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Tatoul Markarian

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PRESS RELEASE
August 22, 2005
Embassy of the Republic of Armenia
2225 R Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20008
Tel: 202-319-1976, x. 348; Fax: 202-319-2982
Email: armecon@speakeasy.net; Web: www.armeniaemb.org

Ambassador Markarian's Interview to the Armenian Mirror Spectator

The Armenian Mirror Spectator published an exclusive interview with Ambassador of Armenia Tatoul Markarian in its August 13, 2005 issue. This was the first interview granted by Ambassador Markarian to the Armenian-American media. Following is the text of the interview.


M-S: What is your biggest challenge in Washington? You have dealt with the US government for a long time. Do you notice an improvement in relations or a downward trend?

The biggest challenge, if it can be called so, is to further promote the already excellent bilateral relations that are soundly based on shared values and interests. Since the restoration of Armenia's independence, the United States extended significant political support and humanitarian assistance to Armenia, helping Armenia to sustain an independent statehood and implement democratic, legal, and economic reforms.

The cooperation between the United States and Armenia started immediately after Armenia's independence in 1991, and the scope and substance of our relations continues to increase. The United States plays an important role as a Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, mediating the Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement. Armenia is a partner of the United States in the global war against terrorism.

As you know, Armenia has been selected as a potential recipient of the Millennium Challenge Account funds, which reflects the U.S. assessment of Armenia's economic and social conditions. The MCA funds and continued U.S. assistance to Armenia will advance the objectives of poverty reduction and promotion of economic growth.

U.S.-Armenian military and security cooperation expanded in the last three years. So, the trend has been positive, and it will continue. Independently of the currently high level, our priority is to work to further expand and deepen our bilateral relations in all areas. We greatly value continued U.S. assistance programs in Armenia and humanitarian assistance to Karabakh.

M-S: A large US delegation, including two senators, recently visited Armenia. Also the US has opened a very large embassy there. Do you think the US is placing greater emphasis on Armenia in its foreign policy?

Mutual bilateral visits occur on regular basis. This year alone, in addition to the visits to Armenia by Senators Norm Coleman and Chuck Hagel, Chairman of the Armenian National Assembly and the Foreign and Defense Ministers of Armenia will visit the United States. Such visits and institutionalized meetings and consultations between the Governments of our countries, such as U.S.-Armenia Economic Task Force, U.S.-Armenia Strategic Dialog, Bilateral Defense Consultations, provide a framework for dialog on bilateral political, security, and economic cooperation.

As for the opening of the new U.S. Embassy building in Yerevan, which is indeed one of the largest in the region, it is a testimony of the solid basis and the enduring nature of our bilateral relations.

M-S: Do you see any movement on the Karabakh negotiations?

Active dialog on Nagorno Karabakh peace process is conducted on the level of the Presidents and Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Foreign Ministers meet periodically, and the Presidents have met during international forums during the last two years.

Recently, there have been many public statements from parties, as well as mediators. Issues of interest are being actively discussed. President Kocharian will meet his Azeri counterpart during a CIS Heads of State summit in Kazan, Russia in late August. This meeting is acclaimed as a potentially important discussion of key aspects of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement. It is difficult to predict whether there will be a full consensus soon. However, Armenia remains committed to an early, just, and durable resolution of the conflict by peaceful means.

M-S: What can Armenian-Americans do to help Armenia more?

Armenian-Americans have contributed significantly to alleviating humanitarian needs in Armenia and Artsakh, and are still implementing many projects, such as building roads and schools etc. Such assistance projects have been supported by individuals and organizations. The Lincy Foundation has financed the restoration of Armenia's road infrastructure and other valuable projects. With participation of thousands of Armenian-Americans, the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund completed the strategic Goris-Stepanakert highway and is currently building the North-South Highway in Artsakh. Such examples are many, and this assistance is greatly appreciated by the people and the Government of Armenia.

At the same time, Armenia offers many economic opportunities for the commercial involvement by the Armenian Americans. Most U.S. investment to Armenia went into Armenia's hospitality and IT industries, particularly software manufacturing. Without underestimating the ongoing humanitarian and social programs carried out in Armenia by the Diasporan individuals and organizations, greater commercial involvement by Armenian-Americans will be mutually beneficial and promote more open business environment in Armenia. That is exactly what today's Armenia needs most. Both the Homeland and the Diaspora can benefit from this synergy.

M-S: What is the effect on Armenia of the start up of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline?

Armenia's economy has followed its own path of development and is now more efficient and diversified than those of its neighbors. We will continue to implement economic and legal reforms to further improve the business environment and stimulate domestic and foreign investment.

Armenia's economic progress has been accomplished despite lack of significant natural resources and under conditions of a blockade, which fostered greater efficiency and more competitive economic environment. Nevertheless, Armenia is part of the South Caucasus region and Armenia's vibrant economy will be able to benefit from regional wealth.

The challenge for the region is to ensure that the oil and transit revenues are used efficiently and transparently. All too often in other countries the oil wealth has been squandered and embezzled. In this regard, the international community possesses the levers to ensure that the proceeds from the Caspian oil are used constructively and do not threaten the peace and stability in the region.

M-S: How will the transfer of Russian troops and military equipment from Georgia to Gyumri affect Armenia-Russia relations and Armenia-US relations?

The issue of withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia is a matter between Georgia and Russia. The transfer of military ammunition from the Russian base in Georgia to the Russian military base in Armenia does not violate any international agreement. This does not constitute a threat to a third party and will not affect regional security. Moreover, this has in no way affected our relations with the United States.

M-S: Recently, a historians' conference scheduled by three universities in Istanbul to deal with the Armenian Genocide was canceled by the Turkish government. Nevertheless, there were a large handful of Turkish scholars ready and willing to discuss the Genocide. Do you think this is a hopeful sign?

Armenia and the world follow these developments in Turkey with close interest, as they show the true actions and intentions of the current Turkish authorities. In my article in The Washington Times, I questioned the sincerity and plausibility of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's initiative for a 'joint study of history' given the legal and other obstacles to the free discussion and understanding of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey. The threats from the Turkish government that led to the cancellation of this conference of Turkish historians answered my question.

It is encouraging that some representatives of the Turkish society are willing to discuss the contentious issues of Turkey's past and present, including the Armenian Genocide. It is all the more disappointing that the Turkish government forced the conference to close simply because it could not control the substance and outcome of the discussion. As a result, it generated significant criticism from the West, since Turkish aspirations for joining the EU cannot be taken seriously if Turkey is unable to internally discuss and address all issues in an open and democratic manner.

M-S: Recent anti-smoking legislation was passed in Armenia. Studies have shown that 22 percent of Armenian men die from smoke related disease. Do you think the Ministry of Health and the government will have the resources to enforce the legislation and launch a public education campaign?

As the Armenian economy develops and civil society strengthens, the Armenian citizens begin to think beyond the immediate, current needs. This includes tackling issues related to quality of life, such as smoking, environment, and food safety, among others. It is no coincidence that after some Armenian NGO's began to carry out anti-smoking and healthy lifestyle campaign the National Assembly responded and passed this law. The passage of this law is the first step, and will be followed by others. We have the example of other foreign countries which have managed to reduce smoking dramatically within one or two decades, and it can be done in Armenia as well.

(Reprinted from the Armenian Mirror Spectator, August 13, 2005, p. 1)




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