PRESIDENT OF FORUM OF ARMENIAN ASSOCIATIONS IN EUROPE, Ashot Grigorian, presents concept of creating South-Caucasian Confederation at European Economic Forum in Poland

A Europe-Russia forum was held in Bucharest on May 25-27 under the patronage of the President of Romania, Traian Basescu. The "Eastern Institute" (Poland) was the organizer of the forum, which is part of the famous European Economic Forum in Krynica (Poland). At the forum, a panel entitled "Russia-Caucasus: Is Cooperation for Peace Possible?" and dedicated to the South Caucasus was organized for the first time. Among organizers of the panel were President of the Forum of Armenian Associations in Europe and the Armenian community in the Slovak Republic, Dr. Ashot Grigorian, and the member of Dashnaktsutyun Party, Vahan Hovhannisian. The level of participation of representatives of Russia and the European Union was high. Representatives of Iran, namely Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Policy and National Security of the Iranian parliament, Said Nagavi, and MP Robert Beglarian were invited to take part in the European Forum for the first time. Work of the panel was headed by Mr. Hovhannisian, who in his speech severely criticized the position of Turkey on the issue of opening the border with Armenia without any preliminary conditions, due to which the Turkish delegation left the hall during Ashot Grigorian's speech. In his report, Grigorian presented the concept of creating the South-Caucasian Confederation (SCC), which aroused a heated debate among participants of the Russian delegation following the sitting. Issues such as the transit of power-bearing substances to Europe, Russia-EU-U.S. relations and issues related to NATO's enlargement were also discussed at the forum. Below is the text of Ashot Grigorian's speech, entitled "The South-Caucasian Confederation: Is Its Creation Possible?" "The South-Caucasian region is of vital interest to both its neighbors and the global geopolitical players. The reason is that this region represents a connecting link between Europe and Asia. Transit routes and pipelines from the east to the west and from the north to the south lie through it. Throughout history this region has often been an object of discord and conflicts of outside forces. In recent years its significance has come to the forefront due to such factors as: the increased interest of the U.S. in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and other nearby countries, an increased interest in the transit of power-bearing substances through this region. The inter-national relations and internal conflicts, which challenge the governments of the regional countries, appear as more noticeable against this background. These governments have a tremendous task: to find solutions to the territorial problems. The geopolitical approach to the solution of problems in the South Caucasus is presently quite one-sided. The authoritative states try to solve problems based on their own interests. To the U.S, the South Caucasus, as well as Central Asia, are of interest mainly as a foothold for its actions in the region, that is, in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the dialogue with Iran. To the European Union, the region is interesting from the viewpoint of energy. It is through its territory that a transit gas pipeline alternative to Gazprom will run. Russia's interest is conditioned by its over 200-year presence in and influence on the region. All the countries of the region have been partners of Russia over the centuries. As appears from the above, the most important problem of the region is the solution of the issue of co-existence of peoples and states in the South Caucasus. During the 18th Economic Forum in Krynica, in September of last year, we presented for the first time the concept of peaceful development of the South Caucasus. This issue was discussed briefly for a second time at the EU-Turkey forum in December. And, finally, a whole sitting was dedicated to it at the current EU-Russia forum. In Krynica, we for the first time presented an opportunity of solving the internal problems of the region by efforts of state formations in the South Caucasus (both recognized and unrecognized ones) - by their own efforts, without any influence of external forces, without pressure from outside. That is, our purpose is to find a mode of peaceful co-existence. The essence of this proposal is to create a South Caucasian Confederation composed of all the six recognized and unrecognized state formations of the region. In the 20th century, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia were united into a confederation of independent states: in 1918-1920 and 1922-1936 (as the Transcaucasian Confederation). We propose again forming such a confederation, with all the state formations of the South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Nagorno Karabakh, Abkhazia, and Ossetia) being included in it on condition that the main purpose of this confederation is to prepare the region for accession to the European Union. The Confederation should cooperate closely with Russia: develop most friendly relations with it and be the most important partner for it. On the other hand, the confederation should become an “associate member” of the EU and have the program of getting the rank of a candidate, later - of becoming a full member of the EU. I underline. During its existence the confederation should become a bridge connecting Russia with the EU. All the South Caucasian states without exception should reach a mutual compromise: Georgia should reach a compromise that South Ossetia and Abkhazia will have the status of an independent member of the confederation, while Azerbaijan - the same with respect to the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. Finally, Russia should not prevent Abkhazia and Ossetia from entering into the confederation with Georgia. The region should develop with the help of the EU and Russia. We expect the EU to implement an efficient investment program. Over five years the South Caucasian Confederation should receive the status of an associate member of the EU, and in the next five years it should become a candidate for EU membership. When saying “associate member”, we understand that the visa regime between the EU and the South Caucasian region is simplified, the democratization level is improved, the economy, in particular the industry of the region and its cultural, political and diplomatic links with the EU undergo great development, etc. For achieving the necessary level and fulfilling the requirements of the EU, the South Caucasian Confederation should get the status of a candidate, later the status of a full member of the EU. It can be an associate member for a long time, and reaching quite a high level of economy, democracy and implementing the necessary reforms, it can get ready for accession to the EU. It should be attractive for the peoples of the South Caucasus to become an associate member, because after the implementation of the necessary reforms, they will have: confidence in their security and good-neighborly relations a greater opportunity to increase considerably the standard of living a hope that they will be a member of the EU in the near future, after which the color of the map of the given state on Europe’s map will cease playing an important role an opportunity to live in developed democratic society (a visa-free regime, the right to freedom of speech, etc). Upon accession to the EU, the confederation may cease to exist. This path is a hard but real one as there were such twice attempts with positive results in the past century. Despite the brief existence of the Transcaucasian Confederation in the past, the positive results are obvious. Before the late 1980s the South Caucasian states treated each other tolerantly, with respect, and but for the Soviet leadership’s gross mistakes on national issues, the foundations of peaceful existence of peoples in the South Caucasus could have been developed over the centuries. Using the lessons of history, we want to create a basis of such peaceful co-existence of the South Caucasian countries in the future. To prepare the basis of this, we propose opening a center called "Strategic Center for Development of Relations of the EU and the South Caucasus" in Bratislava for studying the problems of the South Caucasian people, developing links of the South Caucasian countries with Russia, the EU and other partners. We have already applied to the Slovakian government with the request to discuss our proposal and help open this center. At the same time we applied to Mr. Javier Solana, Secretary-General of the Council of the EU, High Representative for the Common Foreign Policy and Security Policy, Ms. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy, and others. A few months ago, on Mr. Solana's recommendation, a meeting took place with Mr. Peter Semneby, Special Representative of the EU for the South Caucasus, and an agreement to continue this cooperation was reached at the meeting. As is known, the European Union’s Eastern Partnership Program on promotion of relations with six countries (South Caucasian countries, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine) is developing in parallel. This program with regard to South Caucasus coincides with ours in many respects, and having the serious support of the EU leaders in the future, we can get very good results. In the case of cooperation with them, large-scale financing of our economic projects can be received. On the other hand, our center can assist with the implementation of the Eastern Partnership Program with regard to the South Caucasus. From the beginning, we were convinced that the Eastern Partnership cannot develop in such an intensive and active way that it will be able to solve the problems of the South Caucasus fast enough. So our aim is to act by the above-mentioned scheme and deal with the South Caucasus-related problems especially actively. The Eastern European partnership may significantly contribute to the implementation of our project, and we are ready to cooperate closely. At the conclusion of my report, I’d like to say that we have already begun implementing the economic part of the program on our own. We started financing various projects in the South Caucasian region with the assistance of export banks of EU countries. This special type of financing gives two important positive results: Under conditions of the crisis in EU countries, exports from the EU grow, which helps stop the industrial decline. The high-tech production level rises in South Caucasian countries. In the EU, credits for export are mainly provided for the export of production lines and units with a high technological level, thus helping the countries that import such production lines. On the other hand, the commercial banks involved in the financing of export credits need such financing orders and provide such credits with great pleasure. We are already implementing projects on energy, telecommunications and medical equipment in the region. Using this experience, we are prepared for more large-scale investments through cooperation with the Eastern Partnership Program. I hope that our speeches at this prestigious EU-Russia forum will become a step forward for the comprehension of our project and its implementation".