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Armenia and Armenians in the 21st century

HIS EXCELLENCY VARTAN OSKANIAN
MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, REPUBLIC OF ARMENIA

Thank you for inviting me to speak on Armenia and Armenians in the 21st century. It's a special pleasure to be able to do that in a hall full of people who not only know where Armenia is and who Armenians are, but also where Armenia was and who Armenians have been in the last 4000 years.

You all come from countries where there are Armenian communities - most of them large ones. And, when Armenia speaks of peoples and capitals where Armenians live and thrive, where there is significant involvement and engagement with the Republic of Armenia, it is your countries that we list.

As a diplomat, I should probably tell you that I agree with the well-known adage: that in politics, there are no friends, there are just common interests.

But as an Armenian diplomat, I must confess that we have been lucky to have had both: we have had good friends who have done the right thing and defended our human rights and our dignity. And they have been friends with whom our interests have indeed overlapped. But not just our interests. With you, our friends, we share memories, experiences, and most importantly, values and expectations.

At the turn of the last century, Armenia and Armenians were in need of friends because we were victimized, persecuted, outright killed. And Pro Armenia was the slogan under which Armenians' aspirations for security, for the freedom to continue to speak, create and live was protected and defended. Allow me to formally thank you for the help your peoples and governments provided to our genocide survivors and refugees. Because of your assistance - and our instincts - the Armenian story is not just of persecution and massacre, but of survival. Survival at the end of the century, too, when with your help, we made it through earthquake and war and economic collapse.

As a result, at the turn of this century, Armenia is at another level. Today, ours is more than a story of survival. It is a story of growth, of hope, of prosperity, of stability, of victory.

Today, Armenia is a state, not a cause.

Today, we look forward to working with you not as poor victims whose hearts and minds are in the right place, but as rightful partners committed to resolving together our common ills and realizing together humanity's hopes.

Today, we have the ability, the capacity, the history that gives us the confidence to act in concert with international developments, within international norms and according to international laws, to meet our own national goals and to fulfill our own national dreams.

Even as we recognize that we have a longer way to go still, we ask you to recognize that we have indeed come a long way.

In the dozen short years since independence, we have liberated Nagorno Karabagh and reversed history, we have secured Armenia's borders in an inherently unstable region, we have defended our people by created a strong army, we have begun to build state structures where none existed, we have stopped the economic collapse and begun the climb toward prosperity, we have resolved the energy crisis and converted energy into a commodity, we have elected our leaders in the absence of electoral traditions, and we have established our rightful place in the family of nations.

But more crucial challenges are waiting for us still. We must continue to create rewarding jobs, elevate people's standard of living and eradicate poverty and indignity, we must fight and win the war against nepotism and corruption, we must dispel the shadow economy, we must protect the socially vulnerable, advocate for the rights of women and children, allow entrepreneurs to dream and create, bolster the vital mission of educators and shape a society where people believe in their abilities to live up to their dreams. We must fashion a government of believers and believers in government. We must achieve international recognition for the Genocide of 1915 as well as for Nagorno Karabagh's right to self-determination as well as achieve lasting and irreversible peace and stability in our region.

We have a dream for our nation. Our dream is to create a country that will live in peace within itself and with its neighbors, a country that will provide security and comfort to those who wish to return. We dream that there will be no dead-end roads leading out of Armenia, that they will all be avenues of opportunity linking neighbor to neighbor, country to country, civilization to civilization.

Even if history made us realists, our geography forces us to be idealists.

As a small people, serving as the perennial buffer between empires, on the most trampled path on earth, we have become living witnesses of the benefit of dialogue among civilizations. We have ourselves been engaged in that dialogue over the ages. Today, we are among its greatest promoters, especially with two of our neighbors who must be dragged along, because they still think that dialogue is supposed to follow agreement. We look around at a neighborhood that is not going to change, at memories that are not going to go away, at experiences that are irreversible, and try to convince them that dialogue must come first, in order for there to be any understanding at all.

With our neighbor Iran, we both comprehend and value the need for dialogue. We recognize that we both need each other. For Iran, Armenia is the gateway to the north and the west. For Armenia, Iran has been a reliable opening from a potentially fatal blockade.

Iran's and Armenia's shared cultural and historical memories are certainly no greater than those shared by Iran and Azerbaijan. They further share ethnic and religious affinities. Iran's visionary, geostrategic outlook however, has made it possible for our ancient neighbor to peacefully coexist with both of us - Armenia and Azerbaijan, despite the conflict which divides us. This stands in obvious contrast to Turkey's myopic, inflexible approach.

We are fortunate that our relations with our neighbor to the north are equally warm and two-sided. Georgia is the country in the region with whom Armenia is most integrated. Tbilisi's large, significant Armenian community and presence, the huge Armenian influence on Tbilisi's life and architecture, Tbilisi's major role in the formation of Armenian political institutions, the historic friendship between our peoples, the contiguous ethnic presence of Armenians in the Southern Georgian region of Javakhk - all these and more are binding factors that cannot be underestimated. Today, they enable us to resist the enormous and persistent divisive forces from left and right. It is that cement which today guarantees the region's peace and stability, and prevents the creation of new dividing lines - all this, despite many and obvious differences in our foreign policy directions and relations.

The scope and range of our connectedness with Russia is extensive -- economically, militarily, politically -- and influenced more and more by the presence there of a very large and increasingly more active Armenian Diaspora. It is in Armenia alone where anti-Soviet sentiments did not translate to anti-Russian attitudes. Instead, the influence of historic ties transformed old periphery-to-center relations to those of sovereign equals.

Armenia has various, significant economic agreements with Russia, as well as a military pact. This pact is motivated by Armenia's own interests, as a defense against some vocal and demonstrated threats. Old institutional ties in the educational, sports and cultural spheres continue to link our societies. All our agreements are driven by mutual respect and understanding of each other's place in the larger scheme.

Our policy of complementarity, based on open dialogue and cooperation with all parties, has been effective on both sides of the Atlantic. With the United States, we have an equally extensive portfolio of economic, social and military agreements and projects. The activism of our Diaspora together with the positive engagement of governmental and non-governmental organizations have resulted in programmatic and institutional backing in democracy building. Armenia - US relations are based on our commitment to learn from the longest-living democratic republic and accordingly transform our market and our society.

The path we have taken to democratization and a free market economy is irreversible. We adhere to the principles embodied by the Council of Europe which we proudly joined two years ago, because we believe that long-term security and stability will be based on the application and implementation of these values. Indeed, Armenia has been the first beneficiary of its own efforts trying to meet Europe's standards. Armenia sees itself firmly in Europe, where we will participate in its evolution, contribute to and to benefit from its values, practices, as well as its institutions.

Armenia's relations with our immediate neighbors as well as with those with interests in our region, are enhanced by our rich, warm, brotherly relations with the countries of the Middle East. I myself, as so many others here, was raised with the hospitality of the Arab peoples who made way for our grandparents fleeing from sure death in the Ottoman Empire. Aleppo, Syria, my birthplace, is also the birthplace of the modern Diaspora. There, as elsewhere, our Arab neighbors provided us the space and the environment in which to pick ourselves up from doom and possible oblivion. We did, and we contributed to the making of the modern Middle East. Today, our official interstate links are not in a small way conditioned by those older people-to-people bonds borne of necessity and kindness. Our political, economic and cultural links are strong, and we anticipate that our geographic and historic proximity will lead to even deeper cooperation, especially given the presence of a grateful Diaspora.

Our relationship with the countries of North and South America is based on similar relations. Armenians found refuge and an open field in Canada and Latin America. There they did what they have done elsewhere: became professionals integrated in their host countries. This positive interaction is the basis of the good relations which exist today between each of these countries and the Republic of Armenia.

I have spoken of the concentric circles of our foreign relations. And if you're beginning to think I'm ignoring the elephant in the living room, let me reassure you, I'm not.

Nagorno Karabagh remains at the core of all our regional and global relations, including those having to do with each of the countries I've spoken of, and, of course, with Turkey.

Turkey insists on a resolution of the Nagorno Karabagh conflict prior to the establishment of any dialogue with Armenia. This insistence has resulted in the loss of a golden opportunity. Turkey has wasted the historic occasion of the disappearance of the Soviet Union to invoke tolerance, neighborliness, statesmanship and engage Armenia in regional relations. Instead, it has acted unnecessarily short-sightedly.

Armenia is quite interested in the continuing political debate in Turkey about the nature of its government, its place in Europe, and its relations with its neighbors. I am frequently asked what will happen with this new government, and I repeat that we are ready to begin to talk. The rhetorical question is always, but who shall take the first step? We believe we have. Although Armenia is not willing to renounce its national memories nor dismiss the historical injustices it has suffered, there is ample room for dialogue about issues over which we disagree.

That leaves us with the core problem over Nagorno Karabagh. The flow of events is well-known: The people of Nagorno Karabagh opted for self-rule according to the laws of the USSR and within international norms. Azerbaijan rejected their right to self-determination with a military response. The people of Nagorno Karabagh, against great odds, won that war. Today, they ask that the world respect their history, their legal rights and their de facto independence.

History is usually dictated by winners. In this case, the people of Nagorno Karabagh have made history and won on all fronts - not just militarily. Legally and historically, they can claim the land on which they live, and which has never belonged to an independent Azerbaijan. If Azerbaijan does not continue with crude delusional manipulation and na´ve wishful thinking, with hopes of returning to a military and political situation that went the way of the Soviet Union, we can all join the international community's efforts, through the offices of the OSCE's Minsk Group co-chairmen, to continue in the hard search for peace.

Based on the very hopeful meetings which have been taking place regularly between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, we have reason to be positive about a peaceful, lasting solution to this conflict. Those who consider themselves friends of Armenia or Azerbaijan, or both, must hold our feet to the table, help us look for the solutions that will last and the formulas that will allow peace to take root.

Through history, through geography, through Diaspora, Armenians have built bridges. Today, too, given our successful track record in a very fragile, volatile, problematic, complex region, we are successful as interlocutors, partners, engaged in dialogue. In international organizations, from the UN Commission on Human Rights to our candidacy for ECOSOC, we will continue to be engaged in the processes of political and economic globalization movements that affect us all.

Our diasporas are our bridges. Through a series of long historical processes and events, and especially the forced dispersion following the Genocide of 1915 and the dismemberment of our historic lands, the contours, the components, the physical and cultural manifestations of the Armenian nation, transcend the state boundaries of Armenia.

Given the size of our communities and the years of history, it is not unreasonable to think we should have intermarried, assimilated long ago, into our bigger more powerful neighbors or our vibrant, welcoming hosts.

We didn't.

Given the resources of our neighborhood today, it is not unwarranted to believe we should have been the first to become a client state, dependent on larger neighbors, unable to defend our own unique agenda.

We haven't.

So Armenia, with a population of three million, in a volatile region, and with limited natural resources, must make use of its Diaspora to double its potential and critical mass, must expand its horizons so that its neighborhood stretches beyond the Caucasus, the Caspian and the Black Seas. And, most importantly, we must compensate for our nonexistent natural resources with human resources - ours and yours.

Given our history of navigating regional and global waters, working with friends old and new, we will achieve our own unique place in the world, a symbol of inventiveness and resourcefulness, a champion of dialogue and cooperation, an example of an old nation reborn in a new age espousing eternal values and universal rights.




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