John Evans

evans's picture
John Evans
Former USA Ambassador to Armenia

Online press conference with John Evans, the fifth US Ambassador to the Republic of Armenia.


Topics: The Near East, Refugee waves, US accepting refugees, Iran, Security issues in general

The press-conference was organized within the framework of "International Press-Center "Dialogue": Diversification of the Sources of International News for Armenian Media" project. This project of Region Research Center is supported by the OSCE office in Yerevan.

David Stepanyan,
Question - Recently, the American co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group James Warlick noted that, despite the differences between the US and Russia, Washington and Moscow are closely cooperating in the format of the OSCE Minsk Group to achieve progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. Will you please share your view on the prospects of this cooperation?
Answer - For many years now, the three co-chairs of the Minsk Group have cooperated very closely in an effort to find a just and lasting solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, and this is still the case, as Ambassador Warlick has said.  In my view, there is no good alternative to the Minsk Group talks as the proper forum for seeking such a solution, but success depends not so much on the mediators as on the parties themselves.  It is easy to blame the mediators.   
Question - OSCE MG mediators expect the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly with a view to preparing the next meeting of the presidents of the two countries. Do you think these meetings will once again be held to draw a tick or we should expect breakthrough proposals on Karabakh to be put on the table?
Answer -  I would not anticipate any breakthroughs at the meeting in New York, but it is a welcome sign that the two sides have not given up on finding a peaceful solution. 
Question - In his interview with ArmInfo the Armenian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Shavarsh Kocharyan described the recent actions of the Turkish authorities against the Kurdish people as a genocide. Will you please share your evaluation of Ankara's actions against the Kurds?
Answer -  For all who were hoping that the long-running conflict between the Turkish state and its Kurdish citizens had taken a decisive turn in the direction of a peaceful, political solution, the resumption of violence this summer was a grave disappointment.  It was all the more disappointing in view of the apparent motivations for renewing the violence, which seem to be closely connected with the results of the June 7 election and the prospects for the next round at the beginning of November.
Question - On September 17, the US Ambassador to Armenia, Richard Mills told Radio Liberty that corruption not only impeded the overall development of the country, but also posed a threat to national security. In particular, your successor said that the lack of the solution of this problem by the Anti-Corruption Council under the Government of Armenia stood in the way of American investments in Armenia. Is the situation in this area somehow different from the situation at the times of your diplomatic mission in Armenia and what are the prospects for the correction of the situation?
Answer - There is corruption everywhere, but in Armenia I think a general lack of transparency and a perception that the courts do not deliver fair and timely justice compounds the problem.   We would all like to see more American and other foreign investment in Armenia, but unfortunately there are a number of impediments, only one of which is the corruption factor.
Question - Recently the Minister of Agriculture of Russia Alexander Tkachev proposed to destroy the "sanctioned" goods produced in the West not only within Russia but also within the Eurasian Economic Union partner-states. In other words, Russia’s retaliatory sanctions also harm Armenia. Does the United States - the main initiator of the sanctions war against Russia – take steps to compensate the harm of this global confrontation for the partner countries?
Answer - No one in Washington had any intention of harming Armenia when sanctions were imposed on certain individuals and companies in the Russian Federation.  It would be most unfortunate if Moscow were to punish its own ally for Western sanctions.
Question - Do you expect changes in the regional geopolitical configuration in the South Caucasus and the Middle East after the lifting of sanctions against Iran?
Answer - The Middle East is sadly undergoing a most violent and chaotic period in its history, and we need all the players to take a deep breath and look for ways to bring the fighting and the killing to and end before the region is destroyed, as several cities in Syria have been.  The agreement reached with Iran by the six powers on its nuclear program is only a first step, and the U.S. sanctions, some of which go back many years, will not be lifted all at once.  In the long run, I do believe that Iran must be brought back into the Middle East equation as a responsible power that contributes to stability rather than threatening to undermine it.  
Artak Barseghyan,
Question - Mr. Evans, the situation in the Middle East and the world as a whole has sharply escalated with the advent of ISIS. In your opinion, to what extent this group may become dominant in the Islamic world as compared to the Taliban and al-Qaeda?
Answer - Islam is one of the world’s great religions, but I think the extremism, fundamentalism and intolerance displayed by these groups have greatly tarnished the reputation of Islam with peoples of other faiths.  I cannot believe that the majority of Muslims want to see ISIS become the face of their religion.
Question - How do you see the future of the Armenian-Turkish relations under the incumbent Turkish administration?
Answer - At the moment I see very few prospects for an improvement in Armenian-Turkish relations.  The Protocols, at this point, have clearly failed.  I personally think they were flawed and that their architects attempted to achieve too much at one time.  Rather than attempt to solve all problems at once, I would suggest one simple step: enter into full diplomatic relations. This would provide for reliable communication and would not compromise the legal position of either side.  I have made this suggestion in person to the foreign ministers of both countries.  
Question - Recently, an escalation of the armed conflict can be observed in the zone of the Karabakh conflict. How likely is the resumption of a large-scale war in the region?
Answer - I hope that both sides to the conflict, and particularly Baku, will exercise restraint.  There is always the chance that an incident might escalate into a serious conflict and lead to a resumption of full-scale war, which, under current conditions, could be vastly more destructive than the war of the early 1990s.  No one needs that, least of all the people of Karabakh.  All the more reason the Minsk Group negotiations are so important and should be taken seriously.
Armen Minasyan,
Question - How would you evaluate the current situation regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution? Do you think the recent military incidents on the border can turn to a full-scale war?    
Answer - I just answered this question, essentially.  It is not only the increase in ceasefire violations, but the fact that some of these violations have been on the Armenian-Azerbaijan state borders in Tavush and in Nakhichevan that is disturbing. 
Question - What impact do you think can the recent agreement on the Iranian nuclear program have on the regional developments in the South Caucasus and particularly on Armenia?  
Answer -  To the extent that the agreement on the Iranian nuclear program eases tensions between the United States and Iran (and Russia), this is positive for Armenia, which can find herself in a cross-fire when there is tension between the others.
Question - Do you believe that the US policy in the Caucasus, particularly in Armenia is a pragmatic policy? What, if anything, needs to be changed in this policy?
Answer - I have every confidence in U.S. policy toward Armenia and in our new Ambassador, Richard Mills.  Richard and his wife were with Donna and me in St. Petersburg in the 1990s.
Question - How would you evaluate the internal situation in Azerbaijan, given the arrests of human rights defenders and persistent violations of human rights, particularly the arrest of Khadija Ismayilova, to which the US State Department has also reacted? Do you think this situation serves as an essential factor that drives Azerbaijan to increase the border tensions as a means of diverting the attention and the discontent of the public from internal affairs?
Answer - I am of course aware of the recent problems in Azerbaijan, but I am not an expert on that country or the internal dynamics at work there.  I do think that greater democracy, prosperity and peace tend to come hand in hand, as we have seen in other places such as Northern Ireland, where intercommunal violence has declined as living standards have risen.
Question - Practice has shown that after being elected to office, the United States Presidents never fulfill the promise of recognizing the Armenian Genocide, which they give during their electoral campaigns; as Presidents they avoid using the term Genocide by all means. When do you think the proper recognition of this crime committed against the Armenian people will become an important issue on the United States agenda?   
Answer - Although the President has not used the word “genocide” to describe what happened in 1915, there is a vast difference between what President Obama said in April, 2009, and statements that had been made by previous Presidents.  What is really most important is not what the U.S. President says, but the position of official Ankara. 
Question - Having served as the Ambassador of the United States to the Republic of Armenia for more than two years, what can you say about Armenia in general terms? How would you describe Armenia and its significance today to someone who has never been here?
Answer - Visit Armenia!
Tatevik Ghazaryan,
Question - During his pre-election campaign the United States’ President Barack Obama promised to recognize the Armenian Genocide if he was elected president. Nevertheless, he hasn’t fulfilled this promise till today. Don’t you think that moral issues and human rights are much more important than some political and economic interests?
Answer – In an ideal world that might be true, but in the real world, there is always a balance that has to be struck.  That said, I believe universal recognition of the Armenian Genocide is inevitable; what consequences this will have is another question.
Question - A lot of international and human rights organizations raise questions about the continuing restrictions of journalists and human rights defenders by the Azerbaijani authorities. The OSCE office and the office of radio “Liberty” have been closed in Baku. The Azerbaijani Milli Mejlis has adopted a document titled “Decision of Milli Mejlis of the Republic of Azerbaijan on the Resolution of the European Parliament, dated 10 September 2015”, according to which, the Milli Mejlis decided, in particular, to order the Cabinet of Ministers to ban the entry of the European Parliament members to Azerbaijan in case of imposing sanctions onto Azerbaijani officials. The aforementioned resolution, adopted by the European Parliament on September 10, criticized the situation related to the human rights in the country and urged to impose the corresponding sanctions against a number of Azerbaijani officials who violate those rights. In this situation what should the necessary response of the international society be? Maybe the sanctions could really have an impact on the destructive policy of Baku? And how could such an authoritarian state be a part of a constructive dialogue on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
Answer - Others more qualified than I have given their opinions on these matters, for example, my former colleague Richard Kauzlarich, who was U.S. Ambassador to Baku.
Question - How would you assess the recent stage of the negotiation process on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue? Do you see any prospects for the conflict resolution? In your opinion, what is needed for a breakthrough or some progress?
Answer - The slow progress of negotiations in the Minsk Group has been a source of frustration for many observers, but diplomacy by definition takes a long time.  Once the basic elements of a deal are agreed, then things can move rather quickly.  Both sides are going to need to compromise, and neither side will get everything it would like.  At some stage the authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh need to be brought into the talks as a full partner.
Question - The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reached in Vienna in July by Iran, six other countries, and the European Union, has sparked a heated political debate in the United States. What is the situation now like around this issue?
Answer - The nuclear deal with Iran is still controversial, but the immediate threat of legislation that would unravel the agreement has been averted.  No deal can solve all problems, and there are still many issues outstanding.  I also believe that Iran and the United States need to resume full diplomatic relations.
Question - What kind of opportunities will the Iranian nuclear deal give to the South Caucasus states, and, particularly, Armenia, as a potential transit country for Iranian energy supplies to Europe?
Answer - The eventual lifting of sanctions on Iran should make cooperation in the energy sector between Armenia and Iran easier.  
Question - How do you see the role of the United States in the situation created in the Middle East, in Syria, in particular? In your opinion, what hasn’t been done by the West for the crisis regulation and what should be done now?
Answer - There are many actors in the Middle East, and the United States is only one of them.  We would like to see the region be stable, prosperous and at peace.  Unfortunately, it is not so simple to bring about the conditions that lead to such an outcome, and violence begets violence.  One can hope that the world leaders who are now gathering for the U.N. General Assembly in New York may put their heads together and come up with some new approaches, particularly as regards Syria.
Emil Babayan,
Question - How do you assess Armenia's policy in the conditions of actually open confrontation between Russia and the West in the post-Soviet space?
Answer - Armenia can suffer unintended negative consequences when others fight.  I am sure the Russia-Ukraine conflict has proven difficult, as Armenia has good relations with both countries, and there are Armenian communities in both.  In general, I think Armenia has done a rather good job of avoiding damage from the disputes of others.  
Question - What do you associate the aggravation of the situation around the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, as lately fixed by the observers? What prospects of this trend could you designate?
Answer - The increase in violations of the ceasefire, both in frequency and in severity, is deplorable and worrying.  Many observers, for example, Thomas de Waal, have been warning for several years now that it is time to make an extra effort to secure a diplomatic solution.
Question - In a nutshell, how role do you think the US plays in the development of regional processes in the South Caucasus?
Answer - Although the United States has increasingly limited resources to apply to development, it is still doing quite a lot to encourage the growth of the economies of the South Caucasus as well as the development of democratic institutions and a vibrant civil society.
Gagik Baghdasaryan,
Question - Mr. Evans, how effective are the cooperation and joint work of Russian and US mediators of the OSCE Minsk Group in the conditions of the actually renewed "cold war" between the two countries?
Answer - I have given an answer earlier to this question.  In short, I believe the United States, Russia and France all remain committed to the work of the mediators in the Minsk Group.  But the work of the Co-Chairs is effective only to the extent that the parties themselves are committed to the goal of a peaceful settlement.
Question - Do you admit the possibility of renewed large-scale hostilities by Azerbaijan (as it has repeatedly been announced by the officials in Baku), contrary to the position of regional or world powers?
Answer - In a situation like the one around Karabakh, there is always the possibility of a miscalculation or a renewal of large-scale hostilities.  We would be blind to deny it.  But this is precisely why there should be a renewed effort in the Minsk Group to avoid such a catastrophe. 
Question - How do you see future relations of Yerevan and Washington in view of Armenia's membership to the EEU? Are the United States aware of the geopolitical realities of Armenia?
Answer - Officials who deal with such things in Washington are well aware of the geopolitical realities faced by Armenia and other countries in the region.  I do not believe Armenia’s membership of the EEU will prove to be a serious obstacle to trade or investment. 
Question - Will the importance and the role of Iran change for the United States after the settlement of the nuclear issue? How will this affect the situation in the region as a whole?
Answer - I have said, the nuclear deal is only a first step, and it does not deal with all the many issues that still exist between the United States and Iran.  But I believe there are people on both sides who want relations between the two countries to improve, despite our differences.  That can only be a positive thing for the region as a whole.
Karine Asatryan,
Question - Has the agenda of the US-Armenia partnership changed after the improvement of the US-Iran relations?
Answer - Not to any appreciable degree.       
Question - Don't you think that the influx of refugees from the Arab world is partially the result of the US policy?
Answer - There is a world-wide movement of people underway, not only Arabs, but Afghans and Africans and people from South America.  The causes are many.  By no means all are refugees in the strict legal sense.  Many are leaving because of conditions at home and hopes of a better life elsewhere.  Some will be disappointed to learn that the streets of Europe and America are not paved with gold.  Others may find what they are looking for.  In the meantime, the traffickers who take large sums of money from migrants in return for dangerous boat rides across the Mediterranean are exploiting these people’s fears and hopes, often with the tragic consequences that we have all seen.  Armenia has been right to offer refuge to Syrians and Yazidis; you will find that they can contribute to building your country.  
Question - What is the opinion of the recent interview of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad? Was it the message to the United States?
Answer - I think President al-Assad considers himself basically pro-Western, if that term means anything in today’s conditions, and feels betrayed by the West.  In turn, there are many in the West who have run out of patience with the Syrian ruler. No doubt everyone in Syria would prefer that things had turned out differently than they have, but there are forces at work in the region that have created a truly awful mess there.  Maybe we will see some renewed international cooperation in the weeks and months ahead.  
Anahit Danielyan,
Question – Recently there has been a lot of talk about the deployment of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. In your opinion, does it not run counter to the trilateral format of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairmanship, since Russia itself is a co-chair country?
Answer - The traditional formula was “no neighbors, no co-chairs.”
Question - In this context, what should the response of the US be and the steps should it take, considering the fact that both the US and Russia are trying to maintain their influence in the region?
Answer - It is not for me, as a retired ambassador, to advise the United States or any country as to what it should do, but I expect that the three Co-Chairs will continue to cooperate. 
Question – Do you think that it may endanger regional stability and security?
Answer – A resumption of full-scale hostilities in the South Caucasus would be a disaster for all and must be averted.
Tatev Harutyunyan,
Question - Ambassador, what developments are expected in the process of the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, especially given the fact that Azerbaijan holds active operations on the border and is trying to modify the format of the peaceful settlement, for example as a result of the Azerbaijani lobbying in PACE a report on Nagorno Karabakh is being prepared. 
Answer - I believe I have said what I wanted to say about the Karabakh situation.  I would only add that the parties themselves might consider doing less lobbying of others in Strasbourg, Vienna and elsewhere, and look closer to home for solutions to these and other problems.
Question - The protest actions against the rise of the electricity process in Armenia were qualified by many Russian media outlets as Maidan. Do you think this was because of the Russian propaganda, or there really were some elements typical of maidan in that process?  
Answer - Russian and Ukrainian media attempted to put the “Maidan” label on the electricity price protests, each for their own reasons.  I think the Armenians involved in the protests were well advised to deny those allegations.  In this connection, I was very saddened to learn of the premature death of the former Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Armen Movsisyan, earlier this week.  He was a capable and highly responsible official for whom I had great respect.


© 2001-2024
"Region" Research Center

    +37410 563363
    [email protected]
    1/3 Buzand Str, 8 Floor, Yerevan, Armenia

The new version of the website was created with the support of the European Endowment for Democracy (EED).