have announced it one day, at least because he would not damage his credit in this way, because the Russian side could not witness such a conversation, such an agreement without informing its partners about it, I mean the USA or France. Do you see how much the circle expands?
Just as the Russian Foreign Ministry announced through Popov what kind of document was on the table before the spring events of 2018, so it would announce that such conditions existed. And, on the other hand, if there was such an agreement, how did the package solution remain on the table until 2018?
Mr. President, the opposition, including the Republican Party led by you, accuses the incumbent government of withdrawing from the Vienna-St. Petersburg agreements, which should have established monitoring mechanisms on the line of contact. Okay, but during the two years following the April war, you were in power and failed to enhance the monitoring mechanisms and increase the number of observers. Why are you blaming this government now?
And who said that in 2 years we should have reached that coveted destination? Even when in 2007 we were offered a document called the Madrid Principles, it took Azerbaijan almost a year to give a preliminary agreement on those principles, to negotiate over that document. It would be a great loss for Azerbaijan, we have talked about it many times with the President of Azerbaijan, and he also realized that with this mechanism of investigation of incidents we were simply internationalizing the line of contact.
Anyone who is more or less aware of the negotiation process should have understood this clearly. Azerbaijan was well aware that the use of force after that would have very serious consequences for them, so I tried to avoid it by all means. And who said that one should get tired of that job, and who said that the task had a term of two years, a term of three years or a term of four years.
Mr President, we should have continued as it was a trump card in our hands.
Definitely. You know, when these authorities gave up our achievements and started learning about the negotiation history, so to speak, from Aliyev, it was already obvious to me that we were going towards a defeat, we were going to war.
You see, I understand their wish that they were trying to gain time, maybe during that time to get acquainted in detail with what we had been negotiating, where we had reached, but that time had to be gained for a very simple, understandable reason. They should have said: “Mr. Co-Chairs, yes, the former authorities were thieves, bandits, robbers, etc., etc., but, nevertheless, a war took place in 2016, following which you yourself made such a statement. Please, let us implement that statement, and then let us move on to substantive negotiations. Instead, they set an incomprehensible condition to the co-chairs and Azerbaijan.
That Artsakh should be back to negotiations.
That Artsakh should participate in the negotiation process. I think they thought that with that, as I said, they could gain time, because it was impossible, and secondly, they put that condition before Azerbaijan.
Was it a condition or a wish of the Armenian side?
It was a condition - the wish was ours, as we always said that it would be right for Nagorno-Karabakh to fully participate in the negotiation process. It was a wish that did not become a condition. And in this case it was a condition, because they said that there would be no negotiations without it. Can you imagine what it means for Armenia to impose conditions on the Co-Chairs, Russia, the United States and France?
It means failure of negotiations.
It meant not only failure, it meant disrespectful attitude towards those countries, which made great efforts to solve the problem. The Presidents of the Co-Chair countries had stated five times about the format of negotiations, the principles on the basis of which this issue should have been resolved. And there comes someone who ignores all that and says no, I have to start the negotiations from my own point.
Mr President, throughout the negotiations, the First, Second Presidents of Armenia and you kept stating that it was acceptable for us to return territories at some cost. It was one of the elements of the negotiations. If this is so, if the return of lands has been discussed, then why do you accuse today’s government of giving back those lands? Recently, an idea was voiced in the parliament that we had been on the losing side over that past 20 years, starting from October 27, as the issue of returning lands and conceding territories had been continuously discussed.
David, I have to repeat that we looked forward to what we were going to gain. Second, I cannot agree with you that the incumbent authorities have returned territories. No, they lost them, they handed over land. These are two different things.
They capitulated Armenia, defeated our army. Following our achievements in the early 1990s, throughout the 2000s, from the very first day of coming to the presidency, I have said in various terms that I see the solution to these problems only through compromise. Do you remember me saying in parliament that Aghdam was not my homeland?
Of course I remember, it was manipulated a lot later.
Do you remember that it was not only manipulated then, it was exploited recently, when insane people, people who do not have a good idea of the reality, took selfies against the background of Aghdam and said that Aghdam is their homeland. We all saw how they kept that homeland.
I even remember the continuation of what you said: You say that Mirbashir (Tartar) was not our homeland, but, for some reason, they were fixed only on Aghdam, while Mirbashir had never been ours.
Because Aghdam, at least the city, was under our control.
And it was our security zone.
Yes, so please always distinguish between giving and returning.
Mr President, you have admitted several times that in 2011 you were prepared to sign the Kazan document, Aliyev did not agree, at the last moment he tried to make some corrections. The essence of the Kazan document, we will now come to what we were getting, because you say that the main thing is what we get, we were talking about certain territorial concessions. Until 2018, that is, during those 7 years in 2011-2018 when you were president, we, in fact, artificially delayed the status quo, tried to gain time by assuming that time works in favor of the Armenian side.
No, I do not agree. I cannot agree not only with the theory of procrastination, with the idea, I do not agree with your idea that the Kazan document presupposed territorial concessions. The Kazan document presupposed the status of Nagorno-Karabakh outside Azerbaijan. I say again, throw away from your head what we were going to give, you think about what we were going to have.
We would get an internationally guaranteed status.
We would have an internationally guaranteed promise that the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh should be determined by the free will of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, which would have a binding legal force, the agenda of which is not limited by anything. It allowed us to go very calmly through the solution of the problem, yes, through compromises. In addition, we could have an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh, which, like the President of Azerbaijan, the Co-Chairs described as “today’s reality plus.” With this intermediate status, Nagorno-Karabakh received 7 security guarantees, the first point of which was the following: the security of Nagorno-Karabakh is ensured by the NKR self-defense forces, Armenia was to be officially recognized as the guarantor of NK’s security, the results of elections and the judicial system in Nagorno-Karabakh should be recognized by the international community, the involvement of peacekeepers, etc.
Reliable land connection with the Republic of Armenia.
I will return to that now. And NK was getting the right, please listen carefully, to join the international structures, for the membership of which independence was not a necessary condition, and that was a plus. And until the day of NK independence, before the day of the referendum, we had the Lachin-Kelbajar regions under our control.
Do you mean the return of 5 districts?
Yes. There was no talk of a land border or a corridor.
We would not have given the Lachin region to think, that is, at least at that moment we would not have given it.
Neither Karvachar. That is, in terms of Karvachar, there was some interconnectedness. I do not want to go into details, because it is first of all for specialists, not for the general public. Four committees were to be set up: one of those committees should deal with the referendum, the other – with the evacuation of our population, the Armenian population, the Azeris from Karvachar, but it was never handed over under the control of Azerbaijan, they were interconnected. The further the idea of the referendum went, the closer the day got, the more this problem might be solved in parallel.
Were the Azeris not going to take part in the referendum?
No, of course not.
Should Artsakh participate with its standing composition?
It was very clearly stated who should have taken part in the referendum, etc.
Was the question decided, Mr. President, what question was going to be put to the referendum?
No, the agenda was not limited to anything. In other words, it meant that the NKR authorities had to decide on what agenda the referendum would take place.
Very well, now you are retelling the content of the Kazan document.
I will continue now. As it is known, the Azeris refused to sign the document in Kazan, but on June 11, 2011 we received a letter signed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that the talks were over, the text was finally agreed, on June 24 in Kazan it was proposed to sign the text. As far as I can remember, on June 23, President of the United States, Mr. Obama, called me and said that he strongly encouraged us to show courage and sign that document. I also received a letter to the same effect from the President of France, Mr. Sarkozy. In both cases, I replied that we were ready to sign this document, but I was almost sure that Azerbaijan would refuse to sign it. We went to Kazan, I talked about it in detail in the report with Kiselyov, etc.
There have been many speculations about it, too.
It is being speculated because they view the matter from a narrow perspective.
They only talk about the return of 7 regions.
It is speculated on the part of “non-conservatives” because they did not listen when I said that superstition would destroy us, and some day we might have to sing “Stepanakert-Stepanakert” in Yerevan. Anyway, Azerbaijan refused, after that there were meetings, some contacts, meetings even with Aliyev in Vienna, etc., but it must be said that the situation was relatively calm, there were no active negotiation processes as such. If you remember, some tension emerged in 2014.
The August micro-war, yes.
And, during the meeting with the head of one of the co-chair countries in 2014, he asked me directly, he said: “Serzh, can you honestly tell me your goal in the Karabakh issue? Do you want the problem to be solved or do you want to maintain the status quo?” I honestly said that I wanted to solve the problem. I did not want to leave this problem on the shoulders of the next generations. The next question came back, and in your opinion, how can this problem be solved? I also said the following directly: in my opinion, the problem could have two solutions: a final solution and a half-solution.
I see the final solution as follows: Azerbaijan recognizes that NK is independent, recognizes the fact of NK independence. In that case, I return to Yerevan and tell my teammates that we need to return those 7 regions held as a security belt, we keep a sufficient corridor to communicate safely with Nagorno-Karabakh instead of today’s 2.5kn-long one. Then I go to Nagorno-Karabakh, I convince my comrades-in-arms, the NKR leadership that this is the right solution. And when I get agreement in both places, we start to make this idea public. But I did not guarantee that I could implement this idea.
But you were ready.
But I was ready to take on the burden, because I was convinced it was the right solution. This was the first option. The second option was as follows.
Yes, Azerbaijan recognizes that the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh should be determined by the people of Nagorno-Karabakh without any time limits. Azerbaijan ought to accept it, the international community should confirm it. In that case, I return to Armenia, I assure my teammates that in case of such a half-solution, we are obliged to return 5 regions to Azerbaijan, get an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh.
But the second option would not guarantee the future in any way, as the Azerbaijanis could never have recognized the right of the people of Artsakh to self-determination, referring to the future.
Yes. That option was ruled out, because in that case the Azerbaijanis would never get back either Lachin or Karvachar. In other words, the point was that the date of returning Lachin and Karvachar to Azerbaijan was closely connected with the referendum on NK independence.
Is that why we said 5 + 2, not 7?
Yes. In other words, both versions I mentioned were simply based on the Madrid principles, the Kazan document. And it is not accidental that the Russian Foreign Minister, the Co-Chairs, the Minsk Group Co-Chairs, the Russian representative Popov kept stating even until the last statement that any version more or less complied with the Madrid Principles of the Kazan Document.
Mr. President, including the Lavrov plan, which he started talking about after the April war? And I have to ask a clarifying question: the First President recently announced that in his impression, you were ready to accept and sign Lavrov’s plan after your re-election. First of all, let us see whether it is a modification of the Kazan document, in general, was there such a document? Were you ready to sign it in 2018 after your re-election?
First of all, I must say that the Lavrov Document did not exist as such. What do we call Lavrov document? The second version mentioned above, that is, a modified version of the Madrid Principles of the Kazan Document, was proposed by Lavrov on behalf of the Co-Chairs, and there was never a so-called negotiation process in which the Co-Chairs proposed their ideas separately. It always used to be mutually agreed. This is what is called Lavrov Document and Kazan Document. By the way, I am sorry to deviate a little, the Kazan document is the only document - at least until 2018 it was the only document - that became a working paper and is kept in the OSCE Depository. There was no other working document.
So, there is no Lavrov Plan as a working document.
I want to talk a little bit about that, because many do not have an accurate idea of what a working document means, what a proposal means, what does a paper mean that you are given to get acquainted with?
A working document is the one through which the mediators introduce a solution, the parties say yes, the document can be negotiated and agreed upon. And the work starts according to the lines, principles, etc. That is a working document, not something that the Co-Chairs can often do by expressing their ideas in writing or orally.
There can be many ideas, but no further discussion is held when you get acquainted with an idea and say at once that it is impossible to discuss it. I suppose that as for the document forwarded to the parties in April 2019, including the Armenian side, the latter most likely said, yes, discussions can be held on that document. Otherwise, should it had been rejected, other proposals would have been be submitted, or the co-chairs would say from the beginning that their proposals were rejected.
Was it in the logic of a phased settlement? What can we judge from what Lavrov said?
Do you remember that Lavrov first announced about it in the spring of 2020, a year later. In other words, the Co-Chairs wanted to say that they had given a document to the parties; they had received assurances that it was possible to discuss and reach an agreement, but one of the parties, namely the Armenian side later refused to follow up the negotiations.
Yes, in my deep conviction, it was a phased version, because why should the Armenian side abandon the package version? As for why there was a phased version, it is a matter of another discussion. No, I can almost imagine why this happened, but before that I would like to explain once again what a package version means, and what a phased version means.
A package version is when the negotiating parties, the parties that have reached an agreement, know everything from the first step to the last one. Starting with something, the parties know what they will achieve in the end? And one of the most important features is that after getting something in the package version, neither of the parties can turn the table, saying I do not negotiate anymore, because compromise is binding, equal, you can lose something in case of withdrawal.
It is obvious that the package version cannot be fully implemented at once, it is implemented in stages. The charm of this package is that you get something and in return you give away something else. If the process stops halfway, you are no longer giving up your vital interests. And the phased option is when you make concessions against something unequal and a pledge that it may prove advantageous in the future, while it is a matter of appreciation for being such.
Mr. President, was the First President right in his conclusion, were you ready to sign that working version if you continued in office?
Not only was I ready to sign, but I exclusively agreed to remain the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia to materialize that option. And I did not need to sign it in secret, but of course, when we would have achieved what we were striving for, then that option - I do not say we would put it up for a referendum - would have been made a subject of public discussion.
I was not sure that the majority of our society could have supported it, but if we had the opportunity to turn the wheel of history and return to 2018, I think 99% of the population would have been in favor of it.
Mr. President, why did you not say it openly and honestly then, even at the most difficult moment?
I said, and I said it openly. Perhaps, I did not say much.
You did not say much.
But I said that in the days of the April events, when more than 60 beneficiaries of the Luys Foundation sent me a letter urging me to resign. I explained to them that the only reason I was staying was to solve this problem. I have said about it many times before.
I admit my failure, maybe I said little, but if I had said too much, would it have helped the case? But what would we get as a result? I want to say about this too, it is quite interesting. As it is clear that Azerbaijan was reluctant to continue negotiations on those conditions, we thought of an option to have three documents: to sign a document with Azerbaijan that did not fully meet our minimum wishes. I mean the following: the first point, when talking about the free will of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, was formulated, as I said, in the following way: the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh is determined by the free will of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, which has a binding legal force. That last paragraph, the last phrase was categorically not enough for Azerbaijan, because the first two formulas fitted into their Constitution, which provides that there can be no referendum on the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. That is why the idea was to sign a document with Azerbaijan without the aforementioned clause: “the agenda is not limited to anything.” Simultaneously we would have a statement issued by the Co-Chairs, featuring that missing clause. Also, we would have a relevant UN Security Council resolution within reasonable deadlines.
When was that agreement reached?
We already had that agreement in the fall of 2016, after the April war. In other words, this once again refutes the stupid idea that we allegedly agreed to return 7 regions to Azerbaijan following the April war. We cannot rule out that those drafts will be published sooner or later. I just want to stay within the bounds of ethics. I do not mean those people who consider themselves my opponents, but the co-chairs.
Patience always brings good results. For about two and a half years I refrained from disclosing what we had been negotiating about before 2018, did I? But the time came and it was officially posted on Russia’s Foreign Ministry website…
Mr. President, we were much more shocked by a recording that was posted on the Internet a few months ago, made on October 14, 2016 in Yerevan and featuring your conversation with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. Mr. Lukashenko offers you 5 billion U.S dollars in return for surrendering seven regions to Azerbaijan, to which you hit back: “I will give him 6 billion dollars, let him give up those regions.” I understand that it may sound a bit ridiculous, but if you had those six billion, why not spend it on armaments?
I think that those who spreading such accusations understood very well what I meant. By the way, I had had such a conversation with Aliyev even before that.
Did he personally offer you that money?
No, there was no such offer made either personally or at a state level; it was just said that way. I was just saying the following: Karabakh could not be subject of a bargain. We cannot look for a bargain on our homeland, not on all those people who gave their lives for Artsakh to be free and independent. Rest assured that if Aliyev had agreed to that, we would have raised those six billion within a very short time. I am confident that all the rich Armenians, not only the rich, would back me on this issue. Simply, my answer was not a joke, but a dry one: if you want to settle the issue, I can pay more, if your standards are measured in money, I give a higher price.
Mr. President, do you consider it possible that this proposal was made to your successor?
I cannot rule it out; at least it became known that Aliyev and the Capitulator had been engaged in secret negotiations. It is known who conducted those negotiations. It is known that the so-called operative liaising officer from the Armenian side had handed a letter to the Capitulator. The latter did not say that there are unacceptable things here, but said very well.
I cannot say, I cannot deny that the proposal was made there, I cannot deny it, but the development of events gives everyone a full right to have a reasonable doubt. The series of mistakes that took place were either intentional, or they were due to conspiracy, or extreme ignorance. In order to reach a final conclusion, we must conduct an objective investigation, which is impossible in with these authorities in office. Everyone has the right to have a reasonable doubt.
Which do you think is more likely, what thousands of people are talking about now, or “Manvel’s stealing tinned stew?” I am convinced that there is no one in the country who believes that Manvel had stolen tinned stew, but tens of thousands are already talking about that suspicion.
I cannot claim that it is the case, nor can I deny it. What can make me deny it: the horrific events that took place during the war or the post-war developments? If Shushi was a ”dull and unfortunate” city, if Shushi is not “Armenian,” if a person has the cynical courage to claim such nonsense from the rostrum of the parliament, what right do I or others have to rule out the conspiracy scenario? They are arrogantly justifying their evil deeds without a feeling of bitterness and regret, without a hint of guilt, saying well, we gave it, what do you want else?
Yes, it is nonsense concerning Artsakh, but referring to Syunik, they are citing the law on Administrative Territorial Division as adopted during your rule, which provides a detailed description of Syunik’s external borders.
Experts have spoken about it, I do not want to give a professional assessment, especially because this law ceased to exist in 2017. But this is an opportunity to address another topic. Of course, then, as well as before and after that, we could not make the independent existence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic official with our laws. We could not write that the neighbor of the Republic of Armenia is the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
That is why it is written “the state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan.”
Yes, we could not write otherwise, because it would mean partial recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and recognition would mean ending the negotiation process, and as we saw, putting the negotiation process at a deadlock leads to war. But if we go back a little and remember the days of the April war, then during the meeting with the ambassadors accredited to Armenia, I announced that if this war lasted longer, Armenia would recognize the independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
Thank God, the war was short-lived, as a result of the war we had the Vienna-St. Petersburg agreements, and I thought it was too early to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence. I do not understand why the incumbent authorities did not recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh during those 44 days.
Could it have been done in those days?
They should do it. If the Co-Chairs, the international community considered that the recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic by the Republic of Armenia in the negotiation process would lead to a deadlock in the negotiations and result in hostilities, what would they say if military operations were already on?
Now it is too late to recognize, Moscow says it is not time to discuss the status yet.
I think that sooner or later we will come to it, but we must show wisdom, be able to find the right time, we should do it at that time and tell the world that we recognize the independence in order to try to save the people of Nagorno-Karabakh from extermination. I think it would not hurt at all. Although, of course, in the event of such an outcome, I do not rule out that the Capitulator would be compelled to annul the recognition of independence.
In any case, the critical moment is lost, if there was no recognition during the war, now it will be much harder for our diplomacy.
I must remind you of an unprecedented exceptional event during the war: five former presidents of Armenia and Artsakh met, leaving aside all previous political disagreements. They expressed readiness to act for the sake of the state, to come up with a common position. We remember that the First and Second presidents of Armenia were prepared to leave for Moscow. Why not you, Mr. President?
First of all, I must say that the decision was really unprecedented, also because the situation was too challenging, so at the suggestion of two former presidents of Nagorno-Karabakh Bako Sahakyan and Arkady Ghukasyan we met and decided that there was a need to go to Moscow. For that we needed the current authorities’ approval, but most likely they did not want it because they did not support it in any way, but I think it would be useful.
Many people wonder whether it could be useful or not. I say that at least one of the co-chairing countries, at least the leadership of our ally – I do not mean a meeting with the Russian President, I mean a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov - at least, as I said, the leadership of our ally, the Co-Chair would see that there is another widespread opinion in Armenia. That was the point.
Do you mean the government showed no willingness? Was there no response to your initiative?
No, they advised that the former presidents should go on their own and meet other officials.
Did they not even grant a status of special envoy?
It was not even about the status, it was about the fact that with the current authorities in office we should not put our Russian partners in an awkward situation, and the authorities were just expected to say that they were not against that meeting, that is all. But it was not done.
Mr. President, we were talking about recognition a while ago. The recognition was not done de jure, but de facto the Prime Minister stated in downtown of Stepanakert: “Artsakh is Armenia Period.” It is true that it was not unequivocally perceived by the international community, the Co-Chairs were puzzled, while Azerbaijani president Aliyev started to exploit the thesis, but at least on a verbal level it was recorded to whom Artsakh belonged.
I think that despite the fact that many people accuse the author of the statement, saying he thus damaged the negotiation process, I look at it from a slightly different perspective. I think that the statement was not addressed to Azerbaijan, or the Co-Chairs: although both Azerbaijan and the Co-Chairs could and did have the right to perceive it that way.
As far as I understand, that statement targeted the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. What he meant was “I am the master here, the ruler, I am the one who decides who should be elected as president.” It was proved later in the presidential election, and so on and so forth. In other words, he needed a puppet leadership in Karabakh who would not even slightly oppose in any issue, he achieved his goal. I can clearly state that the sovereignty of Nagorno Karabakh has never been so much humiliated, or diminished as it was after 2018. Never.
There was not even such a hint in Robert Kocharyan-Levon Ter-Petrosyan relations, and afterwards, when Robert Kocharyan was the President of Armenia, and Arkady Ghukasyan - the President of Nagorno Karabakh, there was absolutely no such thing, there was no such thing when I was the President of Armenia, and Bako Sahakyan was the President of Karabakh.
Were there even no disagreements?
Yes, there were disagreements, but those disagreements did not hinder, I think, normal relations are characterized by the fact that the truth is born in that debate, but not in contradiction. If we do not respect that institution ourselves, what do we expect from others?
Why should foreigners respect and accept the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities, if we do not accept them? If at the anniversary of Armenia’s independence attended by the RA President, Prime Minister, the Catholicos, they stupidly call the President of Karabakh “Governor of Nagorno-Karabakh” and no one reacts, why Azerbaijan should or the Co-Chairs say “President of Nagorno-Karabakh?”
They said there was a lapse, which was not done on purpose.
Was it not possible to correct the lapse on the spot? Was it a show or a political event? Such a gross political mistake should have been corrected on the spot. Then how do they explain the other cases, when their supporters while allegedly holding a rally in Yerevan stated that the head of the Nagorno-Karabakh leader should be crushed? Whereas now when some people call for physical violence against the Prime Minister, they immediately end up in jail, does it mean that was allowed than and it is not allowed now? If our attitude is bad, others’ attitude will be much worse.
At the same time, he said he was trying to return Artsakh to the negotiation table as an independent party, didn’t he?
This was done for two goals. One goal was to gain time, and the second goal ... I will keep silent on that, but I must say that we warned about the risks of that thesis in time. Through statements of Armen Ashotyan, Sharmazanov, and various politicians, we warned that this would trigger some harsh reaction, and they would start a process of reinstating the Azerbaijani community in Nagorno-Karabakh, and as we saw, the ambassadors initiated meetings and so on. In other words, such an approach was not acceptable.
Mr. President, during the last war, one of the three main principles of the settlement- the principle of non-use of force or threat of force - was violated. For 25 years we have heard statements that there is no military solution to the Artsakh issue. Why were the Co-Chairs silent on this issue during the 44 days of the war and after that?
Yes, it was violated, and why should the Co-Chairs have spoken about it, when one of the parties had repeatedly neglected their statements, as well as started negotiations with Aliyev in secret from the Co-Chairs and told the Co-Chairs: “Put aside what you said, this is what I want.”
I think we made a tactical mistake by referring to the events without showing evolution. What happened after this Capitulator started announcing that he was negotiating from his own point, and that everything was bad, Karabakh should participate in the negotiations, etc.? Those were mere words, but they became a document at the end of 2018, when for the first time after ten years’ wordings, the three principles were changed to “a just solution” at the OSCE Ministerial Conference.
It was said to be an achievement then.
If you have no idea of the process, any process can seem like an achievement.
In other words, at that time the negotiations were already out of the way of decades’ track.
Yes, of course, because you replace the three principles with an indefinite "fair solution", and for whom is it fair?
The Prime Minister said it should be fair to all three peoples.
But what is fair to me may be unfair to you and the opposite. And the absurd thesis of a solution acceptable for the three peoples led to war, because, as we understood, the war was the solution acceptable for the people of Azerbaijan. And in general, what does it mean: “to three peoples”? Does it mean we are two different peoples in Armenia and Karabakh? Every statement, acceptable as they call it, but nonsense in essence, can be packed like that, and we saw the result.
Let me return to your question. If you withdraw the principles, including non-use of force, what should the Co-Chairs do if you do not want that principle to exist?
Then, at the recommendation of others you realize that it is important, you try to return to saying that the Madrid principles are useful, then you put forward some Munich principles again, how do you expect the Co-Chairs to take guidance? I am not trying to justify anyone, I am just explaining the situation.
On May 20, the Prime Minister announced at the National Assembly that both we and Azerbaijan were constructive. This was an exceptional statement, I do not remember any other Armenian leader ever say that Azerbaijan is constructive. What do you think was constructive about Azerbaijan?
And why do you only refer to former leaders of Armenia? Give an example of any president or leader of any conflicting country calling the leader of adversary “constructive”? He may be called literate or civilized, but how can he be called constructive? If he is constructive, if the Capitulator describes Aliyev’s moves as constructive, then he should explain which moves he meant, did he mean starting hostilities, or were there any secret agreements, or did they make secret promises to each other and Aliyev did not keep the promises?
On the other hand, Aliyev says that the Armenian side has not fulfilled its promises. Aliyev made humiliating statements many times, but there was no reaction, and before the war, when I tried to react to Aliyev in some way, Aliyev and this capitulator joined efforts to fighting against me. It seems to be fairly strange.