By Emil Danielyan
The French embassy in Yerevan declined Tuesday to elaborate on President Jacques Chirac’s message of congratulation to his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian which contrasted with Western criticism of his controversial reelection.
An embassy spokeswoman told RFE/RL that Ambassador Henry Cuny will not comment on the move’s implications. It thus remained unclear whether Chirac, the first Western leader to congratulate Kocharian, disagrees with Western observers’ conclusion that the Armenian presidential election fell short of international standards.
The Council of Europe, of which France is a leading member, has denounced the reported vote irregularities, saying that the Armenian authorities’ handling of the vote “cannot remain without consequences.” The United States has also strongly criticized Yerevan.
The Western criticism has buoyed the Armenian opposition which is demanding that the election be scrapped and re-run. Opposition leaders grouped around defeated presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian assured supporters that “the whole civilized world” is on their side, arguing that Kocharian’s victory was recognized only by Russia and several other ex-Soviet states. Chirac’s message dealt a blow to that argument.
Still, the opposition on Tuesday downplayed the move’s significance. “The main thing is how legitimate the president is in the eyes of his people,” Demirchian said.
“I think he had better wait until the outcome of Constitutional Court proceedings,” said Shavarsh Kocharian of the pro-Demirchian National Democratic Party (AZhK). “But in any case, the congratulation itself doesn’t mean anything because Armenia has assumed no obligations to France, Russia or America. It has assumed obligations only to international organizations such as the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the UN.”
But some top oppositionists did attack the French leader. According to Arshak Sadoyan, Chirac “failed to take into account European observers’ opinion” and was motivated by his “narrow interests.” “I consider Jacques Chirac’s congratulation a crime against democratic principles,” he charged.
Sadoyan was among several thousand opposition supporters that enthusiastically applauded outside the French embassy during an unprecedented pro-Western demonstration last week. “Long live France!” he shouted through a megaphone.