Armenia ex-president Serzh Sargsyan gives exclusive interview
Good evening. Third President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan has kindly accepted
my invitation and we will talk about the negotiaton process for the conflict
resolution in Artsakh.
Hello, Mr President. Thank you for accepting my invitation and for this
A moment ago we were watching with you a short video narrating the main
features of the negotiation process during ten years of your tenure in office. The
video presented the historical timeline of summits at the Presidential level and
meetings between the Foreign Ministers, the key milestones and main negotiated
documents. You, as well as the co-chairs upon necessity, have made all this
public in the past.
A few days ago the Prime Minister said that there was no any information
pertaining to the settlement in Artsakh which you would know and he would not.
He claimed the entire relevant information has been put on his table since 2018.
On the other hand, the allegations about what you have negotiated during those
ten years in office and what you argue was your legacy as negotiation portfolio
left to the incumbent Prime Minister, are diametrically different.
How could that be the case?
You know, I could consider it below my sense of dignity and skip touching upon all
those speeches and interviews during the past 1.5 months, which had been full of
complete lies, fabrications, inaccuracies and manipulations. But there are two things
that made me accept your invitation. First among those is that the presumptuous
expression, which we all heard, claiming he possesses the full-scale information
regarding the negotiations and the negotiation process itself, is a complete lie. It’s a lie,
because it is impossible just to read the documents and be fully aware of the negotiation
process. It’s impossible just by reading a paper. I would just say that even I cannot
claim that I was aware of absolutely all the outstanding details, because except the
negotiations that I was in, there was also Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandyan who was
preparing those negotiations and steering the pre-negotiation phase. This is a very
important aspect to mention.
This begs a question. When we came to power, how did it happen that from the very
outset we, in our opinion, continued going in the right direction? That’s because we –
that means not only myself, but also Edward Nalbandyan – not just for hours, not just
for days or months, but for years really were discussing the relevant questions with
those people who were fully aware of all the previous phases of the process.
And there is one other factor that influenced my decision. If they are so presumptuous
to declare that they have had complete information at their disposal, how did it happen
that in 2019 they were trapped down? I mean when they were offered a new – I’ll put it
this way – a new document and they accepted that document as a basis for
negotiations, for a full year they were lying to the Armenian society, but not only
Armenian society, suggesting that there was no any negotiation process.
Until Lavrov declassified that…
Correct. But before this declassification by Lavrov, we were voicing alarm, we were
saying that there were negotiations, that there were new proposals, since without all
that what would the Foreign Minister be speaking with his Azerbaijani counterpart? At
the end of the day they were embarrassed before the whole world, right when – as you
noted – Foreign Minister Lavrov uncovered that entire process.
Mr President, you are right that the documents at the end of the day were the end
result, i.e. the parties normally negotiate for extended periods and then agree to
put on paper the compromise option, paragraph by paragraph. In that sense, it’s
difficult to know everything about the process that led to previously
negotiationed documents, but the result is
And yes, in that sense it is difficult to master the process of previously negotiated
documents, but the outcome is before our own eyes. When you are saying that
just by reading a document it’s impossible to know everything about the realities
of negotiations, you can be blamed – and you are in fact being blamed – for
certain verbal agreements. And the Prime Minister claimed in his latest Facebook
press conference, that certain promises had been made by you personally and
that in 2018-2019 it was the time to fulfill those promises which were not reflected
in any of the documents.
Davit, I have to try to correct you and say that he has not said all that directly. True to
his style, he has made an allusion to that, which he can renounce every other second.
I can say the following: absolutely no any verbal promise has been made. It has never
been our workstyle – to yield something in accordance with verbal arrangements, be
that something tangible or not.
But let me continue speaking about the first aspect and tell you that when I was listening
to the portions about Artsakh in that interview, it was astonishing to hear some so-called
“arguments”, which I heard in 2008, 2009 and 2010 from the President of Azerbaijan. It
would seem to me at certain moments – to be ver honest with you – that it was
Azerbaijani President speaking, not Armenia’s governor. It was very painful, because he
no longer could use those objective arguments that would give us good chances to
achieve a status for Artsakh, as if he tries to put forward those arguments tomorrow, he
will be reminded of his own words used.
Mr President, I can guess what arguments you mean. I have those grouped and
will ask you to touch upon each of those in a nutshell.
Just let me mention about the second aspect too. Secondly, I have come to observe
that among certain political forces in Armenia and many intelligent people there is a
sense of disillusionment. There is a certain atmosphere of disappointment. And the
allegations of those – I mean both the incumbent authorities here and those in
Azerbaijan – that the Nagorno Karabakh issue is resolved, has in some ways affected
these people. I have come on air to declare once again that Artsakh will never be part of
Azerbaijan. And for that – despite the calamitous war, despite the capitulation – there
are still opportunities to be seized.
You have always said that Nagorno Karabakh will never be part of Azerbaijan. In
your latest party congress you said that Artsakh will always remain Armenian,
and the governing party has attempted to fish for some verbal nuances in your
But is there any difference? I mean – what does “only Armenian” mean, can you
That Armenian Artsakh can not be part of Azerbaijan.
Of course, it cannot. Maybe I am rushing it and answering some questions that you
have not yet asked, including some of his so-called ‘arguments’, such as - what would
happen if there were elections held and Azeris elected… What are we? Some fascists?
Are we racists to argue that the parliament of Artsakh has to be made up of only
Armenians? If it consists of not only Armenians, how does it mean it’s no more
Armenian? Are there only Armenians elected in the Armenian National Assembly
today? What does it all mean? If this is yet another manipulation, it’s a failed one. If this
is – what can I say – an issue about lack of knowledge, then it’s ridiculous. What I am
saying is, of course, also a message to the international community, because the very
same co-chairmen, even after the disastrous war still were speaking about the basic
But it’s been a while since they did that last.
It’s been a while, because no one is speaking about that any more. Have you come
across any clear answer by the incumbent Armenian officials about the future of the
Karabakh issue? The most they do is making references to their government program
adopted still before or maybe after the war. Why is that the case? Are they shy? Are
they afraid? Or, as they say, they have some verbal agreements that impede making
Mr President, I would like to ask you react on a few arguments that were voiced
by the Prime Minister in the course of the past few press conferences. First, the
Prime Minister spoke a few times about a certain radical turning-point in the
Nagorno Karabakh negotiation process in 2016. In every fitting occasion he
labeled that ‘a catastrophe’. What happened after the April war and – I quote his
claims -- at that time Karabakh has lost every practical and theoretical chances of
ever being outside of Azerbaijan. I would like to unequivocally clarify with you: in
order to stop the war as soon as possible, in four days, or in the bilateral
negotiations afterwards, or those under the auspices and with the participation of
the co-chairs, has there been any concession forced onto Armenian side with
regards to the interim or final status of Nagorno Karabakh; and has the Armenian
side agreed to any such concession, I mean have we traded over that issue at all?
The Prime Minister alleges that indeed, in 2016 it was the Armenian side that
backpedalled on the status of Nagorno Karabakh.
Absolutely, there have been absolutely no pressure or no any concession, no written or
verbal agreement or arrangement, and I have spoken about that. When I was speaking
about the April war and when there was the Commission of Inquiry etc, I had very
openly said that there had been only a verbal agreement to stop the war, while they
were claiming that maybe there had been some written document, or some concession
The Azeris were suggesting to sign a new ceasefire agreement, which you were
Absolutely. We had not agreed to any new document or any verbal agreement. That
had been confirmed by the co-chairmen, when they publicly stated that there was no
new document and that the trilateral agreement signed in 1994 remained in force.
So, the price for stopping the war was neither relinquishing any of the principles,
nor any of the elements.
What regards to the 2016 document, if you noticed, inbetween the lines there he was
speaking about some letters and what not, and would not clearly say exactly what
proposals were made by the co-chairmen in 2016, when those proposals were tabled,
Indeed, in 2016 – that is after the April war – we did receive some proposals by the co-
chairmen. And those proposals in no ways violated the red lines that we had always
had. Let me reiterate again, that those red lines were the following: first – self-
determination of Nagorno Karabakh, second – land border between Armenia and
Nagorno Karabakh, third – recognition of Nagorno Karabakh authorities by the
international community as legitimately elected officials, and many other such [features]
that was [in entirety] called interim status. In one place it was called Nagorno Karabakh
interim status, in other file it was called temporary status, somewhere else it was called
recognised status. And fourth – something that was based on or was uniting the
preceding three aspects in one – was the security guarantees. In our opinion the most
important security guarantee was [Nagorno Karabakh’s] independence and it was the
opportunity to influence all processes in a legitimate manner – be those security issues
There was no reservation regarding any of these four elements.
Plus the necessity of introduction of moniting mechanisms was also added…
No, it was formulated slightly differently there, since there would be no need in
monitoring given the peacekeeping forces were going to be dispatched to be lined up
between two conflicting sides.
I rather meant, Mr President, the parties had such obligation before conflict
resolution to make room for a monitoring mission.
That was in the form of statements in Vienna and St Petersburg in 2016, which of
course was quite advantageous for the Armenian party, but none of that was any
solution to the problem. That was very specific means which would exclude future
Until a resolution was found?
Yes, until some resolution was found.
Pertaining to the UN Security Council, which to my bemusement is called ‘a
catastrophe’, I have to say that it has always been the perception that a UN Security
Council resolution [would be necessary]. If someone, who wants to speak about this
topic, got detailed understanding of the Kazan document, they would see that the
document, or that declaration, had it been accepted, it would need to be approved by
the UN Security Council, since it included certain provisions that are generally within the
powers of the UN, while the OSCE and moreover its Minsk Group, would not have been
in the position of adopting such decisions.
Do you mean that a UN Security Council resolution was being spoken about even
before the April war?
This idea or such a concept was featured in all of the documents. It was not inscribed in
any of the documents that exactly that one has to be sent to the UN Security Council.
Why am I putting it this way? Because in 2016 we were offered a docket with three
different documents in it. I have already spoken about this in other occasions: one was
meant to be a Declaration between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The second one was to be
a joint statement adopted by the Foreign Ministers of the co-chairing countries, which
had to include certain elements that were not acceptable for Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani
President did not want those to be part of the bilateral document; and third document
was a draft UN Security Council resolution which was wrapping up or was interweaving
the other two documents and was also adding some other provisions on its own behalf.
Now look, Mr President – the Prime Minister is saying something exactly
opposite. He says that it was after the April war that this issue was delegated to
the UN Security Council and links it to that disaster in 2016. Moreover, he reminds
about the four UN Security Council resolutins adopted in 1993 which included
some anti-Armenian wordings, and raises an issue by suggesting the new UNSC
resolution could declare the territory of Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast
belonging to Azerbaijan.
Now exactly what you are saying confirms the fact that this man does not understand
the negotiation process and not only misses the details of the negotiation process, but is
clueless about its essence. First, what do the UNSC resolutions of 1993 have to do with
this? Those were about a completely different issue. All those resolutions adopted in
1993 were calling for cessation of armed hostilities. Those were meant to decide neither
on the status, nor anything else for that matter.
And the claim that the [new] UN Security Council resolution would not be adopted raises
a question: exactly what line of argumentation does he rely on to yield such a
The four precedences of the 1993…
But I am saying those had nothing to do with this particular matter.
He cites those…
But that has nothing to do with this matter. I am saying that the [new] UN Security
Council resolution would no doubt be adopted, based on the fact three out of five
Permanent Members of the Security Council – United States, Russia and France – were
those proposing the draft.
Can you at all imagine a situation when, if I must repeat myself, three out of five
Permanent Members (United States, Russia and France) table a draft resolution, and
even if [it were not adopted] – what would happen? Even if they decided to go to
extreme measure and one of the Permanent Members used the veto power, what would
we lose? The co-chairs simply could not make certain proposals and then in the course
of their discussions turn 180 degrees and suddenly adopt a different decision? That’s
That means, had that happened the international community would be
responsible for the lack of resolution.
Not the international community as a whole, but a particular member of the international
community would be responsible for the lack of resolution. But that simply could not
This [document] was not ‘a catastrophe’. For us that was, of course, not the document
of our dreams, neither the Kazan document was the embodiment of our dreams, but it
was an acceptable document for us. It was an implementable one on the ground too.
That is obvious.
We will talk about the Kazan document later where I will both remind about
certain episodes, including from one of your previous interviews where you
explained the details of the content of that document, as well as from one press
conference of the Prime Minister, where he speaks about the legacy you left in
the negotiations, followed by a readout of certain paragraphs from the Kazan
document. But before all that I have to remind one other episode, Mr President.
I am sure you can recall that before the war the Prime Minister had continuously
spoken about the perceptions of the Madrid Principles both in Armenian and
Azerbaijani sides, and had continuously pointed at the differences in perceptions,
adding that Aliyev and official Yerevan interpreted the Madrid Principles in
diametrically different ways. On April 7, 2019 at the 12 th snap congress of the
Yerkrapah Volunteers Union, right two weeks after his meeting with Aliyev in
Vienna he spoke about the perceptions of the Madrid Principles. I suggest to
remind ourselves of that episode and then continue our talk.
It turns out that it was the first time that offical Yerevan spoke about the fact that
the Madrid Principles could potentially also be unacceptable for us: depending on
how the Azerbaijani side interpreted them, we would decide whether those were
acceptable for us or not. We should also remind ourselves of the joint statements
by the heads of co-chair countries since L’Aquila Summit in 2009, where for us, I
mean for the society, the principles and elements were declassified for the first
time. That means we were officially informed what the leaders of our states were
negotiating about. Thus, we know about the principles and elements, Mr
President. But the Prime Minister says that the interpretations of those were very
different. Meaning – Yerevan says something, and Baku says something else.
Maybe that was the reason, why he officially and on the highest level had
expressed doubts in the applicability of the Madrid Principles at all? Maybe it was
worth to do that and demonstrate that Yerevan could not negotiate on the basis
of certain principles which Baku had been interpreting in a diametrically opposite
But was there anyone who believed that the opinions of Armenian and Azerbaijani sides
should coincide? I mean – did he think that way? This address is an example that
testifies to the fact that at least till that address this man did not grasp, he did not
understand what was happening. You should go to negotiations, if I can put it that way,
not to demand explanations from either negotiating parties or mediators, but you go to
negotiations in order to implement your vision. You have to express clearly what you
want from those negotiations. You should not go and tell them what is it that you
propose? What they proposed was very clear. They were saying that the issue has to
be resolved on the basis of mutual compromises, that the Nagorno Karabakh
Autonomous Oblast should get a status, i.e. cannot be part of Azerbaijan. But let me
paraphrase this better. I did not mean to say “cannot be”, it was not the [mediators]
wording, but it was presumed that when a referendum is held, it was obvious that the
outcome of it would be clear. They said that the conflict cannot be resolved by force.
They said that peacekeepers would be dispatched before we matured, before the
referendum was held. Everything was very clear. What other explanations were
needed? Where an extra explanation was owed? I did not go to Kazan to demand
explanations from Aliyev, did I? Did I go to Kazan to ask the co-chairs what was it that
they proposed? How could such an attitude be expressed? Just how? I really fail to
Well, he wanted more clarity, Mr President.
In addition, he was also showing poor attitude against the co-chairs, as if saying – what
a poor proposal you came up with? If something is not in our interests, come up with
Well, something new was tabled in 2019.
The whole problem is that, indeed, no document was approved in Kazan. A declaration
should have been adopted there, i.e. declared without signing, since the main document
was going to be the bilateral, interstate agreement, which was the comprehensive treaty
about the peaceful resolution of Nagorno Karabakh issue, which would include
So, was it going to be a peace treaty?
That was the treaty about the peaceful resolution of Artsakh issue.
Concluded between two parties?
Exactly. Moreover, with the participation of the representative of Nagorno Karabakh. It
was very clearly written.
When would the participation of Karabakh representative be resumed?
Exactly when we started the negotiations about the agreement.
That means the representative of Artsakh would partake in that?
Definitely had to participate.
This is a very important episode.
This aspect was included in all of the documents, including the one this man regards as
‘a catastrophe’. Those documents, of course, I am hesitating to make public. Neither I
have ever promised to publish. But indeed, in some off-the-record conversations I have
said that I was speaking, was negotiating with the co-chairs to request their permission
to somewhat publish those pieces.
He has made it public, Mr President. In January 2020 in Kapan he published that
No, he publicized another document, but did not ‘publish’ in Kapan as such. They
leaked it to one of the websites, which published the text and then he read it outloud in
Kapan. That document, or better to call it ‘a proposal’, was presented to the parties not
in 2016, but in 2018 – if I recall it right -- either in January or February. I mean, if this
person speaks about some catastrophe, if at all, there was a new proposal.
You probably mean the meeting between Foreign Ministers in Krakow in 2018.
Yes, exactly that one. For which [that leak], of course, these people were reproached,
since the maintenance of confidentiality was a must and that was upon the negotiating
That’s the reason, why this man publicly says “if there are any documents, let them
publish”. I do not want the co-chairmen to change their opinion and snub us too for any
Well, you are no more the negotiator, Mr President. Maybe this time you decide to
act on that temptation?
I am no more, but I have been a negotiator, right? I have been a partner for those
people. I would say – a trusted partner. Is it worth to do that now?
Indeed, I have all the papers, all the proposals by the co-chairs in my disposal. But
without coordination – I do not think that it is a good idea. When there is an extreme
necessity, I will do that. But since he has that experience already, I would suggest him
to go on and publish.
You don’t want to act on that temptation?
Especially given that I am not the one voicing accusations. He is the one making
accusations, right? He owes to show proofs, not me.
If need be, there must be a showdown, and manipulations will be prevented.
First and foremost, the manpulations will not be prevented. Making manipulations is the
workstyle of these people. They won’t be prevented. Secondly, of course that will give a
chance to many-many people to read and make up their own mind around it. But the
Minsk Group has not vanished, you know? Independent of the fact that this person is
the one negotiating now. Tomorrow there will be a different negotiator. That is not a
second rate structure. Let me remind everyone that we deal with Russia, United States
and France. If we lose their trust fully, what will be our gain? If our people have doubts,
let them follow the statements made by the co-chairs. A few times these people
attempted to misinterpret the proposals made by the co-chairs. They reacted swiftly.
Reacted several times. Isn’t that enough for the doubtful people to realize where is the
truth, and what is just an attempt to justify own failures of these people?
Mr President, only to conclude on this issue about the UN Security Council, I
have to re-direct this question and ask you to clarify the following in order to
close on this one subject.
One of the main claims made by the Prime Minister is that one of our biggest
negotiation failures has been to agree in 2016 that the UN Security Council will be
given the de facto mandate to deal with this issue. In other words – that finding a
comprehensive resolution was delegated to this body. You are now assuring us
that it was fully in the best interests of Armenia to consider the adoption of a
resolution by the UN Security Council as one of three parallel formats for
I want this to be very clear. First and foremost, there could not be any document that
would fully be only in the interests of Armenia. It would be in Armenia’s interest if the
territories in the entire security zone, and maybe even more, were reunited with
Armenia. Am I right? These [issues] cannot be formulated in that manner.
Yes, of course. But neither it was good for Azerbaijan.
For Azerbaijan – totally not. The formulation is the following: if those proposals were
accepted by the parties and there was also a resolution adopted by the UN Security
Council, preceded by, as I said, the adoption of interstate declaration and joint
statement by the co-chairs – all of that would have given us an opportunity to resolve
the issue by peaceful means and without crossing any of the red lines that we had
This means all the steps, from the beginning to the end, would be resolved by a
Yes, that is correct.
I also want to add something. I want to be very clear and say that despite the fact the
declaration it was not signed or adopted in Kazan, it had been the last document, titled
as a working document. I said in the past and will reiterate again that those documents
are called ‘working’ which is being accepted by the parties involved as a basis for
discussion, is being negotiated for a long while and either is being signed, or is not
being signed and is dispatched to the OSCE Depository. Kazan was the last one.
This is one aspect.
Secondly, after the negotiations in Kazan and after the documents tabled in Kazan there
had been no other paper, no other proposal by the co-chairs which in some ways or
another would not maintain those main provisions that were present in the Kazan
document, simply because Kazan document was based on the Madrid Principles. Of
course, some issues were being further clarified, corrected etc. No single other
[working] document. Including the docket with three documents never became a
working document and never dispatched to the OSCE Depository, since Azerbaijan did
not accept those. Even though I am supporting those now, we neither gave our
agreement to that. I mean – we did not say we were against, neither we gave our
agreement. And in general, after Kazan we did not give our approval to any document
and neither expressed any opinion. Instead, we would tell the following: given that the
Kazan document, approved by you, we were ready to sign, if you have any
modifications to make, please, first seek approval by Azerbaijan, and if the Azeris agree
to accept your modified proposals as a basis for future negotiations, we would then
proceed to respond.
And that never happened?
Yes, every time Azerbaijan would refuse to accept the tabled proposals as a basis for
Very well. The document of January 2018 has been touched upon, Mr President.
We remember in Krakow it was the last meeting between Foreign Ministers during
your tenure. Three months after, when you were being elected as Prime Minister
in the parliament, in response to a question by one of the MPs you said that the
negotiation process did not inspire optimism, that Azerbaijan’s expectations are
not realistic, and for us – those are unacceptable. That thesis has been circulated
by the incumbent authorities often enough and you are being reminded, that
during your time in office and at the moment you were relinquishing power the
negotiation process was in a deadlock or did not inspire optimism indeed. In that
case what have the Foreign Ministers agree on? I mean – had they achieved any
principled agreement in January 2018 in Krakow?
As I see, Davit, you are also under the influence of their manipulations and you too are
quoting my statement, to put it mildly, only a short piece. But in that answer I continued
speaking about the subject-matter.
I remember that. That is the most well known episode, that is why I did not quote
directly. I know that statement of yours very well.
That is again a manipulation. That is their workstyle – to cut a sentence or a word out of
its context, make it a flag and raise it high, trying to discredit [something]. Rather, not
that they are trying to discredit former processes, but they are attempting to justify
themselves, of why they have failed at the end of the day. What I said then was very
clear, clear enough. I said – dear people, every second, every day we should expect
new violence by Azerbaijan.
Well, that was not news. We had always expected that.
I did not mean to say something new standing there. I had to say what the reality was.
And the reality could not be anything new. I said the reality was the following: we are
constructive, Azerbaijan is not, and the co-chairs see that very clearly, and that is a
normal situation. What else should I have said, Davit? Should I have said – look, we are
winning, tomorrow Karabakh will be independent, as they have done in the course of
the 44-day war? Should I have done that?
The Prime Minister also used to say something opposite, Mr President. He used
to say that we were constructive, and so was Azerbaijan. This is what in May 2020
the Prime Minister said in response to a question by an MP – he attributed certain
constructivism to Azerbaijan in fact.
Our problems stem from there, too. How can you qualify the leader of a state you are in
conflict with in that way, saying he is ‘constructive’? Have you ever heard me saying
that Aliyev was constructive? You can say he is a realist, you can say – if you really
want that – he is smart, educated etc etc. But why do you say ‘constructive’? Where
have you seen that constructive attitude? Where?
You know, I think all this mess they have created in the negotiation process is due to
two reasons. The first one is, indeed, they did not have a grasp on the topic. That was
rooted in their arrogance that they could invent something new, disregarding and
throwing out of window what the co-chairs proposed. The second one, in my opinion, is
that maybe – and I am saying this despite the fact that they treated us with disrespect –
I am trying to convince myself that these people did want to bring to a new and better
[negotiation] process. But such a wish could never materialize without appropriate
assets – knowlegde, strength, flexibility etc. If you can recall, one of the former Russian
Prime Ministers once said something and then it became an often quoted dictum. He
said – we wanted the best, but it turned out as always. These people have the same.
They wanted to secure a better negotiation process, but made it completely opposite.
When they reached power, they wanted a better Armenia, but got divided the society to
‘blacks and whites’. Wanted to be more democratic, but it resulted in political parties
began talking to each other in slurs. They aspired a corruption free Armenia, now they
are entirely stuck in corruption themselves. They wanted a more efficient army, but
instead perished that same army. They wanted to acquire more modern arms and
ammunitions, but what they acquired was not useful in the war which turned out
catastrophic for us. That is the workstyle of these people. I could continue this line for a
long time – be that about the freedom of the media, the issues in the judiciary etc.