Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanyan

Armenia’s UN Ambassador Looks to Raise Armenia’s Profile

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By Taleen Babayan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

NEW YORK — The current Permanent Representative of Armenia to the United Nations, Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, has served the Armenian government at home and abroad for the past three decades. Armed with rich diplomatic experience, he possesses a strong set of principles and vast knowledge of many national and international issues.

Erudite and forward thinking, Mnatsakanyan has elevated the image of Armenia in the global arena and advanced the interests of his country during his four-year tenure at the United Nations.

In an exclusive interview, Taleen Babayan met with Mnatsakanyan at the Armenian Mission in New York City to discuss recent issues, including the complex issue of Artsakh and modality of its peaceful resolution, the annulment of the Armenia-Turkey Protocols, as well as U.S.-Armenia relations.

Taleen Babayan: Let’s start with the most recent developments regarding Armenia-Turkey relations. Yesterday [March 1, 2018] Yerevan scrapped a peace agreement it signed with Turkey on October 10, 2009 to normalize relations between the two countries. This agreement understandably was hammered under heavy pressure by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. From day one, it didn’t produce any positive outcome. Why was the annulment decision taken at this specific point in time?

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Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanyan: The question of normalization of Armenia-Turkey relations has been on Armenia’s agenda since day one. It is an important issue for the security of the entire region. With the present administration and the current President Serzh Sargsyan, the process has acquired a certain momentum from 2008, the time when the current president assumed his post. Amongst his first actions he initiated this process of normalization of relations without preconditions. The president’s initiative and defense of this policy manifested his commitment to the vision for a secure region. The Zurich Protocols were signed in 2009. Since the very beginning, Armenia entered into this process in good faith. Armenia has remained faithful to the Zurich Protocols, to its letter, spirit and agreed steps of implementation. We have taken them to the Parliament for ratification, according to the agreement. But on the part of Turkey we have seen the total stepping back from the agreements with absolutely no effort to materialize them.

Armenia has been patiently waiting for nine years. The term of the current president is coming to an end and he closes that page. I think there is very little for me to add because the president of Armenia has been absolutely eloquent and elaborated quite extensively about both the entire process and the reasons for the decision and all of that is public. The records of the National Security Council are available and also worth noting is the speech of the President of Armenia in the United Nations General Assembly in September 2017.

Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanyan at a reception for the Estonian delegation

TB: Armenian communities have historically been well regarded and respected in Arab countries as productive and loyal citizens. This has indeed helped to forge cultural and economic ties with a host of Arab countries, from the Gulf States to Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and beyond. Yet, when the thorny issue of Artsakh is on the agenda of an Islamic Conference or Arab League Summit, we don’t see much support, if any, to Armenia’s position. What diplomatic tools does Armenia’s Foreign Ministry possess to rectify this?

ZM: Different international organizations have different methods of work, different procedures and different practices of negotiating their documents. Such methods may be more open or less open to abuse of membership. We observe instances of such abuse by Azerbaijan, when the substance and content of the negotiations on the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is taken out of context, totally distorted and inserted in a totally different document within a totally different organization, which has no international mandate for the peaceful resolution of the conflict. What they effectively do is present wishful thinking as a reality.

Two things are clear. First, the only internationally-mandated format within which the negotiations for the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is taking place is the OSCE [Organization for security and Cooperation in Europe] Minsk Group co-chairmanship of France, Russia and the US. The international community has delegated this function to the above countries within the above format and over years these countries have been consistently and effectively engaged in the mediation of the peaceful resolution. This format is fully supported by the United Nations [UN] system, the United Nations Security Council [UNSC], an excellent example of cooperation between the UNSC and regional organizations. This format is fully supported by the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Those three countries have all the necessary political leverage, diplomatic skills and expertise and have generated the necessary knowledge and understanding of the background and the realities of the conflict and its historical background. The leadership of the mediating countries is directly involved in the process, as is evident, for example from numerous meetings and joint statements at the level of Presidents and Foreign Ministers of France, Russia and the United States.

The three mediating countries remain fully consolidated in their efforts, which represents an excellent example of their cooperation and working together. They have formulated workable and realistic compromise proposals for the strictly peaceful resolution of the conflict. Their proposal is not Armenia’s proposal, but we recognize this as a workable compromise and are committed to work within those parameters. Unfortunately, Azerbaijan has been consistently failing to demonstrate the necessary political will and commitment to accept the three basic principles and respective elements, which constitute the basis of the solution as an integral whole. Their failure has been most evident on numerous occasions, such as, for example in Kazan, Russia in 2011. The failure to commit to the peaceful resolution manifests in many ways, including by way of flaring up tensions in the region, outright escalation and aggression, as was the case in April 2016, consistent warmongering rhetoric, also failure to live up to the agreements, reached in St. Petersburg and Vienna in 2016, as well as the Geneva agreements in October 2017 at the level of presidents (not to mention the level of foreign ministers) to strengthen the cease-fire regime, to establish an investigative mechanism for the cease-fire violations and to expand the office of the special representative of the OSCE Chairperson-In-Office (CIO) for strengthening of the monitoring capacity of the cease-fire regime. Armenia’s primary focus has been and remains on the mainstream negotiating process within the internationally agreed format.

In the context of your question, and that brings me to my second point, their failure to commit to the peaceful resolution of the conflict also manifests in what we call forum shopping, attempts to create parallel platforms, or to create the illusion of parallel platforms. Those attempts are counterproductive, they do not contribute to progress in the peace process and they have in effect no value.

Armenia maintains very close relations with the overwhelming majority of the countries in the organization you referred to, given, not least, the strong and tested close historical, cultural and civilization interactions between our peoples. It is absurd, to say the least, to attach a religious connotation to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, as Armenia’s experience of living together with the nations of the Muslim world and mutually enriching each other goes far beyond the history of Azerbaijan. Those relations and historical experience is duly manifested in shared mutual interests, cooperation and partnership with those countries in the present times. Therefore, so far as those documents are concerned, their value and relevance should be placed in a context. This is not to say we are complacent, as we are consistently alert on these matters and insist on the consistency of our partners to support what they support anyway, that is the internationally mandated negotiating format of the OSCE co-chairmanship and the proposals therein. That is to say, we insist on just and lasting peace and the strictly peaceful resolution of the conflict.

For Armenia and Artsakh the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been and remains a question of physical security for very real people and a question of freely determining their destiny, that is to say exercising their inalienable right to self-determination, which will be defended at any cost. No document of the OIC will alter that resolve. Both Armenia and Artsakh will continue to pursue this existential goal by strictly peaceful means.

TB:  At the UN General Assembly on December 21, 2017, Armenia, along with 127 other countries voted against the Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thus effectively recognizing the Holy City as the capital of Israel (resolution A/ES-10/L.22 until title “Status of Jerusalem”) How does this vote serve the foreign policy objectives of Armenia? And given the fact that Armenia is the recipient of generous aid from the US and the public warning by the US President that countries voting against this move may lose American financial aid, how does this weigh in on Armenia’s decision?

ZM: Armenia explained its vote in the General Assembly, it is in the records of the meeting.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the most important issues on the international agenda and should be solved through the negotiations within the context of the acceptable solution for the parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This can pave the way for the establishment of a lasting peace and security.

Jerusalem has a centuries-old Armenian presence, a rich Armenian historical and cultural heritage. The Armenian Apostolic Church is one of the major guardians of the Christian Holy Places. Therefore, we attentively follow all developments with regard to Jerusalem.

We took note of the recently expressed positions on Jerusalem recognizing that they do not prejudice the determination of the final status of Jerusalem through negotiations.

Armenia is a long-standing partner of the United States on many regional and international issues. Armenia has been working closely with the US within different platforms and formats; Armenia is a security contributor by way of participation in peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo and previously Iraq. The United States has been and remains a significant contributor to Armenia’s reform agenda, institution building and strengthening of democratic foundations, the state and the civil society of Armenia have been benefiting from the support of the United States and from sharing values. An important component of our relations is the presence of the strong Armenian Diaspora, who over centuries have become part of the very fabric of the American society, committed citizens of the United States, contributing to the wealth of this nation. As such they are collectively an important bridge of forging common agenda, friendship and cooperation between our two nations, the tendons of such relations. Relations between the US and Armenia are solid and tested overtime. I am not convinced that their foundations can be easily disturbed.

TB: With President Trump’s stated goal of “America First” and pulling the U.S. back from the world stage, it seems that the world today is rapidly becoming less uni-polar, with China emerging as an economic powerhouse and Russia reasserting itself on the world stage with modernized armed forces. Does a multi-polar world cause more or fewer challenges to Armenia?

ZM: There are indeed many disturbing developments in the international agenda, which heighten the sense of security among nations. In the case of smaller nations, this is particularly acute. Given the fragilities of our region, Armenia’s sense of security is equally sharpened. In the present globalized world no country can be immune from the security challenges in any part of the globe, whether in the Middle East, East Asia or elsewhere, whether the problems are of political, economic, environmental or other nature. This is why we believe there is ever-growing importance for international cooperation and dialogue within different sub-regional, regional and international formats. There is of course an obvious necessity for a stronger role of the United Nations.

Armenia’s foreign policy has been very consistent in identifying and forging partnerships based on mutual interests and mutual respect. Armenia has been firmly rejecting any such method in its foreign policy, which would seek benefits based on disagreements or conflicting interests of its partners. Often one would find the formulation of “both/and” as opposed to “either/or” in the method and practice of our foreign policy. Such policy has been consistently receiving the respect and recognition of all our partners. One might want to admit that implementation of such policy perhaps requires significant effort, but it is an effort absolutely worth making.

TB: You have held many positions in public office with extensive diplomatic experience. Do you consider this position to be the most challenging?

ZM: I am very privileged to serve my nation in the United Nations. Professionally, of course, it is challenging. But let me put it this way. I started this job 27 years ago, serving in the Armenian diplomatic service. This is my job, my career and my profession and I have been treating every position and posting as important, interesting and challenging.

 

 

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