STRASBOURG — President Serge Sargisian, on the eve of the Kazan summit in Russia, addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on June 22. Among other topics, Sargisian stressed that Armenia was trying to become a more democratic country, while acknowledging stumbling in the past. He also stressed that Armenia shares much with Europe historically. “The people of Armenia have made their historic and irreversible choice. Our road to becoming closer to Europe has been unique in a natural way. However, there have been obstacles, which are not natural, such as the artificial and unlawful blockade imposed on Armenia by our two neighbors. However, in spite of all the difficulties, our society knows precisely where it is going.” “In 2008, our country experienced serious problems and challenges. The steps taken by the government to overcome the consequences of the tragic events of March 2008 have been discussed in detail with all of our partners, including those in the Council of Europe. We have sometimes had serious discrepancies and have respectfully disagreed with each other’s assessments. We have, however, benefited from the exchange, the wisdom of the experience and the constructive dialogue. “We are determined to continue the reforms. We recognize that Armenia cannot develop without further fundamental improvements that will perhaps be no less painful than the ones implemented in the past.” Sargisian spent a great deal of time speaking about the problems of Nagorno Karabagh and relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan. He complained about the warmongering by Azerbaijan and the fruitless peace process with Turkey. “Peaceful and just resolution of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict remains the most important issue for us. The negotiations are conducted in the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group. We are grateful to the co-chair states for their efforts. “I believe you would agree that the most important current and potential contribution of the Council of Europe to this process is the promotion of tolerance. To this end, we note with pain and concern that hotbeds of racism and xenophobia still exist in the territory of the Council of Europe. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, in its recent regular report on Azerbaijan, reconfirmed the extreme level of Armenophobia and racism prevailing in that country. We regret this fact, because it is hard to imagine such a situation in a member state of the Council of Europe. We regret, because we clearly understand that the poison of intolerance strikes most heavily the society bearing such poison. “Even under these circumstances, we travel to Kazan in anticipation of progress, as we attach great importance to regional stability and development, to securing a safe future for the generation growing up in Armenia, Nagorno Karabagh and Azerbaijan, and to demonstrating good will and a constructive approach. However, we all should realize that an agreement can be finalized and effectively implemented only when the patterns of Armenophobia and racism are eliminated in Azerbaijan and an atmosphere of trust is formed. Naturally, no one may question the inherent right of the people of Karabagh to live freely and safely on their land and to be the masters of their destiny. “Regardless of different visions for the final resolution of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict, one thing is certain. Karabagh has been, is, and will remain a part of Europe, albeit unrecognized. Do we realize that society in Karabagh today is a part of European society, a part of the European family regardless of the de-jure status of Karabagh? Has the time not come for the Council of Europe to engage directly with Karabagh in terms of its primary functions of protection and promotion of human rights, formation of civil society, democracy, tolerance, and the like?” Regarding Turkey, he said, “Two years ago, we initiated a process of normalization between Armenia and Turkey, which would have allowed, through the establishment of diplomatic relations and opening of the border, to gradually overcome the divide that had existed for almost a century. I would like to note that, throughout the process, we greatly appreciated the inspiration and permanent support of not only the mediator states, but also the international community more broadly, including various senior officials of the Council of Europe. Unfortunately, in spite of this support, Armenia-Turkey normalization process ended up in a deadlock. “The sole reason was that Turkey reverted to its practice of setting preconditions and failing to honor its commitments, which rendered the ratification of the signed protocols impossible. “It is important to emphasize that Armenia initiated the process with good intentions, true to the 21st-century imperative of peaceful coexistence of nations and peoples, all on the backdrop of Turkey still not only failing to recognize, but also engaging in a policy of blunt denial of the Genocide of Armenians committed in the Ottoman Empire in 1915. Meanwhile, Armenians worldwide are expecting an adequate response. Our tireless efforts, and hopefully also the efforts of those concerned about crimes against humanity, will henceforth remain focused on the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. “However, we are determined not to leave this problem unsolved for generations to come. The normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey is important not only for Armenians and Turks, but also for the whole region, I believe even for the whole of Europe in terms of creating an atmosphere of peace, stability, and cooperation. The unlawful blockade of Armenia must come to an end.” Interestingly, the only aggressive question for Sargisian after the speech came from Armenia’s delegate to PACE, opposition member Zaruhi Postanjian, who in her question suggested Armenia was a dictatorship and far from democratic. “The idea that Mrs. Postanjyan is a member of PACE delegation is speaking for itself. That is to say, we are not an authoritarian country, for the representative of the opposition in an authoritarian country cannot be included in a delegation of international organization and to pose such a question to the head of the country,” said the Chairman of the Republic of Armenia National Assembly Standing Committee on Defense, National Security and Internal Affairs Hrayr Karapetyan.