First published in September 27, 2008 Armenian Reporter.
At UN, Serge Sargsian calls for prevention of war, genocide
In first visit as president Sargsian meets world leaders, Armenian-Americans
by Emil Sanamyan
Serge Sargsian, President of the Republic of Armenia, addresses the United Nations' General Assembly. Marco Castro / UN Photo
NEW YORK - "If a country increases its military budget and brags about it, [this country] must receive a rapid and firm response" from the international community, Armenia's president Serge Sargsian told the United Nations General Assembly on September 25 as he spoke of lessons learned from Georgia's attack against South Ossetia and the subsequent Russian response.
Mr. Sargsian was clearly referring to both Georgia and Azerbaijan, whose military budgets have increased exponentially to reach $1 and $2 billion, respectively, this year. Just as Georgia sought to regain control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, now recognized as independent states by Russia, Azerbaijan has been seeking military revanche over Karabakh.
"Prevention is preferable to cure and a potential military conflict must be prevented at the planning stage," the Armenian president said.
He also recalled the recent passage by the General Assembly, over opposition from Armenia, France, India, Russia, and the United States, of a nonbinding resolution supporting Azerbaijan's claims on Karabakh; the resolution was adopted with the support of only 39 countries.
"Wasn't that voting lip service to Azerbaijan?" Mr. Sargsian wondered. "I hope that the real interest of Azerbaijan is a peaceful and comprehensive resolution of the conflict, just like it is in the interests of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Republic of Armenia."
A resolution, the president made clear, would have to be based on the right of people to self-determination and the free will of Karabakh's residents.
Pointing to the antiwar "Twisted Gun" monument located in the United Nations' Sculpture Garden, Mr. Sargsian looked forward to a time when a similar monument could be erecting "for the Armenian and Azerbaijani children in our region. Let me assure you, these kids deserve it," he said.
Remembering history, trying to build a new future with Turkey
In his General Assembly speech, Mr. Sargsian also recalled the 60th anniversary of the Convention on Genocide Prevention, marked this year, and pointed out that these events are significant for Armenians, a people who "survived the Genocide."
Both at the United Nations and especially at a meeting with hundreds of Armenian-Americans on the evening of September 24, Mr. Sargsian also spoke at length of his recent efforts to reach out to Turkey to normalize relations.
"The most important decision" at his September 6 meeting in Yerevan with Turkish president Abdullah Gül, Mr. Sargsian said, was "not to leave the current problems to future generations."
At the meeting with Armenian-Americans, Mr. Sargsian praised Mr. Gül for the "courage" he showed; he said he believed in the Turkish government's "determination" to improve relations.
But in remarks at the General Assembly on September 23, Mr. Gül spoke of his visit to Armenia only in the context of Turkey's effort to achieve a Karabakh settlement favorable to Azerbaijan.
And according to sources in the Armenian government, a bilateral meeting between Foreign Ministers Edward Nalbandian and Ali Babacan was hung up over logistics, as well a joint declaration proposed by Turkey to be adopted together by Armenia and Azerbaijan.
When asked about the declaration, Mr. Nalbandian told Arminfo news agency last week that he hoped there would be no "artificial obstacles" on the way toward normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey, a course that two presidents agreed to pursue.
U.S. praises Sargsian for "healing reforms"
Meeting in New York on September 24, Mr. Sargsian discussed a variety of regional concerns with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Ms. Rice welcomed what she termed "healing reforms" implemented by the Armenian government to deal with the post-election crisis earlier this year. She also welcomed the Armenian president's effort to improve relations with Turkey. Mr. Sargsian in turn thanked the United States for its assistance to Armenia.
While in New York, Mr. Sargsian also met with leaders of Cyprus, Latvia, the Netherlands, and Serbia.
This article was reported by Emil Sanamyan and Lusine Sarkisyan in Washington and Florence Avakian in New York and was written by Mr. Sanamyan