The One on One interview of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia Ararat Mirzoyan to TRT World

09 March, 2024

In the framework of participation in the Antalya Diplomacy Forum Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia Ararat Mirzoyan gave a “One on One” interview to TRT World. He discussed Armenia’s relations with the US and EU, the security situation in the South Caucasus, normalisation process between Armenia and Turkey, the key issues in negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. 

Yusuf Erim: Armenia’s Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan, thank you for joining us on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum.

Ararat Mirzoyan: My pleasure to meet You and thank you for this opportunity. 

Question: When we look at the region, it’s going through a very transformative period, whether we call it the South Caucasus, the post-soviet space. A lot of countries are experiencing geopolitical changes, and when we look at Armenia, especially over the past couple of years, it has broadened its network of allies, traditional allies versus a new network of allies. When you are at the helm of foreign policy for Armenia, what trajectory do you want to take the country? 

Answer: Well, indeed the region and probably the larger region, is passing through very serious transformations, including my country. In our case it’s also an internal affair, we have chosen, the people of Armenia has chosen the democratic path to build, to develop the society and we have proven this choice several times, through elections, but also through the process of strengthening our democratic institutions, and in this process we saw that the European Union, for instance, the United States of America, they are the main supporters of the Democratic changes in Armenia, institutional changes, and, and in addition it’s always a good idea to diversify relations, to have as many partners as you can. So this is the path that we’re passing through, we are right in the middle of a process of significantly deepening our relations with the European Union, with the United States of America, keeping the traditional ties or also looking to the East. You know that we are building completely new relations, for instance with India, etc. But also I would like to put an emphasis on our priority which is to normalise the relations with neighbours and to develop relations with neighbours first of all. This is the foreign policy to put the long story short.

Question: You talked about the European Union now. The EU has been expanding or enlarging at least, there is the Western Balkans. Have you ever thought about maybe EU membership in the future, whether it’s near or distant future, or maybe membership in NATO? Is this something that interests you or Armenian foreign policy in the future as part of this outreach towards the West? 

Answer: Well, especially having in mind all the challenges that we have been facing during the recent couple of years, three years, four years, many new opportunities are largely being discussed in Armenia nowadays, including, it will not be a secret if I say, the idea of membership in the European Union. I can add that the people of Armenia do have European aspirations, and as I said we’re passing through a process and we will see. No one can be sure or no one can predict the end of this process. 

Question: When you look inside the Western Camp the two countries that Armenia seems to have the best relations with, the United States and also France. How would you evaluate the current state of the relationship with these two countries and how are they supporting you going forward?

Answer: Well, we are exploring new opportunities with these partners, we have a strategic dialogue with the United States in frames of which, as I said, we are exploring new areas. The same I can say for the European Union. With the European Union, we have the CEPA agreement, and now we are looking beyond this agreement, what can be done beyond this agreement, we discuss visa liberalisation, we discuss several new tools that could be used in our relationship. I would also like to add that for the first time in history, the EU, for instance, is also involved in security affairs in our region. You probably know that there is an EU Civilian Mission deployed within the Republic of Armenia monitoring the bordering regions, the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and it’s important also to note that since the deployment, the tension on the border has reduced and we see that the mission has contributed to the stability. So, we add new and new areas, new and new directions, and we are still in the middle of the process. 

Question: We are here in Antalya right now at the diplomacy forum and the relationship with Turkey. When we look at that relationship, especially over the past year with the earthquake, Armenia supporting Turkey, the opening of the bridge that was closed for a very long time, as aid came through, and your Prime Minister coming to President Erdogan’s inauguration, it seems to have given new impetus to the normalisation process between both countries. How do you view the normalisation process right now and what’s missing to go the next step forward? 

Answer: Well, speaking about the earthquake and Armenian response, the support, I would like to take this out of the context of normalisation, because normalisation between two countries is political, and the earthquake, you know, it relates to the human lives, the families, the tragedy, I think these are the values, these are the situations where completely different feelings come to lead us, and what was done, what was done from the bottom of our heart, because, you know, we had our own earthquake in the north of Armenia, and then also, by the way, some assistance, humanitarian aid came through the border with Turkey. This time as well we sent our rescuers, also some humanitarian assistance, and the border was opened in order to let this assistance in and also let the rescuers go back after the work had been done. 

As for the normalisation process, you know that two countries have appointed special envoys, they have been discussing things quite intensively, also there were several meetings on the ministerial level, there were some interactions, conversations, meetings between Prime Minister Pashinyan and President Erdogan. Many things have already been done, many things are being discussed, many things are agreed, but still are not done, for instance, the opening of the border for third-country nationals, but also Armenian and Turkish citizens who hold diplomatic passports. This was agreed, unfortunately, this is not realised yet, but hopefully will be done in near future. And there are also some other confidence-building measures, on which we already agreed, like a joint project regarding the Ani bridge, the historical recovery and of the historical bridge, etc. So I would say knock on the wood, again we are in the middle of the process, but it’s also, already time to see very tangible things happening on the ground. 

Question: Generally, when we see the normalisation process and as you said confidence-building measures, the economy, bilateral trade play a very important role in building that confidence. How are you looking at trade between Turkey and Armenia?

Answer: Well, it’s very much like the story with chicken and eggs. One can say that trade should take place, and then the borders could be open, but I believe, and I strongly believe that if we open the borders, the business will pave its way on its own. So, here we are, we have, my impression is that we have political leadership and political will from both sides. So, we are almost there, I think, and if we make final steps, if we open the borders, then the economic ties will pave their way.

Question: I want to talk a little about Azerbaijan as well, that you’ve had meetings now for the past couple months, couple years we can even say. How do you view the prospects for peace? I mean peace not a ceasefire, a full normalisation. I understand it’s probably still a long road to go, but how do you view the prospects, where both countries are now diplomatically, where they need to be and what needs to happen for that?

Answer: Well, indeed we talk about not a ceasefire but lasting peace, and we negotiate over a draft of a peace treaty, but also there are several other tracks. Again we periodically have meetings between the leaders of the countries, we have negotiations on the level of Foreign Affairs Ministers. And I can say that on many things we have succeeded to agree, but also there are a couple of crucial, very important issues regarding which the stances of the two sides are still far from each other. And I would like to mention a couple of them, like the very important ones, the most important ones. 

First of all, the mutual recognition of territorial integrity, of borders and respectively the further delimitation process. The two countries have signed and ratified a document in 1991, recognizing each other’s territorial integrity, recognizing the borders. It was the Alma-Ata Declaration, and I won’t go too deep into details, but I would like to make sure that there is an understanding of what this document is. This is a document by which the twelve republics of the Soviet Union recognized that the Soviet Union stopped existing, first, and, secondly, that the administrative borders between former Soviet Republics became interstate, international borders. So, Armenia and Azerbaijan were among these twelve republics. We have done it. 

During recent negotiations our leaders reconfirmed their commitment and reconfirmed their devotion to these Alma-Ata Declaration principles: it was done in Prague, in 2022, and later in Sochi, in Russia and later in Brussels and on numerous other occasions. So two countries have reconfirmed that they acknowledge it, each other’s territorial integrity, and they agreed to have further delimitation of the border based on the Alma-Ata Declaration, this means based on the 1991 borderline. Unfortunately, when we try to make a reference in the draft of the peace treaty to the Alma-Ata Declaration, stating exactly what I just said, nothing more, we see reluctance from our Azerbaijani counterparts to sign under this, and unfortunately, so far, we have been seeing that they remove this part of the text. So this raises at least questions among Armenian diplomats because there are concerns that after all the atrocities, the hostilities that we have seen in our region, after the exodus of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh, from the ancestral homeland, the Azerbaijani side can still have further plans regarding this time already sovereign territories of the Republic of Armenia. To avoid all this scenario, to avoid misunderstanding if this is a misunderstanding,it is necessary just to write these sentences that I already mentioned into the text of the peace treaty, to sign it, ratify it and it’s done. 

Question: There have been a lot of platforms trying to bring Armenia and Azerbaijan together. The Georgians have worked on it, the Russians have worked on it, the Europeans have worked on it. I understand there is a long-standing animosity between both countries, so it might be a little naive or optimistic to think that diplomacy can mature immediately, that it may take some time for that bilateral animosity to be able to disappear and get to a state where both sides can talk more constructively. Out of the platforms, which platform do you feel most comfortable sitting down and talking at or you feel is more constructive?

Answer: A  short answer, on all platforms. The only problematic or missing component, at least according to my personal impression, is the political will from the other side to conclude the treaty.

Question: Have you talked with the Turks about the relationship with Azerbaijan, have they ever tried to mediate or at least bring both sides together on certain issues?

Answer: Yes, we have seen these kinds of attempts. Of course, with due respect, our response has been that to see any possible mediation, and this is not only about the Turkish side but to everybody in the world, we should also see that the intention and the position, initial position of the potential mediator or facilitator is completely balanced, is completely neutral. But everybody could say and could notice that the positions, at least the perception is that the positions of the two sides are almost identical and this is not the way that mediation is being done usually. But yes, we have shared our perception and there is a discussion about this, a constructive discussion about this as well. 

Question: One last question. I want to talk about trade routes and corridors now. When we look at what is going on in the world logistically, the international trade routes are being rewritten, the Middle  Corridor is now very important for going forward, linking China to European markets. They are talking about an India-Middle  East corridor which would be important, the development road, linking Iraq and Turkey to European markets, the Global Gateway in Europe, “Built back better” in the United States, “Belt and road” for China. What’s your view on corridors that would link Armenia and Azerbaijan to bigger networks going forward?

Answer: Of course, understandably Armenia is not only ready but is interested in becoming a part of the new logistic routes, new transit international routes and to make this conversation even more constructive, even more tangible, to prove our intentions and readiness, we came up with an initiative, we gave a title to it “Crossroads of Peace”, because we believe that if this plan, this initiative is realised it would be economically beneficial for all the countries, but not only all the countries in the region and beyond. And not only economically: if the “Crossroads of Peace” is realised it would also become another significant factor of peace in the region, because, you know, trade, interdependence, connectivity also bring some stability and peace. So this is our intention.

We introduced this initiative and still continue to present it to all possible partners. The idea is that, for instance, someone in Azerbaijan or the cargo, the passengers can cross the border with Armenia, pass through Armenia’s territory and then enter, for instance, Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, another part of Azerbaijan. And of course, the same can be for the citizens of Armenia when crossing the territory of Azerbaijan. But we envisage four conditions to make sure that everything is being realised in a proper manner: all the infrastructure which has been blocked for several decades should be unblocked under the sovereignty of the countries on which they exist. Secondly, the infrastructure should be operated in accordance with the national jurisdiction of the parties, also everything which is going to be done should be done in accordance with the principles of equality and reciprocity. The principles which I mention can seem and they are indeed quite natural, fair and everyone in the world would agree. What we hear from Azerbaijan is that they respect these principles, but, and they do not have an intention to violate our sovereignty, but in addition, they also suggest that some third-party forces be deployed along the railway, for instance. In addition, also the expectation is that their citizens, their cargo should cross the border of Armenia without any border crossing procedure, like passport control, customs control, etc.  Well, we believe, first in regard to the security issue, we can guarantee the security of cargo and the passengers passing through our territory. In regard to the procedures, we can simplify them, modern technologies, innovations allow us to find proper solutions. But of course, no one can enter our country and exit our country without even being registered.

Question: I also want to ask you about what is going on right now internationally, that is affecting the international order. You have a war in Gaza, you have a war in Ukraine, you have a case at the ICJ, you have potential new conflicts, you have old conflicts which have not been completely solved, or we haven’t seen a full peace whether it’s Libya, whether it’s Syria. When you are at the United Nations, and you are talking with your counterparts, why has this system, this post-World War II system not been able to solve any of these conflicts?

Answer: Well, I definitely can not answer why, but I can say that indeed many of our colleagues, practically everybody in the world says that the deterioration of international world order raised many issues, and now the political thought of the mankind should also make efforts to try new solutions to establish more just and lasting, stable world order based on international law, for the sake of humanity.  These are not only general words for us, these are what we have faced in our region. I already mentioned the exodus of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh, invasions into our sovereign territory, the conflicts that we have been in for decades and now we are trying to solve problems. But also as you said, we see that we are not unique in this issue and probably we should, as mankind, make some additional efforts and come to solutions which are not found yet unfortunately.  

Question: When you look at this system right now, whether it be the UN Security Council or the other apparatus of the United Nations, what would you want to change to make it a more fair system? For example, what’s going on in Gaza or what’s going on in Ukraine, I don’t know your exact position or thoughts on these, but I’m assuming you’re not happy that these are unsolved, at least unsolved with a diplomatic solution and the United Nations being the major organisation which is expected to bring peace to these types of conflicts, to be a conflict resolution centre, not being able to solve it. How would you like to see these reformed or what’s that missing piece that is leaving all these problems unresolved?

Answer: Enforcement is the missing piece. They adopt resolutions, they sometimes have solutions, they have the International Court of Justice. You mentioned the UN, and in our case as well, we have decisions, we have interim measures, but we don’t see the implementation on the ground, so international order does not work properly, and the missing part is probably enforcement.

Yusuf Erim: Yerevan’s top Diplomat Ararat Mirzoyan, thank you very much for joining us on “One on One”.

Ararat Mirzoyan: Thank you for this opportunity.

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