The Caucasus region is the natural field of interest of Slovakia particularly in terms of international policy and economy as well as the preservation of peace and stability. In South Caucasus, there are several trouble spots substantially contributing to problems as regards the relations among the states as well as nations throughout the region. With his Excellency Ashot Hovakimian, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Austria, the Slovak Republic, the Czech Republic and the Republic of Hungary, we have discussed the oncoming presidential elections in Armenia, Armenian genocide, the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and the possibilities of economic collaboration as well as bilateral relations between Slovakia and Armenia.
Your Excellency, what are the relations between the Slovak Republic and Armenia like at present? What tendencies are to be expected as for the development of these relations?
The Slovak Republic is an important partner for Armenia, especially having in mind Slovak membership of the EU and NATO. We have warmly welcomed that the political dialogue with the Slovak Republic has been restored after a long period. This summer, Oľga Algayerová, the State Secretary of the Foreign Ministry of the Slovak Republic, spent 2 days in Armenia with the aim of conducting political and economic consultations. I met several Slovak politicians in order to restore projects which remain passive. We are close to the signing of the treaties on double taxation, investments and economic collaboration with the Slovak Republic. We have been preparing treaties on military cooperation and the cooperation in terms of the European Neighbourhood Policy. The Slovak Republic presides over the Council of Europe nowadays and we expect that the Slovak Foreign Affairs Minister will visit Armenia soon. There are also plans for the Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic and the Speaker of the National Council of the Slovak Republic to visit Armenia next year. There has been stagnation in the field of bilateral relations on our side as well. The last time that the President as well as the Foreign Affairs Minister paid a visit to Slovakia was seven or eight years ago.
The distinctiveness of our approach to the Slovak Republic consists in the fact that the National Council of the Slovak Republic was the very first parliament in the region of the Central and Eastern Europe to accept the resolution recognising the Armenian genocide committed by the Ottoman Turks. This fact is an extremely strong impetus to mutual solidarity between the Armenians and the Slovaks.
To what degree has the resolution of the National Council of the Slovak Republic dated 30th November, 2004, influenced the bilateral relations between the Slovak Republic and Armenia?
We consider the adoption of the resolution as a strong, sympathetic and moral action of persons who adopted it, i.e. the members of the National Council. We are aware of the fact that this question was negotiated in connection with the commencement of the EU accession talks with Turkey. If Turkey really wishes to become an EU member state, it simply cannot ignore this issue and escape from its history.
Do you expect the increase in number of states that recognise the genocide? When do you await the resolution No. 106 to be negotiated in the US Congress?
Such resolutions were passed by other parliaments. In the Central Europe they were adopted by the legislatures of Poland and Lithuania immediately after the Slovak Republic did it. In some countries, the adoption process runs smoothly, in other ones, the process is complicated. A very crucial resolution was passed in both chambers of the French Parliament. In this case, it was a resolution at the beginning, but it acquired the character of a law gradually. The resolution was adopted in the German Bundestag, which took a certain degree of responsibility for the events of the World War I.
The resolution was adopted by the Committee for Foreign Affairs of the US Congress and was supposed to be negotiated within the Congress. The moral questions as well as the issue of humanity were overshadowed by real policy when Turkey used the complications which arose in connection with the US activities in the Middle East by means of pressure and blackmail. The postponement of the negotiations concerning the resolution was the consequence. From our point of view the adoption of the resolution by the Congress is just a matter of time.
How do you assess the chances of particular candidates in the Armenian presidential elections scheduled for 19th February 2008?
The continuation of reforms and the democratization in Armenia are our priorities. The number of candidates in the elections is the genuine sign of democracy. It is not my task to assess the chances of particular candidates, but I am sure that the elections would meet the international standards.
According to the Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Tachi Kosovo will declare independence shortly after 10th December, 2007, i.e. after international moderators submit a report on Kosovo to the General Secretary of the UN. Will the Kosovo precedence affect also the Nagorno-Karabakh? Shall we expect, for instance, that Armenia will recognise the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh?
We have been carefully monitoring the events relating to Kosovo. What will happen is pretty intriguing, because we often hear that the precedence will influence just a single region and not the other ones. Interestingly, nobody has explained why this is so. We assume that every current conflict has its own history and solutions. Nobody claims that if anything happens in one part of the world, it must be automatically applied in any other place. Obviously, we are interested in these events, because something new is going on. The process of the dissolution of several states continues in Europe, Africa and Eastern Asia. The internal logic is that the right of a nation to self-determination becomes a pivotal factor of international politics. The Nagorno-Karabakh issue has its own history, logic and solutions. There are concrete organisations and concrete groups which deal with this issue.
As regards the settlement of the conflict it is often proclaimed that a political solution to the conflict won’t be found before 2009. Do you consider it conceivable that it won’t be found prior to the time mentioned?
I don’t know when a political agreement will be reached. Nobody is capable of saying. However, we wish it is reached as soon as possible. The document exists, the peace process exists, the stances of the parties involved exist and the mediators do an important work. On 29th November, 2007, in Madrid, the mediators submitted a draft solution where they presented slightly modified old drafts. Sometimes, the stances of the parties involved coincide and an agreement already exists in connection with many questions. We’re hoping that these problems will be solved in a foreseeable future. Armenia wishes economic development and I surmise that Azerbaijan does as well. Naturally there are certain moments that disconcert us. In Azerbaijan, we can see also the other side of the coin, i.e. two conflicting processes. On one level its representatives are in quest for peace process, for example, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Azerbaijan in terms of the Minsk Group recently, on another level the same people present fiercely militaristic statements calling for a forceful problem solution in certain situations. It is hard to differentiate which side of the coin is the real one. With regard to the striking economic development of Azerbaijan we hope that it considers the restart of a military conflict inconvenient. Azerbaijan is lead by people who have taken a fancy to investments and want their state to grow economically. Azerbaijan has been heading towards economic prosperity. So does Armenia, however, not at such a rapid pace. The conflict wouldn’t be advantageous for neither of the sides.
On 28th June, 2007, the Armenian and Azerbaijani intelligentsia met on the initiative of Armenian and Azerbaijani ambassadors to the Russian Federation. On 3rd December, 2007, the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Azerbaijan made a statement that the continuation of such work isn’t ruled out. What can such work bear? Can the results be favourable for Armenia?
We appreciate the arrangement of the first meeting very much. It was attended by several university chancellors and ambassadors, these were former Culture Ministers, i.e. genuine intellectuals. Important is that after the long period of tension and hostility, a “bridge” that connects people has been created. One and a half month ago, our Foreign Affairs Minister visited Hungary where he gave a lecture at the Central European University. A considerable number of Azerbaijani students took part in the lecture. Their questions attested to the distorted image of reality and the fact that they ignore the existence of a different view. Therefore it’s important to forge links among young people and people working in the culture sector as well as non-governmental organisations. Unfortunately, I don’t know how the agreements and preparations concerning the second meeting of the representatives of the intelligentsia look like.
You mentioned that the document, submitted on 29th November, 2007, in Madrid, preserves the original principles of the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. To what extent are these principles acceptable for Armenia?
These fundamental principles have been under negotiation for a long time. Our policy is quite clear. It is based on three principles. Azerbaijan abides by equally fundamental principles. The question remains how to bring these principles closer. The primary issue is the conflict between the right of the nation to self-determination and the principle of territorial integrity. Armenian attitude is based on the affirmation that it is the inhabitants of the territory that are in the centre of attention and not the territorial dispute. The Armenians have been connected with the territory in question already for a hundred years. During the period of the Azerbaijan SSR, they were subject to hard assimilation. The situation of the Armenians in the Nachicevan region is the proof. The objective is that the Armenians, who live in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, have their own security, economic development and the possibility of the preservation of their cultural and historical heritage as well as the contact with Armenia. The things mentioned above can be fulfilled only when respecting the following principles: 1.The Nagorno-Karabakh cannot remain under the domination of Azerbaijan 2. It is necessary to secure the geographic link between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh 3. It is inevitable to provide the inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh with security guarantees. After fifteen years of independent existence in Nagorno-Karabakh, there are young people living there who haven’t experienced the subordination to Azerbaijan. For them it is quite unimaginable. The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was separated from the USSR in accordance with the same constitutional principles like the Azerbaijan SSR. In my opinion there is no reason why this should be allowed just in one case and the other one not. Nowadays, we don’t talk about this history any longer. We speak of the peace process and the principles mentioned above.
To what degree is it conceivable to reconcile the principles submitted in terms of the peace process with those ones forming the basis of Armenian opposition?
The Minsk Group tries to bring about a reconciliation between them. The process has born certain results. It is pretty intriguing when we take into account that it copes with the only conflict which is solved in terms of a regulated process, negotiations and debate about contents of the document. It is a lengthy process, because the document is rather comprehensive, since it deals with the reaching of a compromise. The main thing is that the process exists and it is important that it isn’t disrupted by inadequate statements and acts. One of the possible ways out is the principle of a plebiscite, i.e. the people themselves are supposed to choose their destiny. That’s pivotal – if this principle is included in the basis of the document (and it seems that it really is in the proposed document), both nations will attain a peaceful solution.
What is the stance of Armenia on the crisis in Georgia like?
We are thoroughly observing what’s going on in Georgia. Georgia is for us one of the most important countries in the region. There’s a close bond between us and Georgia. We are interested in everything what happens in this country, because it has direct impact on Armenia. It’s crucial for us that Georgia remains stable so that none negative processes can affect the life of the Armenian minority as well as mutual economic relations. The majority of the Armenian exports are carried off via Georgian Black Sea ports. If Georgia is better off, Armenia is that way as well.
According to the Central Bank of Armenia at current pace of the development of industrial branches the real GDP growth in 2007 is estimated at 10 – 12 per cent. The GDP growth prognosis during the first quarter of 2008 amounts to 9 – 11 per cent. Which industrial branches are the most perspective ones in Armenia?
This is the seventh or eighth year in which the Armenian economy has such high growth indicators. This fact noticeably reflects on the situation in the country owing to the growth of fiscal tools. The people’s standard of living has been increased, the amount of the investments has been stepped up due to the predictability of the country development. Many indicators, like the market freedom indicator and bank system rating, are equal not only to the CIS states, but also the world’s leaders. It’s very momentous for us, since we have the opportunity to be a serious partner. We are a small country with a small economy. We haven’t got any raw materials; neither oil nor gas. We strive to make the best of what we have. There is a boom in the area of construction in Armenia at present.
The whole of mobile networks and waterworks have become private. The last huge investment flew into Armenia thank to the metallurgical industry which was entered by a German investor. Significant investments arrive in the field of power engineering – the construction of the oil pipeline from Iran to Armenia has been terminated recently. It has diversified the Armenian power engineering sector. On the one hand the absence of oil and gas is rather limiting, on the other hand it grants us certain freedom as for the development of other branches which would be otherwise neglected. In Armenia, the intensive development of state-of-the-art technological areas is under way, for instance, the production of microchips within the IT technology branch. Several small enterprises handling the indents of large IT companies have been established. Apart from economic development achieved by our own means, Armenian economy uses also the loans and aid provided in terms of the EU programs, like the European Neighbourhood Policy. We have been also participating in the US programs, like Millennium Challenge. We use these means for the development of infrastructure, namely roads, agricultural systems etc. The Millennium Challenge project enhances particularly the macroeconomic structure of the rural areas of Armenia. In contrast to the capital, problems with the development of small towns and villages linger on.
How do you perceive the possibility of the entry of Slovak investors into Armenian market? Which areas are the most attractive ones for the investors?
In the course of consultations in summer 2007, the State Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of the Slovak Republic Oľga Algayerová dealt predominantly with economic questions, namely the possibilities of the arrangement of business forums. The Honorary Consulate of the Slovak Republic was opened in Armenia. It’s headed by an entrepreneur trying to develop business links with the Slovak Republic. The main thing for us is to create the legal basis, since we haven’t signed any economic agreement with the Slovak Republic yet. The Treaty on Economic Collaboration is in the final stage at the moment and the same holds true for the Treaty on Mutual Investment Protection. Nowadays, we have been planning meetings at which these documents will be finalised, signed and subsequently ratified. We would like to organise a Slovak-Armenian business forum during the visit of either the PM or the Economy minister. Such forums take place annually on the level of private persons and NGOs even at present. In 2007, a forum, which was attended by several entrepreneurs, was held in Armenia on the initiative of the Armenian community in the Slovak Republic. These forums haven’t been organised on the governmental level until now, however, they’re necessary. As far as the investment areas in Armenia are concerned, I’m not able to furnish you with a complex summary, but the bank and insurance system are interesting. It would be intriguing to utilise Slovak experiences of the fields of ecology, environment protection and the decommission of nuclear power plants, which is a project that we suggested to the Slovak Republic in terms of the European Neighbourhood Policy. As for the meetings aimed at the legislative basis of entrepreneurial contracts, we have been waiting for the presidential elections in Armenia, as these questions will be tackled by the new government.
How about the possibility of the exchange of goods? Which commodities are attractive from the viewpoint of import and export?
The sphere of the exchange of goods has come to a standstill. The volume accounts for just a few million dollars. Our entrepreneurs export to the Slovak Republic goods which comprise the traditional Armenian exports to the EU, namely cognacs and typical Armenian agricultural production. In the course of time, we will add IT technologies, bank products, jewellery, metallurgical production (tin foils), or possibly mineral waters despite the sufficiency of mineral springs in the Slovak Republic. The forging of links, for example, by means of business forums, is a prerequisite to the development of these relations. The embassy itself doesn’t do business, it solely establishes links between persons and provides information. The priority is the creation of the legislative basis for such activities so that contracts, which were absent in this field for ten years, can be signed. Certain legislative basis exists already thank to the fact that the Slovak Republic is a member of the EU whose contracts applies to it. Nonetheless, there are areas which are regulated exclusively on the bilateral level.
Are there any problems in the South Caucasus region in the solution of which the Slovak Republic could be involved more intensively?
We wish the Slovak Republic was more involved in the region, since, as far as I’m concerned, the region represents for the Slovak foreign policy just an object of interest and not the priority. We wish that the Slovak Republic was really present in every conceivable field, i.e. the field of politics, culture as well as economy. I’m hinting primarily at the attracting of investors and participation in the European Neighbourhood Policy programs. One of the V4 priorities is the eastern orientation of the foreign policy. We would be glad if the South Caucasus was more influenced by this course in the form of visits, consultations, conferences, the interest of political scientists and NGOs in what’s going on in the South Caucasus. Among the objectives are the establishment and preservation of mutual contacts and the visits of Slovak citizens to Armenia. Moreover, I myself would welcome the possibility of regular meetings with young people interested in Armenia.