Foreign Minister of Armenia Speaks at Columbia University


By Taleen Babayan
Mirror-Spectator Staff

NEW YORK — In a lecture at New York’s Columbia University on Tuesday, September 29, Armenia’s Foreign Minister Dr. Eduard Nalbandian stressed that questions concerning the Nagorno-Karabagh issue and the Armenian Genocide would not be put in jeopardy by the Armenia-Turkey protocols, due to be signed this month.

The 30-minute talk, which was open to the public, also highlighted in more general terms Armenia’s foreign policy agenda and other regional difficulties the country faces.

“The Caucasus region presents a hot spot with security threats and challenges,” said Nalbandian. “Interstate tensions have arisen because of closed borders and the economic blockade [on Armenia].”

Nalbandian advocated the open-border policy with Turkey, saying it would bring security and stability to the region. Nalbandian said that if the protocols are ratified, Armenia would establish diplomatic relations with Turkey within a two-month time period, and subsequently create sub-commissions addressing issues such as consular affairs and transportation between the two countries.

Another commission of international experts would be charged with opening up dialogue on the Armenian Genocide — a move that Nalbandian insisted would allow Armenia and Turkey to address the past without compromising the historical factuality of the 1915 Genocide.

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Nalbandian also emphasized Armenia’s determination to find “a durable and just resolution of the Nagorno-Karabagh” question.

“There are no preconditions, and the Nagorno-Karabagh settlement cannot be linked with Armenian-Turkey normalization,” Nalbandian said repeatedly. “This is separate, and any linkage between them will damage this process.”

Turning to broader foreign policy concerns, Nalbandian said a key challenge is to strengthen relations in the Caucasus. “For Armenia, regional security is a priority,” he said. “Differences should be settled by peaceful means.”

Nalbandian, who is on an official visit to the United States, said he recently met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss ways to further enhance cooperation between the United States and Armenia. He said that they have reached new levels of engagement with the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) between Armenia and NATO.

A charged question-and-answer session followed Nalbandian’s presentation, focusing mostly on the Armenia-Turkey protocols. Nalbandian said that only press statements released jointly by the parties involved in the Armenia-Turkey talks should be considered as official positions on the issue. He added that many rumors are circulating in the Armenian community to the detriment of the negotiation process.

An announcement outlining the protocols was released on August 31 by the foreign ministers of Armenia, Turkey and Switzerland. Titled the “Protocol on the establishment of diplomatic relations” and the “Protocol on the development of bilateral relations,” the two documents must be signed and submitted to the parliaments of both countries for ratification before the process can move forward.

“We shouldn’t leave the burden of our problems on the coming generation,” Nalbandian said. “We need mutual cooperation and our common objective should be the shaping of a region that is safe and prosperous for all.”

The September 29 lecture — titled “Armenian Foreign Policy: Challenges in the Region of the Caucasus” — was hosted by the Harriman Institute and Columbia University Armenian Society at the university’s School of International and Public Affairs. The event drew Armenians representing a wide range of organizations, representatives of the Armenian and Turkish embassies, including Armenia’s Ambassador to the US Tatoul Markarian, Armenia’s Ambassador to the UN Garen Nazarian, and Turkey’s Consul in New York Ayse Uzer, as well as Armenian and Turkish journalists.

“It is critical to have a constructive dialogue about the protocols throughout the diaspora so that the voice of every Armenian can be heard,” said Nora Khanarian, a graduate student who is secretary of the Columbia University Armenian Society.

“It is not only important for Armenia’s leaders to come to diasporan communities and speak with them in open forums, it is imperative,” said William Bairamian, a graduate student who is a member of the Columbia University Armenian Society. “Armenia’s leaders must recognize that the diaspora has been indispensable in Armenia’s development since independence.”

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