Armenia in South Caucasus

Interview with Mr. Gerard Libaridian

Gerard Libaridian, who holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Los Angeles, was an advisor to the president of Armenia from 1991 to September 1997. During that period he served as Senior Advisor for foreign policy and security issues (1994-97), First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs (1993-94), negotiator for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and coordinator of conflict-related policy in the Office of the President. At present, Mr. Libaridian is a visiting professor at the Department of History, University of Michigan. The Civil Georgia talked to Mr. Libaridian on Arminia’s foreign policy.

Mr. Libaridian, intensive talks have been held between Turkey and Armenia during last months on opening the borders between these countries. Is it possible to solve this issue without resolving Karabakh conflict, also taking into consideration recent developments both in Turkey and Armenia? 

Sometimes we are left with the impression that these talks are going for weeks as a separate track independent from Karabakh conflict. My sense is that, no, Turkish-Armenian relations will not improve. Basically, we are talking about two things: one is physical communication between the two countries, opening border and railroad is a major element in that, and second, normalization of diplomatic relations. It is not my sense they will move forward without significant progress in resolution of Karabakh conflict.

Don’t you think that by making slight concessions in Nagorno-Karabakh issue, Armenia can gain much: opening borders, lessening dependence on Russia, participating in regional projects etc. Why does not Armenia make such concessions?

Well, I do not know that it does not. The problem is that negotiations mean mutual compromises and concessions. I am not private to the details of the negotiations recently. I have some idea what is being discussed, but it is a question of what each side considers a legitimate concession from the other side. So, I would be surprised if Armenia was not making concessions. The question is whether the concessions Armenia is making are considered sufficient by Azerbaijan; or whether the concessions Azerbaijan is making are considered sufficient [by Armenia]. I personally believe that a resolution of the conflict, even step by step, even in smaller steps imaginable, would be a great benefit to Armenia and to Azerbaijan and to the region. I agree with the basic intent of your question. I may disagree with specific formulations as to whether it is Armenian side refusing any concessions. I do not know enough to say.

Let’s put question differently. Do you think Azeri leadership is willing to solve problem peacefully even if Armenia makes some concessions?

The answer has a paradox in it. On the one hand, during my last visit to Baku a month ago, I come to a conclusion that the atmosphere has changed from my last visit to Baku three years ago. And the atmosphere was more resolute and more passionate, concluding that maybe negotiations are useless, possibly the military operations are the best way or the only way. This was in the air. You can hear people talking about this. But on the other hand, the first part of your question: do I think Azeri leadership was willing to make compromises, it seems to me that yes. From what I have seen, Azeri leadership, and in this case we are talking about president Aliyev, because he is the one who makes fundamental decisions, has been willing [to solve the problem]. And it seems to me that for whatever reasons grand or small, historic ones or the matters of transition of power, maybe all these combined, there is such willingness, but willingness here is to try different formulas and see which one works.

Many think that Russia uses Armenia as an obstacle to the regional cooperation that harms, first of all, the Armenian interests. Do you agree with this opinion?

I think that it is a very traditional and very square description of the situation. I think times are past for such characterizations. Russia may or may not use Armenia today, or Azerbaijan tomorrow, but if I were those people who think and say that, I would think twice before I presume to decide what is in Armenia’s interests. Does it harm Armenia’s interests? Who says so? Governments decide. Armenia itself may decide that Nigeria is doing something against its interests, you know, one has to be more careful. It is true that there is a different projection of major interests at one level between let’s say Armenia on the one hand and Georgia and Azerbaijan on the other. That is Armenia’s projection of security concerns is different than that of Georgia and Azerbaijan. Whether Armenia is mistaken in its perceptions, I do not know.

The problem is Turkish relations with Armenia and Turkish refusal of having normal relations with Armenia. This is a reality. And I am not even talking about historic issues and terms, points of reference with which people function. What I am talking today is that Turkey has refused to have normal relations with Armenia tying it to other things, which are not directly related to Turkey. Then Armenia does need to be concerned about and that is a reality.

There are differences in projections. Georgia and Azerbaijan see the primary threat to their sovereignty and to their existence as a sovereign state from another sources. These are what I would describe as legitimate differences. And the way to deal with this is not to say Armenia does not know what its interests are, but it is to say how can we deal with those differences and overcome the problem of Turkish-Armenian relations and how can the three republics of South Caucasus function together in a manner that they become individually less vulnerable to outside manipulation, wherever this manipulation may come from.

Individually, they are all vulnerable. The question has always been for me: are you strong enough to stand on your own and minimize external interference? Because today, it may be external interference from Russia, tomorrow it may be from the others. There is always interest of the big states, very powerful states, in having smaller states do what they [bigger states] would like them to do. And it is not always Russia. Russia seems to be the closest; Russia seems to be the only source of manipulation. But we have two other major powers in the region: Turkey and Iran, and we have a superpower that is everywhere. So, I would be very careful in describing, because sometimes in the way you describe, you also lose the proper answer and it becomes a game of blaming.

Javakheti is a very sensitive issue. Both Tbilisi and Yerevan are very cautious about it. Despite this, is it possible to explode region and drag countries into war?

Of course, the possibility exists, because it is a very sensitive issue. Hopefully, it will not happen. I do not think there are many people who want this to happen in Georgia and Armenia. The possibility exists. I trust that the Georgian government, which has the primary responsibility and Armenian government, which could assist you, will work together. There will be measures taken to deal with those issues. Some of these issues require financial resources; others require administrative improvements, management improvements. And this can be done. I am convinced that the Georgian government at the highest level is aware of the severity of the situation, particular sensitivity of that situation and it will do whatever it can with the help of not only Armenia but also international community, EU maybe. So, I trust that these steps will be taken. I have no doubt that there is a consciousness that this is a serious matter and it is not just a matter of social-economic situation. Any kind of deterioration in political situation in Javakheti has consequences for the countries that are very different from other areas.

Recently, Levon Zourabian, advisor to the former president Levon Ter-Petrosian, stated that Ter-Petrosian might participate in presidential elections. As a close person to the former president, what will Levon Ter-Petrosyan offer, what kind of vision will he offer to Armenia and the whole region regarding the regional policy?

I think you might do better if you ask Zourabian. Frankly, I saw him [Ter-Petrosyan] last week. Of course, we had a few meetings. We discussed very briefly his return to politics. That is former president does not at this point preclude the possibility of becoming a candidate for 2003 elections. He has not decided yet. When he decides, it may very well be that he does not want to be a candidate.

Now, what he will have to offer. I think, once he decides he will have his vision. The only comment I can make without having discussed issue in details with him, I believe that he continues to believe that the resolution of Karabakh conflict is a precondition, maybe necessary condition, maybe not sufficient, but necessary one, for the normal social-economic development of Armenia. That is a very important thing. I think this thing remains.

So, I think he continues to believe, that once that is done a lot of things become possible including very important dimension to economic development – regional cooperation, in fact, development of the region as a region. He has always stated and believes that your best partners are your neighbors. Always that’s true, whether you take the Americas or Europe. Countries that are close to each other have the most to gain from each other. You have three republics in the region that can work together and complement each other’s economies, strengthen political institutions. This is [what I can conclude] from my experience of having worked with him for seven years in the past. Other than that, it’s up to him. But I think that Karabakh problem would still remain the priority. 

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