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Armenpress photo: The NATO parliamentary assembly chief, Rafael Estrella, laying flowers at genocide memorial in Yerevan


By Armen Zakarian

Senior Armenian officials told the visiting president of NATO’s parliamentary assembly, Rafael Estrella, on Wednesday that they remain committed to expanding cooperation with the Western military alliance.

Meeting with Estrella, President Robert Kocharian and other top officials said Armenia will continue to step up its participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program which serves as a cooperation framework for NATO member states and the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe and the ex-USSR.

Underscoring Yerevan’s recent efforts to supplement its close security ties with Russia, Armenian troops will for the first time join a PfP exercise which is expected to take place in neighboring Georgia this summer. Armenia will host similar NATO-led war games on its territory next year.

Estrella said that NATO is also seeking closer ties with Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, arguing that the alliance should "not neglect the need to bring peace and security to the south Caucasus."

During his two-day trip Estrella announced that Armenia has been granted observer
status in the parliamentary assembly, made up of legislators from NATO member states. He said that status will soon be upgraded to associated membership -- a prospect unanimously welcomed by Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian.

According to Kocharian, the associated membership of the assembly will be “essential” for his country’s efforts to become integrated into various pan-European structures.

Estrella’s Yerevan itinerary also included a visit to the memorial to the victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide. Speaking to reporters at the end of his visit late on Wednesday, Estrella said he believes that the slaughter of some 1.5 Armenians in Ottoman Turkey was a “genocide” and “crime against humanity.”

The remarks are likely to anger NATO member Turkey which maintains that the mass killings and deportations took place on a much smaller scale and therefore did not constitute a genocide.
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