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22.9.11

What Did Uruguay Foreign Minister Actually Say about Karabagh’s Recognition?

Vartan Matiossian
 
An interesting new chapter in the Armenian-Azerbaijani diplomatic "war" seems to have opened in Latin America after declarations ascribed to Uruguayan Minister of Foreign Affairs Luis Almagro during a seminar organized by the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Uruguay and the Uruguay-Armenian Interparliamentary Friendship Group in Montevideo on Sept. 9.
An article filed by journalists Marianna Grigoryan from Yerevan and Shahin Abbasov from Baku (Eurasia.net, Sept. 16, 2011) said that the Azerbaijani media indeed "quickly disputed that Almagro had actually expressed support for Karabagh independence. Instead, citing a transcript of the speech posted by an Armenian Diaspora organization in Latin America, Azerbaijani media reports contended that Almagro merely acknowledged that Armenians themselves believe that independence for Karabagh, along with strong ties with Armenia, are 'the best way.'"
We have lost no time looking into Azerbaijani media assertions, which seem to have overlooked the fact that Almagro also recognized and established diplomatic relations with Palestine last March. However, if they based their contention on the “transcript of the speech posted” by the ANC of South America on their website (www.cna.org.ar), their position may be qualified as self-delusional. This writer, who is a bilingual Armenian-Spanish native speaker and was born in Uruguay, wonders whether the Azerbaijani media outlets even have Spanish-speaking journalists suited to understand a maze of impromptu remarks not necessarily grounded on grammar books.
The Uruguayan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not yet released an official transcript of Almagro’s speech, in full or in part. The following English translation, transcribed verbatim, may be regarded as the best “non-official transcript” of the high official’s words, at least for the time being. Our source is the ANC website. We have corrected misspellings and restored minor omissions through the audio recording of Almagro’s words posted on YouTube (Sept. 11, 2011) with a written translation in Russian and English. For the record, we posted the Spanish reconstructed version on this blog on Sept. 18.
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"We not only want the best relations with all peoples, as Armenia wants them, but we do not want to be conditioned in our friendship with this country either. We believe, and we have exhaustively analyzed the issue, the Nagorno Karabagh issue, and we are looking for consensus, and we will continue to look for a national consensus to take a state decision on the matter. We understand that Nagorno-Karabagh is intimately tied to Armenia, that its population is Armenian, and that either its independence or its tie to Armenia in the future is the best road for Nagorno-Karabagh.
This is a strong definition, which will obviously shake people, as many others we have taken before, but be sure of our convictions and be sure of this friendship based on principles."
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Now, the "Armenian Weekly" and other English-language Armenian outlets reported the speech as follows:
"Today we are looking into the issue [Nagorno-Karabagh] in order to present an official government position on the matter,' said Almagro. 'I am personally convinced that Nagorno-Karabagh is part of historic Armenia and it must be independent and in a short while be unified with Armenia. This is the only resolution to the Artsakh [Karabagh] issue.'"
The Spanish version of this paragraph appeared in "Armenia," the ARF organ of South America, on Sept. 16, with only one difference: The Spanish version said "Armenia" and not "historic Armenia." There is little doubt that the source came from the “other” America.
The reader will legitimately ask: Where are these words in the Sept. 18 translation? The one and only answer, unbelievable but true, is that the transcript on the ANC website does not contain the paragraph in question. The paragraph reported by the English-language outlets appears to be the translation—without the benefit of fact-checking—of a Spanish paraphrasing of Almagro’s actual words. One wonders how such a disservice—even if inconsequential in the end—could be produced by whoever wrote the original press release in Spanish (and also contradicted the transcript posted by its own organization).
(On Sept. 18, 2011, news.am posted a translation of Almagro’s actual words that is somewhat less close to the original than ours, without making reference to the contradiction.)
While the essence of Almagro’s words does not differ significantly from what was reported (thereby taking away any reason for Azerbaijanis to rejoice), this author, as a historian, feels the record must be set straight to avoid misquotes and misunderstanding for scholars, journalists, or politicians who may reference such internet-based media in English in the near future.
One final note: While Almagro’s statements explicitly indicate his personal position on the subject, and cannot be construed as an official declaration of his ministry, something should be expected from them. Azeri analyst Elhan Shahinoglu, as quoted by Grigoryan and Abbasov, is right in his worry that Uruguay’s silence on the issue "could mean that Montevideo really is considering some anti-Azerbaijan steps." Azerbaijan should be holding its breadth, since Uruguay has in the past shown remarkable consistency in maintaining a moral high ground. It will not be misled by the 125 rewriters of history who signed a petition, from Sept. 15-18, titled "What Luis Almagro doesnt [sic] know about Nagorno-Karabakh," containing the usual Azeri mumbo-jumbo—even if they, unlikely, become 125,000.
And while the South American country has been a pioneer in issues regarding the Armenian Cause since its groundbreaking recognition of the genocide in 1965, that recognition did not have political consequences in the immediate future. It is hard to say whether its recognition of Karabagh would substantially change the situation for Armenia and Karabagh, or trigger a cascade of further recognitions. Because of the country’s background, its impact would likely be more transcendent than the recognition of breakaway Abkhazia by Nicaragua or Venezuela, let aside the diminutive Pacific islands of Nauru or Vanuatu. But let’s not forget the comparative strength of the forces behind Abkhazia and Karabagh.

"The Armenian Weekly," September 21, 2011 

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