Question: Mr. Foreign Minister, for the past week violent clashes have occurred between Azerbaijan and your country Armenia. The two countries have been at loggerheads for decades now over the fate of the Nagorno-Karabakh region. However unlike in previous flare ups the latest round of violence has occurred far from this disputed region – at the north of the border between the two countries. At least 16 people have lost their lives – the worst death toll since 2016. We have seen a lull in the fighting for the past few days. Are you optimistic that the fighting is now over or you are still concerned that it could resume very soon?
Zohrab Mnatsakanyan: Thank you very much. Indeed we had a situation over the past week: on 12th of July, we had an attempted aggression, attempted infiltration of the Armenian positions by the Azerbaijani armed forces across the Armenia-Azerbaijan border to the north-east of Armenia. This has been decisively thwarted. It has been followed subsequently by missile attacks at Armenian positions, also civilian infrastructure and the population.
We have been decisive in our defense. And we have also been working very hard with our partners with the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship, comprising France, the United States and Russia, in order to halt the hostilities and in order to restore the ceasefire.
Now what happened in fact is a material manifestation of the ongoing warmongering and hate induced rhetoric that was very intense over the past weeks and months from Azerbaijan. Apparently they have been testing the resolve and the capacities of Armenia far from Nagorno-Karabakh. And this was, of course, a very dangerous development.
We have managed to calm the situation so far. Since Thursday we have again through the engagement of the Co-Chairs, the Russian Co-Chairmanship in strong coordination with the other partner France and the US, we have managed to restore ceasefire. This is again a shaky situation. So far it is holding and our intention is to make sure that we firmly restore ceasefire. In fact take further specific measures to reinforce the ceasefire regime and to deny any further challenge to the calm across the border and across the line of contact in Nagorno-Karabakh. This is, of course, a very big priority that we have before us now.
Question: Azerbaijan says that you started the fighting. It has also threatened to strike the nuclear plant, the Metsamor Nuclear Plant, if you continue what they call your “provocations.” What is your response to that?
Zohrab Mnatsakanyan: Well, on the first question. We have been quite insistent on establishing measures to reduce risks of escalation and to investigate ceasefire violations. We are very insistent on that. We are very insistent on further measures including the expansion of monitoring, the establishment of a direct line on the ground. And those are the measures that will help us to control the ceasefire regime. Azerbaijan has not been very forthcoming to accept those proposals and to establish such measures which would deny opportunities for further ceasefire violations. So, once again I am calling upon them to come to reason and to accept those proposals, and to work with us towards strengthening the ceasefire regime.
So far as the threats to the nuclear power plant are concerned, I think this is a very vivid manifestation of irresponsibility, of threat to the broader region, a threat in fact to their own people. This is very disturbing and this demonstrates a crisis of reason. And I think it is very important that they come to their senses in Baku.
Question: Who is responsible? I imagine you are pointing the finger at Azerbaijan’s leader Ilham Aliyev who has publicly said a couple of weeks ago that the efforts to bring a peaceful solution were leading nowhere, or are you also thinking that Turkey’s president Rejep Tayyip Erdogan might be the real reason for what happened at the border?
Zohrab Mnatsakanyan: Well, I would reiterate in very strong terms Armenia’s full commitment to the strictly peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The war is not an option. The war is a total catastrophe for the entire region. Armenia is capable to defend. Nagorno-Karabakh is capable to defend. But war should be totally ruled out in this. We are fully committed to the peaceful resolution of the conflict in a way that needs the interests of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in equal measure as it is expected for Azerbaijan. This is the compromise-based solution that we are working for and we will continue to invest every effort in the peaceful settlement. This has been and remains the commitment of Armenia.
So far as Turkey is concerned, again this is particularly concerning, because we have been observing a very destabilizing role of Turkey in its other neighbourhoods – the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East. Now what we are observing is an attempt to export this factor of instability in our region, in the South Caucasus. This attempt has been also laced with a notion of “historical mission” of Turkey in the South Caucasus. Now you understand that for Armenia such “historical mission” revives very sad memories of the Armenian Genocide at the beginning of last century, and of course, we received this with serious concern. We also observe that the impunity for these atrocities against the Armenians is also the reason in which Turkey decisively claims any role in the South Caucasus.
Question: I am going to ask you maybe very bluntly, you have mentioned the example of Turkey’s role in Syria and Libya. Are you concerned that Turkey could play a more direct role in this dispute with Azerbaijan, including militarily? Is this a concern, or you believe they are just talking, declaring their support?
Zohrab Mnatsakanyan: There is no role for Turkey in this. The peaceful resolution concerns Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Azerbaijan, and we will continue to work closely in a very constructive manner with Azerbaijan on finding a solution together with Nagorno-Karabakh. We need to work on strengthening and steeling the very firm ceasefire regime, we have to hear from Azerbaijan the firm denouncement of the threat or use of force. We need to work on an environment, which favors progress in the negotiations.
We have to work on such a balance of commitments that helps to achieve a measurable compromise, it has to be a compromise-based solution, a maximalist position of Azerbaijan is not helpful in this. So we will continue to work for this purpose within the internationally agreed format of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship. We value very highly the role of the Co-Chairs – France, Russia, and the United States, and their contribution is very solid, their commitment and engagement is also very solid. Within this format and within this arrangement we will continue to work for peace.
Question: I am going to repeat my question. Are you concerned about potential Turkish intervention, a more direct intervention in this conflict?
Zohrab Mnatsakanyan: Obviously, we cannot be indifferent, because this role is a role of instability, and of course we cannot receive this indifferently; of course it’s a matter of concern.
Question: You mentioned the Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship, but it has not worked. I mean all these negotiations have led to nowhere. Why not to rejuvenate this negotiation format and do something else? Why continue something that has not worked so far?
Zohrab Mnatsakanyan: Well, I cannot agree that it hasn’t been working. It has been working very effectively, it has been a very solid basis, very solid platform, in which all the three countries – Russia, France and the United States, have been working in a very engaging manner. They continue to make very important contribution to the peace process. I do consider this is a very positive role and we do not see any reason why it should change.
Question: Just let me ask one last question. Do you think in order to break the impasse, a meeting between the leaders of both countries is something that would play a decisive role in calming the tensions.
Zohrab Mnatsakanyan: We are committed to use every measure, every way of promoting the peace process. The meeting between the leaders is part of the process, it has been happening before and it will happen again, I am sure. But these meetings have to be prepared carefully, so that we do strive, we do aim to establish a good foundation for progress.
So there is a direct engagement of the foreign ministers who negotiate and the foreign ministers prepare the work of the leaders. We will continue to work in the most serious way towards achieving progress in negotiations. So leaders’ meeting will happen when we prepare the good grounds for this meeting to happen, so that we establish progress in negotiations.