TODAY.AZ / Politics

Dennis Sammut: "On many issues the current situation in the South Caucasus is not sustainable"

26 March 2008 [02:36] - TODAY.AZ
Remarks by Mr. Dennis Sammut (Executive Director, LINKS) made on “Armenia-Europe 2008” Round Table held in Yerevan, Armenia (25 March 2008).
I am delighted to be here and for the opportunity to be on behalf of LINKS both a co-organiser of this event and as a speaker.

These are testing times for the Armenian people. It would be neither appropriate for me, nor credible, if I will not start my intervention with some remarks on the events in this country leading up to and subsequent to the Presidential elections of February 19th. I do this not because I want to interfere in your political process. Armenian politicians have to answer to the Armenian people for their actions and not to international organisations. But this round table is about Armenia and Europe 2008. There is no doubt that given the events of the last weeks these relations are being put to their most difficult and challenging test since this country’s independence in 1991.

First on the elections. Trust needs to be built in the election process so that even the losers will accept the result. This is not easy but neither is it impossible. Many countries in Eastern Europe and even in Africa have made the transition from having elections that were not trusted by one part or other of the population to a situation where both winners and losers had trust in the process and could thus accept the electoral verdict.

Second the post conflict events. The death of eight people on the streets of Yerevan, regardless of the reasons and of the circumstances, is a tragedy for the Armenian nation and a sad day for Europe. Politicians of all persuasions must step back from the brink. A process of healing the psychological and moral wounds opened on 1st March needs to start as soon as possible. This will require magnanimous gestures by the country’s leaders. I for one will judge the greatness of your politicians by these gestures and I suspect many Armenian people share this view also.

Thirdly, in English we say that from every crisis an opportunity arises. This is as good a time as any for Armenia to evaluate where it is going. There is a need for a serious national dialogue, free from the pettiness of party politics and led with a sense of vision, that can map out a national consensus on a future vision. I hope that in this Armenian civil society, the diaspora community, the Armenian church and others will take the lead to push this national dialogue forward. This is why we pushed forward with this meeting today. Some can argue that the timing is not right. I think it is the right time for Armenia to think about the future.

This round table discussion was triggered by two important documents that came out recently. The first is a resolution of the European Parliament on the South Caucasus. The second is the report of the Caucasus Caspian Commission.

The Caucasus Caspian Commission emerged from a process of discussions that had been ongoing for some time between people who had shown interest in the Caucasus-Caspian region including the Foreign Minister who became Chairman of the Commission. In 2005 Slovenia had successfully chaired the OSCE and given the region a lot of attention; in 2006 Slovenia hosted the Bled Strategic Forum focusing on the Caucasus-Caspian Region. There was some discussion as to who the members of the Commission can be. In the end the line up was a formidable list of the great and the good including former Heads of State, former Heads of Parliament, Foreign Ministers and statesmen – the region itself was represented by younger people. We were honoured to have Mr Artur Baghdasarian as Deputy Chairman of the Commission together with a distinguished Turkish academic, Professor Mustafa Aydin who was the other Deputy Chairman.

The Commission held three formal meetings but in between the formal meetings it ran a series of seminars and workshops to which a wider audience was invited. These were quite instrumental in forming the views of the Commission. There was also a lot of leg work done between the members of the Commission themselves to ensure that even those that could not always attend meetings could feed into the process and were similarly informed of developments. Quite crucial was the fact finding mission by some members of the Commission to the region in June 2007.

The report of the Commission was published in December. It is relatively crisp and short. Early on the Commission had decided that it did not want a long descriptive report but preferred a concise prescriptive document that would look to the future. The report represents a consensus view. As such it is a compromise of different views. Usually this means you end up with not exactly the best option. This was no exception. Despite the fact that all members of the Commission sat in a personal capacity it was never possible for people to separate themselves from their positions and offices completely so compromises had to be made. The report may also not have said everything that needed to be said on different issues. The report however has a lot of value:

1. It does argue in no uncertain way the importance of the region. It also for the first time sees the region in a global context and addresses the possible role that the region can play in a globalised world.

2. The report – reflecting the composition of the Commission itself – proposes an inclusive approach, involvement and engagement of Russia, Iran and Turkey are just as important as that of the United States and the European Union in solving the problems of the region and in sharing the region’s development.

3. It also argues for a holistic approach towards the region and its problems. Here there are four areas that are considered interlinked:

- Security, and solutions to the problems of the unresolved conflicts in the South Caucasus
- Governance, including how to fully introduce competitive politics
- The realisation of the region’s economic potential
- Redefining the region’s relations with the world, and particularly the European Union.

Where do we go from here?

The Caucasus Caspian Commission report is a clear statement affirming that there are no quick fixes to the challenges facing the region. It calls for commitment, patient work and better understanding on the part of European and other partners. It calls for vision, courageous decisions and ambitious targets from the local leaders and body politic.

The report is not the final word. It is a contribution to the debate about the region and its future. In this sense the Commission can be pleased to have achieved its objective.

I want however to look beyond both the resolution of the European Parliament and the CCC report and to address directly the issue of the Armenian perspective in defining its relations with Europe and vice versa:

- For Armenia the issue of security is paramount. However security in the 21st century is more than tanks and planes. Furthermore the best first line of security is to have good relations with your neighbours. The best way Europe can help Armenia is by helping it redefine its relationship with its neighbours Azerbaijan and Turkey. Which brings me to the Karabakh issue. Unlike some others who think there is no solution to this problem I think that a solution does exist. For more than two years we keep hearing, from both sides and from the mediators, that we are very near a solution. The issues that remain are however largely non-tangible. Europe needs to accompany the Karabakh peace process more closely than has been the case so far and to offer to the two sides the reassurance that they need to take the final decisive step.

- If the region’s economic potential is unlocked Armenia stands to benefit most, however beyond that all countries will benefit greatly from regional co-operation

- Governance issues are increasingly important. The populations in the South Caucasus have bigger expectations from their leaders today than was the case, say a decade ago. That is why free elections are important because if expectations are not met and there is no redress through the ballot box, people will naturally search for other means.

- In defining the end game of the region‘s relations with Europe we need to be careful to manage expectations; However frankly whatever can be said in statements, it is the progress that is made in the first three areas that will define the forth. From a European perspective we should be careful not to go into a chicken and egg situation. Europe remains an attractive pole that can stimulate change in the South Caucasus and we should be willing to engage more, not less.

In this regard the last paragraph of the Caucasus Caspian Commission report says clearly: “Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are also European countries. The Commission welcomes the successes that have been achieved so far through the European neighbourhood Policy (ENP). This important instrument of the EU continues to evolve to respond to changing challenges. There is an opportunity for Europe to transfer its experience and the achievements in conflict transformation, economic prosperity, democracy and institution building to the countries of the region and through them showcase its own success to Asia and the Middle East. The Caucasus Caspian Commission believes that the time to move on all these issues is now.

I would however like to conclude on a sombre note. On many issues the current situation in the South Caucasus is not sustainable. Things will either get better or they can get worse, and the chances are that if they get better they will get much better but if they get worse they will also get much worse. Those who advocate doing nothing and those who advocate doing only a little may find that neither is in fact a viable option.


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