- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Armenia will hold its parliamentary election this May and soon after, next February, its presidential election. How we conduct our elections will determine not only the future of the Armenian democracy but of the Caucasus region as a whole.

I come to Washington with a simple message and a handful of ideas, which I believe can help bring stability and prosperity to Armenia and the broader South Caucasus region. Only legitimate politics which is based on a strict commitment to democracy is a platform that will lead us to lasting stability. We need the United States to defend this axiom in our region.

The South Caucasus is a bridge between Europe and Central Asia. It is a gateway to the Caspian energy and a transit corridor between the European and Chinese markets. Our attractive geostrategic location is perhaps also our curse as the degree of external competition over our region is overwhelming.

To survive and compete, we need transparent and able institutions. I am convinced that economic progress, conflict resolution and regional integration derive from a healthy democratic vocation.

We need democracy in the region not as a slogan, but to help us resolve our frozen conflicts, our corruption problem and our insecurities. Armenia above all now needs free and fair elections, which are the foundation for a stable and progressive society.

One should not forget that there exists a direct correlation between political legitimacy and diplomatic compromise. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has a solution — in fact, some sound solutions have already been proposed and rejected, not because they were unjust or impractical, but because the political processes in our region are too weak.

A government that is elected by the people has the mandate and the maneuvering room to seek a compromise solution and resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Thus, the immediate priority must be building democracy in the region, which rests on free and fair elections both in Armenia, as well as in Azerbaijan.

Armenia must become a society based on the rule of law. Law is not a guideline, it is a fundamental principle that must be adhered to and protected. I don’t believe in arbitrary application of the law and my party — the Rule of Law Party — is committed to fighting corruption in Armenia.

It is high time to normalize the Armenian-Turkish relationship, open up the Turkish-Armenian border, and allow the free flow of goods, capital and people.

Border opening and establishing economic cooperation with Turkey is important for Armenia and necessary for diversifying our communication routes. History between Armenia and Turkey has sometimes been tragic, such as the 1915 Armenian genocide, but we must look to the future as our citizens want better lives tomorrow. And I think we could build our relations based on a broader approach, without preconditions, and simultaneously not rejecting and honestly looking at the past. Probably, the time has come for Turkey and Armenia to start building a relationship embracing European priorities.

Likewise, improved relations with Azerbaijan are necessary for our long-term energy stability which can come only through energy diversity. I support resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict based on mutual compromises, and I support normalizing relations with Azerbaijan.

Armenia’s future is tied to European integration and on deepening of our relations with NATO. The relations with the West, though, should not be contrasted with our relations with Russia. We need a balanced foreign policy. We also need a positive relationship with Iran. The Iranian nuclear issue is an element of concern, but I believe the international community needs dialogue with Iran.

The long-term economic growth of Armenia and the region depends on diversifying our economic portfolios and better managing privatization. In this respect the upcoming pair of elections is of major significance for the future of Armenia and for the future of the region. We need a democratically elected government in Armenia which, and that will only happen if we have a free and fair election process.

Artur Baghdasaryan is chairman of the Armenian opposition party, the Rule of Law Party.

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