Opening remarks of the Foreign Minister of Armenia Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and answers to the questions of journalists at the joint press conference of the Armenian and Russian Foreign Ministers12 October, 2020
Dear Mr. Lavrov,
Dear media representatives,
First of all I would like to thank the Russian side, you Mr. Lavrov for your warm welcome and constructive dialogue. We had quite a meaningful discussion on a wide range of issues of our bilateral relations, as well as regional, international and global agenda. We have a high level of mutual understanding in all directions of our current agenda, which proves the high level of partnership and cooperation in the Armenian-Russian relations.
This official visit to Moscow was preplanned and I am very glad that we are holding it today, despite the current tension in our region. We highly value Russia’s active mediation efforts in the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and specifically in elaborating the agreement of October 9 on the cessation of hostilities for humanitarian purposes.
The relations between Armenia and Russia are anchored on allied cooperation which literally includes in all the spheres; we have a dynamic and multidimensional dialogue in all these directions. My colleague presented the agenda that we have discussed today, and the agreements that we intend to push forward.
We also highly emphasize the importance of maintaining the dynamics of high-level meetings, visits and contacts, which is in line with the strategic-allied nature of the Armenian-Russian relations.
Russia continues to be Armenia’s main economic partner. Amid the economic instability and the pandemic, our bilateral trade indexes remain high, despite the general decline in trade and economic activity. We are glad to see the dynamics of our relations maintained. Amid the restrictions cargo transportation continued without interruptions. Our Intergovernmental Commission has made a significant contribution to the development and strengthening of economic cooperation. Sergey Lavrov has already mentioned that in the near future we intend to work out the ways to organize an intergovernmental session, which is the most important platform for our economic cooperation.
Our countries effectively cooperate also on international platforms. Armenia is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Recently the meeting of the EAEU Intergovernmental Council was held in Yerevan. We are committed to spare no effort to intensify the continuous institutional development of the organization, which in turn should have a positive impact on raising the living standards of our citizens.
The military-technical cooperation between Armenia and Russia is of high importance. The development of strategic partnership in this direction is one of the priorities in our bilateral agenda.
We continue to make our contribution to the development and efficiency of the work of both the CSTO statutory bodies and the CSTO Secretariat. We highly emphasized the importance of implementing the principles of the collective security, as a factor of ensuring stability.
Dear colleagues, in any other circumstances we could have talked about the Armenian-Russian allied relations longer, about the seperate directions of our cooperation, however you understand that I have focused on the situation, which has already turned into a real security threat for our entire region. What our compatriots are encountering in Artsakh today is the embodiment of an existential threat which has ripened over the decades.
Since September 27, the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan has been carrying out large-scale aggression against the people of Artsakh, thus demonstrating its real objectives to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by force and physical annihilation of the people of Artsakh. Such a genocidal attitude of Azerbaijan does not distinguish between the military objects and the civilian population. Throughout the military aggression, the Azerbaijani armed forces shelled more than 120 civilian settlements in Artsakh, including densely populated cities such as the capital Stepanakert, Shushi, Hadrut, Martakert, Martuni and other cities.
The Azerbaijani armed forces are neglecting their obligations to distinguish between military targets and civilians. The absence of military objects in the vicinity of regions of Azerbaijan's attacks once again proves the deliberate manner of Azerbaijan's actions, which is equal to war crime.
Indiscriminate airstrikes with the support of the Turkish air force, using UAVs, heavy artillery, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers have resulted in numerous civilian casualties. There are many victims and wounded due to Azerbaijan’s use of cluster munitions.
As of October 10, more than 23 civilians were killed and more than a hundred were injured in the attacks carried out by the Azerbaijani armed forces and their supporting forces. 81 citizens were seriously wounded. Due to the aggression, the number of forcibly displaced people has sharply increased. Some of them moved to other settlements of Artsakh, whereas some moved to Armenia.
A huge damage was caused to the vital infrastructure and the biofund of the republic, more than six thousand civilian objects, including houses, apartments, shops were destroyed or damaged. More than 960 infrastructure facilities, public and industrial facilities - energy saving, communication, water supply, bridges, schools, kindergartens, cultural centers, workshops - were damaged. Twenty-five energy infrastructure facilities were completely destroyed, and numerous power plants were damaged throughout the country. More than 10 power units have become unusable or have been severely damaged.
The deliberate destruction of places of worship and historical and cultural monuments is particularly ferocious. On October 8, the Azerbaijani armed forces deliberately carried out two attacks on the Holy Savior Cathedral in Shushi, which is the most important cultural and religious symbol of Artsakh. As a result, civilians, including media representatives, were injured.
During this period, media representatives have also been a target for Azerbaijan, which resulted in serious injuries among the media representatives, both Armenians and foreigners. Specifically, the representative of the Russian media was seriously injured during the second shelling of the area where the Church of the Holy Savior is located.
I have presented the situation in detail, as the reality I described is the proof of the existential threat which we have been voicing for decades and which the people of Artsakh have been encountering for the last 30 years.
At this stage, this threat is complicated by two new negative factors: particularly, Turkey's direct involvement and its export of foreign terrorist fighters from Syria and Libya to the South Caucasus. Terrorist fighters and religious extremists are being used by Turkey to serve the interests of the current Turkish government and project its power to neighboring regions. Not only our sources have proved facts that Turkey exported foreign terrorist fighters from Syria to Libya and Azerbaijan, but it has also been recorded and voiced by the international community. By resorting to the help of pro-Turkish terrorist fighters, Azerbaijan has turned itself into a platform for expanding Turkey's influence and into a hub of international terrorism in our region.
This policy of feeding and encouraging terrorist organizations and providing them with corridors in the South Caucasus might lead to new waves of terrorist violence in our region and beyond.
Today we need to stop the hostilities. Russia's role in this issue is extremely important. I would like once again to highlight the importance of a joint statement that we were able to achieve just two days ago. Once again, I would like to thank Russia and specifically President Vladimir Putin for his active role, as well as my colleague Sergey Lavrov for his active work and involvement: as a result of our joint efforts, we were able to agree on a joint statement calling for cessation of hostilities and even establishment of a ceasefire.
Unfortunately, at present we can not state that we have made significant progress in terms of ceasing the hostilities. Azerbaijan is not fulfilling its ceasefire commitments.
Particularly, I would like to emphasize the need for verification mechanisms that will enable ceasing the hostilities and maintaining that regime. Only after the ceasefire is fully established we can move forward effectively on all issues.
Armenia remains firmly committed to only the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through negotiations and we will undertake all the efforts to promote that. Sergey Lavrov noted that today and tomorrow I will have meetings with my colleagues, OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, and we will continue to work in that direction. Although I would like to emphasize that the extremely negative impact and damage of the actions of Azerbaijan to the peace process can not be ignored. We must resolve this issue.
Armenia is the only security guarantor of the people of Artsakh and together we will continue to take all necessary measures to guarantee all the rights of the people of Artsakh, to claense the region of terrorism and its sponsors and their negative influences.
Once again, I would like to thank you, Mr. Lavrov, for the warm welcome and today's very constructive and meaningful conversations. We will continue the same way and I would like to thank you once again for your personal contribution to the cooperation and interaction between Armenia and Russia, our allied cooperation and for strengthening and deepening its foundations.
Thank you very much.
Question: Taking into account the events of the last two days, when the parties continue to accuse each other of violating the ceasefire, what the verification mechanism should be that will really allow establishing a ceasefire regime and ceasing the hostilities, and how will you respond to the allegations against Armenia for violating the ceasefire?
Answer: Regarding the verification mechanisms, I would prefer to be more careful in the sense that at the moment there are very clear, quite specific consultations on this issue, on the basis of our joint statement, where it is stated that our priority today is the strengthening of the ceasefire and the verification mechanisms.
Today we have this situation, when we have not yet reached the level where we can proceed to the implementation of the first point of our statement. Today, consultations are underway both with the involvement of the Red Cross and between the two sides or through the mediation of the Russian Federation, in order to find a mechanism when we will be able to start working clearly. And the Co-Chairs, of course, are also involved in all this, all three of us, so that we can start working, so that we can establish a solid basis for establishing a sufficiently strong ceasefire, so that we can start working on humanitarian issues.
If we do not succeed in extending this ceasefire, it will continue to have negative consequences, including on other issues, so maintaining and strengthening this ceasefire remains a challenge for us. It's our main and immediate priority. That is why verification mechanisms continue to play an important role. We have always talked about that. This is not the first time we have talked about this. If there are any allegations against Armenia or Artsakh, we always voice that. It is the very time to introduce these verification mechanisms. There have been many proposals in that direction. It should have been done a long time ago.
However, it is not the Armenian side, it is not the Artsakh side that have denied the verification mechanisms. It was the Azerbaijani side. And that is why we now have what we have. I can not accept any allegations against Armenia or Artsakh in the context of what is happening now. Armenia has been and remains the sole security guarantor of Artsakh, moreover, there is no other system. And for Artsakh this existential issue is now more than real, taking into account what is happening on their land.
Sputnik Agency: The President of Azerbaijan Aliyev announced that Turkey should play a more active role in the settlement of the conflict, both within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group and within other formats. In this regard, do you think that Turkey's more active involvement in the OSCE Minsk Group can promote a peaceful settlement, so is it possible to talk about other formats at all, if in a joint statement following the Moscow talks, Azerbaijan and Armenia reaffirmed their commitment that the negotiating format remains unchanged.
Zohrab Mnatsakanyan: For my part I can only add that, yes, the support to the current format is expressed in this latest document as well, meaning the joint statement of October 10. The fact that the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship is the most effective format, where they are working for a peaceful settlement, has never aroused any doubt in our country, especially now. We will continue to work actively within that framework. Besides, we have already mentioned that we should have a meeting today.
You understand that what is happening in the world, what is happening directly in Artsakh, is a vivid manifestation of aggression, the situations in which Artsakh appeared now, has a serious impact on our work, but our work will continue because our position has been and remains clear: there is no alternative to the peaceful settlement. And if Azerbaijan has chosen using the force as a method of advancing conditions or achieving its own maximalist goals, then in the region neither a peaceful settlement nor peace can find their place. That method has been rejected, it will be rejected very decisively. We should work and we are absolutely ready. We will continue to work on this together with the Co-Chairs.
What refers to Turkey's active role, sorry, but at the moment, Turkey's active role is reflected in the presence of foreign terrorist fighters in our region and with its active military support to Azerbaijan. Of course, you understand that such activity can not be welcomed.