Conducted by Faces of Armenia, an organization dedicated to raising global awareness of Armenia by building bridges between Armenia and the international community, this interview with Suren Sarkisyan, the director of the Armenian based think tank for American Studies, touches upon Nagorno-Karabakh issue and the relationships between Armenia and its neighbors.
Sarkisyan graduated from YSU with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Law, he is an alumnus of AUA, Tufts University, and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. His work experience includes an advisor to the PM and to the speaker of the Armenian parliaments. Mr. Sarkisyan also spent some years in the administrations of two former presidents. Finally, in 2017 he founded the Armenian center for American Studies, based in Yerevan, with the aim of promoting Armenian American agenda.
- Suren, you’re a researcher by nature, so how important do you think it is to identify models that can lead to solutions? What do you think we can describe the situation in Nagorno Karabakh, similar to, say, other regions, South Ossetia, Abkhazia?
- It will not be right to compare the Nagorno Karabakh conflict with that of South Ossetia or Abkhazia. But it will be to the point, if we compare the conflict with Kosovo, because Kosovo left the Yugoslavia and Serbia the same way as Karabakh left from the USSR and Azerbaijan, unless some minor differences. “Initially, there were several options for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, but none of them included war”. However, Azerbaijan decided to launch a war against NK with the support of international terrorists and the direct intervention of Turkey”.
From 2005 to 2015 Azerbaijan increased its military spending tenfold, even the revenues from oil spent on purchasing weapons. Did it mean that Azerbaijan prepared for the war long before?
Azerbaijan was vividly showing that it had been preparing for a large-scale war against Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia for the past two decades. They spent nearly 3billion dollars on buying weapons and lobbying in EU and US. Azerbaijan is ranked one of the last in all international rankings for freedom of expression and rights. International organizations are claiming that Azerbaijan has jailed journalists; has abused human rights. “Azerbaijan is a classical dictatorship with limited human rights”. Moreover, I think that this is not only the fight between Armenia and Azerbaijan or Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan, it’s war against a Democratic State.
- But what is so shocking to me is that this outset really proves that today general genocide, crimes against humanity can happen in the blink of an eye and there's nothing one can really do. That should be a wakeup call.
- I think there is a substantial threat of a second genocide to Armenian people. It is really hard to say what's going to happen, because we have all the evidences that used cluster bombs against Armenian civil population. They were bombing not only the territory of Nagorno Karabakh, but also the territory of the Republic of Armenia. What should we do to better address international law? We might condemn to foreign courts or other human rights organizations for war crimes by Azerbaijan through different Conventions. However, international law is now, regrettably, a tool in the hands of international politics. International law is not as strong as we would like it to be. Azerbaijan and Turkey are proving that you can use international law in any way you desire. So, from the international legal point of view, for example, we have raised the issue of POWs with the OSCE Minsk group; however, their effectiveness is questionable.
- That is very disappointing. Now, let’s pass to Turkey. What do you think actually push Turkey to become involved this time? I believe in 2009, Erdogan even said “thank you for Armenian help to earthquake victims in Turkish cities”. What really changed? what increased the tensions between the two countries?
- Turkey was one of the very first countries who recognized the independence of Armenia. But at the same time, Turkey was the country which has never established diplomatic relations with Armenia since the blockade in 1990s. Despite this fact, in 2001 Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission was established for exploring cooperative activities between Turks and Armenians. In 2009, Armenia initiated “football diplomacy”, and the concept of this diplomacy was to establish diplomatic relations and normalize relations between Armenia and Turkey. These diplomacies failed, but the world saw that Armenia was ready to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey without any preconditions. It changed the global understanding of the main players and the international community, that in spite of the Armenian Genocide, Armenia was always ready to have a discussion with Turkey without any preconditions. Though Turkey was bringing up the requirement that the NK be handed over to Azerbaijan. So, that was a historical part of the Armenian-Turkish relations or the absence of those relations.
- So, if you may remember, at the time Erdogan was elected, he was internationally perceived as a very liberal personality, as a personality who would revolutionize Turkey and move Turkey into the European Union. And then fast forward. He brutally stepped down on the coup against his government. He introduced a semi-presidential system, a system for which Armenia moved away in 2018. So, how significant are these events, how significant is Turkish leadership in regards to the Turkish Armenia relationships, Turkey in Nagorno Karabakh conflict?
- In spite of the fact that Erdogan introduced a semi-presidential system, totalitarian regime exists in Turkey and the dictator is Tayyip Erdogan. The priority of the foreign policy of Turkey is “zero problems with neighbors”, but it failed. Turkey also wanted to become the member of the European Union; but it was denied once again due to its many conflicts with all of its neighbors. It functions as a mediator in Syria and Iraq, as well as its non-diplomatic ties with Armenia, are vivid examples. Moreover, if Turkey was a reliable partner for the international society, this cease fire would be in place. Actually, we noticed that first was Russian, then the French and finally the US president who tried to put an effort to stop the hostilities and to hold the cease fire. The US officials mentioned that Armenia was ready for the cease fire, however they needed to persuade Azerbaijan. This means that Azerbaijan had a support from somewhere else. And that somewhere else is Ankara. Definitely we have a situation when Turkey is supporting totally Azerbaijan saying “OK, I will take some international pressure on myself. You do your war”.
- Moving on, there are more countries involved and maybe an unsuspecting partner, but I would like to spend at least a few minutes on Georgia. Georgia was the only country that actually had, “friendly relationships” with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. What is Georgia's role and can Georgia prove leadership in this conflict?
- My attitude towards Georgia is positive. I see Armenia and Georgia as good neighbors but minor issues. I believe that Georgia is a strategic partner for Armenia in terms of economy. Furthermore, we have greater potential to strengthen our relations in all areas, from the economy to international cooperation, beginning with trade. Georgia is a country that both Armenia and Azerbaijan use for their meetings or talks. But if we speak about setting peace in the region, Georgia has no power to do it. On the one hand Georgia is dependent on Turkey and Azerbaijan in terms of energy: gas, oil; and investments. On the other hand, it does not want to weaken its relations with Armenia. In a word, Georgia carries a neutral foreign policy towards its neighbors consequently in the region.
- Then moving to the south, obviously, Iran has certainly some strategic relationships with Armenia. What is Iran's relationship to Armenia?
- We cannot use our whole economic partnership potential with Iran because of the sanctions put on it by the US. However, Iran is trying to play a very constructive role. We also have a big, influential and powerful Armenian diaspora living in Iran, very well respected by Iranian people. We have a very good and large community and we have a lot of tourists coming to Armenia to spend holidays, Iranian holidays right here in Yerevan. This is a promising opportunity as well for the developing economy.
- Very insightful and as we are unfortunately gradually running towards the end of the interview. Could you briefly reflect on the implication of, Richard Haass, Henry Kissinger's term in the new world order, moving from a bipolar to a multipolar world? How does this reflect on this specific war?
- The world used to have two polar: the USSR and the US. Now, the world is at least polarized in three directions: the US, Russia and China. China is growing very fast and is challenging the US as a new emerging superpower. There are other emerging superpowers such as the European Union, which is not a country, but still, an international player.
- And what should Armenia do as a small state in this three-polar world to recover from the defeat and continue its development?
- We should use all the international tools of state diplomacy in International affairs on the example of Armenia. It is very hard for small states to implement their foreign policy without being under the umbrella of one of these three superpowers. We can develop relations with all these superpowers: Russia, China and the US. Keep a balance, because this is all about small state diplomacy. We have to have good relations not only with our neighbors, but also with all the superpowers involved in or having interests in our region as they are the main actors in the world.
- Strong words, new perspectives, new tools, new future. Dear Suren, thank you very much for coming today to Faces of Armenia.
Thank you very much.