By Armen Zakarian, Ruzanna Khachatrian and Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia Monday added its voice to international support for the start of the US-led strikes against Afghanistan, indicating that they are a necessary measure against the threat of international terrorism facing “the entire civilized world.” The Armenian authorities said they received evidence from the US government showing a link between Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden and the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The foreign ministry said in a statement that Yerevan “reaffirms its commitment” to the US-led anti-terror coalition and believes the fight against international terrorism must be “firm and persistent.” The ministry at the same time expressed hope that the military campaign against suspected terrorist networks will not lead to a “further deterioration” of the plight of Afghan civilians.
“Today the US authorities presented Armenia with investigative evidence pertaining to the complicity of [bin Laden’s] Al-Qaeda organization in the terrorist acts of September 11,” the statement said. “Armenia deeply regrets that despite diplomatic efforts, it was not possible to hand over the masterminds of the September 11 events to US law-enforcement authorities.”
Yerevan announced earlier that US warplanes used its airspace as part of preparations for the retaliatory strikes against bin Laden and his Taliban protectors. But the deputy head of the Armenian Civil Aviation Authority, Ara Abgarian, told RFE/RL that they did not overfly Armenian territory in the first wave of aerial bombardment of Afghan targets on Sunday.
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, meanwhile, attended on Monday a meeting of top security officials from Russia and five former Soviet republic in Tajikistan, a country bordering on Afghanistan. Reports from the Tajik capital Dushanbe said the meeting of the CIS Collective Security Council members was dominated by the international situation in the wake of the US and British strikes.
In Yerevan, leaders of the main political parties voiced their overall support for the strikes. “That source of international terrorism must be eliminated,” said Martun Matevosian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). A leader of the governing Republican Party, Tigran Torosian, said he hopes that the unfolding military campaign will not be a prolonged war resulting in many “innocent casualties.”
The leader of the opposition National Unity party, Artashes Geghamian, said the military action against the Taliban regime and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network should have had a United Nations mandate. He claimed that Washington risks setting off a potentially disastrous conflict between the Christian and Islamic worlds.
The mood among ordinary Armenians also appeared largely supportive of the US-led retaliation for the September 11 attacks. “I think that this decision was long overdue,” said Robert Adalian, a retired athlete. “The Americans should have rooted out terrorism ten years ago.” “There is no question that international terrorism and the Islamic fundamentalism must be eradicated,” agreed a Yerevan-based theater director, Armen Mazmanian.
But one woman interviewed on the streets of the capital struck a note of caution, saying: “A whole country must not be made to suffer for the deeds of a single person.”