We thank Mr. Jan Kavan for his work, and we welcome Mr. Julian Hunte in the difficult year that awaits him.
At the beginning of this millennium, a summit of the world's leaders produced a set of development goals aimed at protecting life and promoting dignity for all peoples. This seemed an appropriate way to begin the third millennium of our modern era.
Each year since then, however, we have been reminded that this millennium started very differently and has forced us to address profound challenges to our assumptions, our relationships and our way of life.
Beginning with September 1 I and continuing with the violence and political crises around the world, each of our societies, nations and regions has been transformed by the intensity of these threats to our way of life and security.
These crises are forcing a transformation of this organization, too. Today, reform has become essential not just in the way we decide, act and operate, but in the way we think. Reforms cannot be delayed if this General Assembly and this organization are to be truly relevant as facilitators of world peace.
If the UN is for the peaceful, prosperous and democratic development of today's world, then it must undergo its own democratization, so that it will have the increased moral authority to direct others through reform and democratic transition.
An organization which espouses dialogue and negotiation as alternatives to violence and conflict, ought to find ways through dialogue and negotiation to arrive at a consensus on how to resolve the critical, universal issues facing us today.
This General Assembly has the chance to go down in history as - not an undermined, inadequate but well-meaning giant, but as a viable instrument of world peace. The Secretary General's goals, from UN budget and financing reform to recomposing and enlarging the Security Council - are the building blocks of the relevant, responsive, comprehending world forum for international cooperation that the UN can be. We applaud his decision to empower a commission to give concrete form to the wishes of many.
Each year we speak of the need for a comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East, never believing that next year, the region can become even more volatile and explosive.
We believe the UN and all member states must continue to support the renewal of the full-scale peace process. In Israel and Palestine, Armenia hails the Quartet's efforts, recognizing that the endangered Roadmap remains the only viable option for peace in a long-suffering region.
The situation in Iraq makes the debate about the bows and whys of this conflict irrelevant. The world's small countries are accustomed to making the political compromises to join the international flow. In Iraq, the principal powers, too, must compromise so that a more engaged and empowered United Nations can rally a broad range of countries from the immediate region as well as the rest of the world to take on responsibility in bringing democracy and stability to a critical piece of the Middle East.
It is ironic and in many ways lamentable that the evil of terrorism is what has caused us to rally together. We are fully aware that no single government can effectively fight this danger alone. Unfortunately, the necessity for coherent measures and cooperation at national, regional and international levels is often stalled, as for example in our region, where a common threat that knows no borders is not only being addressed individually and in isolation, but also exploited for political reasons.
In our region, there is much political exploitation. The new Azerbaijani Prime Minister made plain from this podium yesterday that in their election year, they are willing, at their peril, to ignore. the realities, which are self-evident.
Nearly a decade of negotiations brought us, two years ago, to Key West, Florida, where hosted by the US government, and under the watchful eyes of the Minsk Group cochairmen, the President of Armenia and - whether the Prime Minister of Azerbaijan likes it or not - the President of Azerbaijan did in fact reach an understanding which reflected those realities.
There are two myths in Azerbaijan - both of them faulty, miscalculated, risky.
Since 1992, Azerbaijan has convinced itself that if they just hold out long enough, Armenia's economy will capitulate, and leave Nagorno Karabagh unprotected and defenseless. Their calculations that a blockade of Armenia would mean that our economic and social conditions would plummet while their oil-based economy would grow have proven misguided and misinformed.
Not only has Armenia's economy not succumbed to political pressures; our rate of growth is greater than Azerbaijan's - and not only Azerbaijan's.
Nevertheless, they continue to cling to a second and related myth. Dreaming of future oil sales whose revenues will be used to buy armaments, Azerbaijan is anticipating the day when it will have the resources to pursue a military solution, main. This is self-deception, too. Azerbaijan has forgotten that similar fantasies led them to respond militarily to the peaceful demands of Nagorno Karabagh's population for self-determination in 1992. The military balance was hugely in their favor then, in proportions far greater than what they might hope for in the future.
Still, the moral, historical, legal, psychological balance favored the people of Nagorno Karabagh who were fighting for their homes, their families, their security, their lives, their futures.
The armaments of Azerbaijan did not then, and cannot ever -break the will of the people of Nagorno Karabagh to live freely on their own land.
Indeed, Azerbaijanis are victims, but of their own aggression. They started the war, one-sidedly began massacring Armenians, citizens of Azerbaijan's cities: Sumgait, Baku, Ganja - the most irresponsible reaction that a government can have, using the most inhuman methods associated with pogroms. The war that followed changed the world for two generations of Armenians who have never lived under Azerbaijani rule. Azerbaijan's leadership - old and new - rather than remaining prisoners of a Soviet era, one which they themselves rejected as historically illegitimate, can look to a future of compromise, peace, regional cooperation and prosperous, stable development.
Armenia intends to go forward. Indeed, we already have.
2003 has been a very good year for Armenia.
On the economic front, our steady, double-digit growth rate is the fastest in the CIS and Europe. This had lead some to calling Armenia the Caucasian Tiger. We are pleased with the name, and the challenge. We know that with economic growth comes an even greater responsibility: to confront the social gaps, which can lead to social inequality and domestic instability. The shortest path to the eradication of such transitional ills as polarization of society, the urban-rural gap, uneven access to higher education, is to sustain this high level of economic growth.
That's why, with the help of the UNDP, we embarked on the Sustainable Economic Development Program. That's why, the Government has approved and launched a Poverty Reduction Strategy. That's why achievement of the Millennium Development Goals of poverty eradication, awareness and prevention of HIV/AIDS, empowering women is an important part of Armenia's development strategy.
In Armenia, the UN plays a key role in promoting synergies directed at expanding the development impact of ICTs. As we prepare for the World Summit on the Information Society in December in Geneva, Armenia is living a hopeful paradox. On the one hand, less than half of our 1000-plus schools are connected to the Internet; on the other hand, ICTs comprise a significant proportion of Armenia's exports today. Still, too many in our country, just as the majority of the world population, still remain untouched by the ICT revolution and its potential.
We recognize, of course, that ICTs can be central in economies like ours, especially given the continuing blockade. Our economic growth has been despite the blockade, which goes against the spirit and the conclusion of the recent UN-sponsored International Ministerial Conference on Transit Transport Cooperation which reaffirmed the right of access of landlocked countries to and from the sea, and, freedom of transit through the territory of their neighbors by all means of, transport, in accordance with applicable rules of international law. For us, this means a condemnation of the practice of unilateral coercive economic measures intended as political pressure.
This was also a good year for our legislative reform process. The Armenian parliament has ratified the 6th Protocol of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms thus unconditionally abolishing the death penalty. We also adopted the Draft Law on the Ombudsman thus empowering our citizens, investing them with the faith necessary to govern with justice and be governed with dignity.
On another matter, important for us and for all humanity, Armenia continues to engage countries and governments around the world to recognize and condemn the first Genocide of the 20th century. The survivors of the Genocide and their descendants are helping build a democratic Armenia, committed to a future, without forgetting the past.
When Sergio Vieira de Mello was in Armenia several years ago, he came looking for ways to minimize the pain and suffering of Armenian refugees forced to flee their homes in Azerbaijan's Baku and Sumgait. This year, as he worked to minimize the pain and suffering of the people of Iraq, to help them in rebuilding their country and their government, he and too many of his colleagues lost their lives.
His death, and that of Anna Lindh of Sweden, remind us that it is ideas, more than people, which are scary and threatening. These two brutal murders also suggest to us louder than any demonstrations, that the leadership of the world has much to do still, in engaging the rejectionists, the extremists and the cynical.
Our positive, forward-looking, determined steps here will go a long way towards convincing them.