Interview of Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan to the Public TV

10 April, 2020

Petros Ghazaryan: Good evening Minister. Thank you for taking your time for this interview. So, as the borders immediately closed down, many citizens of Armenia found themselves locked in different countries. What is the situation? How many returned citizens do we have? How many citizens are remaining abroad and what is the country-based situation?

Zohrab Mnatsakanyan: Thank you, Mr. Ghazaryan: You know, today, ensuring the return of our citizens is one of our very important and essential functions. It is our great responsibility and obligation. This pandemic has completely changed the logic of our regular life, and no country or region remained unaffected.

As everyone else, we also needed to correctly define and find formulas of our actions to consolidate main measures being undertaken in our country, and to carry out our functions as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The most important issue is to stop and prevent the spread of the pandemic in our country, to ensure necessary resources and opportunities to confront it.

This was the very logic behind the actions of the Government of Armenia aimed at three directions: first, to ensure the necessary environment and measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic. In this sense, the works of the Office of the Commandant have been and remain extremely important. Second, to reduce the pressure of the pandemic on our normal lifestyle, and for this purpose the Government of Armenia has adopted social packages of necessary measures. And third, to create an environment where, after returning to normalcy, we can restore normal functioning of economy and our life. In this regard, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has its own share to play by joining actions with other agencies under the coordination of the Commandant’s Office.

And regarding the supplies, my colleagues in different countries played a great role in providing medications, equipment and other supplies we needed, and I really appreciate their work. One of the latest examples was the special flight from China that transported necessary supplies we purchased. It also delivered a donation from our Chinese partners. All this had to be organized in order to gather all the supplies from different parts of China to our rented warehouse, to provide all the paperwork, to ensure the permits for the flight, and all that has been organized. We are currently preparing for the second flight. All other Embassies, for their part, also carry out this function.

Under these circumstances, you realize that international cooperation is very important. Particularly now, during this unregular and difficult time, the importance of international cooperation is even more valuable and we really appreciate the cooperation established with many countries.

We also have a necessary and important goal - to ensure normal work of cargo transportation. We experienced some difficulties due to the weather conditions. Our Embassy in Georgia and our Consul General in Rostov-on-Don were directly monitoring and negotiating with our partners to ensure the normal functioning of cargo transportation.

As for our citizens: this issue is very important, very essential. And here we should combine two important functions - to ensure the smooth operation of our healthcare system and security of our citizens, either by returning them to Armenia or organizing their safe stay in countries they currently are.

Petros Ghazaryan: While speaking about the return, Mr. Minister, do we have some numbers?

Zohrab Mnatsakanyan: Yes, we are constantly in touch with our citizens registered in our Embassies. According to our data, 63,322 citizens of Armenia returned to Armenia since March 1. 1870 citizens of Armenia in 47 countries are registered in our Embassies.

Petros Ghazaryan. Mr. Minister, how many citizens of Armenia do we have abroad willing to return to Armenia?

Zohrab Mnatsakanyan. We have 1870 registered citizens. At an early stage, we urged our citizens to interrupt their trips and return to Armenia. Most of them followed this advice, and we have the number: more than 63,000 citizens returned to Armenia. We organized the transfer of our citizens from Italy. We supported our citizens during their return from different countries by coordinating, guiding them on issues related to the tickets, finding the best options of return and cooperating with our partners. We have a successful cooperation with Georgia in terms of arranging the return of our citizens.

The unity of our citizens is very much appreciated in this situation. I have a lot of appreciation and respect towards the citizens who unite around our Embassies, ​​our representatives and thus bring their support to our efforts.

We have a very good example: our compatriots working in the U.S. healthcare system created a framework of supporting our citizens. We have the same example in the Russian Federation when our compatriots and citizens bring their support to address the problems our citizens faced amid this situation.

Petros Ghazaryan. Mr. Minister, we learned about the cases when our citizens were willing to return to their homeland, but we had to refuse, because we do not have sufficient medical capacities here. Is this true?

Zohrab Mnatsakanyan: It is essential to combine individual solutions and framework solutions. We also compare the capacity of the healthcare system for our population here and the obligation to return our citizens. 

During the last week, 440 of our compatriots from the Russian Federation returned to Armenia via two flights. And now we are preparing grounds to continue this process.

With individual and systematic approaches we try to address every single issue, every single case based in a reasonable way and within our capacities. 

Petros Ghazaryan. Does the country take care of people's needs? I mean the citizens abroad who cannot return now.

Zohrab Mnatsakanyan. Yes, we have many examples when we were able to provide support within our capacities: tickets, stay and other issues in order to reduce the pressure created amid this situation.

Once an opportunity arises, the transfer of our citizens to Armenia is ensured. After returning to Armenia, it is important to ensure the integrity and safety of our healthcare security system and the requirement of a 14-day quarantine regime pursues that very objective.

For this very moment our 10 students from Israel must have already crossed the Armenian border. Our 34 young students from the United States are on their way - this is an example of successful cooperation with our partners in the U.S. and Georgia. They will reach Tbilisi and then be transferred to Armenia. I am sure they will be in Armenia tomorrow morning.

Petros Ghazaryan. Recently, despite the pandemic, we have witnessed the increase of provocations by Azerbaijan. Moreover, they often target not only the line of contact with Artsakh, but also border with Armenia in the Tavush direction. How would you comment or explain this situation and, in general, is the Minsk Group process still going on and if yes, then in which format? How did the coronavirus affect the negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh?

Zohrab Mnatsakanyan. The coronavirus really had a certain effect on the peace process. At this moment, the monitoring of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office has been suspended. Naturally, in these conditions, the primary task is to maintain the ceasefire, so that we can concentrate all our resources and forces in the fight against the coronavirus. In this regard, the statement made by the Co-Chairs was very commendable. We also welcome the United Nations Secretary-General's call to establish a global ceasefire in the world.

Yes, the ceasefire violations by Azerbaijan have been registered, and we immediately responded to it, we used the direct line as well. Unfortunately, we had three wounded, one of whom was a 14-year-old boy. We immediately addressed it.

Maintaining ceasefire is a priority. Although in some way the normal logic of work is disrupted, we are in constant contact with the Co-Chairs and the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office.

I hope that the Azerbaijani side will also take that responsibility, first of all, before its own people, because, I repeat, we all know that the coronavirus bypassed no one. And under these circumstances, it is more than irresponsible to undertake such violations, and I hope that the Azerbaijani side will eventually demonstrate a higher level of responsibility.

No meetings are being held now, but we are in constant contact with the Co-Chairs, and we assess the way to preserve the continuity of the peace process.

Petros Ghazaryan: Mr. Minister, touching upon the elections in Artsakh. The second round of elections is expected soon. You are aware that there was a lot of criticism, including from Armenia, that the elections should have been postponed due to the COVID19 risks. You also know that the preparatory work of our diplomats to ensure the presence of international observing missions, roughly speaking, was in vain because of the cancelled flights. What is your assessment: is it right to hold the second round? How would you assess the elections in Artsakh?

Zohrab Mnatsakanyan. The elections in Artsakh are vital from three perspectives: human rights, regional security and the peace process. The elections in Artsakh exercise the right of the people of Artsakh to govern their public life. The elected authorities in Artsakh will continue to ensure the comprehensive security of the people of Artsakh.

Naturally, Armenia has been and remains the security guarantor of Artsakh. And after all, the elected authorities of Artsakh must receive and enjoy the mandate of the people of Artsakh to represent them in the negotiation process.

In this regard, the elections are more than important. The authorities of Artsakh have made their decision, taking into account all possible risks. Yes, you are right, regrettably the observation mission was cancelled due to the coronavirus, but in the end the elections are conducted by the people of Artsakh for themselves and not for the observers. The Artsakh authorities have made that decision, and we respect that decision.

Petros Ghazaryan. And the last question, Mr. Minister. The opinions voiced today suggest that the world will be different after the coronavirus. Do you see such a threat that the centers and vectors in the world will be changed? The global world and international relations are based on the openness of borders, democracy, the role of the state, human freedoms, and the world will be different. What is your opinion?

Zohrab Mnatsakanyan. It is a question which can be discussed for hours. In practical terms, yes, it is a very unusual situation, and a great challenge for everyone in terms of maintaining this normal environment of international relations. We have already had many challenges in the world and in our region, and many challenges in terms of comprehensiveness of our national security. Coronavirus has posed a new challenge, but our security environment has not changed either way. The question of the world during the coronavirus and in the future is a subject for a very long conversation.

When we encounter this global challenge, the importance and significance of international cooperation becomes more valuable for each and every country; we are all interconnected. In this sense, our primary priority is the comprehensiveness of our security system and our entire security architecture.

We have established security architecture, and for us, of course, the priority has been and remains maintaining that comprehensiveness through cooperation and engagement with our various partners, while maintaining all those frameworks that support and complement our national security.

Petros Ghazaryan. I thank you, Minister.

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