Armenian ex-president gives first big press-conference since resignation in 2018
Armenian ex-president Serzh Sargsyan has kept silent for two years. He first broke his silence in April, 2020, when he was invited to a parliament committee session investigating the circumstances of the so-called April War of 2016, a four-day escalation of hostilities at the line of contact between the Armenian and Azerbaijani armed forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Afterwards the ex-president told journalists that when the state of emergency ended he would organise a press-conference and answer any questions on the April War.
Then the ex-president released a number of videos on the same topic. Even though it seems like everything has been said, he still called a press-conference, despite the fact that the state of emergency has not yet ended.
Thereafter, Sargsyan, true to form of his verbosity and frequent meetings with journalists during his presidency, meet with representatives of all media accredited by parliament. For three hours in a row he answered every question he was asked. However, he never once mentioned another meeting where he might touch on other topics of interest to the journalists.
A summary of the ex-president’s press-conference and answers to the questions that most interest the people of Armenia.
“The war was inevitable”
Serzh Sargsyan started the conference by honouring the memory of all those who had lost their lives during the April War, then he gave the journalists his account of the investigatory committee on the circumstances of the April War.
According to him, the war was inevitable, because Azerbaijan was not ready to compromise.
“There was only one way to avoid war. That would have been a unilateral surrender, which was not even discussed. It is an unthinkable course of action.
“By starting the war, Azerbaijan was pursuing its goal of fundamentally changing the course of the peace talks. They were trying to show that the issue could have a military resolution. The fact that the peace talks were not going in their favour was shown in the best possible way by Ilham Aliyev himself, having admitted in a session of the government of Azerbaijan in October, 2016 that the international community was forcing him to recognise the de facto independence of Nagorno-Karabakh behind closed doors.”
On ’80s weapons
After the April War, Serzh Sargsyan mentioned in an interview with the German media that the Armenian soldiers on the front lines were mainly armed with weapons from the 1980s.
This fact shocked the Armenian people. Many perceived this as an admission from the government that they were unable to properly arm their troops with modern weaponry and blamed the leaders of the country for embezzling from the military budget.
However, Sargsyan averred that no army in the world had no weapons from the ’80s.
“Even now it is not just our forces that are armed with weapons from the ’80s, but even those of the richest countries.
“My statement gave rise to speculation from people who had no idea what weapons from the ’80s meant. What I said really meant this: Gentlemen of the OSCE (Germany was, at that time, the chair of the OSCE), even though you have turned a blind eye to the fact that Azerbaijan is armed to the teeth, our soldiers are still able to defend their country”.
“High chance of war”
“The peace process to settle the Karabakh situation had come to a dead end, which increased the chance of war”, stated the ex-president.
Serzh Sargsyan considers the escalation of hostilities in July on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border to be a result of this dead end.
In his opinion, “The Nagorno-Karabakh question can only be decided with international intervention”.
“Not a single leader of Azerbaijan has ever recognized the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh in good faith”.
“We have nothing to apologize to Baku for”
Recently Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, gave an interview to the BBC. The presenter of the program Hard Talk asked the head of government if he was prepared to apologize for the “war crimes committed by the Armenians during the Nagorno-Karabakh War”. Serzh Sargsyan also answered this question.
“Why should we apologize to Azerbaijan? For the fact that we, following the letter of the law, tried to exercise our right to self-determination, and they sent their gangs against us to try and oppress us with weapons? For the fact that they directed their fire against population centres, firing on peaceful civilians?
“Me and my military compatriots have no issue with asking for forgiveness. But there has to be a reason for it, and we have nothing to be sorry about. We haven’t done anything for which we would need to ask for forgiveness”.
Why wasn’t the Iskander ballistic missile system used?
During the April War the Armenians did not use the Iskander ballistic missile, which they had in their arsenal. Serzh Sargsyan explains:
“It was a large-scale military action, but it was not all-out war. If we had used the Iskander, it would have been, if you permit the expression, like using a cannon to kill a fly. The Iskander is an extremely powerful weapon, and its primary purpose is to deter the enemy”.
According to Sargsyan, one of the reason that Azerbaijan did not start a full-scale war in April, 2016 was the presence of the Iskander in Armenia.
“The answer is very simple. The Iskander rocket can reach all the way to Baku or even Ganja.“
Did Armenia intend to recognize Karabakh?
Had the April War continued, Armenia would have recognized the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, stated Serzh Sargsyan.
“The armed forces of Armenia are a guarantee of the safety of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia will use all the means at her disposal to protect the inhabitants of Karabakh. I am certain that if there was a full-scale war, it would be necessary for Armenia to recognize the independence of Karabakh”.
On Russia’s role
In 2016, when the current prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, was still just a member of the opposition, he stated that the April War had started with Russia’s approval. According to Pashinyan, their goal was to force Yerevan into territorial concessions to Baku and simultaneously to entice Azerbaijan to join the Eurasian Economic Union, led by Russia.
In January of 2020, Pashinyan, the incumbent prime minister, stated that he had discussed all of the problems worrying Armenia with the leadership of Russia and “received answers to all of the pressing questions”.
Sargsyan requested that the journalists ask Pashinyan what sort of discussion he had had with his Russian colleagues, and called the prime minister’s statements ignorant.
“When people spread unverifiable and damaging ideas about our allies, there will be serious consequences. Not necessarily just right away. Russia is one of our strategic allies. Such statements are equivalent to blaming our ally for provoking a war, which is treason. That is unacceptable”.
On giving up Armenian territory
Serzh Sargsyan answered the question of whether he intended to hand over any territory to Azerbaijan during his presidency.
“I never made any agreement with anyone which may have threatened our people. These rumours are simply shameful. It never happened and it never could”.