Armenia: At the Crossroads
Armenia: At the Crossroads


by Louise Manoogian Simone

Scheduled 2 weeks in advance, this discussion was out of necessity curtailed because of rapidly escalating attacks on villages in Azerbaijan. President Ter Petrossian, in meetings around the clock, was kind enough to keep our appointment after an emergency press conference in Moscow and shortly before a second one for foreign journalists at the Supreme Soviet headquarters in Armenia on May 7, 1991. Since this date, the Soviet Internal Forces have been responsible for the deportation of the 3000 residents of Gedashen and Martounashen in Azerbaijan and Voskepar in Armenia, a few miles from the border.

Louise Manoogian Simone

Q. This week Soviet troops have aggressively assaulted Armenian villages along the Azerbaijani border. Why?

A. There are two reasons. First it is a retaliation to punish Armenia for our independence proclamation and the other is to protect Mutalibov's Communist regime in Azerbaijan. These are two equal goals.

Q. Why the Communist Regime in Azerbaijan? Are they on the verge of collapse?

A. They are not on the verge of collapse but Mutalibov's rule is weak. There is serious opposition within Azerbaijan.

Q. Armenia is not the only republic seeking democracy. Do you expect a unified force among the dissident republics?

A. I do not expect cooperation from the six as much as I do from Russia and the Ukraine. I am already in contact with Yeltsin, Russia's President and Kravchuk, Ukraine's President. I just talked to them this morning. They have promised us full support. Yeltsin has already sent a Parliamentary Commission to Armenia and Kravchuk is also sending a special commission.

Q. Couldn't you come to an understanding with Moscow all this time?

A. If it was only a case of Moscow then it would have been possible but there is also Azerbaijan.

Q. But Moscow could withdraw the army....

A. Why should they withdraw the Army? Moscow says we have to give up Karabagh in order for them to withdraw the Army. Moscow says "don't talk about Karabagh, don't exert pressure on the Communists, don't go to independence and everything will be okay."

Q. Last week there was a meeting of the Presidents. Nine republics were represented. Were you invited?

A. No. Only the Presidents of the republics which took part in the referendum were invited. The other six were not invited.

Q. What steps do you think Moscow will take against Armenia in the next twelve months. What scenarios do you envision?

A. There are two scenarios. Either they will exert pressure and overthrow our government or if that fails and enough commotion is created then Moscow will be forced to come to an understanding and make some concessions.

Q. Can you defend the country?

A. Our strength is not enough. We expect all the democratic forces in the Union to come to our defense. There is a big movement throughout the Soviet Union regarding the defense of Armenia.

Q. What will Armenia do if the Soviet Union stops all assistance............ food, goods and transport?

A. They cannot do it because the Soviet Union is no longer the Soviet Union. There are different forces. If Moscow tries to stop everything there is Russia and the Ukraine. Second, there is another issue to consider. As much as Armenia is dependent on Russia and the other Republics they are also dependent on us. I assume you know the specifics of the Soviet economy. Everything is interconnected. If we do not manufacture a certain part then a factory somewhere will have to manufacture that component and they will be forced to build a completely new plant which will take years.

Q. During your press conference in Moscow you said, "Armenia has nothing to lose." What did you mean by that?

A. My statement was very clear that the Soviet Union, Gorbachev and the Kremlin have as much to lose in all this. They have to think seriously about continuing this course.

Q. But the whole world supports Gorbachev today...........

A. The world will not do anything for Gorbachev. The world's protection means nothing because he has no authority inside the country at all. The only power he has is the army. The army, KGB and the police. He has nothing else, not even economic power. If he attacks us he will lose prestige with the rest of the world and his last capital will be gone.

Q. Some people here and in the diaspora think it would have been better to take things more slowly: to accept the idea of a federation at least for the next few years or wait to see the future of the Soviet Union.

A. We are moving very slowly. Armenia is moving at the slowest pace in accord with the Constitution and the laws of the Soviet Union. The Baltic Republics and Georgia are already ahead of us moving at even a faster pace. That is a wrong argument.

Q. Do you think a totalitarian government will continue to exist?

A. A totalitarian regime cannot continue. Half of it is already gone, only the skeleton remains. It will be either a dictatorship or a democracy, and a dictatorship will only exist through the army. Nothing else.

Q. How do you foresee establishing an economic relationship with Turkey when we still have outstanding problems?

A. Those outstanding problems are not real problems and they have secondary significance in politics.

Q. Why should Turkey have any interest in developing a relationship with Armenia?

A. It's very simple for me. I think Turkey is a business country but there is discrimination against Turkish products in Europe and it is looking for new markets. That is why Turkey is very active in Eastern Europe. Then there is the question of its image. It has the Armenian genocide complex. Armenia's relations with Turkey can improve that image.

Q. Do you think you will meet strong opposition from Armenian organizations and political parties?

A. The more we advance the weaker this opposition will become. We have been able to break that psychology during these last two to three years. It was difficult to do it in the past. The people in Armenia are very realistic in this matter. There are some political parties here fighting against us but in time that opposition will diminish.

Q. Of course I am here in Armenia but I hear that people at home are very worried about the recent attacks on Armenian villages. What can we do to help?

A. The only thing you can do now is to influence world opinion. You have to pressure Gorbachev on a government level in America, France and wherever else possible.

Q. Some personal questions if you don't mind. How and when did you start your political career?

A. I was active as a student but then I moved on to research. I was a pure scholar. My political activity began when they started signing Karabagh petitions in 1987. I got involved and on February 20th, 1988, I left my work and I've been active ever since.

Q. I am surprised at your smooth transition from scholarship to politics.

A. All the members of the Karabagh Committee were researchers or scientists but we knew we had a responsibility. The Armenian intellectual had to be in the forefront of the movement.

Q. Sometimes we say we don't always work well together... Too many generals and not enough soldiers. How have you all remained together?

A. We will continue sticking together. Let not our adversaries rejoice. We will stay together until the end. That is the only hope for our success.

Originally published in the June 1991 ​issue of AGBU Magazine. Archived content may appear distorted on your screen. end character

About the AGBU Magazine

AGBU Magazine is one of the most widely circulated English language Armenian magazines in the world, available in print and digital format. Each issue delivers insights and perspective on subjects and themes relating to the Armenian world, accompanied by original photography, exclusive high-profile interviews, fun facts and more.