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Speech by Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition marking the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Armenia and Germany

05.10.2017

-- Translation of advance text --

State Secretary Kralinski,
Ambassador Smbatyan,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Unfortunately, I can’t spare you this. I must begin my speech by mentioning the truly infamous Radio Yerevan. Many of you will have heard this joke: “Can you tell us where we can look up the inventor of the Radio Yerevan jokes?” “Where you can look him up? No – but he is locked up, that’s for sure.” Today, many years have passed since the time when this joke reflected bitter everyday reality. So much has changed – for the better – since Armenia attained independence.

We are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Germany and Armenia. In marriage, we celebrate a silver wedding anniversary after 25 years. And if we go back 1000 years in history, there actually was a German-Armenian marriage. In the year 972, Otto II of Saxony married Theophanu Sklerina in Rome. She was the niece of the Byzantine Emperor John I Tzimiskes. John was of Armenian origin.

Most of the photos in this exhibition depict political encounters over the past 25 years. The good relations between Armenia and Germany were by no means built only by politicians and diplomats. No, they have above all been nurtured by the committed efforts of many citizens of both our countries.

As politicians and diplomats, the only thing we can do is chart a course and send political signals that encourage people to get directly involved.

At every birthday, some wishes can be made. That’s why, today, instead of looking back, we should set our sights on the future. I have five wishes that I would like to share with you.

My first wish: that Armenians can live in peace and security. Germany supports efforts to arrive at a permanent solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. However, a permanent solution that is accepted by all sides cannot be purely a government-level endeavour. Everyone will have to contribute. A generation has been raised since this conflict first erupted. We owe it to this generation to make an even greater effort to end the sad state of affairs.

Thanks to its geographic location between Europe and Asia, as well as to its diversity, the Caucasus’ potential for development is excellent. However, the only way to fully tap this potential is through strong regional cooperation.

Let us take another look at the past, more specifically at a cultural figure. Throughout the Caucasus, Sayat-Nova is revered as the greatest folk singer-songwriter of his day. Sayat-Nova regarded the entire Caucasus as his home. He knew no borders. It is my wish that, during the coming years and inspired by his famous phrase “The World is a Window,” a new Sayat-Nova will travel throughout the region and thereby help bring all countries and people in this region together again.

My second wish: that Armenians can live in a nation committed to democracy and the rule of law.

But to accomplish this, they will have to travel a long, difficult and bumpy road.

That’s why we will help. From the very beginning, our two countries have cooperated closely in the area of development. Germany is the largest bilateral donor of development aid, ranking behind the EU and before the United States.

We support sustainable economic development in Armenia, along with Armenian reform efforts, especially in the field of legal advice and judicial cooperation. To be quite clear, prosperity and security go hand in hand with democracy, individual freedom and the rule of law.

We have by far not fully exploited the potential for cooperation and partnership. Let us continue to work on expanding our shared common principles and values that form the basis of our cooperation. Human rights, civil liberties, the rule of law, an independent judiciary, democracy and freedom of the press – all these are needed for successful partnership in Europe. That’s exactly what makes us Europeans. It is what so many people around the world dream they could have.

Solidarity is one of our common fundamental values. Here, I would like to highlight an impressive accomplishment of Armenia in connection with the refugee crisis. Armenia operates the last diplomatic mission mission in Aleppo and has taken in some 20,000 Syrian refugees with Armenian roots. We are cooperating very closely. Germany supports a joint project with the UNHCR that aims to strengthen the private sector, with a contribution of two million euros.

My third wish: that the partnership between Armenia and the European Union will be both multifaceted and based on trust.

Armenia’s active role in the Eastern Partnership and the fact that it will soon sign a new framework agreement with the European Union are set to revitalise cooperation between the EU and Armenia.

This sends the important signal that, in cooperating with its eastern neighbours, the EU is not pursuing a take-it-or-leave-it approach, but that it instead agrees tailor-made solutions with all of its partners.

The European Union is, I will admit, a very demanding partner. It is not, after all, just a single market, but primarily a union of shared values. This fundamental principle must be respected by all countries that wish to cooperate with the EU. I want to emphasise that no, these are not Western values that conflict with so-called traditional values. Human rights are universal. They apply to all of us, be it concerning equal rights for men and women, or respect for sexual, religious and ethnic minorities.

My fourth wish: that Armenia can be proud of its many bridge builders. Your country has brought forth so many great architects. The photos that are exhibited here today are impressive testimony to this fact. What we need especially is young people, and an active civil society. For 25 years, we’ve been steadily expanding our efforts in the areas of culture, science and education.

The German Academic Exchange Service awards many scholarships to Armenian students – 64 so far this year – and it supports successful partnerships between universities and various programmes in Armenia.

I am pleased to note that the German language is again becoming more popular. In the 2016/2017 school year, more than 30,000 young Armenians are learning German. That’s an impressive number. I am also certain that, with the opening of a Goethe-Zentrum in only a few weeks, these numbers will further increase.

Our political foundations, too, are very active in Armenia. They play an important role in our bilateral relations.

My fifth wish: that Armenia can be reconciled, and live in peace with, its neighbours. Reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey is a matter both our countries feel strongly about. I know that the most difficult steps for achieving rapprochement between Turks and Armenians still need to be taken.

It therefore becomes all the more important to include the young generation in this effort. I am pleased that the Federal Foreign Office is helping to fund projects that promote dialogue between the Armenian and Turkish people, such as IFAIR’s Common Remembrance, Future Relations project, for which I have gladly agreed to be the patron.

Common Remembrance, Future Relations aims to bring together people from a wide range of cultural backgrounds in Armenia, France, Israel, Germany and Turkey, in order to find ways that remembrance, commemoration and reconciliation can reconnect people, countries and societies.

As part of the project, participants have met this year in Yerevan, in the participating countries (Turkey, Israel and France), and in Berlin. At these meetings, they’ve discussed the challenges that NGOs face in their efforts to promote a culture of remembrance.

Ladies and gentlemen, because I began with a famous wedding, let me conclude my speech with a popular Armenian saying: In Armenia, young married couples are told, “may you grow old on one pillow!”

So let me just add, “congratulations – and all the very best!”

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