LINKS Executive Director Dennis Sammut, on Friday, 21 December was the guest of the Armenian Community of Dubai and the Northern Emirates at an event held at the Armenian Community Centre in the Emirate of Sharjah (UAE). After touring the complex which includes a Church and a school, and meeting the spiritual head of the Community, Father Aram, Dennis Sammut gave a lecture to members of the community on the theme “Armenia 2012: Challenges and opportunities”. After the talk Dennis Sammut participated in a ninety minute question and answer session during which many of those present asked questions about points raised in his presentation.
The following is the full text of the talk.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here today and my sincere thanks to the Youth Council of the Armenian Community of Dubai and the Northern Emirates for their invitation.
It is also a pleasure to be in Sharjah. The Emirate of Sharjah under the leadership of His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed al Qassemi has become an important beacon of knowledge and education in the Gulf Region, and hosts many education institutions of high international standard, some of which I had the opportunity to visit on this and previous occasions
My talk here today is based on a series of reflections that I have gathered during the course of my many visits to Armenia, and my close observation of the political, economic and social processes of the country. They are the reflections of an outsider. I am conscious that as an outsider there are bound to be nuances which I miss, but please be assured that the thoughts I want to share with you are based on good faith, and a spirit of friendship to Armenia and to the Armenian people.
For many the term Armenia evokes thoughts of three distinct, even if closely inter-connected meanings:
• Armenia as a historical term: the description of an ancient civilization with its own language, alphabet, religion and traditions;
• The world wide Armenian community, sometimes called the diaspora, spread over five continents, and numbering millions. Some of these communities , as in Russia, are made of hundreds of thousands, others as in Africa, perhaps a few families;
• Armenia as a modern state – the Republic of Armenia, which is only twenty one years old.
My talk will focus primarily on this Armenia, although as I said, the three terms are closely inter connected.
Armenia’s short twenty one years of life have not been easy.
They have been overshadowed by the Karabakh conflict, the pain and the suffering of that war, the elation of victory, and the subsequent cost of the lack of peace which has followed. There was then the economic blockade imposed by Turkey, and a period of internal political turbulence which has seen Armenian killing Armenian.
The country still faces serious problems of corruption and economic dowturn which have contributed to a demographic challenge as thousands seek work outside their homeland, and a democratic deficit which clouds the political process.
Yet this period has also seen a steady process of state building, with many of the institutions experiencing steady progress and development; there has not been an economic collapse as some had predicted, and a pragmatic foreign policy has enabled Armenia to play an active role in international affairs despite its small size.
There remains however a sense that what has worked over the last two decades was interim, and that we are now entering a new phase which will be much more important in determining what kind of country Armenia will be for the rest of the 21st century.
In moving forward Armenia must learn from history, but must not be a prisoner of history.
We are coming up to 2015 and the hundredth anniversary of an ugly chapter in the history of humanity, characterised as the Armenian genocide. This anniversary will be a unique opportunity for Armenia, Turkey and the rest of the international community to bring closure to this painful story through a fair appraisal of those terrible events. There are many steps that Turkey needs to take, but Armenians have also some difficult decisions to take, including to decide who represents them on this issue and to be transparent in what the end game of this process is.
This will not be easy but hopefully the anniversary can be used to at least start the process.
Beyond that Armenia faces challenges on four fronts, and it is in how to combine the solutions to these challenges in a harmonious way that success lays. They are: Security, Modernisation, Democratisation and Increasing Prosperity.
The baggage of history weighs heavily on Armenian leaders when they have to consider this issue. This is why they are risk averse, and this is seen in the way they conduct negotiations on Karabakh; in the way they deal with Turkey, and perhaps most glaringly, in the way Armenia remains so closely tied to Russia which it considers the ultimate guarantor of its security.
The relationship with Russia is for Armenia to decide, and no one has ever told Armenia that it should not have this relationship. However it is becoming glaringly clear that building “Fortress Armenia” is not the answer to the security challenges of the 21st century.
A sustainable security model for the South Caucasus requires a wider arrangement, involving other international partners. It must not be based on an arms race, or on adventurism, and in the long term it should not be based on military alliances either, but on a collaborative arrangement to which all the states of the region and the wider international community are a party. Armenia should be on the vanguard in the search for this new security model.
The past two decades have seen Armenia transforming itself from a backwater of the Soviet Union dependant on the command economy, to a transition country on the way to creating a free market system. This process has not been without its pains.
To bring this transition process to a successful end Armenia desperately needs to modernise fast. This will require more investment in education as part of an effort to build a knowledge based economy, a comprehensive overhaul of the legal system, and the abolishment of areas of monopolistic economic control which makes a few people rich but leaves most people poor.
Progress on this front was made in recent years. More is required.
The European Union offers Armenia with the best possible model for this process. The relations between Armenia and the EU have improved dramatically over the last three years.
EU officials are impressed with the commitment being shown by the Armenian government in the process of putting in place the necessary reforms for Armenia-EU co-operation to develop.
Last week EU Commissioner Stefan Fule praised Armenia for its work and said that relations were closer than ever before. A visa liberalization agreement has now been signed. There are prospects for more to be done and the two sides hope that next year they will be able to sign an Association Agreement.
This will give Armenia the tools to modernize and consolidate its programme of political and economic reforms..
Modernisation should never be seen as a substitute for democratisation.
The international community has welcomed the progress made by Armenia in the area of political reform and democratisation, particularly the positive aspects seen during the parliamentary elections held in May 2012. A pluralistic parliament in which six different political forces are represented, is playing an important role in scrutinising the work of government and providing basic checks and balances
But this is no time to be complacent. The elections in May 2012 were far from flawless, and many positive aspects, such as the access of opposition parties to the mainstream media, were in place only during the period of the election. The democratic deficit needs to be addressed.
In a few weeks Armenia will vote in Presidential elections. Unfortunately, up till today it is not even clear who will challenge the incumbent President, let alone what chances he or she stands.
The steps forward taken during the parliamentary elections need to be accelerated, and once the presidential election is out of the way the focus needs to be on deepening the democratic process, especially as regards freedom of speech and the ability of pluralistic views to be heard.
• Increasing prosperity
A secure, modern and democratic Armenia will inevitably create a prosperous Armenia.
When one looks at the Armenian communities all over the world one immediately understands that in the safety of modern and democratic societies Armenians prosper and become successful, respected and valued parts of their adopted countries.
This model needs to be applied for Armenians in Armenia too. The natural talents of the Armenian people work best when allowed to express themselves in open borders and a free market, protected by the rule of law.
The Karabakh Conflict
I have left this to the last because in a sense none of the things that I have talked about make sense unless seen within the context of what happens next on the Karabakh issue.
Despite the cease fire that is in place, Armenia and Azerbaijan remain technically at war.
People often ask me if I think that a new war is possible. Unfortunately the answer is yes it is. It will be a disaster for the whole region but the current conditions are such that we cannot dismiss this possibility. We are left only with the option to work hard to avoid it.
The negotiations that have been going on since 1992 in the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group Process are in stalemate. The sides blame each other. Despite the fact that the negotiations are held in secret it is possible to understand that both sides have failed to take bold steps to try to bring about an agreement. Instead they have dug in, in their previously stated positions
I would like to see as soon as possible a clear commitment by both Armenia and Azerbaijan for a peaceful resolution of the conflict based on an agreed framework.
The status quo is not sustainable, nor is a military attempt to change it.
Both sides should accept that the final solution is not the one they are currently promoting.
The sides need to work with the international community to develop a new model which puts the welfare, safety and security of all the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, regardless of their ethnicity, at the centre of any solution, and make sure that they remember that the political and constitutional arrangements are a tool to achieve this, and not an end in themselves.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The history of the Armenian people over the centuries is full of glorious pages of heroism and valor, and of dark pages of suffering and pain.
This history should inspire, but it need not predetermine the future.
The Republic of Armenia is a modern 21st century state with all that implies.
The best tools to deal with the problems and challenges of such a state are realism and pragmatism.
These two attributes exist, not only in the present leadership of Armenia headed by President Serzh Sargsyan, but also in many of the younger generation of Armenian politicians, and will, I am sure, be decisive in building a modern and successful Armenian state for future generations, a state that Armenians in Armenia, and in the bigger Armenian family all over the world, will be proud of.