Armenia’s prospect in the changing world: an interview with Armenian President Vahagn Khachaturyan

The President of Armenia, Vahagn Khachaturyan (Credits: President.am, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 25 Issue 5
Author: Giuliano Bifolchi & Silvia Boltuc

In September 2022, Armenia faced a military escalation with Azerbaijan at its border, which alarmed the international community regarding the stability of the South Caucasus. The country led by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who took power in 2018 after the Velvet Revolution and was confirmed as the government leader after the 2021 Parliamentary elections, might face several challenges linked to regional geopolitics, the necessity to boost the socio-economic development, especially after the pandemic, and the threat of Azerbaijani military aggression against its sovereign territory and the Republic of Artsakh (especially after the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict).

On the other hand, Armenia can balance these challenges with economic development projects based on its significant mineral resources (gold, copper, molybdenum, zinc), significant financial support from international organisations, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the membership inside the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and partnership agreement with the European Union (EU).

In 2022, Armenia registered positive economic growth thanks to several factors, such as the Russian citizens’ migration due to the Ukraine conflict. Indeed, more than 110 thousand Russian citizens moved to Armenia and opened new offices and companies, giving a positive economic stimulus to the country’s market, particularly in the field of new technologies and digitalisation.

Considering the South Caucasus’ current geopolitical scenario, we discussed with Vahagn Khachaturyan, President of the Republic of Armenia, the country’s prospects in the changing world and possible regional developments to assess local stability and security and evaluate Armenia’s potentialities.

Bearing in mind recent geopolitical developments in the South Caucasus (2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, 2022 September Azerbaijani military aggression) and the current situation in the international arena due to the Ukraine conflict, how do you see the future of Armenia and in which path will your country follow in this changing world?

The 44-day war in 2020 was a tough ordeal for our people, and generally, it is hard to give a full assessment of the devastating consequences of wars, for both warring sides. Today, in our region, and, I dare say, in the entire world, the world order that existed prior to 2020 is changing, and if we look at things from this point of view, then local conflicts are partial manifestations of that change.

Undoubtedly, amid the tenseness and changes in the current international reality, each state needs to make a choice, but I believe these choices are more about values. In light of this, Armenia has made its unequivocal choice, which is to follow the principles of democracy unswervingly and establish democratic institutions. We are a country with little opportunities, I mean Armenia isn’t rich in minerals, energy sources, oil and gas, and under such circumstances, democracy, culture, science become our number one resource to introduce ourselves to the world, have our spot under the sun and our unique traits. And for all this, we need peace.

There are no alternatives regarding the latter for Armenia, as peace is the crucial precondition for the accomplishment, development, and civilisational rise of the citizens individually, and the state. Briefly put, Armenia has unequivocally chosen the path of peaceful, democratic, and people-centred development.“.

Talking about Armenia’s foreign relations, do you believe that normalisation with Turkey will be possible, although Ankara has never recognised the Armenian Genocide? How might react the Armenian population about this issue?

The establishment of neighbourly relations with all the contiguous countries, including Turkey, has never been a moot point. We have always been in favour of establishing relations with Turkey and opening the boarders with no preconditions.

It should be emphasised that the wording “no preconditions” is not a diplomatic evasion and also refers to the issue of the recognition of Genocide. Unfortunately, I should highlight that throughout decades, Turkey has been the first to put forth preconditions for opening the borders and normalising relations, in some sense serving the Azerbaijani agenda in the process of the settlement of the Karabakh problem.

In the meantime, I find it important to note that in early 1990s and in 2008-2009, Armenia and Turkey had the opportunity to change radically and move toward normalisation. Those opportunities weren’t used to the fullest, but today I find it more than important to look into the future instead of talking over past drawbacks or lost chances.

Nowadays, the special representatives of Armenia and Turkey meet periodically. Positive dynamics can also be seen in the fields of information and propaganda, and I hope that we can establish civilised, well-ordered and predictable neighbourly relations. I profoundly believe that the solution of even the most complex issues is in development and democracy which can’t exist with preconditions and exceptions. From this viewpoint, Armenia finds the establishment of civilised relations with Turkey, and all the neighbours to be an opportunity to reach democracy and development, and to solve complex issues, as I’ve already said.“.

In the past, the West has often applied the double standard policy about Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Do you see any changes after September 2022?

I would like not to provide unequivocal and one-sided evaluations of the role of the West in Karabakh conflict. Established in 1992 the OSCE Minsk Group has carried out valuable work aimed at the settlement of the conflict all these years, coming up with various offers. It’s another thing that in 2020, Azerbaijan made an attempt to achieve the favourable result by using force.

What comes to the position of the West, and, I can say, the progressive mankind after September 2022, everything is more than clear here. On September 13th, 2022, Azerbaijan invaded and occupied the sovereign territory of Armenia. This matter was discussed by the United Nations Security Council and many countries condemned Azerbaijani aggression, and finally, the OSCE sent a fact-finding mission to Armenia. I think these are indicators that lucidly demonstrate the position of the West.“.

The President of Armenia, Vahagn Khachaturyan, during the COP27 (Credits: President.am, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Recently, you gave a speech at COP27. What is the Armenian strategy to face the climate change challenge, and how might environmental problems influence Armenian business sectors?

The entire mankind faces the issue of counteracting the climate change in some ways, and all the states, regardless of their geographical position and territory, have their role in this.

Armenia is surely committed to carrying out the measures that our country undertook under the ‘Paris Convention’. I believe that the formula of withstanding the challenges of Climate change are quite simple and straightforward: moving toward ‘green economy’, boosting the technological development, and using ecologically clean energy sources in the economy, making the risks directly impacting the pollution of the environment manageable by finding mechanisms of processing and reducing household and production waste.

I would also like to highlight that among the unique challenges of climate change are military aggressions and wars, the consequences of which we have been witnessing for years.”

Could the Armenian Diaspora play an essential role in today’s Armenia?

Today, as in past, and hopefully in future, the Armenian Diaspora is inseparably linked with Armenia. The Republic of Armenia is the Motherland of the Armenians all around the world, and there can be no other opinions here.

It’s a different matter that Armenia-Diaspora relations should be based on more institutional grounds, so that they weren’t limited to merely charitable initiatives or the activities of numerous funds and NGO-s, though the multi-sector activities of such institutions regarding preserving the Armenian identity, development, and recognition of the Armenian culture and many more, are immeasurable.

Naturally, the government of Armenia and the Diaspora-Armenian organisations got things to do in this matter, as it’s also clear that the Diaspora is a multi-sectored, unique phenomenon, and we can’t establish unilineal relations with it.”.

During our visit to Yerevan, we discovered that some Gulf monarchies actively promote and support local businesses, especially the United Arab Emirates. Recently, you had a meeting with the Secretary-General of the Arab League. Since the vital role of the Armenian Diaspora in the Middle East, do you believe your country might strengthen its economic and political relations with the Arab-Muslim world?

Within the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, I also had very productive meetings with my colleagues and leaders of several Arab countries, and I can surely say that the Arab world is willing to raise the relations with Armenia to a higher level.

The Armenian Diaspora, undeniably, has its role in these relations, yet I think that only the potential of the Diaspora is not sufficient, and we need to move towards making the political-economic and trade-economic ties closer and expanding them.

Armenia has many friends and partners in the Arab-Muslim world, and the meetings I had with the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, Mr. Gheit, and with other Arab leaders, were focused on the development of mutually beneficial cooperation and the expansion of dialogue between Armenia and the Arab world.“.

What about Italian-Armenian relations?

The relations between Armenia and Italy have centuries-old history, and date back early Middle Ages, when Armenian merchants traded with Genoa and Venice. The cultural relations between Armenia and Italy are on a whole different level: one of the largest centers of Armenian studies in the world, the Mkhitaryan Congregation is located on San Lazzaro Island in Venice.

Generally speaking, Armenian-Italian relations are so deep and multi-sectored, that it won’t be possible to speak of everything in one or even several interviews. Our peoples even have a lot in common, from their appearance and to their emotionality and bold nature. So, I believe Armenian-Italian relations always have a great potential for development.“.