By Hrach Melkumian
Armenian opposition leaders criticized on Tuesday the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for not following through its threats to sanction the administration of President Robert Kocharian over this year’s disputed presidential and parliamentary elections.
Speaking to RFE/RL, some of them even suggested that the PACE may have struck a secret deal with the authorities in Yerevan that gave the latter international legitimacy in exchange for the full abolition of the death penalty in Armenia.
“The Council of Europe should be consistent in the pursuit of its own values,” said Stepan Demirchian, the leader of Artarutyun (Justice), the country’s largest opposition alliance. “Otherwise, those values will become discredited, and the Council of Europe’s positions could be perceived to be hypocritical.”
“It turned out that the European organization’s actions did not match its words,” said a leading member of the bloc, Grigor Harutiunian. “They themselves gave a [highly negative] evaluation of our elections, but failed to stand by their words. You are forced to think that the Council of Europe cut a deal with the authorities.”
Harutiunian referred to the Armenian parliament’s decision earlier this month to ratify the sixth protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights that unconditionally outlaws capital punishment in peace time. Armenia’s leadership hoped that the move will deter the PACE, which threatened last June to strip its four Armenian members of their voting rights, from imposing the election-related sanctions.
The PACE on Monday recognized the Armenian lawmakers’ credentials just as Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian personally presented the ratification documents to the organization’s secretary-general, Walter Schwimmer. Oskanian was quick to hail the move.
His government’s opponents sounded deeply disappointed, however. “An illegally elected National Assembly can not have a legitimate delegation in Europe,” a senior Artarutyun lawmaker, Victor Dallakian, told RFE/RL. But he said he hopes the PACE will address the issue at its next session in January.
Another prominent oppositionist, Arshak Sadoyan, suggested that the assembly did not get tough with Yerevan because of the upcoming elections in Azerbaijan and Georgia, which some observers believe will also be marred by irregularities. “Robert Kocharian was lucky this time because of [Azerbaijani Prime Minister] Ilham Aliev,” he said.
The elections appeared the reason why the PACE postponed indefinitely a planned debate on the state of democratization in the three South Caucasus states on Monday.