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PRESS CONFERENCE SPONSORED BY ARMENIA

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

12 March 1999

Armenia's Permanent Representative, Movses Abelian, told correspondents this morning that his Mission was sponsoring a press conference to allow the President of Nagorno-Karabagh, Arkady Ghoukasian, to address them. With the President, Mr. Abelian said, was Nagorno-Karabagh's Foreign Minister, Naira Melkoumian. They had travelled to Los Angeles, Florida, Washington, D.C. and New York, to meet with Armenian communities, international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), members of Congress, State Department officials and policy institutes.

Mr. Ghoukasian said the purpose of his visit to the United States was to meet with political figures and officials; to appear before policy institutes and think tanks in different cities; and to meet with representatives of the different Armenian communities with the intent of strengthening economic and political relationships. While the trip was not over yet, it had already been very successful.

The conflict over Nagorno-Karabagh had begun in 1918 when the Russian Empire collapsed, and 1988 was just the beginning of one of the stages of the struggle. Using all applicable international norms and laws, "we have declared our independence and now stand outside Azerbaijan. We are an independent State with all the attributes of statehood", he said. At the same time, the opinion of the international community and the overriding imperative of peace must be considered. The international community was demanding that the parties to the conflict take risks for the sake of peace. The authorities of Nagorno-Karabagh agreed.

A solution to the problem of Nagorno-Karabagh was close, he said. The international community's position was clear; what was needed now was for the parties to the conflict to exhibit the political will. The co-Chairs of the Minsk Group had put forth a new proposal which many governments and international bodies viewed as a compromise, opening the way to creating peace and stability in the region. Nagorno-Karabagh had accepted the proposal, believing that for the sake of peace, it was worth taking some risks. Armenia had also accepted the proposal, but Azerbaijan had rejected it.

Only by addressing the status of Nagorno-Karabagh -- which was the core of the problem -- could lasting peace and stability in the region be established, he continued. Nearly every government agreed that a final solution to the problem was needed. To develop that definitive solution, negotiations without preconditions must be held. Military solutions were not an option. Rather, the solution must be political.

Azerbaijan, however, did not want a definitive solution; it wanted a temporary freeze of the situation, he said. Azerbaijan proposed to address the consequences of the conflict but leave indeterminate the root cause of the war itself. Azerbaijan was not interested in sitting at the negotiating table and finding a solution. Turkey was the only country that defended Azerbaijan's position.

For the leadership of Nagorno-Karabagh, peace and stability were the fundamental issues, he said. At the same time, however, Nagorno-Karabagh could not be left hanging. It had to pursue initiatives in the interest of economic development. A market economy had already been established in Nagorno-Karabagh, and the privatization process was almost complete. "We are creating a democratic State, which we think is the most important thing to do. The solution to problems must come from State mechanisms that are in place and functional, rather than just the whim's of one person", he said.

Ultimately, however, substantial development and growth could only be possible with a solution to the problem and the integration of all the economies in the region, he said. Nagorno-Karabagh was open to all initiatives and cooperated with all countries. It was dangerous and destabilizing when one or two of the countries in a region moved forward economically while others remained isolated. Unfortunately, in this region, politics dictated economic policy instead of economic needs directing policy. The only way out was to recognize reality and negotiate with good will to find a solution.

Asked by a correspondent how he thought the problem could be resolved, Mr. Ghoukasian said Azerbaijan sought a temporary solution to freeze the situation until it was in better economic shape. Taking advantage of oil profits, he said, Azerbaijan would re-arm, strengthen its army and then probably resort to a military solution. Azerbaijan had consistently sought to solve the Nagorno-Karabagh issue through third parties. A number of countries had begun to state that Azerbaijan would have to solve its own problems, and that they were not going to sacrifice their interests for its sake. Azerbaijan should stop deluding itself and recognize the existing realities. There were no alternatives to peace.

Mr. Ghoukasian blamed Azerbaijan for rejecting the proposal, a correspondent said, yet he himself had rejected earlier proposals for a phased settlement and the package proposal. When all parties were rejecting proposals, what were the prospects for resolution? he asked. Mr. Ghoukasian said he had rejected proposals that maintained the status quo and did not address the status of Nagorno-Karabagh. The current proposal truly represented a compromise and included a definitive solution to the core issue.

Nagorno-Karabagh's original intention had been to reunite with Armenia, he said. That was the dream of its people. In light of international opinion, however, it had decided to pursue independence. Today, it accepted the idea of a common State as the basis of negotiations, evincing flexibility.

Azerbaijan had insisted on autonomy in 1988 and to this day it continued to do so. It was time for Azerbaijan to start making concessions.

A correspondent asked questions about reports in the press that the Kurdish Workers' Party had camps in Nagorno-Karabagh and Armenia. Mr. Ghoukasian said there had been no relationship with the Kurdish Workers' Party and no application for acceptance into the country. The accusations were suppositions, merely part of a propaganda war.

The Kurdish problem was a serious matter and it had been internationalized, he continued. Turkey should sit at the negotiating table and find a solution to the problem. Regarding Abdullah Ocalan, Mr. Ghoukasian said the most correct path would be for him to be tried in an international court. Both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh had proposed cooperation with Turkey. If that existed, such absurd accusations would probably not be made. He invited the correspondent to Nagorno-Karabagh and said he would personally accompany him to any area to see for himself that there were no such camps.

How do you plan to counter Azerbaijan's powerful oil lobby and achieve a peaceful settlement? a correspondent asked. Mr. Ghoukasian said the current situation was an historically unprecedented paradox: Azerbaijan had instigated the war, lost it and now demanded capitulation from the victor. It was not recognizing realities. The oil lobby was undertaking a major effort. Counterbalances were needed and available. Those included the Armenian lobby and the information emanating from Azerbaijan itself that the actual oil reserves were not the fantastic figures being circulated. Lobbying was very important, but when a completely unrealistic proposal was put on the table, all the lobbying in the world would not help.

Since there were Kurds in many countries, why did Mr. Ghoukasian emphasize Turkey? a correspondent asked. The Kurdish problem was very serious and the world must pay attention to it, Mr. Ghoukasian stressed. In his territory, Kurds did not feel persecuted. The conditions were completely different and the groundwork for that war was not present there.

Asked for more comment on the role of oil, Mr. Ghoukasian said there were indications that there might be oil in Nagorno-Karabagh. Depending on how it was used, oil could serve the interests of war or of peace. Azerbaijan had used its oil to worsen relations. It did not matter who had the oil, as there were a number of interrelated issues, such as where to place pipelines.

The important thing was that all moved forward together, he continued. Peace and stability could be established only if the military and political interests of all States or geo-political entities were taken into consideration. Today, Nagorno-Karabagh was a serious military political factor in the region. That was a reality. Nagorno-Karabagh could play an important role in stabilizing the region, which should be of interest to Azerbaijan as well. Objectively, the goals of peace and stability should be shared by all parties. Nagorno-Karabagh was ready to pursue that goal with or without oil.

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