ArmInfo’s Interview with Aram Manukyan, Secretary of the Parliamentary Faction of Armenian National Congress
by David Stepanyan
What can you say about the outgoing year 2013?
First and foremost, I associate the outgoing year 2013 with the totally rigged presidential elections, which have prompted another surge of disappointment in the Armenian society and speeded up the migration. People feel their inability to change something in their own country and decide to leave Armenia, which is quite logical. Therefore, in Jan-Oct 2013 a total of 247,000 people left Armenia. 2013 was also a year of an unprecedented level of poverty, which was another reason of high migration. The Government is constantly increasing the tax burden without creating jobs. This results in migration. The video cameras registering traffic rule violations, the red lines in the streets of Yerevan, the compulsory pension reform, as well as the additional duties for the luck to have a biometric passport, for instance, also spark public outrage. The Armenian authorities' key "achievement" in 2013 was that Armenia ceased being a factor in its own foreign policy and finally lost its status of a player. The sudden intention to join the Customs Union, the reluctance to initial the Association Agreement with the EU, and the unclear policy of Armenian-Turkish normalization lacked any signs of a concept. All these decisions were based on anything but the political will. As a result, Armenia lost the confidence of the West, Russia and Iran. This happened amid the lack of vote of public confidence in the people who proclaimed themselves as authorities.
So, you say that the authorities enjoy confidence neither inside nor outside Armenia. Nevertheless, the crackdown policy against the population is still going on. Do the authorities assess the situation in the wrong way?
The Armenian authorities are well aware that Europe will not give money to Armenia any more. As for the Russians and Iranians, they do not trust in the Armenian authorities. So, having no expectation from financial inflow from outside, the regime is trying to compensate it inside the country, as it has no other way for keeping the power and delivering pensions and salary. They cannot take oligarchs from "shadow" to the tax field, as an elementary economic expediency requires. They cannot create favorable conditions for business. Neither can they create jobs. They do not think about it. For this reason, the authorities of Armenia have no other way to preserve the power than use crackdown and escalate terror. Meanwhile, if the Armenian authorities were a little bit courageous, they could take Armenia out of the deadlock through resigning. I am confident that in that case all the foreign problems of Armenia with the EU, Russia and Turkey would find themselves in time-out at least for a year, the time needed for acclimatization of the new power which the people trust in.
You say that Armenia hasn’t got a single ally. In the meantime, Serzh Sargsyan’s consent to participate in Eurasian integration seems to have provided him with one ally at least…
I don’t think so. It is Russians who suffered most due to the lack of confidence in Armenia's authorities. Throughout his presidency Serzh Sargsyan was constantly playing hide-and-seek between the West and the East and the years of Armenia's participation in Eastern Partnership were not coordinated with Russia, our strategic partner. If the Customs Union membership were our initiative based on the real interests of Armenia, it would become an excellent example of cooperation with Russia. However, the Armenian authorities have chosen the Customs Union only because they have no alternative. They have become vulnerable because of the mistakes they made in the past. I think Serzh Sargsyan does not even express his opinion in the negotiations with Putin. Consequently, one cannot speak of the benefits Armenia will get from its accession to the Customs Union. As regards the "gas debts" of the country, the Armenian authorities have not paid the full price of the consumed gas for three years and promised Russia to pay the difference with the state property or with the state budget funds, whereas not a single Armenian dram was budgeted for those purposes. Armenia failed to pay 80 AMD to Gazprom for each 1,000 cu m of gas over the past few years. Now Tigran Sargsyan has given Russia the remaining 20% of ArmRusgasprom and it is not clear yet what else he is going to give them in the future. This is why Moscow quite fairly fails to consider Yerevan as its equal partner. In this context, one should certainly emphasize that the price boost in Armenia occurred mostly following the presidential election.
Before visiting Armenia, Vladimir Putin announced creation of a joint air defense system with participation of Russia, Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Russia is strengthening the 102nd military base and intends to take Erebouni airport on lease. The impression is that our allies are strengthening not Armenia but their presence in Armenia. How much does this meet Armenia’s interests?
I believe the answer is the same lack of Russia's confidence in Armenian authorities, who are making unpredictable and illogical steps. Therefore, Moscow simply has to put a straitjacket on Yerevan, which has become politically irresponsible due to Serzh Sargsyan's efforts. As for me, I think such policy of the Kremlin is unacceptable, because we are consistently losing our sovereignty and our own foreign policy. However, it is senseless to blame others for this state of affairs. Our authorities are to blame. We must adjust our interests to the interests of Russia. The 102nd military base appeared in Armenia in the early 1990s on the initiative and in the best interests of Armenia. But it also met the Russian interests. The same cannot be said about the policy of betraying Armenia's interests and ceding Armenia's facilities that started during Robert Kocharyan's presidency and is still going on.
Can Armenia rely on Moscow even more in the Karabakh peace process after the Sept 3 statement of Serzh Sargsyan?
It is hard to answer the question without adjusting it to the interests of Russia. Neither Armenia nor the NKR can benefit from the 100-year maintenance of the status quo. I believe that the status quo undermines the statehood. In the meantime, I cannot say what interests Moscow will have in the Karabakh peace process within the next few years. I am convinced that the Karabakh problem should be settled because it hinders the development of Armenia, Nagorno- Karabakh and Azerbaijan.
Has Armenia got any European prospects?
Armenia should have continued its policy to combine US assistance, European democracy and Russian security. This policy was successfully implemented for many years. We even managed to improve our relations with the Arab world and to get US assistance through the territory of Turkey. A few years ago we had lots of friends in the world but we have lost them and this is not their fault. Regarding the choice between Russia and Europe, I believe that the Armenian authorities might have avoided it as the Russians themselves seek to integrate with Europe. Instead they put us before the choice of white or black, Europe or Eurasia.