Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s Exclusive Interview with CivilNet
Armenia’s Prime Minister responded to CivilNet’s request and came to our studio for an exclusive interview with Tatul Hakobyan. The interview was conducted on April 23, the anniversary of the day Armenia’s then-Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan resigned from his position in 2018. Excerpts from the interview are presented below.
THE CHALLENGES OF GOVERNANCE
During the past year, what has been the most challenging, unexpected, complicated issue? The Karabakh issue, Armenian - Turkish relations, or those with Russia, CSTO, or a domestic issue? Which one have you thought to be very difficult, that you couldn’t have imagined before.
Honestly speaking, the most difficult issue up to this day -- but it’s not like I didn’t realize it -- is shedding light on the corrupt system and restoring stolen resources from Armenia. That is the most difficult one, because it is clear that there is resistance, there may be resistance within the state bodies. Let’s not forget that 97 percent of the state officials are from the previous government.
And is that good?
It’s not about right or wrong, good or bad. Which was the most important issue that we had? Armenia underwent not only a change of power, but also constitutional transformation was in process. So Armenia was not only undergoing a revolution, but we were shifting from a semi-presidential form of government to the parliamentary one. And throughout the last year we were able to ensure stability and rule of law within the public administration bodies, the society etc. I have mentioned this Indian aphorism which says, “What is it you don’t notice until it’s gone?” The answer they give is “health” because when you’re healthy you don’t notice it and take it for granted. But when it’s gone, you start noticing it and missing it. On May 8 of last year, as well as prior and after, everyone was predicting that Armenia has entered a phase of inner political turmoil and instability. But today, in Armenia, it’s not just stability, it’s a democratic stability. Today, no one is unlawfully detained, no one has their mouth forcefully shut, no media is being pressured, no state TV is being told to show this and not that. And this is a democratic stability.
By the way, the opposition is blaming you, saying you’re wearing the “suit” that was made for Serzh Sargsyan, and that it looks good on you.
What is it manifested in? Have you ever seen Serzh Sargsyan going to any TV studio and giving interviews? When was the last time you ever came across such a phenomenon? We’re used to seeing the heavy chairs and the flags. The head of the country had previously arranged questions, the facial expressions schooled beforehand. Today, whose seat is Baghramyan 26, the prime minister’s or whose? How did that happen? Sargsyan had envisaged that despite shifting to parliamentarianism, Baghramyan 26 should remain his seat. Is it the case now? Is it the prime minister’s seat or it isn’t? Are the gates of parliament and Baghramyan 26 open now or they aren’t? Today, we say that out of 7 members of State Commission for the Protection of Economic Competition, I will present two from the oppositional blocs. And since there are only five members in the Public Services Regulatory Commission, the two oppositional parties will agree upon one candidate. I will request them to present three candidates, and I will present one of them as a member of Public Services Regulatory Commission, etc.
There have been certain changes in the legislation. But I want to emphasize that the dictatorial “suit”... For example, the Constitution of the Soviet Union during Stalin’s tenure was quite liberal. But it’s not only about the Constitution, it’s about the reality. And we’ve raised this issue. What were we constantly pointing out during Serzh Sargsyan’s government? That Constitution says one thing, but the reality is something else. Today, we’re acting 100 percent on what’s written in the Constitution.
Today, no one can doubt that the first and second articles of the Constitution are reality. Today, the Republic of Armenia is a sovereign, democratic state that operates with the rule of law. Does anyone doubt today that in the Republic of Armenia the power belongs to the people? Those who do, they just do not grasp what has happened, happening and will happen in the Republic of Armenia.
RELATIONS WITH PUTIN AND RUSSIA
Mr. Pashinyan, I’d like to ask what kind of relations do you have with Vladimir Putin?
Very good ones.
Very good relations?
There are rumors that Russians cannot reconcile with the idea that…
Today, I’ve talked to two Russian media and told them that there are two dimensions - there are the personal contacts which are the relations between myself and Putin, and there are the relations between the institutions. I want to make myself clear. Yes, there is an issue among the Russian elite with what happened in the Republic of Armenia, and it’s not a secret. There are individuals who came to power through a people’s revolution. And who are these individuals? They have previously been a political opposition. Political activists. And today, we know that those people who have had certain principles and did not want to cooperate with the previous authorities, they had to work in the public sector. That public sector, in many cases, has been receiving financial assistance from international organizations, among them organizations which are not perceived well in Russia and the post-Soviet space.
Why were these people there? Because they did not want to cooperate with the authorities, did not want to play by the rules of the authorities, they had principles and wanted to stay within those principles, and needed a certain field for their activities. With that field of activities, they have been representatives of the civil society. The civil society has had contacts with international organizations and has been financed by them. And stemming from this fact, we see mistrust in many cases, and I am sure that this mistrust that was created by the above mentioned circumstances, will be overcome with time. For example, I don’t think there are such issues with me in Russia. But as long as the representatives of those institutions have not had sufficient contacts with each other and have not been convinced that they are dealing with sovereign officials of a sovereign country, these issues will remain or come up. I don’t see any tragedy here.
I’d like to address a few questions about Karabakh. Do you really want to resolve the Artsakh issue? The question may sound absurd but I’ll explain why I’m asking this question.
I have already talked about it twice, publicly and semi-publicly. Do we, as a nation and society, want to resolve the Karabakh conflict or not? And if we do, what does it mean? And if we don’t, what does that mean? And if we want to resolve it, is each one of us ready to shoulder his / her share of the responsibility. And if we don’t want to resolve it, is each one of us ready to take the share of responsibility for it? Yesterday, talking about it at the Department of Economics at the State University. This is a very wide range of questions which is very important. I believe that a permanent resolution and peace is crucial for our region and our country.
It’s clear, we all want peace, but peace has a price. My question is, are we ready to pay a price for peace in Karabakh, because peace means painful compromises.
You know what question a representative of the Russian media asked me today? “Are you ready for compromise?” I said that I had answered this question last year, and that Armenia cannot be the sole addressee to this question. This question should equally and at the same time be addressed by all three sides of the conflict, and all three sides should answer this question in sync. Because, for example, I have repeatedly criticized the previous authorities, because when military rhetoric was heard from Baku, Armenia answered with “We are ready for compromise,” which was perceived as weakness. I do not agree with such a mode now. Those questions cannot be addressed by only one side of the conflict. The questions should simultaneously be addressed by all three parties to the conflict, and the answers of all three parties should be heard at the same time. They can even discuss the answer together and publicize it afterwards. But I refuse to work with such a framework, where such questions are addressed to only one side of the conflict.
And I tell this to everyone, the Co-chairs․․. I ask them whether the same question is addressed to Baku. Did they or do they not receive any answer? When you have the answer, say, on a paper in an envelope, I will then write my answer on a paper, put it in an envelope, then we can exchange the envelops and open it. [Smiles].
Do you understand Ilham Aliyev’s language? Do you understand each other’s languages, and what languages do you communicate in, Russian or English?
And do you comprehend each other well? I don’t mean this in the grammatical sense.
You know, the statement released after our last meeting in Vienna said that the discussion took place in a constructive and positive atmosphere. And this text is agreed upon. What does a constructive discussion mean? For me, the most important thing in this conversation is that we, directly, honestly, without any so called traps, speak and discuss directly. And honestly speaking, that conversation in general is a conversation which I think needs to continue, and I think it will be great if it does. And all the prerequisites exist for this conversation to go on.
Can you share what you talk about, approximately? Can I assume that you say that Karabakh cannot be a part of Azerbaijan in any form? And Aliyev says Karabakh cannot be out of Azerbaijan in any form?
I prefer not to have any secrets in regards to the Karabakh issue and any other issue in general, of course, if it does not entail state secrets or security secrets. My stance is that everyone needs to be informed about details of the Karabakh issue, because it’s not only an issue of the prime minister or the government. It’s the people’s issue, the national issue.
And why am I emphasizing this? Because, for example, let me tell you a recent episode from our conversation. I said I believe the leaders, regardless of whoever the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Karabakh are, cannot resolve the Karabakh conflict, because it’s the people who are to resolve the Karabakh conflict. No solution is possible, if it is not acceptable by the people. This was a very specific episode. In general, why don’t I share all the details? Not because there is a secret, but because it’s not correct, not right in terms of diplomacy. But I say and discuss whatever I’ve also said publicly. In the past, again, I do not have a close-mode conversation and open-mode conversation. They follow one another. The content, in general, during the discussions is the same as whatever was said publicly.
RELATIONS WITH TURKEY
Mr. Prime Minister, one of the most important issues for Armenia is its relations with Turkey, the closed borders. Should we sit and do nothing, or take some steps to overcome this abnormal situation? It does not mean that we should send messages to the Turks for them to have a better attitude. What should we do to get out of this situation? Do you think about this? Serzh Sargsyan thought he might start football diplomacy. Regardless of it being good, or bad, or being criticized, nonetheless it was a step taken. What do you think?
I think that the important issue is to raise Armenia's international reputation and make the voice of Armenia more audible to the international community in general. I think we are heading that way. And this is important for achieving certain results in all relations, including with Turkey. I also think that we should be restrained from this point of view, because the normalization of relations is necessary for Turkey to an extent as is it to Armenia. And we do not need to be head over heels into this, although it is a question that should be on our agenda. But our position should be very clear, principled and dignified. First of all, it should be based on mutual respect. And in this regard, Armenia's international reputation, the respect towards Armenia should continue to grow.
Since we spoke about the Armenian-Turkish relations, I want to speak about its most important component, especially because your oppositionists are criticizing you, saying that a year has passed, but you haven’t talked about the Armenian Genocide. Tomorrow is April 24. What do you say in this regard?
Who says so? Our government program on the Armenian Genocide very clearly articulates that the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide should continue. This process goes on. The Italian parliament recently adopted [the Italian Chamber of Deputies adopted an initiative calling on the government to recognize the Armenian Genocide - Ed.]. Moreover, we say that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide is not so much a problem of Armenian-Turkish relations, but a problem of global security because recognition of any genocide is also a very important step in preventing other genocides. Pursuing the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide is also our contribution to the international prevention of genocides.
AMULSAR PROJECT, SPAYKA, AND THE ECONOMY
Mr Prime Minister, there are several economic projects which aren’t moving forward, in particular, Amulsar, which, as always seems to me, came from the old government and has been stuck in the throat of the new authorities. We can neither swallow it nor get rid of it.
We are able to both swallow it, and can get rid of it. But it needs sufficient facts and arguments. What was the Amulsar issue? When I was elected prime minister, I invited the government professionals who are responsible and I asked them whether they guarantee that this Environmental Impact Assessment corresponds to reality with 100 percent. I’m not interested in the circumstances and situations in which this document was created, I am interested in its content. And when they said they cannot guarantee it, I realized I do not have the necessary data to make a decision, since I am not a geologist, an environmentalist. When there are so many contradicting opinions, it is very difficult to orientate. What road did we take?
Initially, I went to Jermuk and proposed to all the sides to halt this process, take a break, invite indisputably authoritative international experts in the field, who will come, work for a few months and come up with an assessment. Whatever assessment is given, we’ll be guided by it. They did not agree to this proposal. Later, a criminal case was initiated, and an investigation was underway. The government has paid more than USD 300 000 from the state budget to the international reputable organisation that has won the competition, and now whatever conclusion is given by the investigation will be guided by that. If the expertise says the process is manageable or safe for Sevan and Jermuk bodies of water, we’ll ensure the further realization of that project. If it turns out that there are unmanageable risks there, the project will shut down.
And shortly about Spayka. Regardless of the conditions it was born in and prospered, Spayka was all over the roads of Armenia, they were transporting the harvest of the Armenia’s villagers. A month later apricot and other agricultural products will grow… Do you have concerns that given these circumstances, where the head of the company is actually in detention, there will be problems, and not for this company but the Armenian villager?
We need to answer one question. Today, in Armenia, are there monopolies and restrictions? Are there or not? There are no monopolies and restrictions, and that means that the market will regulate itself.
It may not have the time to do so. We’re breaking the pyramid, but we don’t have anything beneath it.
I saw several statements by several companies that they can ensure the same service, not even speaking about the fact that the criminal case is initiated under one article, which refers to tax evasion. And if the company or the head of the company obliges with paying those taxes, he will then go and continue doing his business. No one wants to throw anyone into jail, filling prisons is not our goal. I’ll tell you one thing, there is this trend that whose lawlessness … Now it’s clear, right, that below numerous corruption deals economic mechanisms have been created, investments, constructions,
You ask one question to anyone, and they go “I’ll shut down my business.” The language of blackmail should not be used, because speaking in the language of blackmail about the law and lawfulness is unacceptable. This process has been going on for a long while. And I am asked another question, that “If you were going to arrest, or [the head of Spayka - ed] was to be arrested, why did you attend the opening ceremony of the company. Because of a very simple reason, my personal attitude is one thing, law is another. Because it has been the case in the past, when if someone was arrested, it meant the prime minister or the leader wasn’t in good relations with them. And if they weren’t arrested, that meant good relations.
I want to say that the era of being in good - bad relations is over. It does not matter who I am in good relations with, and who I’m not. What matters is whether that person is in good relations with the law or not. Whoever complies with the law, they should not have a problem with anyone. Whoever does not comply, I have said this repeatedly, even if it’s a member of my family, it does not matter to me. If I start to treat people selectively, it will mean the revolution was in vain. I will not allow the devaluation of revolution values, no matter the cost. Regardless of the cost. I will never partake in personal, political, financial speculations, otherwise me holding the position of the prime minister will be meaningless.
That’s what surprises me the most, that today, in Armenia, many people - reporters, politicians, commentators, think in old categories, e.g. hmm, maybe this person has an interest in this, or this person isn’t in good terms with that one, so this must be it,- and used to base everything on political speculations, mercantile speculations. For example, if you smile, [they think - ed] it’s a mercantile speculation, your smile costs money, you must’ve gained a share here. You charge someone with something, it means revenge, because if it isn’t, why is this person charged with a criminal case? [They think - ed] What other reason should there be in Armenia to charge a person with a criminal case, apart from revenge? Because that’s how it used to be, that was at the base, wasn’t it? The criminal cases, law enforcement authorities solely exist to take revenge, to oppress, to take away, to gain shares, to become rich, to rob and plunder. So, people think in terms of the old categories, and it does not bother me at all. People think that from dusk to dawn I am thinking who should I arrest to keep the power. I do not have a power in the Republic of Armenia, I do not need power in the Republic of Armenia, because power belongs to the people in the Republic of Armenia. I have been fighting all my life for the purpose of power belonging to the people in the Republic of Armenia. And the next milestone of my mission is to leave power by the decision of the people.
ABOUT SERZH SARGSYAN AND ROBERT KOCHARYAN
Your last meeting with Serzh Sargsyan was the one at the Marriott Hotel, and you’ve not met him afterwards?
No, not even once.
And there has been no need to meet, discuss critical issues, like the Karabakh issue?
No, if there is the need for such a meeting…
You’re open to it, will you?
No, first of all, if such a meeting had taken place, I’d consider it my duty to inform the public about it, because it is very important. I won’t do it in secret. And all in all, no, there has been no other meeting with Sargsyan. Even when they were living in the Hrazdan Complex (government house), we didn’t even meet accidentally.
As we’re talking about presidents, I’d like to ask the next question now. Robert Kocharyan has insisted in various articles and interviews that he is being persecuted by you. And I’d like to ask you to answer this question: Do you have a feeling of personal revenge towards Robert Kocharian?
I think I’ve mentioned in one of my previous interviews here, that I don’t have any personal grievances with anyone in the Republic of Armenia and in general, the feelings of revenge is unknown to me. This is a very interesting question. Had there been the issue of revenge, the best time to serve it was last year these days, very convenient days to take revenge on anyone.
By lynching, etc.?
The opposite, the fact that there was no acts of vengeance against them was because of the ideology of our revolution. Had I ever had the idea of revenge in my head, there couldn’t be a more convenient moment than those times. Why revenge? Have you seen any examples of revenge?
Can we consider what’s being done with regards to Robert Kocharyan a completely legal process?
If that isn’t, all the individuals who have initiated an illegal process will be punished.
Iranian public opinion and the Iranian government alike, highly value the country’s ties with Armenia and the overall perception about Tehran-Yerevan relations have been always positive. As a result, almost all the analyses about Rouhani’s recent visit to Armenia were positive, both in terms of bilateral ties with Yerevan and multilateral diplomacy within the EAEU. As for the Iranian view toward political changes in Armenia, the overwhelming view in Iran was that it’s a purely domestic issue. Iran’s only concern was the possibility that the events might have caused instability in Armenia, which would affect Iran directly because of its neighborhood with Iran. But fortunately, the calm came back to Armenia very soon and the new administration showed that it’s stick to the policy of good relations with Iran.
The Karabakh conflict settlement process continues to interest regional security dynamics pundits. Yet, despite the growing optimism immediately after the "Velvet revolution" in Armenia, in recent months the prevailing mood has been more pessimistic. The two meetings between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan at the beginning of 2019, and negotiations on the level of the foreign ministers, did not result in any breakthrough. The significant decrease in the number of incidents along the line of contact and on the Armenia-Azerbaijan international border since October 2018 is a positive step, though here also one can see recent increases in clashes resulting in casualties on both sides.
The 2018 changes in Armenia did not produce any revolutionary discourse concerning the Karabakh conflict. In Yerevan as in Baku, political elites do not seem able to imagine how to resolve this conflict. I call Diaspora Armenians and Azerbaijanis living abroad to make a bold initiative and start a new dialogue, may be they could move a process that is central in determining the future of their homelands, yet remains paralyzed for nearly two decades.