Edward Nalbandian:
UN AND ARMENIA - 25 YEARS

Edward Nalbandian:

“Within the UN Armenia is involved in a wide array of activities”

Exclusive interview with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia Mr. Edward Nalbandian about Armenia’s 25 years of membership in the United Nations.

Interview : Artavazd yeghiazaryan  /  Photo : UN ARMENIA ARCHIVE

 

25 years ago on March 2 the Armenian flag was hoisted in front of the United Nations headquarters. What did it mean for the newly independent state? How would you evaluate these years in terms of Armenia’s engagement in the UN and what are the key milestones of Armenia-UN cooperation?

Quarter of a century ago Armenia was embraced by the family of sovereign states, became a full-fledged member of the international community. The dream of many generations came to reality and Armenia reemerged on the political map of the World. Armenia attaches great significance to this day, and it is highly symbolic that exactly this day has been chosen to celebrate the professional day of Armenian diplomats.
Armenia reasserted its right to be equal among sovereign and united nations under extremely difficult circumstances of the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the consequences of devastating earthquake and economic blockade. Armenia’s engagement within the United Nations began during these challenging times but that has never diminished our resolve and commitment to the building of a state and society that fully adheres to the purposes and principles of the Global Organization.
It would not be an exaggeration to stress that within the UN and its agencies Armenia is involved in a wide array of activities in almost all aspects of the work of the Organization. Of course we have our priorities that first and foremost relate to the maintenance of peace and security. In this regard the international efforts in support of the processes, developing good neighborly relations, countering terrorism, radicalization, combating hate speech and xenophobia, promoting tolerance and coexistence fall within the focus of our activities.
Armenia supports the resolution of the conflicts exclusively by peaceful means within the agreed negotiation formats. In the case of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution the internationally mandated mediators of the Minsk Group of the OSCE elaborated basic principles of the conflict settlement embedding among them the equal rights and self-determination of peoples, which is enshrined in the Charter as one of the purposes of the United Nations. The importance of this principle for the conflict resolution efforts was recently again emphasized by the United Nations Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order. He rightly stated that too many conflicts have started due to the denial of the legitimate aspiration of peoples to achieve their human rights, including the right to self-determination and thus the realization of this right is essential to maintaining peace. It is our conviction that the efforts of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs need to be supported by all international actors and the UN is important in this regard.
Coming back to the priorities of Armenia within the UN system I would like to stress our dedication to the prevention agenda of the UN, including prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, which has been and continues to remain one of the central pillars of our engagement. The promotion and protection of democratic values, human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law is another dimension of activities that we vehemently follow within the UN framework.
In 2015 Armenia-UN Development Assistance Framework Document was signed outlining the main directions of cooperation based on the following four pillars: equitable, sustainable economic development, good governance, social services and inclusion, environmental sustainability and resilience building.
Armenia closely cooperates with the different UN agencies. We have been traditionally very active within the Human Rights Council and UNESCO frameworks. As a country with a nuclear power plant we strictly adhere to the IAEA principles, which have been reaffirmed by Agency’s numerous on-site inspections and assessment missions.
It is not possible to enumerate, leave alone to go into the details of the whole scope of multifaceted activities of Armenia within the UN framework. I would also like to emphasize that it is not just the enumeration of activities but rather the hard work, dedicated efforts and unreserved commitment that defines the full depth and scope of Armenia’s involvement.

Next year the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide will be marked. During the last years Armenia has initiated and sponsored several resolutions on the prevention of genocides and crimes against humanity. What is the significance of those resolutions?

Genocide is a crime under international law, both in times of war and peace. Resolutions adopted within the framework of the Human Rights Council have a major influence on the development of international law, especially if those resolutions are adopted on the consensual basis.
Armenia has traditionally presented resolutions related to the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The first resolution was initiated by Armenia on the 50th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1998 at the Human Rights Commission. Since 2008 resolutions have been submitted within the framework of Human Rights Council. The resolutions are living documents aimed at reflecting all developments in the field of international and human rights laws during past years. They also underline contemporary challenges in the field of genocide prevention.
These resolutions are aimed at reaffirming the necessity of protecting national, racial, ethnic and religious groups, reassuring significance of adhering to human rights and importance of eradication of racism and xenophobia. Furthermore, they stress the role of criminal justice and accountability in the protection and promotion of human rights.
The UN General Assembly 1st Session Resolution states, “Many instances of such crimes of genocide have occurred when racial, religious, political and other groups have been destroyed, entirely or in part.” Initiation of the resolutions on genocide prevention by Armenia has a symbolic value, as there is a common perception of the fact that they are submitted by a nation who itself passed through the horrors of genocide, suffered and survived and resolutely contributes to the international efforts of prevention. We believe that Armenia has a moral authority to speak out against recurrence of genocides and crimes against humanity. Armenia is determined to do what it can on the international level, including through the UN framework to ensure to the extent possible that others will not suffer the same as we did, that crimes against humanity will never happen again.
The Resolution presented by Armenia to the UN Human Rights Council in 2015 bears a special meaning for us, since it was put forward on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. It was co-sponsored by 72 countries and was adopted unanimously. The Resolution condemns the Act of Genocide as the most heinous crime against humanity and points out to the relationship between impunity and denial.
In accordance to its recommendations another resolution initiated by Armenia was adopted this time at the UN General Assembly, designating December 9th, the day of the adoption of the Genocide Convention, as the international day of commemoration of the victims of the crime of genocide. Annual observance of December 9th sends a powerful message to ignite political, legal and moral responsibility for defying and ultimately halting the repetitive nature of this crime, calling to consistently elaborate a strong national and international system of prevention.
The wide international support extended to the resolutions initiated by Armenia at the UN indicates that the subject is more than pertinent and timely and there is an understanding that only by joint efforts “never again” will be not merely a promise but reality.
It is highly regrettable that the world today continues not to be immune from the threat of new crimes against humanity and the efforts of prevention remain high on the agenda of the international community. The crimes against humanity perpetrated by DAESH are the last egregious examples, but the style and tactic adhered by these terrorists can also be seen in other regions of the world as well. The large scale aggression unleashed by Azerbaijan last year against Nagorno-Karabakh was accompanied by gross violations of the international humanitarian law. The DAESH style images of tortured and beheaded civilians and servicemen of NagornoKarabakh were disseminated through media by the perpetrators themselves.
The issues raised in the Resolutions initiated by Armenia were widely echoed at the Global Forums against the Crime of Genocide organized and hosted by Armenia during the past two years. They gathered together political, public, religious, academic, civil society and media representatives from over 50 countries. We intend to sustain these platforms for dialogue on different aspects of crimes against humanity and for continued efforts to prevent genocides.
No doubt that due to this and other consistent efforts and determination Armenia is considered now as one of the staunchest contributors to the international efforts of prevention of crimes against humanity.

Mr. Minister, the refugee crisis and migration flows from the Middle East are among the most apt challenges faced by the international community nowadays. The Secretary General invited a special high-level conference on this issue last September. We know that Armenia is not just receiving substantial numbers of refugees from mainly Syria and Iraq, but has been active in the international efforts of addressing the issue. Can you please elaborate on Armenia’s contribution to this end?

There are a lot of emotions around the refugee crisis nowadays, especially in Europe. In one of my speeches I recalled the words of Fridtjof Nansen, great humanist and champion of the rights of refugees who said that “the refugees who were regarded as an intolerable burden would comprise a rich asset”. I strongly believe in this.
Indeed, what the world is facing today with regard to the large movement of people due to the situation in the Middle East is probably one of the biggest humanitarian crises since the World War II. This is not a conventional situation and thus it could not be addressed through usual instruments but rather requires special attention and exceptional efforts. With this regard Armenia has been actively involved in international efforts of finding remedies to the refugee crisis and the ways to help the affected communities.
The High Level Conference organized by the Secretary General that you mentioned was an important event in this regard. The adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants by the UN General Assembly that followed outlined the main dimensions of the international efforts in this regard. I delivered a speech during the High Level Conference and chaired its first session. I would like also to mention that on the next day President Obama hosted another Summit on the same issue and Armenia was the only country from the region that was invited to participate. Needless to say that this invitation owns a lot to Armenia’s contribution to the international efforts aimed at addressing the current refugee crisis.
Armenia is deeply concerned by the situation in our immediate neighborhood – the Middle East. On numerous occasions Armenia has condemned the crimes committed by DAESH and other terrorist groups, which threaten the lives of the people of the region and beyond. The war in Syria has had a devastating impact on its civilian population, including national and religious minorities who face existential threats due to identity based crimes perpetrated by terrorists and foreign fighters.
The violence in the Middle East has not spared Syrian Armenians, many of whom lost their lives in terrorist attacks. The Armenian settlements, churches, schools and cultural institutions were destroyed. There is a sad symbolism that our fellow Armenians have been again obliged to flee from the very countries that sheltered them one hundred years ago after the Genocide. From Syria alone around 22 thousand Armenians found refuge in Armenia, making our country the third largest recipient of Syrian refugees in Europe on per capita basis.
Armenia is committed to making its utmost in addressing the issues of Syrian refugees, however no single State can manage such large movements on its own. We believe that more equitable sharing of the burden and responsibility, could make a real difference for the benefit of refugees.
I would like also to add here that this is not the first time in our recent past that Armenia has been facing the challenges relating to hosting substantial number of refugees. In the late 80s and beginning of 90s Armenians were either massacred or expelled from their homes in Azerbaijan and found refuge in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore, we have first-hand knowledge about what it means to be a refugee, to host refugees and to work towards solution of their problems.
In this context I would like to stress the significance of addressing the root causes of large-scale movements of people through the prevention of conflicts and crisis situations, peaceful settlement of disputes and achievement of long-term political solutions. Likewise, I would like to highlight the importance of providing equal, prompt and unhindered access to international humanitarian assistance for refugees and displaced persons in all affected parts of the world, without distinction to their current political status.
The situation in the Middle East, the quest of refugees from there has always been on my agenda during my working meetings and participation in international events. In March 2015 Armenia, together with Russia, Holy See and Lebanon initiated a ministerial level discussion on the Christian minorities of the Middle East in Geneva. We participated in the Conferences on the Middle East communities in Paris, New York and elsewhere. Just recently I discussed the issue with Stefan De Mistura, the UN and Arab League special envoy to Syria. I would also like to add that we have never ceased our diplomatic activity in the region. Even during the most dangerous phase of the crisis I headed a delegation to Damascus to have first-hand discussions on the situation. Our Consulate General in Aleppo is the only diplomatic representation in the city, in the heart of the war.
We have our fellow Armenians living in Syria. We want them and all other Syrians who gave them refuge hundred years ago, to feel not just by words but also by tangible deeds that we stand by them. Armenia is also among those countries that continuously provides humanitarian aid to the war-torn country. This February alone Armenia dispatched two planes with humanitarian aid to Syria.


Mr. Minister, Armenia’s contribution to the world peace and security does not solely limit to these important efforts. Armenia’s participation to the peacekeeping operations is another sphere where the country is actively involved especially in recent years. What does this engagement tell about?

One of the main purposes of the UN is the maintenance of peace and security. As the threat of violence and hostilities continue to spread in different parts of the world it is crucial to make our joint efforts in this regard more efficient and effective. It is with this understanding that Armenia has proudly participated in a number of UN and UN-mandated Peace Operations, thus actively contributing in the most direct way to the building of international peace and security. The UN Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations recently stated in this regard that “Armenia’s support is important not only for its contribution but also for the Armenian history and the challenges overcome during it”. Indeed, history teaches us that security is a common endeavor. The attitude of Armenia towards peace-keeping missions can be tested by the geography of our engagement in past and present missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Lebanon (UNIFIL) and Mali (MINUSMA).
In September 28, 2015 the President of the Republic of Armenia Mr. Serzh Sargsyan participated at the UN Leaders’ Summit on Peacekeeping in New York. He stated that despite the present tensions on Armenia’s borders, our engagement in the area of international peacekeeping has gradually expanded in geographical terms, as well as quantity and quality wise.
We are committed to continue our support towards the maintenance of international peace and security, simultaneously contributing to the improvement of the UN peacekeeping system to adjust to the evolving international situation and the existing challenges.


The UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development set out an ambitious plan of action aimed at a better and more sustainable future in the years ahead for the benefit of millions of people. Could you please elaborate how the Government of Armenia is going to implement and incorporate this framework in its policies?

Last year our government, in partnership with the UN and after an inclusive and multi-stakeholder public discussions and inputs, launched Armenia’s final national progress report on Millennium Development Goals. Based on it, the roadmap for nationalizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has been drafted and as a next step Armenia will soon have a National Action Plan on the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals. A multi-stakeholder Coordination Taskforce on SDGs is in the process of formation, which will further strengthen transparency and inclusiveness, thus enhancing effectiveness of sustainable development.
Armenia has been actively involved in the process of elaboration of the transformative Agenda 2030, which contains a stand-alone goal among other SDGs to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
Armenia welcomes the integration of the Vienna Programme of Action for the Landlocked Developing Countries into the Agenda 2030 as an important step to promote sustainable and inclusive development. To ensure the effective implementation of the Vienna Programme of Action and mainstream it into our policies, the Government of Armenia has recently adopted a national strategy for its implementation.
Agenda 2030 reconfirms once again that unilateral economic measures as an instrument of political pressure are detrimental to sustainable development. The land blockade of Armenia by Turkey is a gross violation of international commitments. It continues to severely hamper regional transit communication routes, economic cooperation and integration.

What would be your prediction in terms of Armenia’s engagement with the UN for the next 25 years?

Armenia is consistent in its approaches and policies. No doubt, we will continue to pursue our goals. Seventy years ago the Charter proclaimed the UN as a center for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of common aspirations. Paraphrasing it, Armenia will continue to spare no efforts to ensure common support for the attainment of the aspirations of the peoples in accordance to the purposes of the UN Charter.