The World Conference Against Racism,

Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

Durban, 31 August 7 September 2001


Mr. President,
Ms. Secretary General,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, allow me to congratulate you and the other elected members of the Bureau and to wish you success in carrying out your mandate at this highest podium.

Let me also acknowledge the Secretary General of the World Conference and High Commissioner for Human Rights, Madame Robinson's personal efforts in successfully forging ahead with this world forum.

My government would also like to join in the warm congratulations addressed to the South African people and authorities on the occasion of convening this conference. The choice of South Africa - where right triumphed over wrong - is evidence that, in this new century, the world is ready to acknowledge its responsibility and announce its solemn commitment to battle racism and genocide, as well as the xenophobia and discrimination that give rise to them.

If we do our job effectively, this conference will be recognized as one of the most important UN gatherings. For that to happen, we must stand firm in our conviction that humanity, as one family, is committed to prevention, education and protection aimed at the eradication, once and for all, of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. We all share this heavy responsibility, if for no other reason than that, throughout history, each of our nations has been impacted by such fanaticism, either as victim or as aggressor. And more significantly, in a world where such horrors are eradicated, we all stand to thrive.

Mr. President,

International human rights law has long prohibited state-sanctioned violence against individuals and has imposed obligations upon states to protect individuals from violence. The absence of similar international restraints on state-sanctioned violence against groups, in effect, constitutes an intervention on the side of the aggressor. Condemning such behavior would not only permit the victims of aggression to defend themselves, but could help pre-empt such violence by letting the perpetrator know that assaults will be met with resistance. Effective international resistance could help deter the spread of extreme discrimination which can, unchecked, result in irreversible horrors. We see such horrors even today in different parts of the world, including our own region, and I am sure we are not alone in our disappointment that the promise of diversity and global integration has not been fully realized and that innocent civilians continue to be persecuted for no other reason than their ethnicity, religion or national origin. The ultimate culmination of such racist persecution, in the case of the Armenians, was genocide.

Mr. President,

Armenia and Armenians have become aware of the profound linkage that exists between the ultimate expression of racism, which is genocide, and the right of a people to self-determination. These two seemingly different phenomena are fundamentally connected.

It is not surprising that the determination of a ruling political or national group to dominate - by oppression if necessary - another group, will eventually lead the oppressed to revolt, to seek freedom, to want emancipation; in short, to be the master of its own destiny. It is this instinct of a people to secure its own physical, cultural and collective survival, that is often used as the justification for the ultimate form of repression: the active, concerted, planned action for the physical annihilation of that people: Genocide. If you dare to want to be free, to be independent, to determine your own fate, to be the master within your own ancestral home, you deserve to die.

Armenians were subjected to the genocide perpetrated by Ottoman Turkey in 1915, because they had wanted to be free from harassment, arbitrary rule, denial of rights and physical threats. They had, in fact, dared to declare themselves deserving of protection, security and freedom. They were, therefore, punished, persecuted and driven to annihilation as disloyal troublemakers. Still today, the Armenian genocide is being dismissed by some, as nothing more than the justifiable, understandable, larger scale massacre of rebels and renegades.

Armenians also understand that genocide as a political tool continued to be utilized at the end of the last century, as well, exactly because of such denial and dismissal. And if the international community was not responsible for the crime itself, the international community is responsible for not condemning the crime.

That is why I believe this is an excellent opportunity to salute those individuals, countries and parliaments who have had enough courage to acknowledge and condemn the first modern experience of genocide. I salute not simply the ethical and moral bravery of their act, but also their understanding of their obligation to acknowledge past wrongs in order to overcome them and face the future.

In particular, I would like to name France and Uruguay, Russian Duma, Greek, Cypriot, Argentine, Belgian and other parliaments, as well as to call upon others to recognize and acknowledge the crimes of the past, such as the Genocide of Armenians in 1915. The historical record shows that the absence of timely recognition and denunciation of this injustice resulted in untold suffering for millions of others during and after World War II.

Mr. President,

Today, in our world, we continue to combat the consequences of past wrongdoings. Armenians living in Nagorno Karabagh have been struggling for over a decade to be free of discrimination, harassment, arbitrary rule, denial of rights and physical threats that had begun in the days of the Soviet Empire. A vivid example of the consequences of bigotry and xenophobia is the history of subjugation of Nagorno-Karabagh to the authorities of Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1921.

Exactly one year before that, in 1920, the League of Nations refused to recognize Azerbaijan because of its claims over the Armenian-populated territories in Eastern Transcaucasia, namely Nagorno-Karabagh. The Secretary General of the League of Nations in the Memorandum on the Application for the Admission of the Republic of Azerbaidjan to the League of Nations stated "it may be interesting to note that this territory [i.e. Azerbaijan], occupying a superficial area of 40,000 square miles, appears to have never formerly constituted a State."

And it was to that "territory that had never formerly constituted a State" that the Armenian-populated, Armenian-ruled and historically Armenian Nagorno-Karabagh was granted by the Soviet rulers. As a result, Armenians were subjected to systematic massacres, deportations, segregation, discrimination and other expressions of intolerance in the ensuing decades.

The only way to escape Azerbaijani discrimination and oppression was to achieve self-determination for Nagorno-Karabagh. Armenians sought this continuously during the seven decades of Soviet rule, and continued to expect this basic human right with the advent of perestroika, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan's rejection of the human rights of Armenians and others living on the territory of Karabagh, continued, however.

Massacres and pogroms were organized against the Armenian population in the Azerbaijani towns and cities of Sumgait, Kirovabad, Baku, as recently as a decade ago. In its turn, this resulted in the exodus of the Armenian population from Azerbaijan. Armenia became home for some 500,000 refugees, between the years 1988-1994. Since then, the Armenian government has done everything to ease the burden of the refugees. Refugees in Armenia have been granted all the rights and privileges of the Armenian citizens. In Azerbaijan, on the other hand, the Azeri government continues to use refugees as pawns, leaving them in refugee camps.

Armenia is a democratic state whose citizens, Armenians, Yezidis, Kurds, Jews, Russians, Greeks, Assyrian-Syriacs and others alike enjoy equal rights and protections under the law. In our own neighborhood, we stand ready to practice tolerance and enjoy its fruits.

Mr. President,

Secretary General Koffi Annan recently reminded us that the United Nations itself was created in the belief that dialogue can triumph over discord, that diversity is a universal virtue, and that the peoples of the world are far more united by their common fate than they are divided by their separate identities.

Today we have reached a critical point in our attempts to free the world from all forms of racism and racial discrimination, and to ensure that the fate, which binds us, is hopeful and promising. This conference has the unique capacity to lay down a solid framework for new partnerships between States and civil societies stressing the growing importance of combatting traditional forms of racism as well as its contemporary manifestations. The regional meetings, seminars and work done at national levels have contributed considerably in convening this conference where the voice and appeal of all victims is widely echoed and can be heard by everyone.

There is a lot left to be accomplished by governments in order to reflect clearly their political will to combat racism in the Final Declaration. A dialogue of tolerance and of mutual understanding is also required to guide us towards the implementation of the Program of Action.

Mr. President,

I would like to assure you that my government is fully committed to the realization of the aims of this Conference. We do this for moral and practical reasons. We have suffered extreme intolerance and fervently desire that such a fate does not befall another nation. We have also been the victims of pseudo-evenhandedness and understand that this only strengthens the hand of the oppressor. At the same time, the world has become too small to solve the social and economic challenges facing us all at each other's expense. As the combined powers of technology and media diminish fallacies and fears due to race, ethnicity, color, descent, national origin, religion, language, culture, caste, class, and other status, rather than trying to eliminate such variety and diversity, we see a universal opportunity to benefit from it and build a healthier and brighter society for generations to come.

Thank you.