Remarks by Ambassador Yovanovitch | 2010 Armenian-American Diaspora Tour

Good evening. Thank you very much for coming this evening.

Tonight, I’m seeing some old friends, and I hope that I’ll have the opportunity to meet more of you later tonight.

This evening, I’d like to update you on our work to strengthen the U.S.-Armenia partnership.  I also want to talk about some of the programs and assistance initiatives we are implementing. And we’ll leave plenty of time for questions and answers.  I’d also be interested in hearing how you are involved with Armenia, as I know many of you are doing important work.

Over the years, the US-Armenia relationship has been based on a shared belief: that it is in the national interests of both Armenia and the U.S. for Armenia to develop democratically, advance economically and build a sovereign state that is strong and secure.
This year, a number of events demonstrate the seriousness, importance, and strength of our bilateral relationship with the Republic of Armenia.

In April, President Obama invited President Sargsian to the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, underlining that Armenia is increasingly seen as a reliable, secure trading partner committed to stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction.  The presidents also met bilaterally – an important milestone in our deepening relations.

And in July – appropriately on the 4th of July and on Armenian Constitution Day – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid the first visit to Armenia by a U.S. Secretary of State in eighteen years.  Secretary Clinton’s meetings focused on Armenia’s long-term economic development, on strengthening democracy and the rule of law in Armenia, and on the importance of peace and reconciliation with Armenia’s neighbors.

But my favorite part of her visit was when the Secretary spontaneously decided – after the wonderful dinner that President Sargsian hosted in her honor – to take a walk back to the hotel.  She walked all the way from the Presidency to the Marriott.  Those of you who know Yerevan know that took her right through the center of the city – on a Sunday evening in the middle of a three day weekend.

By the time the Secretary got to the hotel, there was a crowd of what looked like hundreds following her – and I am quite sure that  in ten years, when people talk about Secretary Clinton’s visit, that walk and the personal connection she made with hundreds of Armenians are what people will remember.

For me, Secretary Clinton’s walk telegraphed a lot about the U.S. – the openness of our leaders, their willingness to reach out, and the freedom and spontaneity all Americans enjoy.  In many ways, the Secretary’s walk symbolized one of our aspirations for Armenia.  Just as her stroll through the city center exposed her to people and places she wouldn’t see from her motorcade, so, too, must a healthy democracy foster a dynamic exchange between the people and their government.

The U.S. Government’s activities in Armenia bolster political participation at all levels and empower civil society, for example by promoting a greater role for women and youth, and providing access to diverse information and opinion through both traditional and new media.

To meet those objectives, this year we are starting a new $15.5 million, four-year partnership that will bring local governments, NGOs, and local businesses together in strategic planning and community development projects to jointly solve local problems.

Though this program is just getting started, we have a long history of helping people in Armenia help themselves.  Our Youth Community Action Program, known as YCAP, has organized youth clubs and community action committees in 80 smaller towns and villages across Armenia.

Whenever I travel outside of Yerevan, I always make it a point to meet with YCAP members, because it is such a tonic to see their grassroots activism making a difference in people’s lives.  These folks are busy helping the city lobby for funds to build kindergartens, planning clean-up/fix-up days for the village irrigation system, and working with the mayor to figure out a garbage collection system.

They are doers.  They are the future of Armenia.

In the same spirit, we are just beginning to implement a new $4 million, four-year Alternative Resources in Media program to diversify media content.

And to help Armenians fight corruption, we are continuing to support a network of NGO-run Advocacy and Assistance Centers that provide free legal advice and assistance to people who face problems with corruption. In their first year and a half, these centers have provided legal assistance and advice to over 5,700 citizens.

For example, last month in Armavir, I met a retired truck driver who faced a 30% decrease in his monthly pension because his local Social Security office refused to acknowledge ten years of his work history.  A lawyer from the Armavir Advocacy and Assistance Center informed the Social Security office that the Center would take the matter to court.  The pension was adjusted, and one more citizen who did the right thing got the right result – even though he refused to pay a bribe.  We hope that message spreads.

We see ourselves as partners with civil society and also with the Government of Armenia in democratization and in fighting corruption.  We are also compelled to speak out when we see human rights abuses, failures of democracy, or a lack of will to control corruption.

We engage vigorously at the highest levels on these issues.  Sometimes this dialogue is public, for example, in the form of the annual Human Rights Report or public statements, and sometimes it takes place behind closed doors. We try to do what is most effective. And while Armenia has yet to consolidate a system of democracy and the rule of law, we see some movement on individual cases, when the courts or the government take action to right a wrong.

We understand that the path is hard.  Nevertheless, Armenia needs to take the steps to invigorate its democracy – to live up to the ideals enshrined in its Constitution; to support the universal human rights of its citizens; and to afford its people the mechanisms to express their will and pursue economic opportunity and prosperity.

Like every country in the world, Armenia faces great economic challenges. Last year GDP dropped by over 14%.  This year, there are signs of economic growth, but in my conversations with Armenians throughout the country, the mood out there has yet to reflect the modest improvement in the indicators.

As the world emerges from the recession, and investors scout out new markets, Armenia will need to compete for those investments. And to compete effectively, Armenia needs to make fundamental reforms.  A transparent legal system; efficient, predictable and impartial customs and tax systems; enforcement of intellectual property rights; competition in every sector of the economy; and better access to international markets are all necessary to promote investment – both foreign and domestic.

During her visit to Armenia, Secretary Clinton referred to the success of the Armenian Diaspora around the world and said, “There is no reason why Armenians at home can’t be equally successful. But you have to create the conditions for a good investment and business climate. You cannot attract business if they think that their efforts are going to go into corruption, or that their contracts will not be protected. So, take heart from what Armenians across the world and the Diaspora have done…and begin to try to think of ways we can create those same conditions right here, in the Republic of Armenia.”

We continue to work with the Government of Armenia and the private sector to create those conditions that will spur investment and growth.

Right now we are kicking off a five year, $22 million Enterprise Development and Market Competitiveness project for small and medium-sized enterprises to stimulate innovation, enhance workforce skills, and improve access to finance.

Last year, we began a $4.5 million Small Scale Infrastructure Project to ease the impact of the global economic crisis on rural Armenia by creating short-term employment.  Working closely with the Government of Armenia, the project not only provides employment opportunities, it leaves communities throughout Armenia with renovated water infrastructure, schools and kindergartens, sports halls and community centers.

In Nor Edessia village, for example, the community requested assistance creating a kindergarten.  We renovated and equipped a kindergarten, providing permanent employment for 2 people and short-term employment for 13.  Today, 22 children attend pre-school classes and have a safe learning environment, while their parents earn a living.

In its fifth and final year, the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s MCA-Armenia Program is constructing over 100 projects throughout Armenia. The MCA-Armenia Program reduces poverty by raising the economic performance of Armenia’s agricultural sector.

When MCA-Armenia concludes next September, we will have invested $180 million in refurbishing Armenia’s main irrigation canals, modernizing the most critical pumping stations, building new gravity irrigation projects, and restoring sections of the Ararat Valley Drainage system. MCA-Armenia will have trained over 45,000 farmers in improved agriculture practices and will have aided over 420,000 rural residents in around 350 communities.

Recently, in Griboyedov, Simon Jamalyan told me how the new drip irrigation MCA introduced him to has solved the problem of water and nutrients washing away in his sandy soil.  Since his training and the introduction of new technology, Simon’s production has increased by 30% and his income increased by 40%.  But just as important, he is teaching literally hundreds of other local farmers the same techniques.  This multiplier effect has a tremendous impact, turning rural poverty into rural prosperity.

There is one other key point I would like to make about Armenia’s economy.  The U.S. can provide assistance and expertise, but it is ultimately up to the Armenian government to create a business-friendly environment where local business leaders can thrive and foreign investors see opportunity.  There is no other way, and we hope that you, the Armenian-American community, will also help foster the changes that are needed.

Security, like democracy and broad-based access to economic opportunities, is essential to Armenia’s long-term future. Our military partnership continues to support Armenia’s defense reform and build capacity to contribute effectively to international stability and peace support operations.  In turn, Armenia has taken on greater roles in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

We recently signed an agreement to implement a multi-million dollar, multi-year Biological Threat Reduction Program where the United States and Armenia will work together in combating biological weapons proliferation.

Just as our bilateral military-to-military relationship has expanded, so has Armenia’s relationship with NATO.  In September, Armenia hosted the NATO disaster response exercise “Armenia 2010”. Over 1,000 participants from NATO and Partner countries, including Turkish observers, conducted field exercises to practice disaster response.

The exercise highlighted the successful collaboration between Armenia and NATO under Armenia’s Individual Partnership Action Plan and illustrated the Defense Minister’s maxim:  Armenia has become a “security provider” rather than a “security consumer.”

Our most important efforts in the security area support Armenia’s regional integration.  Closed borders belong on the ash heap of history.  Normalization with Turkey would create opportunity for a generation of Armenians now graduating and contemplating their options, leading more of them to focus their talents at home.
It would mark an important step toward Armenia living up to its full potential.

President Sargsian’s April announcement makes clear that Armenia has not ended the process, but has suspended it until the Turkish side is ready to move forward.

We applaud President Sargsian’s decision to keep the normalization process alive and to continue to work towards a vision of peace, stability, and reconciliation.  We believe that the normalization process carries important benefits for Turkey and Armenia as well as the wider Caucasus region.  And we urge both sides to keep the door open to further efforts at reconciliation and normalization.

Progress on such difficult matters is rarely even.  But consider how far we have come.  I think all of us remember the “I Apologize” campaign in Turkey in 2008, and this year on April 24, for the first time there were events in Istanbul marking Armenian Remembrance Day.

A growing number of influential Turks are engaged in a discussion about the challenges of Turkish-Armenian normalization – including the most difficult issues related to your shared and tragic history.  I think this demonstrates that more Turks are willing to ask questions about their own history.  And that is a beginning.

Slowly, Armenians and Turks at all levels are getting to know each other; seeing opportunities, whether it is for dialogue or business; and breaking down the barriers that have kept the two peoples, the two countries apart.

I know that many of you are skeptical of Turkish intentions, the normalization process, and the value of “confidence building measures.”  And the recent church service at Surb Khach on Akhtamar Island seemed to only highlight the differing perspectives and the challenges before us.

Ultimately, of course, it is for Turks and Armenians to decide whether and how they would like to move forward, but we urge both sides to keep the goal of normalized relations in clear view, and to show openness to any approaches that would bring both sides closer to that goal.  The U.S. government firmly supports normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia without preconditions.

Separate from the Turkey-Armenia normalization process, we believe that it is important to achieve a peaceful, just and lasting settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  The Minsk Group Co-Chairs – France, Russia and the U.S. – remain fully committed to helping Armenia and Azerbaijan work toward a solution based on the Helsinki Final Act principles of non-use of force and the threat of the use of force, territorial integrity and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples.

At the L’Aquila and Muskoka Summit, Presidents Obama, Medvedev and Sarkozy outlined the six elements they believe should be included in a final peace settlement.  At the OSCE Ministerial in Athens last December, Foreign Minister Nalbandian and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Mammadyarov endorsed those elements.

The challenge is how to translate these elements into a framework agreement, which would be the basis for a final settlement.  Negotiations over the past two years on this framework agreement, which we call the Madrid Principles, have made some progress, but there is more work to be done.

The recent attacks along the Line of Contact are destabilizing, raise tensions, and do not serve the interests of any of the parties to the conflict.  Minsk Group Ministers issued a strong statement in July at Almaty, emphasizing that, “The use of force created the current situation, and its use again would only lead to suffering, devastation, and a legacy of conflict and hostility that would last for generations.

When President Obama met President Aliyev in New York on September 24, he stressed there is no military solution to Nagorno-Karabakh, and he supported the Minsk Group Co-Chairs’ efforts to strengthen the ceasefire and facilitate a resolution to the conflict.

A lasting peace will require persistence and commitment and a readiness to compromise on all sides.  It may also require incremental, confidence-building steps, like the Minsk Group Co-Chairs recently crossing the line of contact from Azerbaijan to, as the U.S. Co-Chair Ambassador Bradtke put it, “Underline that the line of contact is not a barrier separating the neighboring nations … [and] to express our hope that one day the peoples of both sides will be able to cross the line of contact.”

Open borders, working lines of communication, and free trade would bring economic, political, and security benefits.  While the Co-Chair countries are doing all in their power to negotiate a lasting peace, success lies with the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan.  A lasting peace in Nagorno-Karabakh is worth realizing and handing down to all our children – both Armenian and Azerbaijani.

In closing, I would like to address one other, very important, and very difficult issue.

President Obama has consistently stated his own view of what occurred in 1915, and his view of that history has not changed.  He believes that it is in our interest to see the achievement of a full, frank, and just acknowledgment of the facts, and that it is important to keep the memory of the Medz Yeghern alive to honor  those who were murdered and so that we do not repeat the grave mistakes of the past.

This year, during her visit to Yerevan, Secretary Clinton paid her respects at the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial in a moving visit.  Every April 24, my colleagues and I visit the Memorial to honor the 1.5 million Armenians who were killed or forcibly exiled.

I know that for many in the Armenian-American community this is not enough.  Many of you have shared your views with me either here or in Armenia, and I have conveyed them to Washington.

I have also heard your remarkable stories of strength, tenacity, and courage.  I’ve been touched by your pain and awed by what President Obama has called “the indomitable spirit of the Armenian people.”  The United States is honored by the many contributions Americans of Armenian ancestry have made to our nation, and we are proud of the historic ties and friendship between the United States and Armenia.

While we will never – and must never – forget the past, we must also work together to build a better future, a future where Armenia is secure, flourishing, and free.

We all know the many challenges to achieving such a goal, but I am optimistic about Armenia’s future.  And when I have doubts, I make it a point to meet with Armenia’s young people.

Whether I am talking to the students in our Youth Leadership Academy or the dedicated young lawyers who provide legal advice and assistance to people with corruption problems; when I meet with young business men and women in Armavir, or NGO activists in Vanadzor; when I see the contributions that the young men and women of YCAP make to their communities, I can’t help but be impressed with their commitment, their determination, their talent, and their enthusiasm.

These are amazing young leaders – and they are Armenia’s future.

Just as these young people are committed, so is the United States committed to advancing the partnership between our two countries, facilitating rapprochement among neighbors in the region, and helping Armenia achieve its full political and economic potential.

Secretary Clinton often says that we cannot change the past, but we can change the future.  And over the last two decades, Armenians have molded their future in dramatic ways, in all spheres.  And as Armenia continues to chart that future, the U.S. stands ready to help.

As the old Armenian Proverb says, “Oos oosi vor taank, sarer shoor ka-taank.” When we stand shoulder to shoulder, we can move mountains.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today.  I welcome your questions.