By Taniel Koushakjian
September 24, 2014
Today, the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) kicked off in New York City. President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia was the 11th speaker to take the podium this morning, where he discussed a wide range of issues facing Armenians across the globe.
Sargsyan began his speech recalling the centennial of World War I, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and the founding of the U.N. In this context, Sargsyan highlighted 2015 as the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, stating that“it was an unprecedented crime aimed at eliminating the nation and depriving it of its homeland: a crime that continues to be an unhealed scar for each Armenian.”
Standing at what he labeled the podium of “Honor and Responsibility,” Sargsyan thanked Uruguay, France, Russia, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Greece, Slovakia, Cyprus, Lebanon, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Canada, and the Vatican for their “recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide.”
Sargsyan also called out Turkey’s 99-year international campaign of genocide denial “since denial is a phase of the crime of genocide.” “For a whole century now Armenians around the globe as well as the entire progressive international community expects Turkey to demonstrate the courage and face its own history by recognizing the Armenian Genocide, thus relieving next generations of this heavy burden of the past,” Sargsyan said. “Alas instead, we continue to hear ambiguous and ulterior messages, in which the victim and the slaughterer are equalized, and the history is falsified,” a thinly veiled reference to Turkish Prime Minister-turned-President Erdogan’s April 23, 2013 statement to descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors.
In a showcase of diplomatic savvy, Sarsgsyan reiterated that “Armenia has never conditioned the normalization of the bilateral relations with Turkey by recognition of the Armenian Genocide. In fact, Armenia was the party that initiated such a process which culminated in the signing of the Zurich Protocols in 2009,” he said. However, given Turkey’s unwillingness to follow through with their international commitment to normalize relations with Armenia without precondition, Sargsyan warned that “official Yerevan is seriously considering the issue of recalling the Armenian-Turkish Protocols.”
Then, turning to a more recent dark page in the history of the Armenian people, Sargsyan condemned the destruction of the Armenian Church and Genocide Memorial at Der Zor, Syria. “Two days ago, on Independence Day of the Republic of Armenia, the Church of All Saint Martyrs in Deir-ez-Zor, Syria, dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide, where their remains were housed, was mined and blown up by terrorists. Such a barbarity is a criminal Godlessness in no way or shape related to any faith.” In discussing the crisis in Syria and Iraq, he reminded the world that “among them are tens of thousands of Armenians of Aleppo,” and that there is a “necessity to defend the Armenian population of Syria and the Yezidi population of north-western Iraq.”
Sargsyan also talked about Armenia’s contribution to international peace keeping missions, such as those in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and the next planned mission in southern Lebanon.
In rounding out his speech, Sargsyan spoke about the greatest threat to Armenia’s national security today: Azerbaijan. This summer witnessed the most bloodshed and cross border attacks along the Nagorno Karabakh-Azerbaijan line-of-contact since a fragile ceasefire was signed in 1994. It is an open secret that, in the wake of Russian aggression in Ukraine, Azerbaijan launched military offensives against Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia proper. “The failure of an adequate international characterization of the bellicose declarations and various threats put forth at the highest level in Azerbaijan has resulted in all-out permissiveness,” Sargsyan said. “The President of Azerbaijan designates the entire Armenian nation as the “the enemy number one”, and what is considered in the rest of the world to be a crime, is considered to be a glorious deed in Azerbaijan,” another thinly veiled reference to the convicted murderer Ramil Safarov who barbarically killed an Armenian officer, Gurgen Margaryan, who was asleep, with an axe when the two were participating at a NATO training course in Hungary.
Sargsyan also took this opportunity to expose the Azerbaijani government’s manipulation of four UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions adopted during the Nagorno Karabakh (NK) war. In fulfilling the requirements of the four UNSC resolutions on the NK war “Azerbaijan failed to comply,” Sargsyan said, citing Azerbaijan’s indiscriminate bombardment of civilian populations, the dual blockade they’ve imposed on Armenia (in coordination with Turkey), Azerbaijan’s refusal to engage NK authorities in peace negotiations, Azerbaijan’s inhuman and typically fatal treatment of Armenian prisoners of war, and Azerbaijan’s preaching “hatred towards people it claims it wants to see as a part of their state.”
Sargsyan’s remarks at the 69th session of the UNGA were poised, articulate, and factually consistent with international law. Armenians around the world, particularly those of us here in the United States, hope that the world community was listening closely.
Below is President Serzh Sargsyan’s speech in full:
Distinguished President of the General Assembly,
Distinguished Secretary General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We conduct this meeting in a symbolically significant period between the centennial of World War I and the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the two turning points in the history of humanity. The United Nations Organization was established almost seventy years ago at the end of World War II, and its mission was to form new civilizational environment and culture of preventing the repetition of the past tragic pages.
2015 bears particular significance for Armenians all over the world. On April 24 Armenians around the globe will commemorate the most tragic page of the nation’s history – the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. It was an unprecedented crime aimed at eliminating the nation and depriving it of its homeland: a crime that continues to be an unhealed scar for each Armenian. The 1915 Genocide was a crime against civilization and humanity, and its inadequate condemnation paved the way for similar crimes of mass murder in the future.
Addressing the Assembly ahead of that centennial year of the Armenian Genocide from this prominent podium, which I would call the podium of Honor and Responsibility, I declare vociferously:
Thank you Uruguay, France, and Russia!
Thank you Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Sweden!
Thank you Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Greece, Slovakia, and Cyprus!
Thank you Lebanon, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Canada, and Vatican!
Thank you for the recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide regardless of the format and language adopted. I thank the U.S.A., European Union, and all those personalities, state bodies, territorial units and organizations in numerous countries, who publicly called things by their proper names. That is indeed extremely important since denial is a phase of the crime of genocide.
For a whole century now Armenians around the globe as well as the entire progressive international community expects Turkey to demonstrate the courage and face its own history by recognizing the Armenian Genocide, thus relieving next generations of this heavy burden of the past. Alas instead, we continue to hear ambiguous and ulterior messages, in which the victim and the slaughterer are equalized, and the history is falsified.
Armenia has never conditioned the normalization of the bilateral relations with Turkey by recognition of the Armenian Genocide. In fact, Armenia was the party that initiated such a process which culminated in the signing of the Zurich Protocols in 2009. However, those Protocols have been shelved for years now awaiting ratification in the Turkish Parliament. Ankara declares publicly that it will ratify those Protocols only if Armenians cede Nagorno- Karabakh, the free Artsakh, to Azerbaijan. In Armenia and Artsakh ordinary people often just retort to such preconditions: “To hell with you ratification.” This vernacular phrase concentrates the age-old struggle of the entire nation, and it unequivocally explains to those who attempt to bargain the others’ homeland that the motherland is sacrosanct, and they had better stay away from us with their bargain. It is in these circumstances that currently the official Yerevan is seriously considering the issue of recalling the Armenian-Turkish Protocols from the parliament.
The tragic events in Syria and Iraq, which we are currently witnessing, demonstrate how the groups whose creed is hatred are targeting religious and national minorities. Two days ago, on Independence Day of the Republic of Armenia, the Church of All Saint Martyrs in Deir-ez-Zor, Syria, dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide, where their remains were housed, was mined and blown up by terrorists. Such a barbarity is a criminal Godlessness in no way or shape related to any faith. The catastrophic situation in Syria and the north of Iraq continuously deteriorates, and today hundreds of thousands of peaceful people are directly imperiled. Among them are tens of thousands of Armenians of Aleppo. This is an instance of a peril to consider in the context of our joint commitments to preventing the crimes against humanity. Armenia has voiced on numerous occasions the necessity to defend the Armenian population of Syria and the Yezidi population of north-western Iraq, and we are encouraged by the unified stance of the international community in this regard.
The very essence of our organization is the preservation of world peace and security. In recent years, Armenia has consistently consolidated its peacekeeping capabilities thus preparing ourselves for a more proactive engagement in that field. Armenian peacekeepers will very soon be dispatched to the south of Lebanon within the framework of the UNIFIL mission under the auspices of the United Nations. It became possible due to close collaboration we enjoy with our Italian colleagues. I strongly believe that our servicemen will fulfill their mission with dignity and high professionalism also utilizing the extensive experience they have garnered in the last decade in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
It has been more than twenty years our neighbor aborts the efforts of the international community directed at the just and peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by its unconstructive and maximalist stance. The failure of an adequate international characterization of the bellicose declarations and various threats put forth at the highest level in Azerbaijan has resulted in all-out permissiveness. The President of Azerbaijan designates the entire Armenian nation as the “the enemy number one”, and what is considered in the rest of the world to be a crime, is considered to be a glorious deed in Azerbaijan.
Despite the fact that each conflict is unique, fundamental human rights and freedoms, including the right of peoples to free expression of will and self-determination, continue to evolve as a determinant to their resolution. The vote held a few days ago in Scotland, once again proved that nowadays the institute of referendum is more and more widely perceived as a legal model for peaceful settlement of ethnic conflicts. It was no coincidence that the right to govern one’s own fate through referendum is in the core of the proposal put forward by the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Ladies and gentlemen,
While discussing the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement I cannot but address the four UN Security Council resolutions, which were adopted during the war, that every so often are exploited by Azerbaijani authorities in order to justify their obstructive policy.
It is about those four Resolutions that demanded unconditionally as a matter of priority cessation of all military hostilities. Azerbaijan failed to comply. Azerbaijan’s own non-compliance with the fundamental demands of these Resolutions made their full implementation impossible. The Resolutions contained calls upon the parties to cease bombardments and air strikes targeting peaceful civilian populations, to refrain from violating the principles of international humanitarian law but instead Azerbaijan continued its indiscriminate bombardments of civilian populations. Azerbaijan did not spare children, women and old men thus gravely violating all legal and moral norms of international humanitarian law.
Now Azerbaijan cynically refers to these Resolutions – refers selectively, pulling them out of context as a prerequisite for the settlement of the problem. The adequate interpretation of the UN Security Council Resolutions is not possible without correctly understanding the hierarchy of the demands set therein.
The Resolutions inter alia request the restoration of economic, transport and energy links in the region (UN SC Resolution 853) and removal of all obstacles to communications and transportation (UN SC Resolution 874). It is no secret that Azerbaijan and Turkey imposed blockade on Nagorno-Karabakh and the Republic of Armenia from the outset of the conflict. The Azerbaijani President in his statements even takes pride in this fact promising his own public that direction would remain the priority of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy.
The abovementioned UN Security Council Resolutions called upon Azerbaijan to establish direct contacts with Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan refused to establish any direct contact with Nagorno-Karabakh, which was a legally equal party to the Ceasefire Agreement concluded in 1994, as well as to a number of other international agreements. Moreover, Azerbaijan preaches hatred towards people it claims it wants to see as a part of their state.
None of the UN SC Resolutions identifies Armenia as a conflicting party. Our country is only called upon “to continue to exert its influence” over the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians (UN SC Resolutions 853, 884) in order to cease the conflict. Armenia fully complied, and partly owing to its efforts a ceasefire agreement was concluded in 1994. All the UN SC Resolutions have clearly recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as a party to the conflict.
Azerbaijani authorities have failed to implement the fundamental demands of the Security Council resolutions, including abiding and sticking by humanitarian norms. Incidentally, Azerbaijan has been gravely violating this demand every now and then. Azerbaijan’s cruel and inhumane treatment of the Armenian civilian prisoners of war regularly resulted in their deaths. Although, I think, one shall not be surprised about it because it is the same state that suppresses and exercises the most inhumane treatment of its own people. A clear proof of it was the decision of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture to suspend its visit to Azerbaijan due to the obstructions it encountered in the conduct of the official Baku.
The Co-Chairmanship of the OSCE Minsk Group is the only specialized structure that has been dealing with the Nagorno-Karabakh issue according to the mandate granted by the international community. While Azerbaijan is very well aware that it could not possibly deceive or misinform the Minsk Group, which is very-well immersed in the essence of the problem, it attempts to transpose the conflict settlement to other platforms trying to depict it as a territorial dispute or exploiting the factor of religious solidarity. That is ironic, since Armenia traditionally enjoys very warm relations with the Islamic states both in the Arab world or, for instance, with our immediate neighbor Iran.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We highly value the indispensable role of the United Nations in the adjustment and implementation of the development goals. I strongly believe that through the new “Post-2015” development agenda we will continue our efforts at seeking solutions and responding to challenges of global nature stemming from the Millennium Development Goals.
In conclusion, I would like to underline that we have passed the substantial part of the road leading to shaping the “Post-2015 Development Agenda” and we will continue our endeavors in this regard by displaying necessary flexibility in order to bring this process to its logical conclusion.
I thank you.