By Ruzanna Stepanian
President Robert Kocharian on Thursday took issue with and downplayed the criticism of his government’s response to recent opposition rallies made by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) last week.
Kocharian said that while he finds “normal” the recommendations contained in the PACE resolution, he disagrees with its assessment of the Armenian authorities’ response to the campaign of street protests launched by the opposition one month ago.
“We are looking into [the document]. I see no particularly big problems in its content,” he told journalists on the sidelines of a business exhibition in Yerevan. “But there are quite serious inaccuracies in the description and chronology of events.
“We will prepare our reply to this description in a few days’ time, and will submit our written opinion on that document in June.”
The PACE strongly criticized the crackdown on the opposition, saying that it contradicts “the letter and the spirit” of its earlier recommendations to the Armenian authorities. Its resolution called on the authorities to scrap “unjustified restrictions” on peaceful demonstrations, release opposition detainees and investigate the “human rights abuses” reported over the past month. The resolution warned that Yerevan will face sanctions if it fails to address these demands by next September.
The Strasbourg-based assembly, whose decisions are important but not binding for the Council of Europe leadership, at the same time refused to back the opposition leaders’ demands for a referendum of confidence in Kocharian whose 2003 reelection they refuse to recognize. It said reported fraud and irregularities “did not decisively change the outcome of the elections nor invalidate their final results.”
Kocharian indicated that the Council of Europe can not force his administration to comply with all of its demands because it does not have as much authority over Armenia as the Soviet Union’s governing Communist Party Politburo had before the Soviet collapse. “You must not regard the Council of Europe as the former Politburo where they made and imposed decisions,” he said. “It’s an organization of which we are also a member. We have a right to vote and express our opinion there.”
Asked whether the Armenian authorities will accept the PACE demand for an immediate end to the controversial “administrative arrests” of participants of opposition rallies, he replied: “I’m not going to discuss every line [in the resolution] here. Let’s just be more serious on this issue.”