During his working visit to New York, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his spouse Anna Hakobyan visited Columbia University in New York and met with university faculty and student circles.
At the university entrance, the Prime Minister was welcomed by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, who presented the University’s activities and educational programs.
Prime Minister Pashinyan and Mrs. Anna Hakobyan got photographed with 25 Armenian students studying at Columbia University.
The Premier had a meeting with the faculty and students of the University in the Great Hall of Columbia University within the framework of the World Leaders Forum.
Welcoming the Prime Minister of Armenia, University President Lee Bollinger in his speech presented summary information about Armenia. The President of Columbia University then gave the floor to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia.
Addressing the audience, Nikol Pashinyan stated:
Members of Academia,
Thank you very much for your very warm introduction. I am truly delighted and inspired to be here today and to experience the extraordinary environment of this top university that stimulates learning, academic excellence, and independent thinking.
Columbia University carries a special meaning for the Armenians, who have had a presence on this campus for over a century. I would like to extend special thanks to President Bollinger for the invitation to visit the university and for the opportunity to make my humble contribution to the extensive and proud history of the very strong bonds that Armenians and Columbia University share, which include many distinguished faculty members and students that have come through the campus.
The Armenian Center has an important role to play in supporting Columbia’s mission as a global university, through dialogue and collaboration, and I am happy that Armenia stands as a partner in this process.
Education and universities play a crucial role in training the youth for leadership, for driving social change and transforming our world towards a better tomorrow. Education is indispensable in preserving and promoting fundamental values of freedom, tolerance, and mutual respect.
In a world where messages of exclusion and inequalities seem to be on the rise, upholding these values and making them work is as relevant as ever. To reverse the global decline in the democratic values and the rise of the authoritarian trends, the world needs positive examples of inclusiveness and progress, and here is where I think Armenia has an important story to share.
In spring last year, Armenia came into the spotlight of international media as massive street protests transformed into a peaceful revolution culminating in a non-violent transfer of power and a profound transformation of Armenia’s political landscape. The Velvet Revolution set our country on a path of democracy, through a process that was described by the UN Secretary-General as a fantastic example of a peaceful transfer of power.
It was a strictly home-grown process stemming exclusively from the demands and aspirations of the Armenian people. It had nothing to do with geopolitics or “democracy promotion” of external actors. The Armenian velvet revolution demonstrated that democracy and human rights continue to be universal values despite wide-spread ideas of cultural relativism and decline of democracies.
The revolution in Armenia was driven by a strong demand for fundamental changes. People in Armenia wanted to have an efficient and competent government able to fight against corruption; to put an end to the electoral manipulations, frauds, and clientelism in politics; to eliminate inequality and economic polarization existing in our society for many years; to establish level playing field, and to provide equal opportunities for everyone.
Since its very first day in office, the new Armenian government - formed as a result of the first uncontested parliamentary elections in the past twenty-five years - has embarked on the implementation of an ambitious reform agenda.
Comprehensive reforms – these are the most correct words describing the spirit of today's Armenia. Reforms are implemented in many areas influencing almost all fundamental aspects of our life. A democratic society with a strong middle class based on the rule of law and accountable government is the ultimate goal of our reforms. To reach this goal we need to develop inclusive political and economic institutions.
We have achieved progress in many areas. Today, Armenia is a truly democratic country with established freedom of press and assembly. The chapter of electoral fraud and systemic corruption is closed in our country forever.
Yet the lack of independent judiciary is still a big issue in Armenia. Unfortunately, among the different branches of power, the judiciary enjoys the lowest level of confidence in our society. It is not accidental, therefore, that while making our steps towards establishing a really independent and efficient judicial system and restoring the integrity of our courts we are encountering the stiff resistance from those who were exercising unrestricted control over judiciary before revolution. They understand that as a result of the successful judiciary reforms they will lose their last stronghold and the hopes for the restoration of their political influence in Armenia. Those hopes are nothing but illusions which we have incrementally dismantled in each stage of revolution. With the judiciary reform we will consolidate the revolution and bring real change for our citizens and trust to the judiciary.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As I previously said, there was no geopolitical background in the Armenian Revolution. Armenia didn’t produce any U-turns in the foreign policy. That is not to say that democracy did not strengthen Armenia’s position in the international affairs and did not enrich our foreign policy with important values, principles and interests.
I am confident that the reform agenda shaped by the revolution opens up new prospects and opportunities for cooperation with our partners. In particular, it creates a solid ground for the development and enhancement of bilateral relations with the United States. We have a lot of achievements in this field, including the recently established US-Armenia strategic dialogue. However, we believe that today there exist necessary prerequisites to go further in expanding the bilateral agenda.
The US-Armenian relations have deep historic roots. Our people remember with appreciation the tremendous political and material support received from the US Government and the US philanthropic community during and after the First World War.
It was in response to the Armenian Genocide perpetrated in the Ottoman Empire that the United States government founded the Near East Relief organization, which officially became the first American philanthropic effort created exclusively to provide humanitarian assistance to the Armenian nation. Massive fundraising campaigns rescued 132,000 Armenian orphans and hundreds of thousands of refugees.
In 1991 the US stood by Armenians and their newly established independent state once again. Today the US-Armenian friendship is anchored in the shared values and in the ultimate respect for human rights, democracy and dignity of the people.
I also believe that the vibrant and active Armenian-American community is a significant factor contributing to our partnership. We take a great deal of pride in Armenian-Americans, who having attained impressive heights in business, science, art, literature, entertainment and other fields, also preserve strong interest and support to the ancestral homeland.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Over the past decades, Armenia and the United States have been working together in many areas, including global security, fight against international terrorism, non-proliferation, nuclear security, and peacekeeping operations.
Today, Armenia with its 131-strong peacekeeping troops is the second-largest non-NATO-member-nation contributing to the operation in Afghanistan. Furthermore, Armenia is one of the contributors to the NATO-led operation in Kosovo. Previously we also participated in the US-led coalition’s operation in Iraq.
We also attach great importance to the constructive role played by the United States as one of the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and appreciate its efforts towards a lasting and durable peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Unfortunately, the South Caucasus remains to be a volatile region marked by a number of security risks. Unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict poses a security challenge to our nation and serves as serious impediment for regional development.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is among the most difficult and protracted ones in the world. It starts with Soviet Union when an Armenian region with more than 90 percent of Armenian population was assigned by an arbitrary decision of the Communist party to Azerbaijan.
It lived with the Soviet Union for 70 years manifested by systematic and violent discrimination against the Armenian population who formulated their bid for self-determination and human rights in 1988, even before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
It survived the Soviet Union and turned into a large scale war in the beginning of the 1990s, which threatened the very existence of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh who were subjected to mass atrocities.
Since 1994 when a ceasefire agreement was signed between Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan and Armenia, the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process became an indispensable part of regional politics.
There can be many hypotheses as to why it was not possible to resolve the conflict for more than two decades, the lack of functional democracy has been among them. It seemed that there was a vicious cycle wherein the people of the region were often denied human rights in the name of conflict-induced national security.
Likewise, conflict transformation seemed to be unachievable because of the low level of human rights protection and democracy. In Armenia, we broke this vicious cycle.
On many occasions, I have been asked to what extent democratic transition of Armenia may bring new opportunities for conflict resolution.
Of course, Armenia does not represent the entire region and thus we cannot refer to the overall change in the region. Thus, let me highlight only the current reality from strictly Armenian perspective.
The current Armenian authorities do not derive their legitimacy and identity from the conflict perceptions and do not use conflict to cling on power, to limit human rights or justify their violations.
Our moral commitments to human rights, democracy and nonviolence, which we undertook during Velvet Revolution before the entire Armenian people cannot be neglected for the people who live in the conflict area. The people of Nagorno-Karabakh are entitled to enjoy their human rights and determine their future as much as their compatriots in the Republic of Armenia or any other people in the world.
Armenia has supported democratic aspirations of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh who most recently elected their local authorities in free and fair elections.
Peace cannot come as conspiracy between clans or exclusive elites. We need leaderships which are both accountable to their people and can gather strong support for peace in their respective societies. Peace should be about people and for people and can come only through the people.
With this in mind, we try to advance NK peace process with the following important steps.
First, with my Azerbaijani colleague we were able to agree on necessity of observing and strengthening ceasefire.
Second, we agreed that we need to prepare populations for peace.
Third, I unilaterally declared that we should find a peaceful settlement acceptable for peoples of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan and Armenia. I made clear that the will of the people on all sides matters.
Why is it important to ascertain this seemingly obvious idea? Without acknowledging and humanizing other side and their needs it would be difficult to explain the rationale behind any compromise.
Indeed, my declaration was unilateral but in order for it to be acceptable for the Armenian people, it requires exactly the same declaration and approach from Azerbaijan.
So far the leadership of Azerbaijan refrained from committing itself to finding a solution acceptable for all. Instead, we continue hearing explicit or implicit war threats.
Azerbaijan also refuses any dialogue with the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and their representatives and tries to impede any interaction of the people living in the conflict area with the world. Under these circumstances, it should not come as a surprise to Azerbaijan that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh strongly rely on Armenia as the only guarantor of their survival and development.
Let us be clear, there will be no more genocidal threat to Armenians, specifically in Nagorno-Karabakh.
I hope that Azerbaijan will approach the expression of will of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh in the upcoming state elections not as a threat but opportunity to engage with newly elected authorities.
It is our view that the international community should continue to support the peace efforts of the Co-Chairmanship of the OSCE Minsk Group, namely France, Russia and the US, especially by sending clear message on inadmissibility of the use of force.
It is important that within the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship the US, Russia and France closely cooperate with each other. This is good news both for our region and for the world as it indicates that great powers are able not merely to compete but also to cooperate with each other at least in one particular region of the world.
Unfortunately, not all regional players have been showing the same degree of responsibility. Turkey continues to be a source of instability and tension in our region. I can be critical on many issues of domestic and foreign policy, but I should acknowledge that the previous Governments of Armenia made very strong efforts to establish relations with Turkey both in the beginning of the 1990s and in 2008-2009.
They agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey without preconditions despite the difficult and tragic past. However, these efforts remained unappreciated, rejected and even manipulated by Turkey, who signed but refused to ratify the Zurich Protocols.
Today, 104 years after the Armenia Genocide, Turkey continues its hostile policy towards the Armenians by closing its land borders, politically and militarily supporting Azerbaijan against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, and most appallingly, by justifying the Armenian Genocide.
We are a people of the region and we have been living here from ancestral times, we survived the Genocide and finally we are building a democratic, peaceful and viable nation. This is reality that Turkey should accept by ceasing to be the eternal security threat to Armenia and the Armenian people.
The equal rights and self-determination of peoples are one of the principles of international law put forward by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. When it comes to this principle, somehow there is a tendency to rightly emphasis self-determination and wrongly to forget about the equal rights of peoples. Peoples who live in one region side by side are destined to recognize each other as legitimate equals. This means rejection of any idea of domination, subjugation or destruction of other people.
New forms of dialogue, respect, reconciliation, and equality among people are needed in our region. Culture of dialogue, tolerance and compromise should prevail over all differences and against all odds in the South Caucasus.
Thank you for your attention.”
The Prime Minister’s speech was followed by a question and answer session with Columbia University students. Nikol Pashinyan answered a number of questions related to democratic processes taking place in Armenia, the status and prospects of democracy in the world, in general, the role of the Armenian Diaspora, the ongoing judiciary reform, the anticorruption efforts, the potential for conservation in the mining and environmental sectors, the possibility of military service for women, and other topics.