By Armen Zakarian
Two representatives of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) began a fact-finding visit to Armenia on Wednesday ahead of the PACE’s upcoming autumn session during which Yerevan could face sanctions over its conduct of this year’s elections.
The officials, Jerzy Jaskiernia of Poland and Rene Andre of France, will assess the fulfillment of Armenia’s membership commitments after four days of meetings with President Robert Kocharian, senior law-enforcement and government officials, top parliamentarians and leaders of the opposition.
It is the first such visit since the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections in Armenia earlier this year which were criticized as undemocratic by Council of Europe observers. The criticism led to threats by the PACE leadership in June strip Armenian members of the 45-nation assembly of their voting rights.
Speaking to RFE/RL in Yerevan, Jaskiernia said he was “surprised” by the threats and will oppose any sanctions against Armenia at the next PACE session which begins in Strasbourg in late September. “It was a bit premature step,” he said. “We should avoid emotional decisions. The presidential and parliamentary elections were very important. But we also have several other issues which are being monitored as part of Armenia’s membership obligations.”
“I think we should be very objective and shouldn’t take any drastic steps against Armenia,” Jaskiernia added. He said he believes the PACE should not make any decisions on Armenia until January.
The Armenian authorities are trying to forestall the PACE sanctions by promising to reform the country’s electoral legislation in collaboration with the main opposition parties. The new four-member Armenian delegation at the PACE, named by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, comprises a prominent opposition figure, Shavarsh Kocharian.
Also on the agenda of Jaskiernia’s and Andre’s meetings in Yerevan will be the abolition of the death penalty and the continuing ban on Armenia’s leading independent television station, A1+. Council of Europe officials, including Secretary General Walter Schwimmer, have criticized the Armenian authorities for not scrapping capital punishment fully and unconditionally and their continuing refusal to reopen A1+.