By Hrach Melkumian
John Ordway, the U.S. ambassador to Yerevan, said on Friday that Washington will continue to push for Armenia’s as well as neighboring Azerbaijan’s and Georgia’s democratization despite its failure to sanction their governments for serious electoral fraud.
The diplomat responded to critics’ complaints that America and the West in general have failed to back up their strong criticism of presidential and parliamentary elections held in the three Caucasian states this year with punitive actions that could discourage future vote rigging.
The U.S. State Department expressed its “deep disappointment” with the presidential elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan which international observers said fell short of democratic standards because of widespread fraud witnessed by them. It has also criticized the Georgian authorities for their handling of this month’s disputed parliamentary polls that led to a serious political crisis. However, the U.S. has made it clear that it will continue to “work with” all three regional regimes .
“The statements do not indicate an end to our efforts or some sort of final line on what we are going to do in reaction to the elections,” Ordway explained. “They signal a continuation of our efforts to pursue what we all know is a long-term transition process.”
“In some countries that process goes a lot quicker than it does elsewhere,” Ordway said, in an apparent reference to the ex-Communist nations of Eastern Europe that have developed into full-fledged democracies since 1989. The U.S. will try to make sure that the authorities in Baku, Tbilisi and Yerevan “draw appropriate lessons” and hold cleaner elections “next time,” he added.
However, some observers in the region and outside it believe that this strategy has not worked so far and will not pay off in the future unless the West becomes more assertive in advancing political reform in the volatile region divided by ethnic conflicts.
Ordway appeared to imply that more important to the success of the democratization processes in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia is the civic engagement of their peoples. “It’s very important that the people and civil society in these countries continue to remain engaged and politically active because without that there will be no further progress,” he said. “As long as that’s the case, we will continue to be active in supporting those efforts.”
The envoy claimed that for all their flaws, the Armenian and Azerbaijani elections did mark “some substantial improvements in some areas” noted by election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He also singled out the Armenian government’s policy of economic liberalization.
“In the case of Armenia we are very pleased with macroeconomic reform, which is a remarkable performance,” he said. “But the fact that we are satisfied doesn’t mean we are giving up. We are going to continue to encourage this progress.”