By Gevorg Stamboltsian
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said on Thursday that the Council of Europe is unlikely to impose embarrassing political sanctions on Armenia despite its strong criticism of his government’s crackdown on the opposition.
In a resolution adopted on April 28, the pan-European organization’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) threatened not to recognize the credentials of four Armenian members in September unless the authorities stop arresting opposition supporters and release all political prisoners.
“I can dare say that there is no danger of that. I don’t think that our deputies will be stripped of their voting rights,” Oskanian said during a meeting with students at Yerevan State University. “I think that everything will be alright and we will continue our normal work there.”
“But in any case, a lot will depend on what kind of developments will take place by September. If, God forbid, such a thing happens it will definitely have a negative impact on our foreign policy and reputation in general,” he added.
The PACE resolution says that the Armenian authorities have until late June to “inform the Assembly of their findings and possible legal actions against people responsible” for human rights abuses reported during the crackdown. They were also told to lift “unjustified restrictions” on peaceful anti-government demonstrations and release all individuals arrested in connection with them.
Two PACE rapporteurs are due to visit Armenia later this month ahead of the 45-nation assembly’s next session in Strasbourg to assess progress in the implementation of its recommendations. The authorities say they have already taken meaningful steps to comply with the resolution. The Armenian opposition denies the claims, pointing to the continuing “administrative detentions” and imprisonment on criminal charges of its activists.
The opposition has sought to portray the Council of Europe criticism as a major success in its campaign to oust President Robert Kocharian. The government, for its part, counters that the resolution did not endorse the opposition calls for a referendum of confidence in Kocharian and said that serious irregularities did not affect the official outcome of last year’s presidential election.
The opposition efforts to provoke international pressure on Yerevan was denounced by Kocharian this week as something “close to treason” of Armenian national interests. Oskanian echoed the charges on Thursday, saying that the continuing anti-Kocharian rallies hurt the country’s international standing.
“When I’m in Strasbourg, Brussels, New York, London or Paris and several thousand people gather in Freedom Square on the same day to call for regime change, believe me that our foreign policy becomes very inefficient,” he said.