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By Armen Zakarian in Strasbourg
The secretary general of the Council of Europe, Walter Schwimmer, has criticized President Robert Kocharian for suggesting that Armenians and Azerbaijanis are “ethnically incompatible” and can not live in the same state.

In an extraordinary statement issued late on Thursday, Schwimmer said the “hate” remark amounted to war mongering and ran counter to the pan-European principles of ethnic tolerance and diversity.

Speaking at the Moscow Diplomatic Academy on January 16, Kocharian declared: “The Armenian pogroms in Sumgait and Baku, and the attempts at mass military deportation of Armenians from Karabakh in 1991-92 indicate the impossibility for Armenians to live in Azerbaijan in general. We are talking about some sort of ethnic incompatibility.”

“Recalling dark pages of European history will never be a good electoral strategy,” Schwimmer hit back, implying that Kocharian is playing the Karabakh card for his reelection purposes. “I call on all [presidential] candidates, both in Armenia and Azerbaijan, to refrain from bellicose or hate rhetoric.”

“Europe, to which Armenia and Azerbaijan belong, begins with the acceptance of European diversity - be it ethnic, cultural, religious or linguistic,” Schwimmer added.

Kocharian’s remarks were also deplored by the president of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), Peter Schieder. “I hope that President Kocharian’s [Russian-language] statement wasn’t correctly translated for us,” Schieder told RFE/RL. “The Council of Europe has not heard the phrase ‘ethnic incompatibility’ ever since its creation.”

The criticism comes as an embarrassment for official Yerevan just as it is trying to show Strasbourg officials that it is fulfilling commitments stemming from Armenia’s acceptance into the Council of Europe two years ago. Armenian parliamentarians attending the PACE’s winter session in the French city were caught off guard by Schwimmer’s statement and would not comment on it.

Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, who is currently in Paris to attend an Armenian Diaspora conference, also did not mention it at a news conference on Friday.

(Photolur photo: Schwimmer, right, meeting with Kocharian during a visit to Armenia on July 9, 2002.)
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